Back in June, I wrote this article with some thoughts I had about Marquee Sports Network’s Cubs game broadcasts. It wasn’t pretty. I had hoped things might change, but little did. The game broadcasts are still borderline unwatchable.
Before I continue, I want to tell you that in the 17 years Bleed Cubbie Blue has been in existence, I received more email in response to that article than about literally anything else I’ve ever written on this site, virtually all of which was in agreement with my conclusions. Clearly, this is a topic of great interest to Cubs fans, and that’s why I’m writing about Marquee again.
I could really have written this article at just about any time during the offseason, but I’m doing it now because Jon “Boog” Sciambi called play-by-play for ESPN for the Rays vs. Guardians Wild Card Series last weekend. He was joined by Doug Glanville in the booth and Jesse Rogers as field reporter, giving those games an all-Chicago flavor.
Several people talked about the announcing in the game threads for that series on this site. Their comments essentially boiled down to “Why couldn’t we have this Boog Sciambi for Cubs games?”
It’s true. Sciambi pretty much called the games as they unfolded on the field, only interjecting occasional asides, and his call of Oscar Gonzalez’ walkoff home run that won the series for Cleveland was, in my view, excellent [VIDEO].
Now, I’ll grant this: That game had a lot more importance than any Cubs game since Boog has been calling them for Marquee, becoming an “instant classic.”
The Cubs’ most recent walkoff home run was more than a year ago, hit September 8, 2021 by Jason Heyward [VIDEO].
Again, granted and stipulated: That game didn’t mean very much, if anything. But listen to these calls of Cubs walkoff home runs by previous Cubs TV announcers.
Jack Brickhouse, April 8, 1969:
Jack Brickhouse, June 26, 1969:
What’s the common thread on all those calls? Right, the announcer gets excited — REALLY excited. Like a Cubs FAN would. Jack Brickhouse was a genuine Cubs fan. As for the others? Well, maybe they were playing a role, but I would argue that’s what Cubs fans want from their home-team broadcast — a Cubs fan who’s living and dying with the team just as they are.
I just don’t get the feeling that Boog Sciambi is a Cubs fan, or even playing the role of a Cubs fan on TV, after two years in the Cubs broadcast booth. To me, it feels like it’s just another job to him. The excitement that should be there as a Cubs broadcaster, for Cubs fans, just doesn’t resonate with me.
Again, as above, granted and stipulated: The last two Cubs seasons have consisted of a lot of bad baseball. While the Cubs were in first place in the NL Central as late as June in 2021, that 11-game losing streak took them out of any thought of contending last year, and this year didn’t come close to contention either. The games aren’t meaningful, and so I get it — it’s much harder to get “up” for a game, either as a fan or broadcaster, for a game that ultimately isn’t going to put the team any closer to contention.
The thing is, though... it shouldn’t be that difficult to call a game like a fan of that team regardless of the impact of any individual game. This is definitely the case for a local broadcaster who, like Boog Sciambi, does leave his team’s booth frequently for national broadcasts. I’m talking about Brewers play-by-play man Brian Anderson. I watch a lot of Brewers games as they’re a divisional rival and I like the broadcast team of Anderson and Bill Schroeder.
When the Brewers were still fighting for a wild-card spot, one they did not ultimately get, listen to how excited Anderson got when Devin Williams nailed down a save with the bases loaded in a game the Brewers won 1-0 September 30. His excitement got greater with each K [VIDEO].
The previous day, though, as Brewers hopes were crushed when former Brewer Avisail Garcia hit a grand slam for the Marlins, you could hear the disappointment in Anderson’s voice [VIDEO].
Brian Anderson didn’t grow up a Brewers fan — he’s from Texas. (And his brother Mike briefly pitched in the majors, for the Reds.) But over the last 15 years, since he’s had the Milwaukee job, you’d never have known that. He calls the game as if he were a Brewers fan, because that’s what fans want on their local sports channel. Whether Anderson is actually a Brewers fan or not, I don’t know, but he certainly plays the role well on Bally Sports Wisconsin.
