Results tagged ‘ Len Kasper ’
(Art by Jerry Neumann)
The following can be found in the Short Stops section of the June issue of Vine Line.
Sure, there will always be three strikes per out and three outs per half inning in baseball, but the strategies for success are constantly evolving. To keep pace, broadcasts have to change as well.
The 2003 book Moneyball, and the success of teams like the A’s and the Red Sox, have brought advanced statistics to the forefront of the game. Though most baseball insiders are well-versed in WAR, WHIP and VORP, many old-school baseball folks—White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson included—don’t subscribe to the numbers game.
That’s why Cubs broadcasters Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, both believers in sabermetrics, try to work the new stats into most broadcasts.
“We’ve found better ways to evaluate performance than the old-school batting average, RBI, runs,” Kasper said. “Counting stats can sometimes not really tell the whole tale. [Advanced stats] allow you to pull a player out of his team context and evaluate how he might be in a generic vacuum.”
As baseball moves away from traditional stats that don’t carry as much weight as they used to, it’s often up to the broadcasters to bring new ideas to the viewers’ attention—without being overbearing.
“We don’t want it to be a math class,” Kasper said. “I think always remembering the narrative of a baseball game is important, keeping the focus on what’s happening on the field. You can extrapolate some interesting notes about a player or a team without necessarily giving them raw numbers”
Though Kasper, who has been calling Cubs games since 2003, is all for the game’s evolution, he tries not to get carried away with new concepts.
“Sometimes [stats people] maybe overthink some of these situations,” Kasper said. “Sometimes guys are just good.”
When the Cubs defeated the Seattle Mariners 6-2 in their Cactus League home opener on February 28, 1997, it was something of an event.
Cubs ace Kevin Tapani was hurting, so Turk Wendell got the start and went two scoreless innings to earn the win. Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa both homered, and rookie Kevin Orie tallied three hits.
But the real fanfare wasn’t about the box score. It was about the Cubs’ new spring home in Mesa, Ariz., HoHoKam Stadium, built on the same site (and given the same name) as the team’s previous facility. More than 8,800 fans were on hand on an uncharacteristically gloomy Arizona afternoon to check out the gleaming new venue, designed by HOK Architects of Kansas City, Mo.—the company behind Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Cleveland’s Jacobs Field and Denver’s Coors Field. The rebuilt HoHoKam was the biggest ballpark in the Cactus League at the time, seating 12,500 fans, and the first in the area to feature a Jumbotron.
When Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to HoHoKam for Spring Training this year, it kicked off their 17th—and final—season at their longtime Cactus League home. Though the team won’t be going far—a new spring palace is set to open in the Riverview area of Mesa for the 2014 spring slate—the venerable ballpark has seen its share of Cubs history, from Mark Grace, Sandberg and Sosa to Matt Garza, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
“The ballparks in Mesa have evolved over the last 60 years along with the team,” said Michelle Streeter, director of communications with Visit Mesa. “This last season at HoHoKam Stadium is actually one of celebration because it’s not goodbye.”
Except for one year in 1966, the Cubs have trained continuously in Arizona since 1952. Spring 2013 marks the Cubs’ 35th consecutive and 49th overall spring camp in Arizona, and that stretch will only continue with the new stadium. Thanks to the city’s long relationship with Cubs baseball and the national reach of WGN television, the Mesa community has embraced the team and helped grow the organization’s fan base westward.
“HoHoKam has become a famous landmark in Mesa,” said Mark Gallo, stadium manager at HoHoKam. “Everyone hears the name HoHoKam Stadium, and the first thing they think of is the Chicago Cubs. The bond that has been built between the city of Mesa and the Cubs is very special.”
The original HoHoKams were an Indian tribe that flourished in central Arizona until they mysteriously disappeared around the year 1450—hence the literal translation for HoHoKam: “those who are gone” or “the old ones.”
In 1951, the HoHoKams were reborn as a civic organization dedicated to bringing Spring Training baseball to Mesa. Led by rancher Dwight W. Patterson, the 34-member committee succeeded in its task when it lured the Cubs away from Catalina Island in California, where they had trained since 1917.
