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BCB Interview: Cubs play-by-play announcer Jon ‘Boog’ Sciambi

The new Cubs broadcaster talks Wrigley Field, advanced stats and tells the story behind that viral video he shot in Central Park in New York.

Jon ‘Boog’ Sciambi at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego in 2019
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

I had the chance to talk with new Cubs TV play-by-play voice Jon ‘Boog’ Sciambi this week. We talked about topics ranging from his nickname to how he views working advance statistics into broadcasts to the viral video he recorded of a baseball game in New York’s Central Park last month.

He’s going to be great, he was a fantastic hire by Marquee Sports Network. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

AY: You were nicknamed “Boog” years ago. Do you prefer that, as opposed to your given name?

JS: I don’t care. It’s one of those things where I never introduce myself as Boog, but everyone ends up calling me Boog and at this point ... I got it in my early 20s when I first started working in the business. I was working in sports media and when I went more specific to baseball, it’s probably wound up working well for me because baseball people remember it, so everyone ends up calling me Boog and I’m fine with it.

AY: Have you ever met Boog Powell?

JS: I have, a bunch of times. The first time that I met him I started to kind of stammer and stumble and tell him that I stole his nickname and he cut me off and said, “Oh, I know who you are.” And he could not have been sweeter. He had heard me on radio because he spent a lot of time in the Florida Keys in the winter. Over the years when I was doing Wednesday Night Baseball we’d be coming back from break and they would set me up — they did this to me a couple of times, where they’d give me a fake count and I think I’m taking it back from commercial but instead they’d given Boog Powell at his barbecue stand out in right field [in Baltimore] a stick mike and he takes it back from commercial saying he’s the real Boog. Yeah, we’ve met a few times.

AY: What is the thing you are looking forward to most about doing Cubs games?

JS: I would say there isn’t necessarily just one thing. Working in that park, that’s one of the parks where, over the years, I will have a tendency to, even for a night game, to get there at 1:30 in the afternoon and just sit there and do my work in that gorgeous empty ballpark. The combo of being in that building, the view, the passion of the fans. That Wrigley is going to be my office every day is pretty cool. I’m aware that it will be a whole experience. I really do look at accepting this job as this will be a really cool period of my life, hopefully for the next 20-some odd years.

AY: Do you remember the first game you called at Wrigley?

JS: That’s a good question. The first game that I went to there, my dad took me. He was on a business trip and we went there in the early 1980s and saw Nolan Ryan pitch for the Astros and it was actually fairly empty, just a random day game. So I experienced it as a kid, as we were walking along and there were apartment buildings and brick buildings and then we just went into one of them and there was a baseball field inside, which I thought was amazing.

As far as the first game I ever called, I started with the Marlins in 1997. My job was pre-game, post-game and in-game scores and a little bit of color and by the end of the year I did some play-by-play. But I did travel with the team and so my first road game was actually at Wrigley. It was 30 degrees, you’re layered up, it’s freezing, and I had finished the pre-game and had to do the lineups, but I had to go to the bathroom. So I throw it to commercial, I run out of the booth, I run to the men’s restroom in the Wrigley Field press box, it’s still the same, two urinals, one stall. So I’m washing my hands after finishing, alone, and Harry Caray walks in. This is a true story: Harry walks into the stall, now I’m drying my hands, and from the stall, out loud, not to me, just out loud, he says, “I’ve got so many clothes on, I can’t find my... “ ... and I just burst out laughing and ran out to go tell every single person I could possibly find. And that is truly my only real interaction with Harry, he passed away the following year.

It was pretty darn hilarious, because if I wasn’t in there, he was still gonna say that, he was just saying it out loud, it was amazing.

AY: Was that the day that Alex Fernandez almost threw a no-hitter against the Cubs?

JS: Yep, Dave Hansen singled off his leg and broke up the no-hitter.

AY: I definitely remember how cold it was that day. Tell me what your favorite thing is about Wrigley Field.

JS: Being in the press box, on a sunny day, right in the middle of summer, so that the ivy is totally green and in full bloom. You see all the buildings, that vantage point. I still take it in, every time, like “this is incredible.” It still moves me, for lack of a better phrase.

AY: Over the last few years, more advanced stats have been brought into baseball, and your good friend Len Kasper brought some of those to Cubs broadcasts. How have things like Statcast changed the way you’ve done broadcasts over the last few years?

JS: For sure, I’m always looking to incorporate interesting information and for me, that’s the starting point. More and more things have been quantified and the information is more and more public. You might think of me as a “talker” but I’m the editor as well, I’m basically making content choices. I’m trying to find interesting stuff, there are so many measurables out there, it’s fun.

I’m not interested in turning it into math class, but over at ESPN we had the relationship with Mike Petriello and Tom Tango and I got to learn a lot about it. I’ve been a Bill James guy for a while. Len and I met back in Florida and I was into advanced metrics before he got there, so I would just say this: Whatever anyone’s perspective is on this stuff, you have to handle it with care and make sure it’s digestible, but on a basic level the one thing I feel strongly about is this: Jed Hoyer is not making a decision on a starting pitcher based on how many wins he has. So if he’s not doing that, why should we be talking about that as an evaluative tool? Ultimately, these guys are using this separate set of numbers to evaluate performance, so we should be using something in the realm of those numbers as well. For us to sit there and talk about runs scored and RBI as the basis for evaluating a player, when that’s not how the teams are doing it, to me is dumb. So we should be reflecting at least in the same zip code the way the teams are evaluating players.

AY: You called KBO games last year, remotely.

JS: That’s correct, Al, yes. (laughs)

AY: Those were fun! What was it like doing those games?

JS: It was like log-rolling and you’re just trying to not fall in. And then once in a while when you’re on the log they toss you a couple of chainsaws to juggle.