As I noted above, I just don’t get the feeling that Boog Sciambi is a Cubs fan, or is playing that role on Marquee. Now, I’m not saying I want or need the “rah-rah” style of Jack Brickhouse in the year 2022. The game has changed, broadcasting has changed, and that style wouldn’t work well now. Fans might want their announcers to be fans but also honest about what they’re seeing on the field — even Jason Benetti, who grew up a Sox fan, is critical of the team when it’s warranted.
But Boog? Again, to me it feels as if the Marquee position is just a job for him, much like his ESPN calls this past weekend for the Rays/Guardians Wild Card Series. As I said, I don’t need or want him to call games like Brickhouse did. But it would be nice if I got the impression that Boog was rooting for the same team I am when I watch games. I don’t get that feeling at all.
Lastly, above I mentioned “calling the games straight,” and then I have asked Boog to be more of a Cubs fan. These two things are not mutually exclusive, and that leads me to the second part of this essay; as they say on TV: “But wait! There’s more!”
The other thing that makes Cubs games on Marquee almost unwatchable is the fact that Boog, whoever his booth partner is, and Taylor McGregor simply will not shut up.
No matter what inning it is, no matter the game situation, there is incessant chatter among the three of them... mostly about nothing, often about things not related to the action on the field. It definitely gets worse when there are three in the booth plus a field reporter — there’s literally no need for that, ever, there’s never enough time for all those voices. Granted, Marquee has gotten a bit better about the three-person booth this year, not using it as much as in previous years.
Again, a caveat: I do understand that some of the extracurricular activity that is presented during a Marquee game broadcast is done so because it’s sponsored. To wit:
- The live look into the broadcast booth sponsored by a beer company (no, beer company, I am not going to use your name here, nor the names of the other sponsors, because why should I do that for free?)
And no one can tell me that the game is more important when the Marquee video looks like this:
(Sorry, no, beer company that sponsors the live look into the broadcast booth, I’m still not giving you space on this website.)
- The inane polls sponsored by a company selling coffee and breakfast food
- The replays of important plays sponsored by a cellphone company that sometimes literally have the company’s logo block the view of the play itself
- The liquor store that does a “toast of the game” at the very moment when viewers would likely rather see the fans singing “Go Cubs Go” if the team wins
I get it, Marquee is trying to make money, all broadcast outlets do it, though I will add that once you’re doing this to the point of annoyance — which Cubs games both on TV and radio are doing these days — maybe you ought to re-think the way those sponsorships are done.
I would literally rather have Marquee slap a sponsor logo next to the scorebox for an entire inning (NBC Sports Chicago does this on White Sox games) instead of having a player or David Ross being interviewed and we have to see him AND the sponsor and the baseball game gets put in a box that maybe takes up two-thirds of the screen. I’m watching on a 55-inch screen at home and it’s irritating. I can only imagine how bad that is if you’re trying to watch the game on your phone.
Also, no, we do not need those player/manager interviews every single day. This isn’t ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, nor should it be.
Oh, yes, back to the “not shutting up” part: When Boog graciously granted me an interview in February 2021 when he was first hired, he told me:
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.
Well, guess what, it feels like math class. First, if you’re the editor, Boog, you’re not editing very well. Less is always better than more when talking during a baseball game. And yes, basically you have turned it into math class. If I hear “exit velo” one more time on a Cubs game I am literally going to scream. No, check that, I’ve already screamed at my TV when it’s the 40th time that’s used during a game. I don’t need to hear that for every freaking play! And I’m not alone:
The broadcast is too technical. The PxP guy gives the exit velo for every hit. WHO CARES, IT MEANS NOTHING TO FANS. Then a 5 minute diatribe about how Pat Wisdom is "pull severe". How is that interesting at all to young fans? I cannot possibly relate how bad this is. @Cubs— Billy Krumb (@ClubhouseCancer) June 23, 2022
Then there are the times when Boog and his broadcast partners go off on tangents that can last an entire inning — sometimes beyond the last out and the commercials have to run and they’re still talking. Then, something will happen on the field that’s a little unusual and — well, I know you’ve heard this sequence many times:
- Boog will talk about some instance when that player, or even a different player, talked to him about a similar incident a year or even a decade earlier.
- Then, Boog will ask his broadcast partner (generally Jim Deshaies, Rick Sutcliffe or Ryan Dempster) whether he had ever had a similar thing happen during his career.