At the beginning of their Arizona tenure, from 1952 to 1965, the team played at tiny, 3,000-seat Rendezvous Park, which was built in 1921 and featured a community pool beyond the left-field wall that provided a great target for right-handed hitters. After that, they had a brief dalliance with Scottsdale before moving into the original HoHoKam Park in 1979, where they stayed until 1996.
But the Cubs’ huge popularity in Arizona was actually at the root of the original park’s demise. HoHoKam Park seated only 8,900 fans. By the mid-’90s, the team, which was regularly setting Cactus League attendance records, had outgrown the facility and was looking for more space.
Suitors from other cities attempted to lure the Cubs away with the promise of a new stadium, but the city of Mesa ultimately agreed to build the team an $18 million complex for spring 1997 (the cost of the original HoHoKam, opened in 1977, was just $507,000). The deal also included a $10 million renovation of the Fitch Park practice facility just a few blocks away.
According to the terms of the lease, the Cubs were obliged to train in Mesa for 20 years, with eight one-year options that would allow the team to buy out the remaining term for $850,000 per year.
Since the new stadium opened in 1997, the Cubs have continued to lead the Cactus League in attendance. HoHoKam Stadium and the Cubs hold the Spring Training single-season attendance record of 203,105 fans, set in 2009. This mark topped the previous spring record of 193,993, also set by the Cubs at HoHoKam in 2005. The team’s 2005 spring average of 12,125 fans per game for 16 games is the all-time highest average spring attendance in major league history.
“For me, it has always been an event when you go to a game at HoHoKam Stadium,” said Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper. “The stadium is always sold out or close to capacity, and almost everyone has Cubs gear on. I really appreciate the dedication of the HoHoKams as well. They have taken a lot of pride in hosting the Cubs at the park over the years and are great hosts to us during Spring Training.”
Today the HoHoKams are responsible for running the ballpark that bears their name. The volunteer organization even includes the mayor of Mesa, who serves as an usher for the right-field bleacher section.
When the final game was played at the original HoHoKam Park on March 26, 1996, the park was immediately torn down to accommodate the new structure. That won’t happen this time around. Though the Cubs are saying goodbye after 2013, the still modern-feeling ballpark will be renovated to become the new spring home of the Oakland Athletics.
The A’s will inherit a park not known for its character—when then-Cubs GM Larry Himes first conceived of the project, he envisioned a scaled-down version of Wrigley Field, but that idea was eventually rejected—but rich in Cubs tradition and scenic beauty.
“From the press box where I’m at, which is pretty much directly behind home plate, I get a panoramic view of the mountains. It’s really beautiful,” said Tim Sheridan, the public address announcer at HoHoKam since 1984 and creator of boysofspring.com. “I can look from my left to my right, going all the way across, and it’s one different mountain range after another. … I get to have that view, and the Cubs are down on the field right below me—it’s pretty amazing.”
No matter how beautiful a stadium is, it’s not the bricks and mortar that give it its worth. The real value of a ballpark is derived from the history that occurred there and the memories that are associated with it. And HoHoKam has seen its share of both, from Sosa putting the first dent in the outfield scoreboard with a mammoth homer against Oakland on March 1, 1997, to country music star Garth Brooks going 0-2 and committing an error as a Padres non-roster invitee on March 22, 1999.
“On a personal level, it means a lot, because the first game I ever called as the Cubs’ announcer was at HoHoKam in March 2005,” Kasper said. “[It was] Angels-Cubs. I remember an early Nomar Garciaparra double for some reason. And this was a meaningless exhibition game.”
PA announcer Sheridan has more than a few memories of both HoHoKam facilities. When he started in 1984, Spring Training was much different. There was no fanfare associated with Cubs games—no Jumbotrons, no music between innings, nothing but baseball and the Arizona sun. As a young man just out of college, Sheridan learned to do his job quietly, shoehorned between two Cubs broadcasting greats.
