Scouting Jon Sciambi halfway through his first season on Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network
“I do this job as connective, me being connected to the players, the managers and the baseball people,” Sciambi said. “And with that, I connect to the audience. That’s important to me. I angst over it sometimes. I want to be great.”
When I wrote in December that I wanted Jon ‘‘Boog’’ Sciambi to replace Len Kasper in the Cubs’ TV booth, I didn’t know the Cubs were pursuing him and would hire him two weeks later. I just knew what I had heard from listening to him for so long on ESPN: He was perfect for the job.
(I know. Lousy reporting, Agrest.)
Halfway through his first season on Marquee Sports Network, Sciambi has been everything I had hoped. He has brought a sound and demeanor similar to that of his good friend Kasper, who’s now on White Sox radio. He has connected easily with analyst Jim Deshaies, making for good conversation and a lot of laughs. And with a sharp eye for numbers, he has examined players in a digestible context for viewers.
Sciambi said it all starts with the relationship he has developed with Deshaies.
‘‘I love getting the chance to work with JD every day,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m so grateful that he’s my partner. I think he’s smart, he’s fun, he’s open, and I just really enjoy our conversations. And I look forward to seeing him every day. That is a crucial part of delivering a good broadcast.’’
That positive working environment extends beyond the booth. Sciambi, who grew up in New York, said he has felt at home in Chicago since moving into his building in Streeterville.
‘‘There’s something about being here that feels like this is right,’’ he said. ‘‘I have to think that that’s affecting the broadcast in a positive way.’’
Sciambi and Deshaies often have been joined by a second analyst, which is new for longtime Cubs viewers. But it’s nothing new for Sciambi, who called a majority of games at ESPN in a three-person booth and is a strong believer in the setup with so much downtime available.
It was a treat last week to listen to Sciambi, Deshaies and former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe together. ‘‘Boog’’ and ‘‘Sut’’ worked together at ESPN, and their chemistry was evident. Combined with Deshaies, the three made for great conversation, even during the duds against the Phillies.
That said, it would make sense to add a hitter to the mix at some point. Two former pitchers can’t speak to what a batter is looking for with the authority of an accomplished hitter. Perhaps Doug Glanville, another former Cub, could move out of the studio on occasion to bring that perspective.
Sciambi adds an interesting perspective of his own with player evaluations. He often uses percentages to examine players, giving viewers context of where players rate. As opposed to relying on complex sabermetrics that require definition, Sciambi makes evaluations easy to understand.
‘‘The thing that I find so crucial is, if I’m telling you that the two stats that correlate most with run-scoring are on-base and slugging [percentage] and you’re not familiar, then it’s imperative for me to tell you that the major-league average this year is .316 in on-base,’’ Sciambi said. ‘‘That’s where I go with context. This guy strikes out 31% of batters; the major-league average is 23.8%
‘‘I’m not that smart; I’m not super math guy. I feel like it’s important information, but if I can’t deliver it in a digestible manner, it’s pointless. I do think I’m good at delivering that information that way.’’
He also delivers information from baseball executives with whom he has developed relationships through the years. Those conversations can lead to teachable moments on the air.
In preparation for a series last month against the Indians, Sciambi spoke with Indians general manager Mike Chernoff. They were discussing right-hander Aaron Civale, who was having a good year before suffering a finger injury against the Cubs. Sciambi questioned whether Civale was the real deal because of his low strikeout rate and asked if he was forcing soft contact.
‘‘Chernoff said to me, ‘I think that the peripherals show that he’s good at that,’ ’’ Sciambi said. ‘‘Then he pauses and says, ‘He’s got a lot of wins, right?’ And I go, ‘Mike, he’s got 10 wins.’ And he starts laughing.
‘‘The point is this: If the general manager of the Indians is not evaluating the performance of his guys by wins, I don’t know why we should be doing it. If I talk to a general manager and I say, ‘Who leads your team in RBI this year?’ and the GM says to me, ‘I have no idea,’ it should inform you that we need to start moving away from it. A lot of people are going to need to unlearn some things.’’
Despite his ability and accomplishments, Sciambi is his own worst critic, and the Marquee crew’s inability to make every road trip because of coronavirus concerns and technological challenges makes that feeling worse.
‘‘I suffer it when we don’t travel, but the guys at Marquee understand it, and they want us to travel, as well,’’ Sciambi said. ‘‘They want it to be great. I feel that. It’s been hard because I don’t feel like I’m executing it always the way I’m fully capable because there are limits.
‘‘I do this job as connective, me being connected to the players, the managers and the baseball people. And with that, I connect to the audience. That’s important to me. I angst over it sometimes. I want to be great.’’
Len Kasper will fill in for Jason Benetti on NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox broadcasts starting Aug. 1,
when Benetti leaves to call Olympic baseball from NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, Connecticut. Benetti will call the semifinals and bronze- and gold-medal games. Other games on his schedule are still pending.
• Benetti will host another Statcast edition of ‘‘Sunday Night Baseball’’ for the Red Sox-Yankees game on ESPN2. He’ll be joined by Statcast regulars Eduardo Perez and Mike Petriello.
• Adam Amin and A.J. Pierzynski will call the Astros-White Sox game Saturday on Fox-32.
• The Cubs-Cardinals game Monday will air locally on Marquee and ESPN. Karl Ravech, Tim Kurkjian and Perez have the national call.