It was programming. So you enter into it eight days before the start of the season and you’re trying to prep. There’s a pronunciation issue and your knowledge base is zero. Thirty or 40 games in, you’ve got more comfort because you knew Baek-ho Kang was the KT Wiz first baseman and it just came to you when they hit to first base.

It was challenging. We had control over none of the shots. It would be like broadcasting a Cubs game and you turned the volume down. So they would just cut and you had no idea what the next shot was. It was also challenging when you’re not familiar with the ballpark, how well they hit the ball, whether the ball was going out, so home runs weren’t easy. But also, you’re not there. So if there’s a pinch-hitter in the on-deck circle and he’s six feet tall and righthanded and hitting for a guy who’s 6-1 and righthanded, if the guy who gets in the box doesn’t show me his number, I’m not always going to pick up that they pinch hit for someone.

We turned it into a bit of a talk show at times, we were just trying to have some fun with it. We’re certainly capable of executing a standard play-by-play, because we were so limited. Not to mention the games were at four in the morning, five in the morning Eastern time, so you’re getting up at like 3 a.m. And three different times, at 10 minutes to air time, I would get a phone call from somebody who would say, “Okay, I know you were going to do the LG Twins and the KT Wiz, that game got rained out, so we’re going to have you do Samsung and Kiwoom.” Ten minutes to air!

I’ve been doing this a long time. I feel like my knowledge base is good. If, 10 minutes to air, I just had to randomly do the Royals and the Tigers, I’d be fine. It wouldn’t be hard, I just don’t know how good it would necessarily be. Now take that and multiply it by a bazillion when you’re talking about Korean teams. So, we tried to have fun with it, and it was an experience.

AY: I watched the little video you sent out calling play-by-play of a random game in Central Park in New York.

AY: Are you going to try to do little things like that for Cubs broadcasts?

JS: That day in Central Park, I was with my godson, who is four, and my two friends and their daughters.

We were just walking, and it was just one of those cool things. It’s January, it’s freezing, and they’re playing wiffle ball! And I’m just that guy, if you’re playing wiffle, I’m stopping! Forget about me as a broadcaster, just me as a guy, that speaks to me: What’s going on here? What are the rules? How are they playing? You know, I grew up in a city, so we played wiffle ball, we’d find nooks to play and it would be as simple as, you hit it past the pitcher and it hits the first floor, it’s a single. Second floor a double, third floor a triple, fourth floor a homer.

Well, they’re playing in an open park. And they had these flat cones, and defenders, and people were running. So I was just like, “This is great!” So I just kind of took it in, and then after being there a little bit my buddy was like, “Hey, why don’t you call a little bit.” I said, “That’s not a bad idea,” and it worked.

I was very lucky. There was a runner at second, I just screamed, “How many outs are there?” and they told me, and then the next two balls in play were outs, and I wrapped up the inning. So the clip didn’t go on forever, it worked out and it was really funny and I’ve had some people text me and tweet at me that when I’m going down to my local supermarket, that I should just wander around and do, like, minute and 20 second clips where I’m just walking along and then all of a sudden, “There she is, standing over the avocados. Is it ripe? Will she take it? Let’s wait and see. Oooh! She puts it back!”

I don’t know whether we’re there yet. So I’m not promising anything.

But if you’re asking me if I’ll walk around Chicago and be a clown and send out video clips of me doing stupid stuff, yeah, I probably will.

AY: Do you have a place to live in Chicago yet?

JS: I don’t, but any moment now... I’m in the process of sorting that out. One of the things that’s hard is I still have ESPN responsibilities, I do college basketball. We do the bulk of our college basketball games remotely, so I have a whole system in my New York City apartment, so from a timing standpoint it’s just making the transition. But I am moving to Chicago, I’m leaving New York for good. I’ve seen a bunch of places, I have a good idea of what I’m looking for, I would say I’ll be moving sometime within the next five or six weeks.

AY: You could conceivably find a place where you could walk to work at Wrigley.

JS: That is correct. I might even just stay in the booth.

AY: Speaking of the booth, are you guys going to be traveling for road games this year?

JS: That has not been determined. My guess would be that in the early going, we will not. My hope would be that as the season goes on, we will, but they haven’t figured that out.

One of the things that’s been cool about this process is between Marquee and the Cubs, they are in on making this great, and the best product we could put out there is with the announcers in the ballpark the team is playing in. They are advocates for that. I want to be healthy, they want us to be healthy, so we’ve got to see how that plays out. I’m a strong advocate for, “I would like to travel.” We’ll just have to be patient in the early going, but my hope would be that eventually we will this year.

AY: Have you been able to sit down with Jim Deshaies and talk about various things you might do on broadcasts?

JS: Not in an extended sense, yet, but I have a good sense for JD. I watched Len and JD a ton, so I know what his sensibilities are. As much as I’m a guy who likes analytics, I’m in on the intangible part of it, and I think I have a good feel for what JD is about and we know each other. I’m sure we will sit down.

AY: Are they planning on having you come to Arizona to do spring games, or will you be doing those remotely?

JS: That hasn’t been decided yet.

AY: That’s about all I’ve got. Anything else you’d like to say to Cubs fans? Go for it.

JS: I’m excited to get the chance to do this. I want everyone to stay safe and healthy. I’m excited to do a game at a full Wrigley Field. Coming from a national perspective, we didn’t have a home park and we didn’t travel in 2020. I did the playoffs last year from a studio in Bristol, and I did every one of my 20-some-odd TV games, including the two Cubs playoff games, from a studio. So I haven’t done a baseball game from a baseball park in over a year.

AY: I think we’re all looking forward to getting back to baseball parks, maybe later this year. Thanks so much for your time, I’m very much looking forward to hearing you and JD on the air.

JS: My pleasure.