“The old [HoHoKam Park] had a wide-open press box,” said Sheridan, who was married at the newer HoHoKam in 2005. “It was basically like one long bench, and everybody was all lined up. I was right behind home plate. WGN to one side, WGN Radio to the other. Harry Caray was in one seat, and later on Ron Santo was in the other seat on the other side. So it was one of those ‘pinch me’ situations where I couldn’t believe that here I was sitting between these legends of the Chicago Cubs.”
Likely the biggest difference between HoHoKam Stadium and a major league ballpark like Wrigley Field (other than the weather) is the unrivaled access Spring Training offers fans. The stadium is smaller and things are more relaxed. Fans can get up close and personal with the Cubs before and after games, because players have a different mindset at Spring Training than they do once the regular season starts. They’re more at ease and having fun—it’s not do or die at that point. Plus, the demands on their time are fewer. It’s not uncommon to see Cubs management roaming the park or for fans to have a chance encounter with alumni like Rick Sutcliffe in the parking lot after a game.
“One of the best attributes of HoHoKam Stadium is the proximity of the fans to the field,” Streeter said. “You really feel like you’re part of the ballgame with how close fans can get to the players. If you’re sitting on the first-base line, you can overhear conversations from the dugout—you’re that close. HoHoKam Stadium is special because of the intimate feeling that catches you right upon arrival.”
In with the New
On January 25, 2010, the Mesa City Council approved a proposal to spend $84 million for a new, 15,000-seat Spring Training complex for the Cubs, thus marking the beginning of the end for the Cubs-HoHoKam partnership. From the preliminary designs, the new park will be modeled after Wrigley Field and will be built to the home park’s dimensions.
“Just as player conditioning has changed over the years, so has the fan conditioning. The new stadium is poised to offer some exciting elements not yet seen here in other stadiums that make up the Cactus League,” Streeter said. “Accommodating the Cubs fan has been just as much a part of the design and thought process with the new complex as it has been for the athlete.”
The Cubs will operate the new complex, which will be built east of HoHoKam Stadium on the site of the old Riverview Golf Course. Construction began on the project last year, and the basic structure of the new complex is already taking shape.
But Cubs fans will be leaving a lot behind when they walk away from HoHoKam Stadium at the end of March. They’ll be leaving a history that includes players from Banks to Barney, Santo to Samardzija. They’ll also be opening an exciting new chapter in their long history with the city of Mesa. Stadium manager Mark Gallo didn’t miss a beat when asked what he will miss most about the old ballyard.
“The Cubs fans—not only in February and March, but year-round,” he said. “I called them the three I’s. Cub fans from Illinois, Iowa and Indiana show up at HoHoKam at all times of the year just wanting to take pictures and walk around the stadium. Being able to open up the ballpark to the public is one of the great parts of my job. … Without a doubt, I have the best job in Mesa, thanks to Cubs fans.”
For Chicago residents, it can be a long, cold winter. One of the first signs that spring is finally on the way is the crack of the bat at Cubs Spring Training camp in Mesa, Ariz.
The Cubs played the first games of their Cactus League schedule over the weekend, giving fans a glimpse of future stars like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, in addition to regulars like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. If you can’t wait for Opening Day (and you shouldn’t), all of the Cubs 37 remaining Spring Training games will be broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet.
We sat down with broadcaster Len Kasper just before the Cubs final home opener at HoHoKam Stadium to talk about the season ahead, getting his voice into game shape and the difficulties of calling Spring Training games.
Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:
Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper readies for the home opener at HoHoKam Stadium Sunday. Kasper will be calling the game on MLB.com with Tennessee Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillespie at 2 p.m. CST. The Cubs play 38 more Cactus League games this season, and Spring Training broadcasts on MLB.com are free.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Chicago Cubs today announced their 2013 regular season television broadcast schedule. For the fifth season in a row, all 162 games will be available in high-definition in the Chicago area.
