Game: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
Date: August 27
Network: Comcast SportsNet
Play-by-Play: Len Kasper
Color Commentator: Bob Brenly
Twenty years ago, the sports hype machine was still a work in progress. Take the 1989 Chicago Cubs, for instance. Despite featuring established All-Star talent like OF Andre Dawson and 2B Ryne Sandberg, the spotlight arguably shone just as bright for future journeymen OFs Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith. Back then, baseball celebrity began and ended with the baseball card industry. I'm serious, people. Smith and (especially) Walton were exciting rookies who were both tremendously flawed. But, in the agate type on the back of bubblegum cards, both were superstars. A year or so later, "greatness" would be determined by superficial sound bites and highlights on ESPN's Sportscenter. The end.
Chemistry: Brenly has a tremendous presence on the microphone – proving his underappreciated work on FOX was no fluke – and in an odd, but entertaining way, he's the only color analyst I've listened to that can dictate the pace of a broadcast. Kasper is perfectly competent calling balls, strikes, hits and outs, but he gladly cedes the microphone to Brenly for detailed explanation on even the most mundane plays. Critics might complain that Brenly talks too much, but he manages to cram a lot of insight within his words, so it's not like he's mimicking Tim McCarver. Around the fifth or sixth inning, Kasper was discussing Carlos Lee's fractured finger (in relation to the Cubs' September schedule) and, in the same breath, called it "a break" for the Cubs. That neither man picked up on the unintentional pun was only mildly disappointing. Grade: 7.5/10
Knowledge: In the top of the first, Brenly immediately recognized that Ryan Theriot's had tweaked his swing in an attempt to hit to the right side and move the runner over. One pitch later, that's just what he did. Brenly later explained how a weak ground ball turned into a single due to the second baseman cheating up the middle "by half a step or so". Seriously, you can count the number of color guys who'd make this point on one hand. Random other things I learned from Brenly: (1) how the third base coach positions himself for a runner on first base, second base or both (2) when it's too early to leave third base on a squeeze play and (3) why hitters should bunt the ball at the end of the bat. Kasper, umm…looked razor-sharp in his Comcast golf shirt. Grade: 7.5/10
Enthusiasm: In a lightning fast 2-0 win, Kasper and Brenly were seemingly calling one 1-2-3 inning after another. That said, if you've read this far, you can probably ascertain that Bob Brenly digs his gig and it comes through loud and clear with his cadence. Kasper might've been a little too worked up, though. He misread a flyball by Cubs OF Alfonso Soriano in the top of the first inning and then did it again in the bottom of the second on a ball he'd already conceded into the gap when Soriano casually caught it. Grade: 6/10
Bar Stool Q: As good as Brenly was, I wouldn't be doing my unpaid job here if I didn't mention that he compared Pirates OF Nyjer Morgan with Dodgers OF Juan Pierre – both in playing style and facial features. Yes, both Morgan and Pierre are phenomenally awful hitters who happen to be fast on the basepaths. But, facially? Here's Pierre. Here's Morgan. C'mon, Bob. As for Kasper, I suppose I'll need someone to show me around Chicago. Oh, and maybe he can explain the reasoning behind all this superfluous sh** on the hot dogs they serve there. Grade: 6/10
Camera/Production: In the top of the first, Comcast's picture went out in the middle of a replay. For what it's worth, the clip was run later that inning. From the fourth inning until the middle of the seventh, Brenly's microphone crackled with static intermittently – an annoyance that was never acknowledged by either announcer. And, I get that Cubs fans always show up for road games, but can some of you complain to Comcast about all the ugly ones getting on camera? Didn't Obama mention the "beautiful people" at Wrigley in his speech at the DNC this week? Well, he said it somewhere. Can't we get those folks on HD, instead? Grade: 3/10
Homerism: Anyone's who's heard Ron Santo on Cubs radio knows that Kasper and Brenly have a long way to go before they ascend to the throne of homerism. I haven't looked at the NL Rookie of the Year field, but I might be inclined to agree with Kasper's hometown nomination of Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. I cannot, however, get on board with Brenly's endorsement of Soto as an MVP candidate. Hey, you finally won one, Len. Also, Cubs OF Mark DeRosa was shaky all game long. He played a Freddy Sanchez single into a triple and froze up after a catch, which led to a Bucs runner advancing. Brenly and Kasper didn't say a word. Grade: -6
Commerciality: I'd never even heard of Jimmy John's before this game, but their gourmet sandwich delivery concept won me over in record time. Looks like I'll be adding to my nightly prayer list of eventual Southern California fast food franchises. Menard's, meanwhile, needs a crash course in desirable Cubs-related sweepstakes. Or, don't you want to be the Wrigley Field Groundskeeper for a Day? Livin' the dream.
Final Grade: 24