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updated: 6/1/2014 2:22 PM

The art of announcing baseball and knowing when not to talk

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  • Ernie Harwell, the voice of Detroit Tigers baseball, was one of the reasons Len Kasper wanted to become a baseball broadcaster. Kasper grew up listening to radio broadcasts by the legendary Harwell.

      Ernie Harwell, the voice of Detroit Tigers baseball, was one of the reasons Len Kasper wanted to become a baseball broadcaster. Kasper grew up listening to radio broadcasts by the legendary Harwell.
    Associated Press/2002 file

  • Video: Video tribute to Ernie Harwell

  • Video: Kasper and Deshaies at work

 
 

Ever since I first heard Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on Detroit Tigers' radio growing up in mid-Michigan, I dreamed of being a baseball play-by-play announcer.

I have been incredibly fortunate to live out that dream and I do not take lightly the responsibilities of my job. In fact, I am constantly searching for better ways to do what I do.

There's no such thing as a perfect broadcast with a dozen choices to make at every turn in terms of when to share a story or a quick note or stat. Actually, one of the most important decisions an announcer makes is knowing when to stop talking, which is more difficult than it seems. You see, we are paid to talk. But letting the game breathe is hugely important and letting the moment speak for itself is an essential skill.

I chat all the time with colleagues and close friends in the industry about the mechanics of our job.

Pat Hughes, in particular, has been an invaluable resource. He has done big league games on the radio for three decades and has seen and done it all. We often break down the differences between radio and television and relating our perspectives from a couple booths away on a daily basis.

It is here where I should point out the big difference between baseball on the radio and television. It's like singles and doubles in tennis. It's the same game technically, but the two forms require totally different strategies.

On radio, the number one goal is to tell listeners where the ball is. Pat is as good as anybody I have heard at that. Nothing on Cubs radio happens until he tells us it does. Ron Coomer's job is important too -- to analyze what has happened and what might transpire next -- but Pat drives the broadcast.

On television, the game is in front of the viewer to see. My job is a lot different. I give the basic information when necessary, but I also have to set up Jim Deshaies to explain what we are seeing and give it context. It is often said that radio is a play-by-play medium and television is an analyst's game and that is largely true. The best tandems work together well and listen to each other, but those roles need to be defined for it to work.

My background is in radio, which may surprise some people. In fact, with a few exceptions, my entire television career has consisted of baseball play-by-play. I got into TV because that's where the opportunity was as a fill-in during my time in Milwaukee.

I have grown to love the TV medium. JD and I have time to go in-depth on the game like a couple of guys might over a beverage at the local pub. While always keeping in mind the action on the field, there are spots early in games or in blowouts during which we can have some pretty cool back-and-forth sequences on whatever interests us.

And while we both have opinions and neither of us is afraid to share them, we tend to generally stay in the middle, realizing that that game is made up of shades of gray, as opposed to being black or white. I remind people that it's not a talk show and our main job is to give context to what we are seeing on the field.

Essentially, it's an art form, one that allows us to steer the narrative of the game in our slightly unique way. It's a task we take very seriously and hopefully it's a comfortable listen. That's our goal on a daily basis.

• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter@LenKasper and check out his baseball-blog/ with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com.

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