WGN will televise the Cubs’ Monday, April 1, season opener at the Pittsburgh Pirates at 12:35 p.m. CT, and Comcast SportsNet will have its first broadcast the next game, Wednesday, April 3, in Pittsburgh at 6:05 p.m. WCIU will televise its first game on Friday, April 19, when the Cubs play at the Milwaukee Brewers at 7:05 p.m.
Cubs games have been televised by WGN since 1948 and by WCIU since 2000. This will be Comcast SportsNet’s ninth season with the team.
Len Kasper returns for his ninth season in the Cubs’ television booth and will be joined by Jim Deshaies, who comes to the Cubs after 16 years in the Astros television booth. Former broadcaster Bob Brenly took a TV job with the Diamondbacks this offseason.
The Cubs will also be broadcasting 36 0f 39 spring contests on either WGN Radio, MLB.com, WGN Television, CSN or MLB Network. You can find the spring broadcast schedule here.
The first televised spring game, featuring Deshaies’ debut, will be Saturday, March 16, when the Cubs host Kansas City on WGN. Comcast SportsNet’s first game will be Monday, March 25, vs. San Francisco.
Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Len Kasper will again join Mick Gillispie, radio broadcaster for Chicago’s Double-A Tennessee affiliate, for most of the cubs.com internet radio broadcasts
Say goodbye to Len and Bob, and say hello to Len and JD. The Cubs welcomed new television analyst and former major league pitcher Jim Deshaies to the broadcast booth Wednesday morning in a press conference at Wrigley Field’s United Club. Deshaies, who recently completed his 16th season as an analyst for the Astros, said it was hard to leave Houston but that he couldn’t turn down what he considers the best broadcasting job in baseball.
“It’s going to be so much fun to be in a city where baseball matters no matter how the team is doing,’’ Deshaies said. “This place is a baseball-mad environment. The Astro guy had a hard time leaving Houston, but the baseball guy said this is the place to be.”
Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and play-by-play announcer Len Kasper helped the team welcome TV analyst Jim Deshaies to the Friendly Confines Wednesday morning. Deshaies, a 12-year major league pitcher who spent seven seasons with the Houston Astros, retired from the game in 1995. Two years later, he became the TV analyst for the Astros, a position he held until signing with the Cubs earlier this week.
In the press conference Wednesday, he noted how difficult it was to leave Houston but how excited he is for his new role.
“A lot of good people down there, so it was tough to leave. You don’t leave that situation easily,” Deshaies said. “You leave it when you get the best opportunity that there is in the game for guys that do what I do. And I’ve received a lot of messages from colleagues, who work for other clubs or I’ve worked with in the past, and frankly they’re really, really jealous.”
The 52-year-old Deshaies replaces Bob Brenly, who left to become the TV analyst for the Diamondbacks after eight seasons with the Cubs. Kasper and Brenly were known to have a strong relationship in the booth and were well liked by fans. While Deshaies and Kasper haven’t previously worked together, they have spent plenty of time getting to know each other around the majors.
“I think Lenny and I are going to have a blast,” Deshaies said. “I’ve gotten to know Len over the years because of our time together in the National League. We’ve spent a lot of time in the press lounge, sharing meals, swapping stories, talking about the game.”
Having spent more than 25 years visiting Wrigley Field as a player and analyst, the former starting pitcher understands the magnitude of his new position and is excited to get the season started.
“The Astro guy had a tough time leaving Houston, but the baseball guy says this is the place to be.”
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Monday night, WGN-TV and the Chicago Cubs announced that former Houston Astros broadcaster Jim Deshaies has agreed to a four-year contract to join Len Kasper in the booth as the television analyst for Cubs broadcasts on WGN-TV, Comcast SportsNet and WCIU-TV.
Deshaies, who pitched 12 years in the major leagues and seven with the Astros, joins the Cubs broadcast team after serving as an analyst for Houston since 1997.
“After spending the last 16 seasons with the Houston Astros, it will be a very tough organization and fan base to leave. However, I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather move than with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field,” Deshaies said. “My family and I look forward to meeting the great, passionate fans of the Cubs and we’re excited at what lies ahead in Chicago.”
