May 26, 2016

By J.O. Chids  (Exclusive for Cubsquest) ….   5/26/16

During the 4th inning of yesterday’s marathon Cubs win at St. Louis, Jake Arrieta darts an 0-2 fastball on the black and home plate umpire CB Buckner doesn’t flinch. Ball three. The scorn of Arrieta, Catcher Miguel Montero and the scores of viewers toward Buckner is blatantly obvious; “Oooh!” exclaims Cubs TV color man Jim Deshaies, “CB stands for can’t believe!!…” articulating concisely what we all wish we would’ve thought of, both expressing our frustration and lightening the moment at once.

Last week Cubs play by play man Len Kasper made reference to the background of Cuban-exile outfielder Jorge Soler and DeShaies matter of factly deadpaned in his best Jeff Spiccolli, “Just having some pizza, learning bout’ Cuba”… When Kasper qualified the reference to the classic Cameron Crowe film “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”, it was hardly necessary. DeShaies doesn’t really care who gets it or not, as he’s on to his next point. An astute analysis of the action on the field.

Not since Steve Stone graced the booth with Harry Caray, have the Cubs broadcasts packaged such a powerful combination of entertainment and enlightenment as it has with Kasper and Deshaies.

Now this is not to suggest that Kasper is in any way, shape or form in Harry’s league. He is not.

What he is though is a very sharp guy, who knows the game well, and has an intellect that reaches beyond the white lines. Something his previous partner Bob Brenley really didn’t ignite, and which his present partner brings out eloquently.

Like a cerebral Abbott and Costello, Kasper and DeShaies effortlessly navigate their way through each broadcast, mixing in ample doses of irony, parody and humor, without missing a pitch or pointing out a sage insight.

Like Abbott, Kasper plays the savvy straight man. Like Costello, DeShaies is The Star.

Before the 2013 campaign, amongst the many winds of change in Cub Nation, the search for a new color man to replace Bob Brenley delivered Jim DeShaies – a journeyman left handed pitcher who spent the majority of his career pitching for and later broadcasting with the Houston Astros – into the Cubs fold.

His selection seemed unlikely, considering the list of other candidates oozing with Cub DNA: Rick Sutcliffe, Eric Karros, Doug Glanville, Dan Plesac, Todd Hollandsworth and …. Deshaies?!!

All were interviewed and – as the story goes – met with incumbent play by play man Kaspar, who supposedly had final say. The chemistry was unmistakable, and the guy whose biggest tie to Wrigley Field, was that his final major league drubbing came in the friendly confines on a hot, windy day in July 30, 1995 – leap frogged over the seemingly more logical and popular choices.

The story as told with self effacing relish by Deshaies goes something like this:

“It was a day when the flags were starched, wind blowing straight out. I was already sweating when I took the mound, not so much from the steamy July humidity, but the fact I knew I had nothing that day, and not much left in the tank as a big league pitcher either. And it didn’t take long for that prophecy to fulfill itself.  Cubs centerfielder Brian McRae ripped a double to lead off the game, then quickly scored on Mark Grace’s RBI single. One out later, Todd Zeile launched a two-run bomb on a 3-2 pitch for a 3-0 Cubs lead. I somehow made it out of the inning only to have Jose Hernandez lead off the second with another long ball. I looked down at the mound, then around at that friendly confines, pretty much realizing this may be my last rodeo. So I muscled up to go out with a flourish, which didn’t quite work as I proceeded to walk the starting pitcher Jim Bullinger, and McRae again, nearly tore the cover off the ball with a screaming single to left…”

Deshaies was pulled after 1 1/3 innings in what was to be the final start of his 12 year playing career. Little did he know at the time that he would be back some two decades later, and Cub fans are damn lucky to have him.

Born in upstate New York, Deshaies grew up a Montreal Expos fan, which he gleefully peppers his rhetoric with anecdotes about his childhood antics in old Jerry Park. “I used to stuff the all-star ballot boxes for Cocoa LaBoy” he joked recently.

Deshaies was originally drafted by the New York Yankees and made his Major League debut August 7, 1984, being the 1000th player to enter a big league game wearing Yankee pinstripes. He was shipped off to the Astros in the offseason and still maintaining rookie status, established the Houston Astros record for Wins by a rookie pitcher with 12. (Later eclipsed by Roy Oswaldt)

On September 23, 1986, in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Deshaies set a major-league record by striking out the first eight batters of the game. The following year, the Topps company inserted a trading card into its 1987 set honoring this accomplishment. This feat was equaled by New York Mets right hander Jacob deGrom on September 14, 2014.

Deshaies was a mainstay in the Astros’ rotation from 1986 to 1991, pitching in 26 or more starts in those years. His best season was 1989, when he pitched a 15–10 record, with a 2.91 ERA and 153 strikeouts. On May 2 that year, Deshaies served Mike Schmidt‘s 548th and final home run.

Though a big guy at 6’4″, 222 lbs, JD was not much of an offensive threat in his career, he holds the ignominious major league record for most at-bats without an extra base hit, with 373.

In 1992, Deshaies and the Astros parted ways. He played for brief stints with the San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants andPhiladelphia Phillies. He retired in 1995.

During his playing career ESPN’s Chris Berman referred to him as Jim “Two Silhouettes on” Deshaies.

Soon after retirement, Deshaies did commentary for the Astros’ TV broadcasts from 1997 to 2012, along with Bill Brown. He gained respect as an analyst and was extremely popular with Astros fans during his tenure. He is the co-host of the quirky “J.D. and Dave’s Excellent Offseason Adventure” in the offseason and occasionally serves as an analyst for Major League Baseball on Fox

In 2001, Deshaies ran a tongue-in-cheek campaign urging Baseball Writers Association of America voters to elect him to the Baseball Hall of Fame, even though he knew that he was not qualified for the honor. His goal was to get one vote in the Hall of Fame election, which succeeded when Houston Chronicle writer John Lopez voted for him. Lopez is a current sports talk radio show host in Houston.

Deshaies signed a three year contract to broadcast Cubs games in 2013, which comes up for renewal at the season’s end. Having purchased a plush $1.35 million condo in River North in 2014, and the conventional wisdom is he’s not going away anytime soon.

As one who spends more of the season away from the Chicago area than actually in it, this correspondent is subjected – against his will – to listen to more than his share of the oppositions broadcasts. And though some fresh perspectives are offered, for entertainment value and just sheer listenability, the Len and JD show is surpassed ONLY by a Vin Scully Dodger broadcast, which of course is like comparing Charles Schultz to Rembrandt…

Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and Crane Kenney all received sometimes harsh media scrutiny and criticism at the outset of taking control of the beloved, underachieving Wrigleyville baseball institution and the Deshaies signing was initially not warmly received either.

But purging the likes of one-time red-hot prospect Starlin Castro in favor of more fundamentally sound players like Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist or the belief in Jake Arrieta as the team’s future Ace rather than chasing home grown hurler Jeff Samardjiza, proved their instincts in rebuilding this franchise to be nothing short of impeccable. And Kenney’s hiring of Deshaies also turned out to be the right move, as once fans were exposed to the wit, wisdom and professionalism he brought to the booth, cries of dissent vanished quickly.

So sit back an enjoy this years pennant race being tickled and informed by the dulcet tones of this jewel of an analyst, who along with what looks to be the best Cubs team in a century, promises to provide a memorable fan experience for 2016 – and hopefully beyond.

SOURCES: Chicago Tribune, Baseball, Wikipedia