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Len Kasper's departure says a lot about Marquee
And it's all bad
Cubs fans have prepared themselves to lose some of their favorite players (and Albert Almora), but nobody thought they had any reason to worry that one of the announcers was going to bolt. And yet, on Friday, Len Kasper announced that after 16 seasons as the TV voice of the Cubs he had begged out of his Marquee Sports Network contract so that he could go do, radio? For the White Sox? Oh, for fuck’s sake.
We have no reason to doubt Kasper’s sincerity, and so I won’t. If he says he’s long been jealous that a team’s TV crew’s season ends just as the games are getting important, and that the radio announcers get to do all of the playoff games, fine. Len was working for the Cubs when the biggest moment in team history occurred and we’ll spend the rest of our lives hearing Joe Buck and Pat Hughes’ calls of it.
By going to the White Sox he doesn’t have to move, and he gets to work with his pal Jason Benetti.
Kasper took great pains to assure anyone listening during his Zoom press conference that he didn’t leave because of anything anyone at Marquee did.
I can believe that. It’s not about what Marquee did, it’s about what Marquee is.
Instead of focusing on the exact circumstances that led to Len calling up his bosses last Monday and telling them he didn’t want them to be his bosses anymore, let’s focus on what all this clearly means about the Cubs’ milquetoast team-owned TV network.
It means, in a nutshell that Marquee is an even bigger shit show than we thought it was.
Kasper had, what in theory, was one of the very best jobs in sports. He was the TV announcer for an iconic baseball franchise with a gigantic, rabid, international fanbase, and unlike his team does currently, he enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive approval rating. Sure, his Twitter mentions got a little rough from time to time, but whose doesn’t? I mean, you’ve met other Cubs fans, right?
Len insisted that the move from WGN, ABC-7 and NBC Sports Net had nothing to do with his desire to leave, but come on.
He voluntarily decided to move to an inferior medium, to work for a team with a fraction of the fanbase of the one he was working for, to broadcast on an AM frequency that barely makes it to the parking lots west of the United Center after dark.
He chose to take a job where you have to talk to Darrin Jackson for three and a half hours a day. Nobody wants to do that. Even Dick Cheney told the military that it was too cruel when he found out they were pumping Jackson and Ed Farmer’s broadcasts into Abu Ghraib.
The fact is the only programming Marquee had that wasn’t embarrassing last season were the actual game broadcasts with Len and Jim Deshaies. But we could see Marquee needlessly, and senselessly tinkering with them in many unproductive ways.
At least once a week they foisted the unctuous Ryan Dempster into the booth where he added nothing, and usually ground the broadcasts to a halt. On occasion they had Mark Grace Zoom into games from his home bar—which would have been curious even if it was good, which it wasn’t.
Marquee never knew what to do with “sideline” reporter Taylor McGregor, and so her hits usually ended with her asking Len and JD some nonsensical question that they had no interest in answering.
And, for some ridiculous reason, the Marquee “suits” insisted that Len and JD wear suits on the air. In the summer. When we only saw them for a grand total of maybe three minutes per game. The reasoning given by Marquee GM Mike McCarthy (no, not that Mike McCarthy) was that he wanted the games to have a national broadcast feel.
Why? Fans hate national broadcasts, all they ever do is bitch about them. You should be going for the opposite of a national broadcast feel. Hell, they should have taken advantage of broadcasting in an empty Wrigley Field by having Len and JD wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts and do games from the bleachers while grilling out on a Weber charcoal grill and drinking Old Style.
But Dempster and Grace and Taylor and the suits were just the stuff we noticed. Marquee’s idea of cutting edge technology is apparently a wind meter pointed at the outfield. Hey Len, talk about that for twenty minutes a night. You can also guarantee that there was bookoo meddling that we didn’t know about.
Marquee’s obsession with Dempster is bordering on the obscene and it’s very clear that they’d just as soon he broadcast everything, even though there are no Cubs fans who think he’s anything more than “fine” and the vast majority think he’s an unfunny cloying kiss ass. Nobody is tuning in to see Dempster do anything, as the ratings (I hesitate to use the plural) for his awful talk show prove.
At the end of the day Kasper chose to take a pay cut (there’s no way he’s making close to TV money on AM-1000) to leave a network that’s so prestigious its key in-game advertisers are a debunked memory pill and a herpes medication.
Just as telling was that when The Athletic broke the story of Len leaving Marquee that sources at Marquee offered up that seventh tier Fox NFL announcer Chris Myers was going to get the job. Fan reaction was so negative to that choice that in mere hours Marquee was touting the national search they were going to do and that many intriguing names had reached out to them for the position.
