Rozner: The story behind Len Kasper's bold decision

The grand fallacy of those who feel self-important is that they rarely are what they believe, almost always poisoned by a lethal dose of egomania, acutely self-unaware and therefore unable to see themselves as the world does.

That's what makes Len Kasper so unusual - and it's why he doesn't expect you to understand his decision.

A certain Hall of Famer and one of the very best to ever broadcast a baseball game, held by his peers to be at the very top of his profession, Kasper is nevertheless bathed in self-awareness.

Rare as that may be, he not only refuses to take himself seriously, but such humility has allowed him to see his life and career for what it has been - and what he wants it to be.

"It's easy - especially when things are good in your career and your life - to go with the flow and not really think about the big picture or the future, as much as holding onto the things that you have, which is a very natural thing to do," Kasper explained of his decision to leave Cubs TV for White Sox radio. "I always tried to tell myself that as great a job as I've had the last 16 years, I never wanted the job to define me as a person.

"When I see people outside the ballpark, I'm 'Len the Cubs announcer.' It's a great feeling, but over the course of time, those things become all-encompassing if you let them.

"The pandemic and everything that people have dealt with, and turning 50 (in a month), has caused me to reflect on what I've accomplished, and also on what the final chapter - hopefully a very long chapter - will look like."

Advice from above

Stepping outside their comfort zone is not something most people are willing to do, especially those making big money and in a glamour job. Yet, being at the top of his game and enormously popular - both with the fan base and his bosses - gave Kasper a once-in-a-career opportunity, to choose his next job while his employer was imploring him to stay.

"Some people know what they don't want. In my case it was 100 percent about what I did want," Kasper said. "People ask me, 'Why?' My answer is, 'Why not?'

"My dad is pretty wise in that way, and I scoffed at him a bit when he said this, but he said, 'You were Al Kaline.'

"I said, 'What does that mean?'

"He said, 'You got to the top at a very young age.'"

Kaline went straight from high school to the majors at 18 years old, made the first of his 18 All-Star Games in his second full season for Detroit, and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer after becoming the 12th member of the 3,000-hit club. He followed Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente and preceded Pete Rose to 3,000.

"My dad's point was that I kind of reached the mountain top at an early age, in the big leagues at 31 and with the Cubs at 34," Kasper said. "My dad said, 'You're a young 50. It's almost like you're 70 for a lot of people in terms of what you've accomplished, so why not try this now?'

"He said any choice I made differently would probably not be understood for that reason. I had never considered, like a lot of people in my business, that I was so focused on doing my job when I was young that I never really stopped to consider where I was so young.

"If I were 20 years younger, I probably wouldn't understand it, but when you get to middle age your priorities - and what has deep meaning to you - changes."

There's always a Detroit theme lurking behind Kasper's easygoing and likable demeanor, and he has never strayed far in his mind from listening to games on the radio with his parents, Joe and Sharon.

"When you strip away the prestige, the money, the stage, the adulation, there's 13-year-old Len listening to Ernie Harwell. That's what got me hooked on baseball and broadcasting," Kasper said. "I've had a taste of everything at a high level, and those are all great things, but I never wanted that to be the overriding factor in determining how to round out my career.

"That's how the seeds of getting back into radio were born. Going to Tiger games and listening to radio resonates very deeply with me.

"So, at the end of the day, I banked all of those other memories (with the Cubs) and decided that right now, where I am in my life, I wanted to create some unique memories. I guess that sums up where my head and heart have been during this process."

A simple answer

Over the last 16 years, there have been many conversations with Kasper about his true professional desires, and he has always been honest about who he is and what he really needs out of life.

Ego has never been Kasper's problem. If anything, he's self-deprecating to a fault, so there was no shock when he told me - in confidence - about his move from the Cubs to White Sox, from North to South and from television to radio, before announcing it.

There has been much speculation as to why, but it's extraordinarily simple. Radio is what he wanted to do, to get back to his broadcasting roots. That's it. That's all of it, but we do not live in a world where the simple explanation is accepted, where Twitter and its ugly social media brethren decide the fate of others for them.

What is so admirable about this man is he doesn't care what anyone thinks about his decision. He doesn't need all that someone of his stature usually needs, which is the constant stroking of his image and his resume.

He's already universally beloved inside and outside the business, adored by one fan base and soon to be adored by another, but you'll not hear the man concerned about any of it.

He doesn't need worship. He just wants to do what he wants to do.

"I want to be really clear about the way the Cubs and Marquee treated me," Kasper said. "They treated me like a king. They had the proper dose of total respect and support for me as a friend, while also making sure they did everything they could to keep me right there.

"If they had made it too easy for me to leave, I would have wondered, and if they had made it too difficult, I would have wondered. They helped me thread a needle and I am very grateful.

"In your career you tend to make bad choices when at a bad place, but I was in a good place and because those relationships with the Cubs and Marquee - and before that WGN - were so good, I was able to ask them to let me go. They did not have to let me out of my deal.

"The way you go about it has to matter, but I would not have asked if I had thought the Cubs would say, 'No.' I had hoped I had built up enough equity by never asking for anything.

"It's about the way you treat people and the way you behave. You have to be in a good place with everyone in order to ask for something like this."

For all the inability of those on the outside to understand or accept this career choice, Kasper's friends in the business not only grasped the concept, but some were jealous.

Some of them being very big, network names.

"One thing in talking to a lot of friends in the business is it has made them a bit anxious about things, I hope in a good way," Kasper said. "These jobs are highly-coveted and incredibly comfortable in terms of the material side of it, and when you have one of these jobs you tend to focus on keeping the job.

"When someone close to you leaves what I would describe as the best job in sports, I think that scares some people. And it is scary. I'm not claiming that it wasn't scary, but it's a process that's important to go through."

Taking stock

If you can't appreciate this level of introspection from someone as supremely talented as Kasper, you are truly missing one of life's great lessons. The list of people who don't own a mirror, but presume to know all about - and criticize - someone else, is infinite.

"Comfort matters in a lot of ways, but intellectual discomfort is really good for the soul," Kasper said. "I'm challenging myself to do something I dreamed about as a kid, and having very deep conversations with close friends, I have found that some of them are thinking differently about it, even envious about it.

"Not necessarily doing something like I did, but getting out of that bubble, out of that comfort zone. Life is about experiences.

"I've had some TV guys who love radio say they wish they could do it. My answer is, 'Why the (heck) not?' At first, what made no sense to them now makes total sense.

"Whether it makes sense to others doesn't matter. I did it for myself. I'm not looking back and I'm really excited. People say, 'You might regret it.' I haven't yet, but the mystery and the unknown of that is the fun of it."

Don't think, however, that he has escaped scot-free.

"My parents have almost never missed a game I broadcast and they're already figuring out ways to listen to White Sox games," Kasper said. "But when I told them over Zoom about my decision, my dad said, 'Can I still root for the Cubs?' I said, 'Of course.' He can still watch the Cubs, but he has to listen to the Sox."

Ultimately, along this journey you only have to answer to yourself, you only have to listen to your heart. Len Kasper did precisely that. Understand his resolve. Or don't.

But either way, you do have to admire him for it.

Len Kasper interviews manager Joe Maddon on the field for the Cubs' radio flagship (WSCR 670-AM) after the 2015 National League Division Series clincher. Courtesy of the Chicago Cubs
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