21-year-old Jon Sciambi stood behind the bar at Mary Ann’s in Cleveland Circle handing drinks to an ever-growing crowd of eager Boston College students. Each glass he put down stuck slightly to the perpetually wet countertop of the dive bar, and as usual, Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten shuffled through the jukebox.
But Sciambi, who bartended part-time to earn some extra cash while he was a student, didn’t mind the sticky counters, the smell, or the repetitive music—to this day, Ten is one of his favorite albums. The job was just part of a BC experience that would provide him with a host of opportunities unavailable anywhere else.
Sciambi had come to BC with the intent to play baseball, but after he was cut from the team (more on that later), he turned to other pastimes, such as bartending or hosting a weekly sports talk show with his two best friends on WZBC. One of those pastimes quickly blossomed into a full-blown career, and it wasn’t because he could pour the perfect Green Monster.
After graduating from BC in 1992, Sciambi went on to become one of the most recognizable voices in play-by-play calling for professional baseball. In his career, he has worked as the radio voice of the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves, and has worked full-time for ESPN since 2010.
What Sciambi’s resume lacked, however, was working in a town where baseball has flowed through the veins of every resident for the last 150 years. Earlier this month, though, Sciambi found just that when he accepted one of America’s most coveted jobs as the TV play-by-play commentator for the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.
“When you look at the signature franchises in baseball, you’re talking about the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Red Sox, and the Cubs,” Sciambi said. “[Chicago] has always been one of the special places to go broadcast the game. Baseball matters there.”
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n and off the air, Sciambi is best known as Boog because he bears a passing resemblance to Boog Powell, the longtime Baltimore Orioles’ slugger. His face is similarly framed by a crown of reddish hair, and just like his namesake, Sciambi is built more like a middle linebacker than a baseball player. Both Boogs bat left-handed.
Sciambi earned his nickname at his first job as a board operator in Miami in 1993. One of his coworkers, Dave LaMont, took notice of Sciambi’s striking looks, and on Sciambi’s first day of work, instead of his mailbox reading “Jon Sciambi,” someone had taped a hand-written name tag over it reading “Boog Powell.”
Now, the moniker is synonymous with Sciambi himself, so much so that even if he doesn’t introduce himself as “Boog,” strangers pick up on it from passing whispers.
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Sciambi has become somewhat of the broadcast counterpart of Powell, as the two share similar levels of esteem in their respective fields. For Sciambi, though, a dream career doesn’t end with hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in the World Series, but rather, watching it unfold from the broadcast booth.
“I’d still like to call the World Series,” Sciambi said. “It would be a dream, you know, to be the national voice on the radio.”
With his new job in Chicago, though, his chances of accomplishing that goal are slim to none. Instead, he’ll follow the Cubs and only the Cubs all season long, gaining an intimate understanding of the team and capitalizing on his wit and wisdom that seem so effortless in conversation.
“My hope is that I get a chance to get really connected to the community,” Sciambi said. “I would love it if I could have this job for 20-something years.”
If that proves to be the case, Sciambi would be following in the footsteps of one of his closest friends, Len Kasper, who spent the last 16 years in Sciambi’s new position with the Cubs. The pair met two decades ago through industry connections, and despite only living in the same town once, they have turned to each other for advice at many of life’s crossroads.
The first major intersection of their careers was in 2002, when Kasper was applying for a job with the Marlins, who Sciambi worked for at the time. The pair overlapped in Miami for about two years, which is the last time they’ve lived and worked in the same city.
Almost 20 years later, Kasper reached out to Sciambi again for advice when he was considering leaving the Cubs to work for the White Sox. At that point, Sciambi’s name wasn’t even in contention to fill Kasper’s vacancy. It was simply a friend leaning on a friend.
Then, come 2020, the roles were reversed. Once his name was in the ring for Kasper’s former job with the Cubs, Sciambi turned to his predecessor for advice. And when he got the job, Kasper was one of his first calls.
“Of course I thought he would be the best candidate,” Kasper said, though he intentionally was not involved with the hiring process. “I think he’s the best play-by-play announcer in the sport. … It’s almost like I choreographed or orchestrated it, and really I had nothing to do with it, but it kind of felt like it worked out perfectly for me.”
Sciambi relayed the news to Kasper a few days before it became public knowledge, and when he did, Kasper “was just bouncing off the walls” for his friend to move to Chicago.
“Just that on a personal level made me so happy,” Kasper said. “But I could tell how excited he was about this. And look, I’ve had the job for 16 years. I know very intimately how great a job it is, and to have your best friend now experienced that is pretty amazing. I’m happy for Jon, [and] I’m thrilled for the Cubs. But selfishly, I’m happy for me that we’re going to have a chance to see each other a lot more than we normally would.”
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ne of the most iconic images from film in the late 1970s is John Belushi playing John “Bluto” Blutarsky in Animal House, wearing a sweater with the word “COLLEGE” branded across the front.
Belushi’s character, written specifically for the actor, is in his seventh year of college with a 0.0 GPA and is a proud member of the notorious Delta Tau Chi fraternity. He’s a loveable underachieving alcoholic, but the stories that follow him are illustrious.