Myers was hired last year at the recommendation of Bill Murray (no shit, that’s how Marquee does this, they just take random hiring advice from the guy who is the voice of Garfield because when he read Joel Cohen’s name on the script he thought it was written by the Joel Cohen of Cohen Brothers fame—it wasn’t.) Myers was going to fill-in for Kasper when Len did some Fox national games, but those went by the wayside when the pandemic shortened the season and restricted travel.
Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for Myers, though in recent years the sound of his voice just reeks of Lions-Giants. Back when I was in college my buddies and I had a drunken argument about Buffalo Bills safety Mark Kelso’s stupid rubber helmet extension.
ESPN was on and we saw a promo for the upcoming 1 am SportsCenter, so I looked up the area code for Connecticut, called information there and asked for the ESPN newsroom number and got it. We called it, asked for Myers, who we knew was doing SportsCenter that night (because we’d just seen his promo) and told the ESPN operator that I was Kelso. It was Super Bowl week, so Myers excitedly took the call, only to realize it was just four drunk college guys. Still, he amiably chatted with us, and even dropped a “that’s some weird wild stuff” on us upon request. And I don’t even remember what our argument about Kelso’s helmet condom was about.
But, let’s just say that celebrity Twitter is at odds on Myers.
I really like Len and was very happy to have him calling games of my favorite teams for 16 years. We all needed Chip Caray to go away after eight years of being terrible at his job (and never, ever shutting up), and the Cubs originally chose current Red Sox TV play-by-play guy Dave O’Brien, but ESPN would not let him out of his other obligations and the Cubs went with Len instead. That worked out great for all of us.
But, needless to say this is not the equivalent of Harry Caray dumping the Sox for the Cubs in 1982. The Sox are getting a really good announcer, not an iconic bombastic personality, and Len would never pretend it’s anything else.
But for Cubs fans it hurts none the less. It’s obvious that Marquee wants to force Deshaies out, eventually. And Marquee’s other hires do nothing to give us any confidence that they won’t botch the hire of Len’s replacement.
A year and a half ago everyone was connecting obvious dots that Marquee would hire Dave Kaplan to host its pre and postgame shows. He was already strongly identified with the team through his work first at WGN Radio and then at Comcast/NBC Sports Net, and when he reupped at what would soon be a Cubs-less NBC Sports everybody scratched their heads and went into their cryo tanks for deep reflection.
If that was our first tangible sign that the Cubs were botching their TV network, we got another big one late last week.
And if Kasper wanted to do radio, it sure seems like the Cubs could have worked something out. Pat Hughes is 65 (which, admittedly is still pretty youthful among radio play by play guys who all spend their glory years drinking Bourbon and Ensure in the booth) but has a throat condition that requires Zach Zaidman to non-sensically scream at us one inning per night (which I assume Pat can hear from the bathroom). At least that gives us a respite from Zach’s obsequious cackling at anything resembling a joke from either Pat or Ron Coomer.
This can’t just be about Len wanting to get his inner Ernie Harwell on while Tony LaRussa is trying to inform the umpires of a double-switch but has somehow doddered out onto the concourse and is instead showing his lineup card to the churro guy.
There’s no way this was more about going to the White Sox than it was choosing to leave the Cubs.
What has me particularly worried about the search for Len’s replacement is McCarthy’s nonsense about wanting a national feel to the broadcasts. What if Bob Costas has officially reached the Dick Enberg to the Padres portion of his career? With Myers around to fill in, Costas could still meet his MLB Network obligations and he’s kicked the idea around before of doing a few seasons of play by play with one team. I don’t need every Cubs game to turn into a 210 minute soliloquy about how much better baseball used to be.
Could the Cubs and Marquee find a way to work around Adam Amin’s Bulls duties and his Fox Sports obligations? Of course they could. Will they? Don’t bet on it.
Kevin Kugler was in town to do Bears-Lions so he’s already got experiencing announcing civic indignities. He’s a solid announcer with a bad haircut, who does Big Ten Network stuff, is a Cubs fan and don’t underestimate the value of his nine (count ‘em, nine!) Nebraska broadcaster of the year awards on the garbage family that owns the Cubs.
Local guy Wayne Randazzo has the good sense to follow me on Twitter and he’s also a good announcer, though I shudder to think why he’d give up his job with the suddenly solvent Mets to subject himself to a 2022 Cubs lineup sure to be highlighted by David Bote, Victor Caratini (at first base, probably), Ildemaro Vargas, Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall.
And there are a lot more. Some are pie in the sky, like Dodgers’ and Fox announcer Joe Davis, who is already one of the best in the game, and some are such terrible ideas that they seem right in Marquee’s wheelhouse:
“What if, bear with me here, we have Dempster do play-by-play as Harry Caray?”
”Hey, maybe Derek Holland could also do his Harry at the same time!”