Deshaies has a good reputation in the business as a strong analyst with a good wit, similar to former announcer Bob Brenly. Although Deshaies has no direct ties to the Cubs organization, he did announce for a former division rival, which means he is very familiar with the team.
“We’re very fortunate, along with our fan base, to welcome Jim as the next television analyst of the Chicago Cubs,” said Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations. “Jim expressed an incredible appreciation for Cubs baseball, the history of Wrigley Field, the strength of our fan base, his predecessors in the broadcast booth and [wanted the] opportunity to carry the tradition forward. He is a student of the game who incorporates his firsthand knowledge, stories and humor into the broadcast, and we’re excited to see him in the booth with Len.”
The following is an excerpt from the November issue of Vine Line, on sale now at Chicago-area retailers.
Good as Gold
When Darwin Barney came to Spring Training in 2011, he was expected to be a utility player. By the end of 2012, he was a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and a cornerstone of the Cubs’ future.
April 18, 2012, was a rough day for the Cubs.
It was the second game of a three-game road trip to the Marlins’ ultra-modern, “only-in-Miami” new ballpark. Starter Matt Garza struggled through five innings, while his mound opponent and former Chicago compatriot Mark Buehrle cruised through eight, surrendering one run. The Cubs managed just six hits in a 9-1 loss … and starting second baseman Darwin Barney didn’t make an error.
It was an altogether forgettable evening of baseball, except for one thing. This game touched off one of the best defensive runs in baseball history.
It would be more than five months—141 games—before Barney made another miscue in the field. During that nearly season-long stretch, the diminutive second baseman made all the plays (including a surprising number of spectacular ones), piled up records, and bypassed former coach and Cubs legend—and perhaps the best second baseman of all time—Ryne Sandberg.
“I’ve been around a long time, and he’s been as good as I’ve ever seen,” said manager Dale Sveum. “[Barney] has put together arguably one of the best defensive second base years in the history of the game. I mean, he’s passed a lot of people. And when you’re basically passing one of the best—if not the best (Ryne Sandberg)—it’s one heck of an accomplishment you can hang your hat on for the rest of your life.”
There are more obvious kinds of excellence. Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown practically begs for plaudits and superlatives—it necessitates hits, home runs, fireworks and its own SportsCenter playlist. Barney’s is a low-key, under-the-radar, grind-it-out kind of excellence.
An errorless game is nothing to get excited about. Major league ballplayers aren’t supposed to make errors. But given the physical and mental grind of 162 games, they all know how difficult it is to put together an extended errorless streak.
“If I had a 20-game streak, I was pleased with myself,” said former Cubs third base and infield coach Pat Listach, who played six seasons in the majors and was integral to Barney’s defensive improvement over the last two years. “This guy has got over 100. Just knowing how hard it is to do every day, day in and day out, made it more impressive every day.”
To a man, every player and coach immediately mentions Barney’s tireless work ethic and consuming drive to get better. He consistently receives the highest compliment a player can give to any other major leaguer: “He’s a baseball player.” And over the course of the 2012 season, Barney fashioned himself into perhaps the preeminent defensive second sacker in the game.
“His work ethic is off the charts,” Listach said. “He knows this is a game you can only play for a certain number of years, and he wants to be the best at it while he’s got that window open. He’s like the old-school baseball players. When us coaches leave after we’re done dissecting the game, he’s still there. He’s in the weight room, or he’s in the video room. He’s trying to make himself better every day.”
Given the way Barney handles the keystone, it would be easy to believe he’s spent his entire life mastering the position. But in reality, 2012 was only Barney’s second year at second base. He’d grown up and played his entire career as a shortstop, including at Oregon State University, where he said he really started to focus on his defensive play.
“We had a coach, Marty Lees, who’s now at Oklahoma State,” Barney said. “Every ground ball I took my freshman year, I felt like he had something to say. And I was so frustrated because [it was] every single ground ball. And we took a lot of ground balls.”
