Jim Deshaies called ‘shocking’ pick for Cubs’ TV booth
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2012 11:05PM
1989 - Jim Deshaies #43 of the Houston Astros pitches during a 1989 season game. (Photo by: Mike Powell/Getty Images)
Updated: January 5, 2013 6:27AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On the first day of the winter meetings Monday the Cubs made what promises to be their biggest acquisition of the winter, announcing the hiring of Jim Deshaies to replace Bob Brenly in the TV booth.
Deshaies, 52, signed a four-year contract to join Len Kasper in what might be the highest-profile local broadcast booth in the majors — and a lineage that includes legendary Hall of Fame play-by-play men Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray and more recent fan-favorite color-men Steve Stone and Brenly.
“I’m aware of the legacy, with Harry and Brickhouse,’’ said Deshaies, 52, a 12-year big-league pitcher who spent the last 16 seasons as the Houston Astros’ TV analyst. “But the thing I like about it is they tend to stick around.
“For me [making the move] is about the whole package, with WGN, the relationship with the fans that the guys had and trying to build that rapport we had [in Houston]. I’ll try to do my own thing, not try to mimic Bob or Stony or anybody else.’’
Industry insiders viewed Deshaies as “wild-card’’ candidate considering his lack of Cubs ties, and one Chicago sports TV veteran called it “shocking’’ to see him win the job over former Cubs Eric Karros and Todd Hollandsworth.
But those familiar with Deshaies and his Astros broadcasts say his humor and easy on-air style should make for a quick transition with fans who by last season had made “Len and Bob’’ more popular than any pair of Cubs on the field. Fan outcry in Houston through social media was swift and intense.
“I like his wit, and he obviously knows the game well,’’ Kasper said. “I’m really happy. Everybody here is thrilled to get somebody of JD’s caliber. I know it’ll take a while to build the relationship together in the booth, but 500 hours of baseball next year should be plenty of time to get it right.’’
If filling the Brenly’s shoes — particularly as a so-called outsider — seems daunting, it’s no greater challenge than Brenly faced as an outsider taking over after Stone’s falling out with the manager and veteran players over critical comments at the end of the 2004 season.
Brenly was not immediately embraced and admittedly struggled in his first year or so, before gaining immense popularity since.
“I’ve given it a little thought,’’ said Deshaies, who credited Brenly with creating a precedent that allowed the Cubs to think outside Cub ties for a replacement. “I think you don’t want to get too scripted in your approach to where you think it’s going to make more people, or make Cubs fans, like you. I’ve been well-received [in Houston]. I just have to get in with Lenny and find that rhythm, and we’ll be fine.’’
A source says the Cubs have told closer Carlos Marmol he is a trade candidate but “won’t give him away.” Without confirming a two-year, $9.5 million deal with Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa, team president Theo Epstein said such a signing of a “setup-type reliever … with closing experience” doesn’t preclude keeping Marmol as the Cubs try to strengthen the pen. Another Cubs honcho suggested Fujikawa is not necessarily viewed as the Cubs’ closer despite the free agent’s stated desire/demand during talks with teams — and his decision to reject the Angels’ offer after they signed Ryan Madsen last week.
◆ Fujikawa’s announcement is expected Friday after his physical this week. The Cubs don’t expect World Baseball Classic vet Fujikawa to play in next spring’s WBC after addressing that issue during negotiations.
◆ Epstein says the Cubs have told Alfonso Soriano, who has full no-trade rights, they plan to listen to offers for him and will keep him updated on any such talks.
◆ Epstein says the Cubs have eyed the long list of players non-tendered by other clubs and have interest in at least one left-handed pitcher. Washington non-tendered lefties Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan, both of whom the Cubs talked to the Nationals about earlier this year.