You’ve probably been beaten over the head by news of Len Kasper’s departure by now, so we’ll keep this brief. Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney and Marquee general manager Mike McCarthy held a press conference Friday afternoon to address the vacancy in the TV booth and how they plan to go about filling it.
Despite reports from Thursday evening that former ESPN and Fox Sports broadcaster Chris Myers would take over after being hired in January as a part-time analyst, it was made clear that a replacement has not been named. That may simply be lip service or even a little bit of backtracking over backlash to the reports, but Kenney indicated there will be a legitimate search.
“It needs to be someone who fits with our culture,” Kenney said. “And I mean the Cubs culture, not ownership culture. Because the Cubs culture is very special and as you know something we cherish. So we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
The first thing that jumps out at me from this statement, and this has been echoed elsewhere, is that there is a clear difference between ownership culture and Cubs culture. While everyone has known for a while that this is the case, Kenney just said the quiet part out loud. After years of stories about Tom Ricketts meeting his wife in the bleachers and how this is a family business/passion project, this sounds like a public admission that those things were just window dressing.
Cliff notes from Crane/McCarthy presser
•People love Len Kasper
•#Cubs HAVE NOT named anyone to the position, just beginning their search
•Will have an opportunity to take a swing at a big name. Looking for someone who fits Cubs culture.
•People REALLY love Len Kasper
— Russell Dorsey (@Russ_Dorsey1) December 4, 2020
One of the fears many fans had when the Cubs announced a partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group on Marquee was that corporate directives would dictate the network’s operation, like making broadcasters wearing jackets and ties. That was specifically to promote the feel of a national broadcast, even though the Cubs have always been anything but.
Whether it’s the network itself, the transformation of the rooftops, or the rampant gentrification of the Wrigleyville neighborhood, a lot of that Cubs culture is being lost or altered. While nothing can ever truly eradicate the quaint romanticism of Wrigley Field, at least not for fans over the age of 20 or so, the machinations of ownership have taken on a decidedly synthetic feel. It’s as though they took over a popular hole-in-the-wall restaurant and then sought to franchise it, thereby bleaching out all the color that made the place great.
That’s an imperfect analogy at best because the Cubs are a big business and have been for quite some time now. But rather than seek to understand and foster those elements of the organization that made it so beloved, it feels like ownership and the business operations team have missed the mark in their attempts to leverage and commercialize the experience.
It reminds me a little bit of The Lorax and I’m starting to worry that people are going to stop needing thneeds here pretty soon.
I sure hope I’m wrong here and that the new television play-by-play hire truly is someone who understands and embodies Cubs culture. That doesn’t need to be a known commodity, though Kenney and McCarthy believe they’ll be able to swing big in that regard. Marquee can hardly afford to screw up such a big move, I just don’t really trust team or network leadership very much to make the right call at this point.
I guess we’ll see and I hope I’m wrong about them not really understanding their audience.