Kasper: Talking baseball with Pat Hughes
Pat Hughes is now in his 19th season as the radio voice of the Cubs and has been a big-league announcer for three full decades. He is one of the best in the business who will someday win the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.
He kindly agreed to answer some questions I had on how he goes about his craft.
LEN: What's changed the most about your job since you started back in the 1980s?
PAT: The first thing that comes to mind is the length of games. I think when I first started the average time was about 2½ hours. I would say (now) it's in excess of three hours. It may not sound like a great amount of time when you talk about 40 minutes until you've actually done it like you and I have.
The short ones, you're never at a loss for words; there's a great pace, you work with your partner, you've got everything cooking, the action takes care of itself.
We've done a couple nine-inning games this year (that lasted) over four hours, and that is a great challenge. It's part of our job, so naturally you do your best.
LEN: Replay is fairly easy to cover on TV. What sort of challenge does it pose for radio?
PAT: Your television people are showing us several different angles. But I really tap into Ron Coomer's knowledge on when the tag took place on a headfirst slide at second base, for example.
We go over it in detail and offer our opinions (on) the outcome. I do agree with the system. Getting the calls right is the objective, and I think it's here to stay.
LEN: You've called multiple sports. Can you break down one big difference between play-by-play in baseball vs. every other sport?
PAT: I think the misconception is that because we are all familiar with baseball and we know the game and the basic rules that it's the easiest game to broadcast. I think the guys who are really great -- Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Bob Uecker -- they make it sound really easy.
When I listen to Vin Scully, I picture him in a rocking chair in his family room calling the game. You and I know that it's a lot more difficult. It's because there is a limited amount of action.
Football, basketball, hockey and most of the other team sports (have) nonstop action. Baseball (is a) whole different game.
You could have a 2-1 ballgame where almost nothing happens on the field and it takes three hours and eighteen minutes to play. You may literally have four to five minutes of frenzied action. What about the other three hours you have to cover?
That's what makes baseball difficult. It's not just calling the home runs. It's the ability to fill in the empty spaces with interesting, entertaining and perhaps even educational material.
LEN: Can you go back to early in your career and find a broadcaster you emulated or wanted to sound like?
PAT: There are three guys I would call the grand masters of sportscasting: Vin Scully, Bob Costas and Bill King, the great radio voice of the Oakland Raiders of my youth and the Golden State Warriors.
He (King) was a radio man, not television, that's why very few people outside the Bay Area have ever heard of him. Later he became the voice of the Oakland A's.
He was amazingly accurate, prepared, descriptive. (He had) an incredible vocabulary, understood the game, did his homework, understood how to build drama, how to use his voice with perfect inflection.
He's the best radio play-by-play man across the board -- talking about football, basketball and baseball -- in the history of America, and no one is even close.
• 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.