Bristol, CT - September 30, 2020 - Studio E: Jon Sciambi calling MLB postseason games remotely (Photo by Kelly Backus / ESPN Images)
I’ve only known of one other “Boog.”
Of course, I am dating myself—growing up in the ‘60s watching Orioles slugger Boog Powell smash homer after homer out of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on TV.
So in doing my research for this story, every interview that I watched featuring ESPN’s voice of Sunday night baseball and NEW Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer for the Marquis Network Jon Sciambi started with the same question—“Where did you get that nickname?”
I made it a point not to discuss it in a 35-minute video interview with Sciambi until the very last question. And he seemed to appreciate it. (The entire video interview is available on jerseymanmagazine.com)
The answer is—he got it at a radio station in Miami as a fledging “I’ll do anything” newbie announcer. Somebody who worked there told Sciambi that he looked like Boog Powell and taped that name on his mail slot.
So now that is behind us, we can get into the real issues that have brought this affable big fella to the pinnacle of baseball play-by-play.
Sciambi was born in Philly. His grandfather, Orlando (nickname Lonnie, same as Jon’s father), actually headed the construction of Veteran’s Stadium in the early ‘70s. His Mom, Suzanne, was from Montclair, so when they decided to move when he was a very young boy they headed to NJ for a year until setting in NYC in a place called Roosevelt Island under the 59th Street bridge.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Jon Sciambi firmly is loyal to his Philly ties, and openly still roots for all of the sports teams here. He also idolized Harry Kalas and tells a funny story about hearing Harry the K order food in the press box at Joe Robbie Stadium and knew immediately he was standing next to one of his broadcast idols.
“I’ll take the meatloaf and mashed potatoes,” he mimics Kalas in a gravelly tone.
“Also, one of my biggest thrills,” Sciambi said, “was when Mike Schmidt called me when I got the Cubs job. I really idolized him as a player. It was very special to hear from him.”
“And my favorite Eagles player was tight end Keith Krepfle,” he added. At this point, I tried to get Sciambi to admit that he remembered me from that 1980 team, but the subject was quickly changed—hmmm.
So, the big redhead went to NY’s Regis High School (television personality Regis Philbin was named after the school but didn’t attend there) and played baseball for the team. “I always wanted to play football, I thought I would have been a pretty good pass-catching tight end,” he said. “But there were literally no kid’s leagues or Pop Warner teams in that area then, so I decided to concentrate on baseball.
Apparently, he was pretty good because, after an outstanding prep career, he made the team at William and Mary as a preferred walk-on as a Freshman but transferred to Boston College a year later because of an injury to concentrate on his broadcasting career. He tried to play baseball at BC, but his shoulder injury limited his ability, and he was released from the team.
Working for the college station WBZC there with the likes of Joe Tessitore (most recently of Monday Night Football), and Bob Wischusen (current voice of the NY Jets), Sciambi did everything from sports talk to some spotty play-by-play; the normal dues-paying protocol that usually leads to something good. “We weren’t Syracuse,” Sciambi adds, “but we had a pretty good draft class that year.”
From Boston, he worked at WESB in Bradford, PA (about 3 hours NE of Pittsburgh, known as the refrigerator of Pennsylvania) in 1993 for his first professional broadcasting job. He was spinning records, doing the boards for Pirates games, news, sports and the whole shebang. (Author’s note: I have always wanted to use the word shebang in a story. This is my first opportunity.)
He found a much warmer climate for his next gig in Miami, FL, sleeping on Wischusen’s couch and doing menial tasks as a board operator, then filling in with some sports talk and updates to earn his keep.
Having a press pass, he would go to Marlins games (one of the perks was the free food—a big deal for a young bachelor/broadcaster). Here is my favorite part of my interview—he would go into an empty booth at the Marlins Park and record play-by-play into a tape recorder. Paying your dues and working with passion have always been my sweet spot.
Putting together a demo tape, he sent it around to various clubs and received an offer to do Class A baseball in Boise, Idaho. He did stay in touch though with the Marlins director of broadcasting Dean Jordan, who was in the process of shuffling the on-air teams a bit and offered Jon a shot at calling big league games.
