When the Cubs hired Jim Deshaies away from the Houston Astros at the end of 2013 to replace Bob Brenly as their color analyst, I was a bit dubious. I liked Brenly for one, and Deshaies—widely known as J.D.—had no connection to the Cubs, having spent most of his 12-year major-league pitching career (84-95, 4.14 ERA) with the Astros.
But a steady diet of Deshaies, who was the choice of play-by-play partner Len Kasper, has won me over. I enjoy his dry sense of humor and his sharp analysis and feel he and Kasper make a great team on Cub telecasts.
J.D. is at his best analyzing pitching. When Travis Wood entered a recent game against the Braves, Deshaies commented: "Wood having a very nice season. And a big reason is first-pitch efficiency, throwing a strike 70 percent of the time." On starter John Lackey, Deshaies said, "Typically he comes out of the bullpen [i.e., his pregame preparation] and he's got his A-stuff from the get-go." But he has good observations on hitters as well. On the Cubs' cleanup hitter against the Nationals in the series opener: "Anthony Rizzo went from cold to hot, not even passing through warm."
That's one of the things I like best about J.D. -- his witty way of putting things and quirky sense of humor. When Kasper said the fans were filing in to the stadium in Washington, D.C, he asked: "Do you think fans file in more quickly than they stream in?" Against the Diamondbacks, Deshaies cracked: "I could make a Bourn (outfielder Michael) identity joke, but I won't." After a sloppy inning by Arizona in which the Cubs scored five runs, Deshaies suggested: "Somebody put a tent over this circus!" He described a pitch against Arizona's opposing pitcher by Jake Arrieta as "a jelly-legged inducing curveball."
Both Kasper and Deshaies are inclined toward statistics and sabermetrics, but they don't let it bog down the telecasts. J.D. went into detail about how Nationals starter Max Scherzer "has the lowest zone contact rate in the game." Kasper has repeatedly cited stats recently about the Cubs stellar starting rotation.
One of Deshaies favorite phrases is "funk." He talked about how Nationals lefty reliever Perez "gives you a lot of funk" with his stuff. And when Addison Russell launched a homer for the Cubs only run against Scherzer, Deshaies said: "How good does that have to feel? He's been in a little bit of a funk."
If Deshaies keeps it light and fun, Kasper is the guy who holds the whole show together. Hired in 2005 from the Marlins, I consider his acquisition one of the last great gifts from former Cubs marketing executive John McDonough. Still only 45 years old, Kasper is an outstanding play-by-play man who handles all those chores with aplomb. He brings the best out of Deshaies and is smooth working around the many sponsor mentions that must be mentioned during a broadcast.
(Yes, we get the Lexus starting pitcher, Binny's Toast of the Game and the Midas Tire and Auto Service call to the pen. But somehow the sponsor intrusions don't seem as numerous or as onerous as they do on WSCR's Cub radio broadcasts.)
The chemistry and banter between Kasper and Deshaies is usually a highlight of the broadcasts. Sometimes their discussion goes on a bit, as it did during a lengthy talk about zippered uniforms. It is usually diverting, like when Albert Almora Jr.'s uniform number (5) prompted this give-and-take:
Kasper: "If I gave you 10 guesses who was the last Cub player to wear No. 5, would you get it?"
When Deshaies was stumped, Kasper told him: "The answer was Quintin Berry, last year."
Deshaies: "Where is Quintin Berry now?"
And Kasper had the answer: "He's at Triple A Salt Lake with the Angels."
Kasper clearly does his homework and comes to the broadcast well prepared and fill in informative tidbits. He does not really have a trademark call—he uses "Oh, baby!" on special moments for the Cubs and "It will go!'' is a typical home-run call. But they aren't repeated ad nauseum; Kasper adjusts to the occasion. His calls for the opponents are much more subdued. When the Braves hit back-to-back home runs against the Cubs, Kasper's call on the second one was: "Deep drive to left and and this one will get out," without any discernable excitement.
I only get the CSN games in my viewing area (downstate Illinois) so I can't judge the entire presentation compared to what ABC7 or WGN do. One element of CSN's telecasts that distinguishes them is the pre- and post-game shows, hosted (usually) by David Kaplan and Todd Hollandworth. Kelly Crull is also a featured contributor with interviews and features. During the D-backs series, the pregame offered an interview with Brenly and also with former Cubs catcher Welington Castillo. The question of the day is usually pretty intriguing. Before the D-backs game, for example, the poll asked: Who was the No. 1 choice to be a Cub All-Star? Brenly and Hollandsworth picked Ben Zobrist, while Kap went with Kris Bryant.
I don't hear every other team's announcing team, obviously. I do get all the Cardinals games and might offer my take on how they depict the Cubs in a future post. But suffice it to say the Cubs and their fans are blessed to have any outstanding team in Kasper and Deshaies, and I suspect they will have a long run together.
Last week I reported on a healthy spike in ratings for Cub games on Comcast, the outlet that carries the most games. Not surprisingly, ABC7 is also reporting a huge 50 percent uptick in its ratings so far this season.
Cubs broadcasts on WLS-TV are averaging a 7.2 household rating and a 17 percent share of the audience. That's up from a 4.8 rating and 12 share for games broadcast in 2015.
"It's an exciting time to partner with the Chicago Cubs as they demonstrate with each game their talent and drive to get to the World Series," said John Idler, president and general manager of ABC7 Chicago. "Their success has been our success."
The Cubs reached a high-water mark with their game on Channel 7 May 31 vs. the Dodgers. That game drew a 9.4 household rating and 16 percent share of the viewing audience. Last year's highest rated game was a 7.9/14 share for a crosstown matchup against the White Sox.
It will be interesting to see how high the numbers get when the Cubs face the White Sox this season. The sky seems to be the limit for the rampaging Cubs this season.
A spokesperson for WGN-TV said it was company policy not to release ratings info, so we can only guess they are experiencing a similar increase to CSN and ABC7.