Jim Deshaies was bracing himself when Len Kasper called with news he said Deshaies would never guess.
“You’re the new play-by-play guy for the Boston Red Sox,” Deshaies replied.
“No,” Kasper said, “but, wow, you’re close.”
Deshaies then thought Kasper, a Michigan native, was returning to his roots to call Tigers games. Wrong again.
Kasper told Deshaies, his partner in the Cubs’ TV booth since 2013, that he was leaving to call White Sox games on the radio.
“I was a bit surprised,” Deshaies said recently. “It came outta nowhere.”
That was the popular feeling when the news broke late Dec. 3 that Kasper was ending his 16-year run on the North Side to move south.
But Kasper’s reason for leaving was widely understood.
“Knowing Len, in hindsight, his explanation and knowing the way he thinks, it ultimately made perfect sense,” Deshaies said. “If you wanna be a radio guy, a radio opportunity opens up, and you don’t have to leave town. I completely get it.”
Now, for the first time in his 24-year broadcasting career, Deshaies will be the one welcoming a new partner when Jon “Boog” Sciambi joins him on Marquee Sports Network.
“Cubs fans are so lucky,” said Kasper, who worked with Sciambi with the Marlins and is a close friend. “He and JD are gonna be so great. It’s gonna be instant.”
With his humor and knowledge, Deshaies didn’t take long to grow on Cubs fans, and from their interactions over the years, he’s confident Sciambi will be received just as well.
“I’m excited because I know what kind of a person he is,” Deshaies said. “There’s a decent number of divas in our business, but he’s just a real good dude, an easy guy to get along with.
“[Sciambi and Kasper] are very similar stylistically. It should be real smooth. I’ll just keep rolling the way I’ve rolled, and we’ll make it work.”
Deshaies has made his second career work very well after 12 years as a big-league starting pitcher, including seven with the Astros. It began innocently with a phone call to Larry Dierker, who was leaving his analyst job in the Astros’ booth after 18 years to become their manager.
Deshaies offered his congratulations, and during the conversation, perhaps knowing Deshaies’ jovial personality, Dierker had an idea.
“You know, you might be good at my old job,” he said.
At 36 years old and with a political science degree he didn’t know what to do with from Le Moyne College, near his native Massena, New York, Deshaies figured it was worth finding out.
“I think they had one or two guys ahead of me that they offered the job to, and they turned it down,” Deshaies said. “I think the other guys wanted to get paid, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m good. Whatever.’ My wife [Lori] and I decided to give it a shot. We ended up doing it for 16 years.”
Deshaies joined Bill Brown in the Astros’ booth (he also worked with former Cubs announcer Milo Hamilton), and the “Brownie and JD” show eventually took off. Eventually.
“When I first started, I was terrible,” Deshaies said. “I didn’t really listen to myself, and it’s always a challenge when you’re the new guy because it’s a different voice. You’re gonna turn some people off. Bill Brown was such a good partner, and he really helped me ease into it. Somewhere along the way I came to the point, I’m just sitting here watching a ballgame with a couple of buddies.’’
Dierker was an influence, too. You might think ballplayers can’t listen to broadcasters during games, but Deshaies, in his typical self-deprecating humor, said that wasn’t the case.
“When you come out of most of your starts after 5⅓, you have plenty of time to go to the clubhouse and listen to the broadcast,” Deshaies said. “Larry Dierker was doing it in Houston when I was playing, and I thought Dirk was really good. I thought he had great insight, good humor.
“If I don’t feel like I got off a couple of good one-liners in the course of a game, I’m a little disappointed. I wanna make people laugh.”
Deshaies’ popularity caught WGN’s attention when Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly left for the Diamondbacks’ booth after the 2012 season.
“We didn’t have the no-brainer candidate,” said WGN director or production Bob Vorwald, who hired Deshaies. “But we knew Len was very friendly with JD, I knew his work much better than I knew him, and all together, there’s one guy that was just better than everybody else.
“He’s unique because he’s so curious. He’s not afraid to ask a question on the air. He’s also not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ He’s never a guy who has to tell you he’s the smartest guy in the room. Sometimes I think he downplays his big-league experience too much.”
Though he lacked connections, Deshaies understood the Cubs, their history and their fans, having watched them from the Astros’ booth as division foes and pitching against them. In fact, his last start came at Wrigley Field with the Phillies on July 30, 1995. It didn’t go well — he allowed six runs and two home runs in 1⅓ innings — and the Phillies released him the next day. Deshaies retired soon after.
But it spawned a broadcasting career that has made Deshaies one of the most popular analysts in the game.
“He’s one of these guys, if you’re around the ballpark, everybody likes him,” Vorwald said. “It’s too lazy of me to say he’s a left-hander, but he looks at life a few degrees from the straight line that maybe the rest of us do. That particular view I find entertaining and a great way to teach the game, which I think he does a really good job with.”
“There’s nothing you can’t throw at him that he can’t give you a pithy answer,” Kasper said. “And I’ve never worked with anybody quite like him in that regard.”