Sweet 16: Len Kasper set to catch Harry Caray in Cubs longevity
I had two thoughts when I noticed that: It felt like Caray was around a lot longer, and it doesn’t feel that long at all for Kasper. Maybe that says something about them.
It isn’t exactly a milestone, and it’s only about halfway to the record, but it’s still meaningful.
Whenever baseball returns, Len Kasper will tie Hall of Famer Harry Caray with 16 seasons as the Cubs’ TV voice. Jack Brickhouse has the most with 34.
I had two thoughts when I noticed that: It felt like Caray was around a lot longer, and it doesn’t feel that long at all for Kasper.
Maybe that says something about them. Caray was a party in the booth every day with dramatic calls and a personality that often overshadowed the team. Kasper is much more understated, delivering a consistent and steady broadcast.
But his longevity is evidence that his way works, too. There’s no secret sauce beneath what Kasper serves. Though his style was derived from another Hall of Famer, former Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, Kasper never has tried to be someone he isn’t. He wouldn’t be a Harwell disciple if their demeanors didn’t match.
“I’m me all the time,” said Kasper, 49, “I think in Chicago, people like their broadcasters to be human beings first and broadcasters second. There were times when I would hear, ‘You need to be more like this guy or that guy.’ My answer is always, ‘I’m just going to be the best Len Kasper I can be.’ That sounds really trite, but it’s true.”
Kasper grew up listening to Harwell in Michigan. Harwell called Tigers games for more than 40 years, and his philosophy clicked with Kasper, who called Harwell “relentlessly consistent.” No matter the score or situation, he maintained a buoyant and friendly sound. As Kasper was coming up in the business, he became close with Harwell, who kept tabs on his pupil’s progress.
Cubs fans largely appreciate Kasper’s broadcasts, particularly the banter he has shared with previous analyst Bob Brenly and current partner Jim Deshaies. Some wish Kasper had a signature phrase or home-run call, like Caray. But, again, that’s not him. Kasper prefers to have the leeway to make every call unique. He doesn’t want to sound rote. Besides, except for the occasional “Oh, baby!” nothing has come naturally that’s worth clinging to.
“Fans tend to, when they like [the broadcast], they like that it’s comfortable, that I don’t annoy them,” Kasper said in all seriousness. “There’s a big value in that, I’m telling you. It’s a game of comfort. You’re on three hours a day for an entire six-month season. The last thing you want to do is annoy people.”
Kasper has made sure to keep one fan comfortable in particular. In his first year with the Cubs, Kasper received a handwritten letter from a woman who was a longtime Cubs fan. She told him that, when the team wins, he should say “Cubs win” because Caray said it.
“She said that’s a very comforting thing, and I read that and I totally agreed with her,” Kasper said. “And I thought, it’s not my thing, it’s a Cubs thing. I think it is comfort food for Cubs fans and they like it and I hope to pass it on to the next TV voice.”
When Kasper will be able to say it again is another issue as players and owners hash out the economics of a shortened season. In the meantime, he’ll host his new podcast with Deshaies, “Open Concessions with Len and JD” – which the team plans to continue during the season and offseason – and make occasional appearances on the Cubs’ new home, Marquee Sports Network.
And when baseball resumes, Kasper will resume his role – as himself.
“If you are you and people like it – or maybe better put, don’t hate it – you can last awhile.”