Last year about this time Len Kasper was kind enough to join Andi Cruz Vanecek and I for an episode of Cuppa Cubbie Blue. None of us had any idea what the 2020 season would have in store. I certainly had no idea that this would be Len’s last season as the Cubs play-by-play announcer. But I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular part of that interview - the part where we asked about his favorite call, and I decided that the Days of Cubsmas would not be complete without a tribute to some of the greatest moments of Cubs baseball as called by Len Kasper over the years.
A couple of notes, with the exception of the number one call here, most of these were mentioned in an article written on NBC Sports after Len announced he’d be moving to the South Side. I did filter that longer list, first by WPA and then just by my personal favorite moments.
Let’s kick it off with the moment Kasper refers to as his favorite call. Incidentally, this is also the second highest WPA regular season event that Len Kasper called during his time as the Cubs play-by-play announcer.
Aramis Ramirez walks it off — June 29, 2007
I had the celebration of this walkoff as the screen on my computer and phone for years. It’s a moment of pure joy in the Cubs first competitive season during Len’s tenure. It’s also the moment that defined the 2007 Cubs who didn’t have a great start to the season but put together a seven game winning streak to scratch back to .500 on the backs of this walk-off home run [VIDEO].
Len’s voice cracks a bit as he calls this one, the same way I imagine all of our voices sounded after cheering this incredible moment. Whether you were in the bleachers or on your couch, this one is unforgettable.
Kris Bryant arrives — July 27, 2015
The 2015 season had a bit of a surreal quality to it. We all knew the Cubs were on their way, but I don’t know if any of us were prepared for the way they would storm the NL Central in the second half of 2015. The kids were early, and it was wonderful. Unlike the 2007 team, the Cubs were over .500 with a 51-46 record coming into this game against the Rockies, but they were also 11½ games behind a St. Louis Cardinals team that looked like a juggernaut. Kris Bryant had joined the team three months earlier after being held in the minors for an extra year of service time when he hit (at least by WPA) the most clutch home run of his career [VIDEO].
As the celebration continues around home plate and in the stands you can hear a classic Len “Can you believe that ninth inning?” It was the first of many unbelievable comebacks during a golden age of Cubs baseball.
Javy things — June 26, 2017
June 2017 was a time of borderline panic in and around Bleed Cubbie Blue. The returning champion Chicago Cubs were struggling to maintain a .500 record and in the game threads it felt like the Cubs universe could collapse at any moment. It was more than fine, and the Cubs would finish strong to win the division with a 92-70 record. It was also the year that Javier Báez would emerge as El Mago on the back of unbelievable defensive plays like this one [VIDEO].
I don’t remember if the t-shirt or the play came first, but Len’s call of “two-thirds of the world is covered by water and the other third is covered by Javier Báez” is one of the greatest lines for this era of Cubs baseball.
Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter — September 14, 2008
One of my favorite quirks of baseball history is that only two no-hitters have been thrown in Miller Park and Cubs pitchers own both of them. I wrote about Alec Mills’ no-hitter earlier in this series, but on September 14, 2008 a Cubs vs. Astros game was moved to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike in a move that probably didn’t endear the Astros to MLB given Cubs’ fans proximity to Wrigley North. At one point during the ninth inning Kasper notes “this is technically a home game for the Astros.” The Cubs were dominant in 2008 but no one had any idea Carlos Zambrano was about to throw the best game of his life [VIDEO].
This is another call where Kasper’s voice breaks slightly as he calls the final out. Those are some of his most endearing moments as a broadcaster, the way he conveys the excitement we are all feeling in that moment with such sincerity.
Reed Johnson’s amazing catch — April 26, 2008
You all know I am a sucker for great defense and Reed Johnson was the best centerfielder I’ve seen play for the Cubs in my lifetime. I really wish Statcast had existed for this one because I imagine the hit probability on this is upwards of 99 percent. Johnson just doesn’t even flinch as he slides headlong into the wall saving an extra base hit and trots back into the dugout at the end of the inning. Props to NBC Sports Chicago Twitter for this call:
It’s such an improbable play Kasper has to ask if it was caught before declaring it “one of the most amazing catches I’ve ever seen.”
Jason Heyward’s walkoff grand slam — June 6, 2018
After two years of offensive struggles a lot of Cubs fans were less than thrilled to see Jason Heyward come to the plate with the Cubs down to their last out and the bases loaded trailing the Phillies 5-3. This was aggravated by the fact that the Cubs had led the game three nothing early, before the Phillies tied it in the sixth and then took the lead in the ninth.
But Jason Heyward was in the process of turning his early year struggles around and this swing of the bat was an absolutely brilliant moment at Wrigley Field [VIDEO].
There are two parts to this call that are brilliant. The first is in managing the anticipation in a tremendously slow at bat. The Phillies’ battery is taking their sweet time but Len and JD manage to keep it interesting with the tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. The second is the call itself, it’s much more mature than Len’s call of Aramis’ walk-off years earlier he just says “There’s a drive to deep right....Cubs....Win” and stands back to let the crowd convey the moment.
Jake Arrieta’s second no-hitter — April 21, 2016
Kasper once wrote that calling a no-hitter never gets old for broadcasters. On April 21, 2016 he got to call his second as a Cubs announcer. It’s worth throwing back to his call of Zambrano’s no-no here because he notes there that it was the first Cubs no-hitter since Milt Pappas threw one in 1972. The legendary Harry Caray never called a Cubs no-hitter, but Kasper called three, including Jake Arrieta’s second no-hitter in 11 starts [VIDEO].
Of all the changes in this tumultuous Cubs offseason, Len Kasper might be the hardest to replace. I wish him well on the South Side, and hope the Cubs find someone half as talented to be the voice of the next 16 years of Cubs baseball.
On the seventh Day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me: seven incredible Len Kasper calls, six Cubs players with WAR over 1, five strike outs in an Alec Mills no-hitter, a four game delay in the season due to COVID-19, a three game lead to win the division in 2020, two first round draft picks non-tendered and one World Series ring in the Theo Epstein Era.