Len’s a great guy who provided us many seasons of unfailingly good, fun, professional, easy to listen to broadcasts. Whatever his real reasons are for ditching Cubs TV for the screaming into the void that White Sox radio is, if it makes him happy, then I’m happy for him. Not for us, but for him, sure.
Being a Cubs fan has been pretty much a daily kick to the nuts ever since Wade Davis struck Bryce Harper out to end the 2017 NLDS, and this is just another one. We’re basically all eunuchs at this point. How much can any additional kicks even hurt?
We’ll find out in February when they trade Kris Bryant to the Dodgers for Chris Taylor and Pedro Baez.
Speaking of the Bears—which we kind of were up there a few paragraphs ago—I mean, what the fuck? Nobody blows a 10 point lead to the Lions with 2:20 left in a game. Well, almost nobody.
At this point, I’m so numb to the once stunning (now merely accepted) incompetence of Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky that I was more bemused by the whole thing than anything else. My wife didn’t even realize they were losing on the final drive because she hadn’t heard a peep out of me.
Bears football right now is basically just a thing that happens once a week whether we want it to or not. Some of the fanbase is enraged, but more and more of it just can’t work up any real anger anymore. That’s a very, very bad thing for the incompetent family that owns that team.
The Visor could have skated through the final five weeks of this season by merely beating the Lions and Jaguars. That would have made him 7-9 and he and the coiffed douchebag that serves as his boss could have snowed the nonagenarian owner and her conflict averse son at the end of the season meeting about how proud of the “boys” they were to get through, what Vags surely refers to as her “long feared recurrence of the Spanish Flu,” with a record nearly as good as last year’s. The lack of fans at games this year has meant Nagy and his lads have avoided being booed off the field at the half and after every game like they were just about every week last year. But now there has to be a real fear that while fans can’t go to games this year that they might just not want to go to games next year.
You and I know that Ryan Pace and Nagy have to go. Pace put his job on the line when he traded up (needlessly) to draft Mitch and it has spectacularly failed. Nagy was supposed to come in and win with Mitch and turn the Bears into an offensive football team.
Well, they are pretty offensive, just not in the way he was supposed to make them.
But George McCaskey doesn’t want to have to decide what to do about Pace and Nagy. Because I’m weird, I picture him paralyzed like James Wilson at the end of 1776. In the movie (and play) the only thing standing between the colonies and issuing the Declaration of Independence is the majority decision of the Pennsylvania delegation. Benjamin Franklin is for, John Dickinson is against and it’s left to Wilson, who says this to Dickinson, who has heretofore assumed Wilson will side with him:
“I don’t want to be remembered. I just don’t want the responsibility…If I go with them, I’ll just be one among dozens. No one will ever remember the name of James Wilson. But if I vote with you, I’ll be the man who prevented American independence. I’m sorry John. I just didn’t bargain for that.”
First off, yes, James Wilson gets bullied by the voice of KITT from Knight Rider and no, the guy playing John Dickinson isn’t Phil Hartman, but damn, it could be, couldn’t it?
But I guess it’s what Dickinson says to Wilson that makes me think of George.
“And is that how (Pace and Nagy keep their jobs), by a non-entity trying to preserve the anonymity he so richly deserves?”
When George announced the firings of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman after the 2014 season he tried to pin it on his mother being “pissed off.” He took no responsibility for it. This time, the decision is just as obvious, and he really needs to man up and make it.
The Bears once vaunted (as in just weeks ago) defense has worn out. The offense somehow scored 30 points and it wasn’t enough to beat the Lions. The Bears did it by competently running the ball. They rushed for 140 yards and David Montgomery averaged 4.2 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 5.9. And yet, when faced with a second and seven at the two minute warning with a chance to salt the game away with a first down, they called two pass plays. Mitch ran on the first, but on the second he held onto the ball too long, didn’t feel the pressure coming off the edge, was hit and fumbled to set up a short Lions TD to take the lead. Then, Allen Robinson lost track of the first down marker on the Bears final drive, went out just short and a very slow developing run play was stuffed on fourth and one to end it.
The Bears are a bad team with a mediocre record. Which is just about the worst thing you can be. They can’t beat good teams, and apparently, now they can’t beat bad ones.
There is no reason not to change things. But you wonder if George just doesn’t want the responsibility.
Want to tie these two themes together? The Bears and Marquee announced their partnership (which includes a weekly show and rebroadcast of the previous week’s game—apparently, I don’t think anyone has ever watched either), on October 14. The Bears had just beaten Tampa to go 4-1.
Since, they are 1-6 with those six losses coming in a row (and counting.)
It just seems so fitting.
The shut-ins over at Al Yellon’s Grievance Blog posted a poll about who they would like to see succeed Kasper.
It’s just so perfectly them.