At the beginning of the 2016 season, WGN Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper got some excellent advice. “One of my best friends is a non-fiction author and we talk about writing all the time. We met for breakfast last year just before spring training and he said ‘You should keep a journal this year. It’ll be a fun project, and you just never know, it could end up being a very special season.’ I reluctantly agreed, and it turned out to be really cool.”
Though the final manuscript ended up being 70,000 words, most of those words will remain a personal reference point for Len. He’ll be posting some of his favorite moments via Twitter, but he decided that adding the title “author” to his business card wasn’t necessary. He already has it pretty good working as the Cubs announcer. He has to be prodded to mention any potential downsides. “There’s a bit of a Groundhog Day nature to what we do,” he admits, “and it can be a grind at times.
“Anyone who has been in this business who travels full time will tell you it’s not easy to get in at six in the morning, which we did three times in October. I was pulling into the driveway as my son was going to school at 7:45 in the morning. There is a mental and physical fatigue that comes along with this job. You can get a perfect night’s sleep for weeks or months, but just one of those 6 AM adventures will throw off your body clock for weeks. It’s amazing the guys on the team could overcome it and win the World Series the way they did.”
As a family man, that constant travel can be even more difficult than it is for some of the younger guys. “I’m used to it because I’ve done it for fifteen years full-time, but I would say that it never gets easier. It’s one of the reasons why I insist on not taking on anything else during the off-season – so I can be there and experience as much as I can at home, to be available whenever I’m needed to help make up for the time I’m not around during the season.”
Other announcers also cite research as one of the downsides of the job, but Kasper disagrees. “I’ve streamlined my prep a lot over the years. I do keep notes every day, but I’ve also learned not to jam it all into the game unless it fits. When you do it every day and you do it for a long time you realize that providing the material at the right moment is the most important thing. You need to empty your brain before a broadcast. You can’t allow the prep to make you miss what’s happening in the game at that time. I never want to miss something that’s really important on the field. Approaching it that way has worked for me. You prepare but you leave your canvas wide open.”
That’s one of the reasons Cubs broadcasts appear to be spontaneous and entertaining. Another reason is that they often veer into non-baseball land.
“I just try to stay as worldly as possible,” Len says, “and I think my partner, Jim Deshaies, is the same way. We NEVER talk about what we’re going to say before a game because it’s always better the first time. Jim is the perfect partner in that way. He’s not afraid to say ‘I don’t know’, he’s not afraid to be put on the spot, and believe me – not all analysts are like that. He and I have a different relationship in that regard. We stay away from a lot of things we’ll be talking about in a broadcast when we have lunch together every day, just to make it as organic as we can for the listeners.”
Kasper also stays in constant contact with the listeners during the broadcast via social media. “I check it during breaks. Even five years ago it would take a few weeks to get feedback about whatever it was that spurred a letter from someone. Now you get the feedback in three seconds. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m the old fuddy-duddy broadcaster who doesn’t know what social media is. It’s important to stay current and in the mainstream. I always have my computer nearby. I keep score on my laptop now. I love [the website] Baseball- Reference.com. It has revolutionized baseball information on the internet. Every memory I have as a child of any baseball game can be found in a box score form in five seconds on Baseball-Reference. I think it’s the greatest website ever.”
What about the product on the field this coming season? Can the Cubs repeat? “This season has a chance to be as good or better as 2016. Certainly position player wise, the nucleus is going to get even better – which is scary if you think about it. The big challenge will be to put together a pitching staff that can match it. The main reason the Cubs went as far as they did last year was their starting rotation. I don’t think we’ll ever see a five-man rotation stay as healthy and be as dominating as that group was. They were the only team in the postseason who didn’t have to bring someone back on short rest. My guess is the pitching won’t be quite as good, and we’ll have to score a few more runs, but this offense is more than capable of doing that.”