After a couple of years at ESPN doing sports radio, college basketball and other duties. He took the Braves job in 2008-2009 before returning to ESPN in 2010 claiming he missed the Northeast (really?) and held the position of PXP for TV ad radio until the current opportunity came along with the Cubs (Sciambi will keep most of his ESPN Sunday Night Baseball responsibilities).
He replaces Len Kasper with the Cubbies, who replaced Skip Caray, who replaced his grandfather Harry Caray (Holy Cow!), who replaced my childhood idol growing up, Jack Brickhouse (Hey Hey). But here I have to digress and tell you a funny story about Brickhouse…
Living in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, I used to run home every day from grade school to catch the last couple innings of Cubs games on WGN. Brickhouse was an unabashed homer who loved the Cubs in the era of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and it was unmistakable in his broadcasts. He first teamed up with Lloyd Petit doing the color for TV. Vince Lloyd and Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau did the radio at that time. Petit married a rich socialite and was replaced in the booth by Jim West, who worked for the Orioles prior to taking the Cubs job.
I was playing for the Baltimore Stars of the USFL in 1985 and attended a cocktail party in the city when I was introduced to West. I told him what a Cubs fan I was and how I idolized Jack Brickhouse. “Mr. West, I said, I just have to tell you how much I enjoyed your broadcasts and how much I admired Jack Brickhouse.” He replied, “You liked Jack Brickhouse?” I said, “Yes, very much.” West then says, “I thought Jack Brickhouse was the biggest pain in the ass I ever met,” and abruptly turned around and ended the conversation. Crestfallen, I scraped my jaw off the floor and returned to the bar.
To use a broadcast segue—and now, back to the action.
Kasper was (and is) a gem. As authentic as they come, he and color analyst Jim Deshaies provided entertaining and lively banter during games, even when the Cubs were borderline unwatchable on the field. Unbelievably, this off-season, Kasper gave up the Cubs TV job to take the radio PXP job with the crosstown White Sox. (Who does that?) Kasper apparently was jonesing to broadcast playoff games, and of course, the networks take over that from the local stations, but the radio guys do get the opportunity.
Sciambi and Kasper are very close. And when I asked Jon about how he handled this sensitive situation, he said his main concern was wanting Len to be happy. “Len is as close of a friend as I have in broadcasting. When he decided he was going to leave the Cubs, the network approached me about taking over. At first, I was hesitant, but after listening to their enthusiastic pitch and conferring with Len I decided I wanted to accept the position,” Sciambi said.
So Sciambi steps into the spotlight covering a Cubs team that many say is in transition. He will do about 130 of them for the Marquis Network while retaining some of his ESPN duties. Certainly, this Cubs team has a base of talent with the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant. Although many of those players are coming up for free agency, and in this pandemic era of no or very few fans (for now) it is hard to budget for the mega-salaries these guys will likely be offered on the free market.
Another interesting aspect of the relationship with the team is that manager David Ross was Sciambi’s broadcast partner for a few years with ESPN. The two get along very well, and it certainly will give Jon a leg up on any insider information because of this relationship.
When I asked about Ross’s personality, he was quite candid. “Ross is a good guy and a great friend, but he can be a sneaky a**hole,” he said. When I inquired what he meant, Sciambi added, “David knows how to push the right buttons. And even though he was friends with guys like Jon Lester (recently departed to the Nationals), and Anthony Rizzo, he is a guy that isn’t afraid to take stand with them and make sure they do their job.”
The last topics we discussed were the overall state of baseball and his views on Joe Girardi and the Phillies.
“The game needs to be quicker,” he says. “Too many balls not in play and the slow pace of the game are the biggest needs baseball needs to address.”
“Regarding the Phillies, I think they’re stuck in the middle a bit. It’s hard with Atlanta and now the Mets. One thing they need is an elite unit. What leads them? Offense, defense or pitching need to be really special in order for them to contend.”
So Sciambi steps up to the plate with a job most broadcasters would pull their wisdom teeth out for.
And the blood in his mouth will run Philly Red, with just a bit of a trace of Cubby Blue.
Holy Cow! Jon Sciambi is now the voice of the Chicago Cubs.
Be sure to check out Jon Sciambi’s ASL Charity. Visit www.projectmainst.org to donate today!