- That often leads to two or three batters’ worth of JD. Sutcliffe or Dempster talking about something that happened two or three decades earlier.
- Which means we sometimes miss entire plays or even entire innings being called.
Then it’s time for “T-Mac” (a cutesy nickname I could do without) to insert some comments, whether germane to the action or not. I’ve met Taylor McGregor and she’s very nice and no doubt a hard worker, but honestly I wish they’d just give that position to Elise Menaker, who grew up in the Chicago area as a Cubs fan and played softball at Cornell.
(Speaking of cutesy nicknames, have you ever heard anyone but Boog call Rowan Wick “Ro”? Didn’t think so.)
I wrote this back in June:
It feels like I’m watching a podcast, with certain topics they feel they must bring up and the action on the field is secondary.
This is still true. As I noted in the June article, I watch a lot of other teams’ games on their RSNs, mainly just because I love baseball. Literally no other RSN does anything like this. Even Jason Benetti and Steve Stone, who occasionally go off on tangents, don’t do it as much — or with as much irrelevance — as I hear it on Marquee. Most of the best local broadcast teams — the Mets, Yankees, Giants, Brewers and Dodgers among them — call the game straight. Sure, occasionally they’ll throw in an interesting story, but when they do it’s generally a) directly related to the game that’s happening in front of them and b) they’ll stop and call the play-by-play when there’s action on the field.
And that’s exactly what I’d like from Marquee. Boog called two games really well this past weekend, both of which were tight pitchers’ duels, one of which ended on a stunning walkoff home run. Spare us the sideshows, Marquee, just call the games straight. And please, you are a REGIONAL sports network, we were told we were getting a Cubs-centric channel. Instead you’ve got a guy in the booth who could be just about anyone, instead of someone rooting for the same team the viewer is. Beyond that, the constant chatter and silly nicknames give me the impression that I’m watching a bunch of high schoolers standing in the corner opposite me and yelling, “HEY LOOK AT US WE’RE THE COOL KIDS!” Narrator: “You’re not.” Stop trying to be! And I’m not the only one who feels this way:
Been thinking about the guy we're stuck with in the wake of Vin Scully's passing. Scully made the listener/viewer deeply feel a part of the action. At home. Sciambi w/ all his little inside jokes/name dropping, makes you feel excluded from his 'club' of baseball folks. @Cubs— Billy Krumb (@ClubhouseCancer) August 10, 2022
That sort of thing gives the viewer the impression that Marquee is broadcasting “The Boog Show,” all about him, and the game is secondary.
Whether this is a conscious choice by Sciambi or whether it’s something the producers or executive producers (or worse, both Boog and the production team!) have decided they want the broadcasts to be, it’s not working for me or for many other Cubs fans. No one asked me for my advice, but I’m going to give it to you anyway, Marquee: Change it. Fix it. Give us a Cubs fan in the booth, call the action on the field, stop the sideshows and nonsensical stuff that literally no one cares about. Another quote from my June article (italics as in original):
Sometimes the best thing about a sports broadcaster is that he (or she) knows when to shut up.
Still true, and will always be true.
(Parenthetical note before I conclude this essay: Please kill the ridiculous “‘quees to the game” title. Seriously, this sounds like something a middle school media class came up with. Yes, we know your channel’s name. “Keys” works just fine.)
I’ll end this with a couple of things I do like about Marquee’s game coverage. The camera work and directing are very good; no complaints about the visual coverage of the games. Marquee has added some camera angles and equipment that enhance the video presentation. The graphics are also excellent and thanks to Marquee for listening to viewer complaints about the scorebug and moving it to the upper left, which is visually the best place for it to be located.
But what we get from the announcers — primarily from Boog Sciambi — has me wanting to hit the mute button. As someone in the Cubs’ market territory watching Marquee via Xfinity cable, the alternative of using the radio broadcast feed isn’t available to me, as it is if you’re watching out of market on MLB.TV. Trust me when I say that if I could do that in-market, I would. You’ve got an entire offseason, Marquee, to make these broadcasts better. Here’s hoping for better Cubs TV in 2023.
Grade Marquee Sports Network’s 2022 Cubs game broadcasts.
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