An early treat has arrived for our readers. in celebration today of the Chicago Cubs clenching the 2016 National League Central Division Championship we release an exclusive interview with the Cubs Announcer, Len Kasper that will appear in our Fall print edition.
It was just one year ago that the Chicago Cubs were given the “Wild Card” post season status. Today they are celebrating their first NL Central title in 8 years. Taking a moment to reflect on this amazing accomplishment we bring light to Len, who has been the announcer for the Chicago Cubs on WGN-TV, WPWR-TV, WLS-TV and Comcast SportsNet Chicago since 2005.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 17, 2016
What does Len do for fun and to relax when he isn’t jet setting across the U.S.A with the Chicago Cubs?
The big key when traveling as much as we do is to stay in shape. I always try to work out as many days as I can when we are on the road. That and find a great breakfast place. That’s where I usually do most of my game day homework. I grab my laptop and a cup of coffee and that’s usually how I start every day. When I’m off, I spend as much time at home as I can with my wife and son. I am gone so much that it really is important to get as much quality time at home as I can. Fortunately I am off all winter so that helps a lot. My non-baseball interests include tennis, documentaries, non-fiction books, rock shows and as much NHL hockey on TV as I can find!
In the past you lived in Wisconsin which isn’t as populated as Chicago, do you ever miss it? That country life?
I am actually from mid-Michigan, which is a very rural area. One of the reasons I picked Marquette University was that it was in an urban setting in Milwaukee. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Michigan, the next 13 in Milwaukee, 3 in South Florida and 11 and counting in Chicago. It’s funny, Milwaukee seems like a small town to me now that I live in Chicago. Milwaukee is a great city but the vastness of Chicago is pretty jaw-dropping.
What made you want to be an announcer? Who influences/inspires you as a broadcaster?
I grew up listening to Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, the long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers, who passed away a few years ago. I basically wanted to be him when I was a kid. I was fortunate to get to meet him and also get to know him once I started my career, which was a huge thrill. I just always thought getting paid to sit at a big league game and talk about it on the radio or television was the coolest job ever. I am very, very fortunate to be doing what I dreamed of as a young teenager.
Your career has entailed broadcasting for both Football and Baseball. Is the latter your personal preference?
I’ve always been a baseball-first guy. I’ve followed a lot of sports — I covered the Green Bay Packers during their Super Bowl years in the 1990s — but baseball has always been #1 for me. I love hockey too, but I’ve never covered that sport. I’m just a big meatball hockey fan when I’m not doing my day job!
What do you like most about Baseball itself?
First off it’s a summer sport and there’s nothing better than being outside on a nice day. Secondly, it’s the first sport that grabbed me as a kid. My dad was a big baseball fan and I think when you’re a 7-year-old fan, it kinda becomes part of your DNA. There’s an intellectual nature to the game that I love. The statistics too. And it’s every single day. A new game, a new storyline. I feel like I learn something new about the game every day.
It’s been ten years now but do you remember how you first felt when you found out you were going to work for the Cubs? Bring us back to that day…
I remember finding out at the end of the 2004 season that the job was opening up but I honestly didn’t think I’d have a shot at it. I was doing games for the Florida Marlins at the time and was very happy there. But the Cubs job, to me, is the best not only in baseball, but in all of sports. Eventually, I did apply after a buddy in Chicago had heard my name pop up. I was incredibly fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and I’ll never forget taking the phone call from Bob Vorwald, the executive producer at WGN TV, who offered me the job. I said yes before he could finish the question I think! That off-season was a whirlwind as my wife and I had to find a house in the Chicago area. I do remember my first Wrigley Field opener (we had opened that season on the road) and it was surreal. I walked into the ballpark and it seemed like everyone already knew who I was. It was “Hey Len!” everywhere I turned. That blew me away and was an early example of how fervent Cub fans are. They were my friends before we really even knew each other.
Who’s your favorite current Cubs player? What about past time players?
That’s really difficult. It’s like choosing your favorite kid. Ha. Let’s put it this way, this year’s Cubs team has many to choose from. Rizzo, Arrieta, Schwarber, I could go on and on. My favorite “all-time” player in terms of a guy I’ve been around is Derrek Lee. Hands down. The most professional, solid, gracious person ever. And such a talent. He did everything right, on and off the field. His 2005 season was one for the books. I thought he should have been the NL MVP that season.
What you love most about working for the Chicago Cubs?
I wouldn’t change a thing. As I said, I think it’s the best job in sports. Chicago is unmatched in terms of sports towns in the U.S. Cubs fans have a special bond with their team as I mentioned earlier. And then there’s the ballpark. Getting to work 81 games every season (and some playoffs too!) at Wrigley Field is something I cherish. If I had to pick the thing I love the most about it it would be the fans. They’re so connected to the team and live and die with every pitch. Nothing better for a broadcaster than to do games for a fan base like this one.
Do you think Cubs fans are being treated differently? Have you at all been personally?
Oh, I think there’s a bit of a renaissance going on in that the Cubs are back on the scene. We saw way more Cub fans on the road this year than in the previous 4-5 seasons. It felt like everybody I ran into at the coffee shop or wherever wanted to talk Cubs this year — and they did it with a huge smile on their face. Felt really good. And it will continue as this team goes on what I believe will be a nice run here.