“On the spectrum of college friends that you have, [Sciambi] definitely was on the end of the spectrum where John Belushi from Animal House sits,” Joe Tessitore, BC ’93, said with the lilt in his voice that comes from the fondness of old friends. “So, when it comes to people you tell stories about from college, or when you think about college days or college times, or when you hear guys thinking about those glory days saying, ‘Oh man, he was legendary.’”
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essitore and Bob Wischusen, also BC ’93, are both now sports broadcast superstars in their own rights. The trio of Sciambi, Tessitore, and Wischusen worked together on their weekly sports talk show on WZBC and honed their play-by-play and color commentary skills calling BC basketball and football games.
“That was hardly work,” Tessitore said of this time at WZBC. “That was just being the greatest of college buddies.”
What made their time together so unlike work, Tessitore recalled, was that Sciambi is and was the kind of guy “you want to hang out and get a beer with.” More than that, though, Tessitore remarked that even in their college days, it was clear that Sciambs, as they called him, had a future in sports.
“Jon [Sciambi] was the walking baseball encyclopedia,” Tessitore said. “He’s so friggin’ likeable. He’s so knowledgeable, he’s so talented, and he’s the classic ‘good things happen to good people’ kind of guy.”
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As well as his career seems to have worked out for Sciambi, though, the road he traveled has been far from easy. Sciambi initially enrolled at the College of William and Mary as a preferred walk-on to the baseball team, but shoulder issues required rotator cuff surgery between his freshman and sophomore years.
“When I came back to William and Mary [after surgery], I wasn’t happy there,” Sciambi said. “I decided to withdraw in the middle of the fall semester and got into BC for the spring of what should have been my sophomore year.”
William and Mary has no communication program, a major which is often the first stepping stone in a media career. His love of the game of baseball and the chance to compete at the next level took precedence over what he saw as a clear path to a future in sports broadcasting. BC, however, provided both baseball and a communication major.
After Sciambi’s transfer to BC, Richard Maloney, Birdball’s head coach at the time, offered him a spot on the team. But after a handful of practices and a team trip to Florida, Maloney cut Sciambi from the roster.
As he spoke about that period of his life, Sciambi’s chipper but steady tone made a marked shift toward a more somber and reflective one, not because he is bitter about being cut, but because he remembered feeling like a wrench had been thrown in the grand scheme of a calculated life plan.
“It was painful,” Sciambi said. “I wish I could have been better. … But look, I love what I get the chance to do.”
n Wischusen’s eyes, one of the reasons for his, Sciambi’s, and Tessitore’s professional success is their relationship in college. Their show on WZBC, he said, was only about 5 percent of the time they spent talking about sports. It was practically a 24/7 activity, as they spent every waking moment yelling at each other across Wischusen’s living room in Mod 6A or wherever they found themselves together.
“I do think all of us became much more prepared and much more focused and much more well-rounded to now pursue what we’ve all pursued professionally because we were together like that,” Wischusen said.
They learned from each other, Tessitore said retrospectively, giving them the foundations for a future in sports.
“We taught each other the business without even realizing it,” Tessitore said. “We established sort of these fundamental pillars of passion and preparation that ended up carrying us through these professional careers, and it’s really just always fun to reflect on it.”
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hen Sciambi was six years old, he got his first taste of true Chicago baseball. Visiting his grandparents in April of 1976, he, a born-and-raised Phillies fan, flipped on the TV to watch his team take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Quickly, the Cubs ran up the score and led 12-1 after three innings.
“I sat there and I was like ‘I’m not leaving. I am watching this game on TV, and they’re going to come back and win the game,’” Sciambi said.
He was right, thanks to four home runs from his favorite player Mike Schmidt, and the Phillies won 18-16 in extra innings.
The night that the Cubs announced Sciambi had taken the job as their broadcaster, he got a call from an unfamiliar number, and lo and behold, it was Schmidt himself. Game recognizes game, as they say.
“Having this job with the Cubs, being something that aligns with his passion and his whole life, I love it for him,” Tessitore said. “Absolutely love it for him.”
With so much of the MLB season up in the air due to COVID-19, practically nothing is guaranteed. One thing that is, though, is that the name Jon “Boog” Sciambi will soon be a household name (if it isn’t already).
“It’s certainly on the Mount Rushmore of baseball jobs to get, and it’s stamped him as being at that level,” Wischusen said of Sciambi’s job with the Cubs. “Being on ESPN Radio and having the role that he’s had at ESPN certainly has elevated him to the point that the hallmark franchises in the sport think of him for that opportunity.”
His friends each rattled off seemingly endless lists of good qualities that got Sciambi to this point in his professional life, but none came up as frequently as humility.
“He doesn’t seek the spotlight, but he’s very comfortable in it,” Kasper said.
And it’s a good thing, too, because Sciambi’s name, along with Kasper and hall-of-famers like Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse, will be forever etched in Cubs radio history.
Sciambi’s spotlight has never been brighter.
Images Courtesy of Jon Sciambi