By Eric Clark
Almost five months removed from his latest appearance in the broadcast booth at Wrigley Field, Len Kasper can feel the hype surrounding the Chicago Cubs 2015 campaign. “It’s the first time in a long time that this team has had this sort of exposure and spotlight on it,” he said.
As Kasper enters his 11th season with the Cubs, he is tasked with providing play-by-play for an expectation-laden team and a fan base yearning for a winner. The Mount Pleasant, Michigan, native shared his thoughts on the upcoming season with Medill.
Quotations have been edited for clarity.
Eric Clark: How has this offseason been different from those of past years?
Len Kasper: This offseason has been totally exciting. I think the comparison I would make would be to 2007 when the Cubs signed (Alfonso) Soriano, they brought in (manager) Lou Piniella, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis. I think they spent $300 million that offseason. This kind of feel likes that, although that happened around the time of making a managerial change.
This year, while there was a managerial change with (Joe) Maddon, it feels like the process has remained consistent because this is the next step of that process. It definitely feels different than the last four or five years for sure.
EC: How do you feel about attention that offseason activity has garnered?
LK: I think (President of Baseball Operations) Theo (Epstein) would be the first to tell you that you don’t win games in December. And while his job is to put the best and most talented team on the field, you’re never quite sure about how new guys are going to fit in on a team.
I simply look at the fact that the guys they’ve brought in are not really replacing anybody that they were going to count on, in terms of young players. It’s more of supplementing.
EC: Is there an under-the-radar move that the Cubs made that isn’t receiving a ton of attention?
LK: I think the one move that’s most intriguing and maybe not as talked about is the Dexter Fowler trade. The Cubs didn’t have to give up a top prospect to get a premiere leadoff hitter and a guy the Cubs really haven’t had, certainly since I’ve been here. He’s a switch-hitting, everyday leadoff guy who gets on base. To me, the biggest question going into the season was ‘Can they score enough runs?’ The biggest issue this team has had is not getting on base enough. That was clearly a target for this front office this offseason. … Fowler, I think, is about as good as you can do it in terms of finding a guy like that.
EC: How was the 2015 Cubs Convention different from the conventions of past years?
LK: More people, way more excitement. The Rizzo ‘MVP’ chants, Joe Maddon was welcomed like a rock star. I could just feel the excitement. There’s always excitement. … The intensity of it was really ratcheted up this year. That’s always a good sign. … It’s the first time in a long time that this team has had this sort of exposure and spotlight on it.
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EC: Are Anthony Rizzo and Jason Hammel’s confident comments dangerous fodder for the fan base?
LK: I think this is unique in that sometimes you may not want guys to say, ‘We’re going to win the division,’ and guarantee all this stuff. … [But] because this team hasn’t been competitive for a long time, and because it now has a manager who kind of embraces the pressure, I think it worked. I think it added some fun and some excitement. … I think if this team wasn’t built to win now, it may come off as just talk. But I think [Rizzo] fully expects them to be there when it’s crunch time and I kind of agree with him.
EC: As a broadcaster, do you feel any responsibility to temper that excitement for the fan base?
LK: I think it’s more about what my personality is. I tend to live more in the middle. For me, because it’s a long season and because every single day there’s a new game, it’s really draining emotionally and physically if you ride that roller coaster every day. I’m a fan, but I’m a broadcaster first, and there is a difference. I think I’m able to compartmentalize each game as it comes and not get overly excited or overly disappointed on the day-to-day basis. You want your team to win, but my first job is to make sure I do my job correctly.
EC: How much does objectivity factor into your job as a broadcaster?
LK: The words that I try to come up with are fair. In terms of the game call, if an umpire’s call is obvious, you have to say it – that’s number one. I don’t want to say fair and balanced, but you want to be fair in your call. It’s obvious that we are Cubs’ broadcasters, but I think (color commentator) [Jim Deshaies] would say this too: our credibility matters as baseball observers, so a bad play is a bad play.
The number one thing for me in that realm is that when I say ‘That’s a great play’ or ‘This guy’s had a great week’ or whatever, that you have to counterbalance that by saying when a guy is struggling or had a bad play. If it’s only one and not the other, people stop hearing it after a while. I don’t want to be the guy who decides that everything is great all the time – because then when something really is great, nobody actually notices that you said it.
EC: Are you a proponent of any of the proposed changes to the game, such as the “pitch clock” or a reduced strike zone?
LK: I have said publicly that you can’t make suggestions on pacing, but I do think to get guys to make changes you have to legislate it. The clock thing is something I’m philosophically in favor of, but I want to see it in action before I come down on one side or the other. My guess is it’s something young guys will get used to, then it’ll be fine … I don’t know if this game needs more offense or more runs necessarily, but I do think it needs more action and less standing around and talking on the mound. Sometimes, the games feel very disjointed. A 2-1 game should not go three hours and thirty minutes, and that happens way more often than it used to.