We truly do admire what Joe Maddon has done with the Chicago Cubs, what’s he like in person?(Again were missing out!)
I just used the word “renaissance.” Joe is a renaissance man. As smart a baseball person I’ve ever been around, he has a million interests. He can talk music (especially ‘70s bands), wine, food, just about anything and everything is on the table when we have our pre-game chats in his office. His quotes are legendary. “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure” is one of my favorites. I hope he’s here for a very long time.
Where’s your favorite spot to watch a game at Wrigley Field?
Well, our TV booth is pretty great. Amazing views of the field, the bleachers, the rooftops, the neighborhood and even a sliver of Lake Michigan. In terms of being a fan, I would choose the upper deck. I think it helps in seeing the entire field up there and there’s nobody standing in front of you.
Give us a quick glimpse into your daily preparation before a big day at the job?
I usually spend an hour on my computer at home or over breakfast before heading to the ballpark, just to check on all the Cubs and MLB articles of the day and to do some homework on that day’s matchup. At the park, I (along with the other Cubs broadcasters) get some private time with Joe Maddon to go over the lineup and the news of the day in the clubhouse. I’m normally at the park about 3.5 hours before first pitch. After spending time in the clubhouse and/or at the batting cage, I head up to the booth to fill out my lineups and go over game notes. That usually takes about 45 minutes or so. About 90 minutes before the game I will grab a bite to eat in the pressbox with my broadcast partner Jim Deshaies. Then final preparations with the producer and director and before you know it, it’s game time! My non-baseball fan friends often look at me confusingly when I tell them I can’t have dinner with them before the game. They don’t understand that I actually have “work” to do before the first pitch. It’s the greatest job in the world, but there is a significant amount of preparation involved every single day.
How was the party celebration last September after clenching “Wild Card” status?
Joe Maddon’s teams do celebrations at 110%! And that’s for regular season wins, so you can imagine what it was like for the playoff clincher, the wildcard win and the Division Series victory over St. Louis. I generally try to stay away from the inner sanctum of the players’ celebration because that’s their thing and I’m just the team broadcaster. I did make an exception in Pittsburgh and went into the clubhouse after the wildcard game to toast the win with Joe and the coaches, players and front office. Oh, and Eddie Vedder, John Cusack and Chris Chelios!
(Reader submitted question ) I was a die hard cubs fan when I was 9 years old and they broke my little heart — that was in 1984. And since then I can’t help but wonder whether having such a loyal fan base in Chicago reduces the incentive for them to really build a winning team. Do you think that’s true? And if not, what are the Cubs doing to build a strong, and sustainable organization?
No, I think it’s the opposite. The incentive to win is greater than ever because the fan support has been so great. I know Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon want nothing more than to win it all for every Cub fan who’s ever lived. As we’ve watched over the past four years, the Cubs have stockpiled young, high-end talent over whom the team will have contractual control for many years to come. The future has arrived and the Cubs should be very, very good for the long haul.
Your tweets are brilliant (twitter @LenKasper) and has blown up this year! We are happy to see you where we felt you should have been all as long time followers. What’s it like having so much more social interaction?
It’s been great. Whereas before Twitter I’d get hand-written letters that I wouldn’t actually see until weeks after they were sent, now the feedback is immediate. I think it allows us to be closer to the fans. Yes, it also allows fans to tell me what they don’t enjoy about my work. But that’s life. You can’t please everyone. As long as they watch, I’m good.
Favorite US city, other then Chicago?
San Francisco probably. Love the vibe there. It’s like New York with amazing views. Something about California that I really dig. Denver is a close second. Then probably New York City.
Chicago is your city, give us a top 10 must do list if we were to find ourselves in the Windy City…
Wrigley Field obviously is #1 on the list. Other great things to see/do are Lollapalooza in the summer, a rock show at Metro, late night breakfast at Tempo downtown (love the buckwheat walnut waffles!), the Field Museum, a Blackhawks game (do NOT miss the national anthem) and of course, grab some deep dish pizza. Geno’s East, Pizano’s, Giordano’s are among the many great pizza places. Lou Malnati’s too.
The one interview question you never get asked but wished you did?
Wow, that’s probably it! Honestly, I feel like I’ve been asked every question ever, aside from boxers or briefs (PS, the answer is neither or both depending on how you look at it—boxer briefs!)
Advice for others wanting to speak their real minds like you? Tips on no filter… All fun and games right?
I think the key, especially on social media, is RESPECT FOR OTHERS. There is a nastiness that exists on Twitter and other places that comes from this invisible wall of anonymity on the internet. I try to always be careful about not insulting someone. Yes, even sports discussions can get pretty heated, but at the end of the day, it is supposed to be fun and games.
It’s very well possible the Cubs can make it to the big stage, THE WORLD SERIES! How does it feel for a moment knowing it’s a possibility of broadcasting such a postseason series?
Parting words… & Quote to live by…
I would just say thank you for asking me to do this. Was really fun. A quote to live by. Hmmm. I would quote one of my mentors from Milwaukee, radio host Steve “The Homer” True, who said, “Swing hard in case you hit it.”
You can find me on Twitter here: @LenKasper
Photos courtesy of Len Kasper and Chicago Cubs