Len Kasper Goes South

Today’s edition of the newsletter is about Len Kasper’s surprising departure from the Cubs’ TV booth, to take the helm of the White Sox’s radio broadcast. Here’s an excerpt:

Personally, I experienced the news mostly as a longtime Cubs fan, for whom Kasper has become a staple of spring and summer. Neither football nor basketball fans can fully understand what a great local broadcaster means to an MLB team, especially once they’ve been in place for over a decade, but this is a community of baseball lovers, so I need hardly explain it to you. 

A broadcaster has an exponentially gentler aging curve than a player. There’s no default expectation that a broadcaster will move on, at some point, the way a player inevitably will. Most importantly, a broadcaster’s career can stretch three times as long as even the most durable player’s. For all of those reasons, a broadcaster can first shape, then refine, then embody a fan culture, changing the very fabric of a franchise across three generations. 

Kasper’s unpretentious wit, threaded with his intimate knowledge of both the history and the modern makeup of the game; makes him a great game-caller. He keeps the game at the center of his show, but lets in enough levity and breadth of interest to keep dry or low-stakes contests lively. He balances a decorous style and objective eye with an unfeigned emotional connection to his subject, which lets fans feel that he wants the team to win (almost) as much as they do. In short, I view him as the best play-by-play broadcaster in baseball, save possibly Tigers radio man Dan Dickerson, and (for the very reasons given above) we should pay as much attention to a broadcaster of that stature changing teams as we do to players, managers, and executives doing the same.

For 16 years, Kasper and his partners (first, Bob Brenly, and then Jim Deshaies, who was perhaps the pitch-perfect fit for Kasper’s style) kept the Cubs watchable in bad years, and made them thoroughly likable in good times. At all times, Kasper was a bulwark against mounting pressure for a historically unique and almost countercultural franchise to assimilate into a corporatized, sanitized big-league baseball culture. Kasper has been willing to change with the times, but never eager to embrace the depersonalization of the game.

Now, just when it’s needed most, that bulwark is gone.

You can read more, including thoughts on what really grates on Cubs fans in the wake of this move, and on the importance of the game’s best local play-by-play man choosing the radio, by clicking the Buy Now button on the righthand side of your page (or at the bottom, on mobile). Subscriptions cost $11.11 per year.

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