Sports media: Cooler heads — and broadcasters — prevail in White Sox-Cubs series
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It marked the height of White Sox-Cubs animosity. And to hear Sox radio analyst Darrin Jackson talk about it, it could have happened yesterday.
‘‘It was quite the cheap shot by Barrett,’’ Jackson said of the punch heard ’round Chicago, the knuckle sandwich Cubs catcher Michael Barrett delivered to Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski after Pierzynski knocked Barrett backward on a play at the plate on May 20, 2006.
‘‘That’s disappointing to have a guy just flat-out cheap-shot somebody when you can see Pierzynski actually was standing there, talking, and you just punch him. So I wasn’t a fan of that, especially when there was a clean collision at the plate.’’
Jackson saw the right-handed cross and benches-clearing brawl that ensued as part of a Fox TV regional broadcast with former Cubs announcer Thom Brennaman. Len Kasper, in his second season as the Cubs’ TV announcer, watched the incident from home in disbelief.
‘‘I heard later there were some cheap shots taken,’’ Kasper said. ‘‘I know [former Cub] John Mabry, who’s a friend of mine, he’s just trying to break up the fight, and I’m pretty sure he got sucker-punched in the middle of all of that.
‘‘I know it got really, really, really nasty, and I think Sox guys were pretty upset because they probably felt like it was an unfair punch to start it.’’
But times have changed.
No one should condone violence, but the battle royale was emblematic of the North Side-South Side tensions at the time. Those tensions — and the made-for-TV drama they elicited — barely have been detected lately. It has been up to the fans to keep alive whatever rivalry exists.
Gone are the days of former Sox manager Jerry Manuel setting up his rotation for the Cubs. Or Juan Uribe feigning that a foul ball was hit to prevent Derrek Lee from taking an extra base. Or Carlos Zambrano doing anything.
It hasn’t helped that the teams haven’t been competitive at the same time since 2008, when they met as first-place teams. There also isn’t anyone to play the role of the villain. And familiarity hasn’t bred contempt.
‘‘If anything, it’s just that it occurs every year,’’ Kasper said. ‘‘When this thing started, [there was] the special nature of maybe one series a year or even two. But the fact it hadn’t happened very often made it really special. And now we see them four to six times a year, and it does take a little bit of the special nature away from it.’’
We had some drama last season, when former Cub John Lackey plunked four Sox batters, though none of it appeared intentional. That didn’t stop Sox TV announcer Hawk Harrelson from taking issue with Lackey on the air or the Sox from retaliating, with Chris Beck hitting Ian Happ. Maybe Sox manager Rick Renteria ordered the hit, as Joe Maddon might say, but nothing else came of it. The whole thing seemed silly.
Maybe that’s our next great Cubs-Sox feud: the managers, given Renteria’s history with the Cubs. Can you see Maddon and Renteria going at it like Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa in 2003? It’s doubtful.
Even the announcers are on good terms. Kasper and Sox TV voice Jason Benetti are longtime friends. Kasper has known Sox radio voice Ed Farmer since Kasper’s days with the Marlins. And Harrelson sent Kasper a ‘‘Have a great year’’ text on Opening Day.
‘‘We all get along really well, and there’s no animosity whatsoever,’’ Kasper said.
ESPN announced its broadcast crew for ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ with a new wrinkle. Play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst Jason Witten will be in the booth, and they’ll be joined by Booger McFarland, who will serve as a field-level analyst, the first in the history of the broadcast. Reporter Lisa Salters is the only returning member.
• Retired Bears running back Matt Forte will join NBC Sports Chicago as a game-day studio analyst next season. He also will appear on other NBCSCH shows and platforms.