When Barney made his debut as the Cubs’ starting second baseman on Opening Day 2011, it was just the 24th game he had played the position as a professional. Although he thought the transition would be easy, he said he was often uncomfortable in the field, especially turning the double play. He ultimately finished the 2011 season with 12 errors and a .981 fielding percentage—a decent defensive season for a guy adjusting to a new position—but Barney was far from satisfied.
“I just took a lot of pride in the work that I did,” Barney said. “I was always conscious about my habits and my practice efforts and getting to work every single day. A lot of times when you’re tired, you take your defense off and take less ground balls. For me, I take less swings. I make sure I get my work in on defense and stay solid out there.”
By almost any measure—advanced metrics, errors, fielding percentage or just the eye test—Barney’s 2012 was one of the best defensive seasons for a second baseman in the history of the game. In 156 games, Barney made only three errors—one of which came at shortstop—and amassed a .997 fielding percentage at second base. Baseball-Reference had Barney tied with Brendan Ryan of the Mariners for the best defensive wins above replacement (3.6) mark in the major leagues in 2012.
“This is my 11th full year doing big league games, and this is the best defensive year by an individual player I’ve witnessed,” said Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. “I think we’ve come a long way with defensive statistics and how to look at defense. The bottom line is: Forget about the errors and fielding percentage. It’s about balls hit in your area and turning them into outs. It’s been borne out in the statistics that every ball hit in his area turns into an out.”
But Barney is not spending the offseason resting on his defensive laurels. Despite his superlative campaign, he still wants to get better around the bag turning double plays. He plans to work on his speed and flexibility to improve his range. And he wants to continue to refine his routine so he’s ready to play every day. And for people who know Barney, none of this comes as a surprise.
“A lot of times, players have a tendency to work on the things they do well,” said Dave McKay, the Cubs’ first base and outfield coach. “Darwin works on everything. He works on his backhand, he works on his feeds, ground balls hit up the middle, ground balls hit to his left. He works on them all because he wants to be that guy—he wants to be the Gold Glove second baseman. I think once he gets it, he’s going to get it forever.”
The Cubs’ 2012 season has been all about adjustments. Year One of the Theo Epstein regime is in the books, and despite the struggles at the major league level, the future is looking a little brighter. The Cubs took advantage of the draft and trade deadline to bolster their minor league system, but Epstein is far from complacent.
“I think we’ve made some pretty significant changes in direction as well as philosophy,” Epstein said. “It’s hard to talk about the year, though, without talking about the frustration that goes with it. We aren’t even close to where we want to be.”
One of the biggest changes late in the season has been the Cubs’ infusion of youth. Anthony Rizzo was called up on June 26 and made an immediate impact. On Aug. 5, top prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters joined him on the parent club. In the October issue of Vine Line, we talk to the two good friends about their paths through the Cubs system and what they hope to accomplish at Wrigley.
“I can remember countless times just over the past couple of years, where either one of us was struggling or both of us were struggling, and we’d talk about it,” Vitters said. “I think we both know each other as a player enough that we have a decent idea of what it is the other person’s doing if they’re struggling a little bit or going through a rough patch.”
For our end-of-season issue, we also went to our blog to ask readers to help us determine the best highlights from the Cubs’ 2012 season. Despite the down year record-wise, the Cubs had a surprising amount of incredible memories, from Kerry Wood’s retirement to Ron Santo’s Hall of Fame induction to Alfonso Soriano’s bounceback year. You’ll find the results in our cover story, 12 for ’12.
Finally, we went into the booth with Len Kasper and Bob Brenly to get an inside look at what it really takes to put on a major league broadcast. If you think talking about baseball for four hours every day seems easy, think again.
For all these stories and more, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up an issue at select Chicago-area retailers. We’ve also launched a Vine Line Twitter account at @cubsvineline to keep you posted on Cubs happenings up to the minute—from Wrigley Field events like the Bruce Springsteen concert last month to all the breaking hot stove news.