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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Jeff Agrest

Coverage of Aaron Judge’s home-run chase puts Len Kasper’s move to radio in focus

Len Kasper left Cubs TV for White Sox radio before the 2021 season. (Ron Vesely/White Sox)

For those who still don’t accept Len Kasper’s rationale for leaving Cubs TV for White Sox radio nearly two years ago, consider what happened in baseball broadcasting last week.

With Yankees slugger Aaron Judge in pursuit of the American League home-run record, national TV outlets carried three of the Yankees’ four games against the Red Sox. Fox aired the game Thursday, Apple TV+ had the game Friday and ESPN picked up the game Sunday. That left one game for the Yankees’ local outlet, their own YES Network.

Judge hit his 60th homer of the season Tuesday of that week, and Yankees fans feared the worst: Heaven forbid, Judge would tie or break the record without Yankees voice Michael Kay on the call.

But radio voice John Sterling was available to them on WFAN. He’d be there for the history-making homers whenever they occurred. Local radio broadcasts are the last bastion of stability in a broadcasting world gone wild, and that wasn’t lost on Kasper when he switched sides of town.

“I don’t expect people to parse all the reasons and figure out, ‘Oh, that makes sense,’ but it definitely was part of it for me,” Kasper said. “The postseason component was really important, knowing that whenever my team goes to the playoffs, I’ll be there until it’s over.”

Kasper was a party to a similar circumstance Sept. 3 when the Sox’ Dylan Cease took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. Fox had picked up the game, so Sox TV voice Jason Benetti would have lost the chance to call it, had he not already been calling college football for Fox that afternoon. Either way, Kasper had the only local call in town on ESPN 1000, though Cease fell one out shy of the no-no.

“The way I look at the calls as an announcer, it’s never about the actual call that you regret missing,” Kasper said. “It’s the experience of doing your job in a big moment. It’s kind of like when you’re part of a team and you have to sit out as opposed to being on the field when something big happens.”

When Kasper was on Cubs TV, his season ended when the regular season did. But he couldn’t stand not being a part of the action in the postseason. During the Cubs’ World Series run in 2016, he helped with the radio broadcasts on 670 The Score, and he was on the field after the Game 7 victory in Cleveland.

“That felt like I was a part of it even though I wasn’t in that chair in the moment,” Kasper said. “It’s two parts for me: Being a part of it in some way is the most important thing, and when you’re sitting at home, you feel left out.

“But we all know the deal when you are a local TV announcer. That’s just going to happen; that’s just the way the world works. I don’t anticipate we’re going to go back and have non-exclusives. That’s probably not how it will go.”

In the 1980s, exclusive MLB broadcasts generally were limited to NBC’s “Game of the Week” on Saturdays and ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball,” which was a small package. Today, exclusives belong to Peacock on Sunday mornings, ESPN on Sunday nights, YouTube on mostly Wednesday afternoons, Apple TV on Friday nights and Fox on Saturday nights. FS1 and TBS have non-exclusives.

Cubs fans didn’t have this problem during the 1998 home-run race between Sammy Sosa and the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire. Sosa hit his 60th homer on a Saturday on Fox, and no one seemed bothered by it. He hit Nos. 61 and 62 the next day on WGN to tie McGwire, who had broken Roger Maris’ record of 61 a week before against the Cubs. Fox aired that game, on a Monday night, but WGN didn’t lose it.  

“We were never worried about losing a game out of the blue,” said WGN director of production Bob Vorwald, who was then the executive producer of WGN Sports. “At the end of the season, they can take certain games based on the pennant race. So there are times when you would sweat losing a weekend game to ESPN or Fox.

“We haven’t done it for three years. It got a lot more complicated when we left with YouTube and Apple. Every year, there’s more ways to lose a game.”

Which was a big part of Kasper’s decision nearly two years ago.

“You realize that on radio you aren’t going to get the exposure that you get on television,” he said. “But you do know that you’re going to be there to call it, and that is comforting on some level.”

Remote patrol

  • As predicted in this space, Fox’s No. 2 crew of Joe Davis and Daryl Johnston will call the Bears-Giants game at noon Sunday. (I’m 2-for-2!) Other NFL games airing Sunday in the Chicago market: Bills at Ravens, noon, Ch. 2 (Ian Eagle, Charles Davis); Patriots at Packers, 3:25 p.m., Ch. 2 (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo).
  • Alyssa Bergamini will host The Score’s Bulls postgame shows, in addition to her in-game betting segments. Play-by-play voice Chuck Swirsky will lead the pregame and halftime coverage. The Score’s first broadcast is Oct. 7 for the preseason game against the Nuggets.
  • Patrick Sharp debuts in the Blackhawks’ TV booth for the preseason game against the Red Wings on Saturday alongside Chris Vosters. Colby Cohen will be between the benches. The broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago Plus.
  • The Wolves will air 30 regular-season home games on Ch. 50, beginning with the season opener Oct. 15, when they will raise their Calder Cup banner. Play-by-play voice Jason Shaver and analyst Billy Gardner return for their 15th year on Wolves broadcasts.
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