Dan Bernstein is a mid-day on-air personality for sports radio 670-AM the Score. He and partner Terry Boers host the humorous and informative “Boers and Bernstein” show Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The highly rated radio program recently celebrated its landmark 1,500th broadcast. Previously, Bernstein was P.R. director and play-by-play man for the CBA’s Rockford Lightning. He also called games for the Cubs’ former class-A affiliate Rockford Cubbies.
Bernstein is known for his humorous impersonations of noted sports personalities. One of the funniest impressions he does is that of Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. In this interview, the irreverent Deerfield native discusses working with Steve Stone, the state of Chicago baseball and the type of sense of humor mandatory to enjoy it.
The Heckler: From a public relations standpoint, is this 2005 Cubs team a vast improvement from the ’04 squad?
Dan Bernstein: Oh absolutely. Now that Hawkins is gone, I can’t name a Cubs player that I don’t like. This team is full of guys that you can genuinely root for.
TH: I can’t picture this team picking fights with umpires and broadcasters, can you?
DB: No and Dusty seems to have gotten it a bit and perhaps grown up a little. Now the pressure hasn’t been on, so we’ll see, but last year was just so awful and so poorly handled on so many levels and really just an embarrassing collapse. The Cubs got all the wrong messages for all the wrong reasons. I also think that Jim Hendry has been smart about putting guys in that clubhouse that can get some of the good from Dusty. Which is the constant simmering positive attitude, the constant low level of positive attitude where the sun is always shining in Dusty’s world without the whole paranoid “us against them, they hate me because I’m black” kind of stuff.
TH: How do you feel Dusty responds to injuries and adversity versus his responses to success? Which situation do you feel brings out the best and worst in Dusty?
DB: I don’t think either one. I don’t think he manages a given situation, I think he manages by personality. He manages by being Dusty. I don’t think he likes to make a lot of decisions or pull a lot of strings or do a lot of things. I also believe that the explosion of the steroids issue has had an effect on Dusty. Now they have finally been able to burst open that infection and shine the sunlight of truth on there to disinfect it. Dusty was so close to Barry Bonds and his success was so closely tied to the success of this sociopathic science project. Maybe the Congressional sledgehammer and the reality of what steroids were doing to baseball possibly had an effect on Dusty. Because not only did he make a name for himself and achieve his biggest successes during the steroid era, but for the most part, it was also because of the performance of the steroid poster child.
TH: What would happen if a White Sox version of The Heckler came to life?
DB: I know there are White Sox fans who seem really bothered by The Heckler and by their portrayal as the sort of classic blue collar South Siders. These Sox fans need to realize that it is satire and that they are perfectly free to publish their own lampoon. Don’t be mad, do it better. The Heckler is obviously doing a good enough job if they are making White Sox fans that angry. The Heckler has obviously done a very good job if it’s bothering them this much. But the people who really understand what’s going on realize that it’s satire and that it makes fun of the Cubs and Cub fans too. I’m sure the guys involved with the paper have to be die-hard fans of the Cubs in order to be that funny about the Cubs. Sox fans are notorious for letting things bother them and this is just another one.
TH: How come some people just don’t get satire or understand subtle jokes? Do a lot of people just not have a sense of humor?
DB: You can’t worry about those people. Dave Barry, the columnist, created a term for a certain segment of the population called the “humor impaired.” There are some people that are just not capable of understanding sarcasm, satire, lampoon, or being able to see shades or nuance in language when used for comic effect. You should always stay away from the “humor impaired” both personally and professionally. Keep them at a distance because you can’t ever communicate with them.
TH: What will it take to get the White Sox and their fan base to remove the “second team of the second city”-chip on the shoulder they have?
DB: I think they like it. They don’t want to lose it because it’s a part of their identity. Without it they lose the essence of being a Sox fan. That chip defines being a part of the Sox fandom and I think a lot of them really cherish it.
TH: Now that Frank Thomas is back, do you feel he will get along with Ozzie?
DB: There is always going to be conflict, but Frank’s grown up a lot too. And he’s a proud man with something to prove. There’s always going to be conflict there because Ozzie is an abrasive guy. He’s a positive guy, but he can be abrasive too, whether he means to be abrasive or not. It depends on how they handle it. I think they are both more mature now than when they played together.
TH: What was the inspiration for your Len Kasper impersonation? Did you come up with the voice by imitating Kermit the frog?
DB: My wife was watching a game right when the season started and she said “is that the new Cubs announcer? Well, is he a Muppet?” and I said “I don’t think he’s a Muppet.” Then I figured out how to do his voice and I guess it’s a little more Ernie than Kermit. But I like his work, and I love his demeanor. With him a pop-up is a pop-up and a ground ball is a ground ball. A win is a win, a loss is a loss at this stage in the season so far. I love that it’s not overheated, life and death. It’s not fair to the fans to put them through that emotional roller coaster.
TH: How have people you’ve lampooned and imitated responded to your work? Mostly positive and pleasant?
DB: Yeah, but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me if they like it or not.
TH: How did Steve Stone know the Cubs would get out of the sub-.500 doldrums and catch fire like that? Not many experts agreed with Stone’s prediction that they would start winning and become an early frontrunner in the NL Wild Card race.
DB: He had a theory given the fact that the Cubs had a $90 million payroll and during a 162 game season, the teams in the East would beat each other up and eventually the Cubs would play better than they were. No matter what anybody wants to say, Jim Hendry’s move of getting LaTroy Hawkins out of there made a huge difference at exactly the right time. They got rid of that cloud and when they went out to hit the road, they were able to shake off the doldrums.
TH: Is Steve Stone always right and never wrong? What’s it like working with him?
DB: Well, I’m still waiting for him to be wrong about something. Working with him to this point has been a joy. I didn’t know he was such a Score guy, I always thought of him as the sort of professorial [W]GN guy, but at heart he’s a Score guy. He can be edgy, he can be funny and he gets his hackles up with dumb callers like the rest of us. I love it. He’s just a sweetheart and we could not be happier to have him as part of the Score. It’s been great to this point.
TH: Your partner Terry Boers has a great insightful comment in his profile on the Score’s website. Boers states: “There’s no city in the country with a greater fan passion – and so little reward. The bumbling by so many makes my life easy.” “To be a sports fan in Chicago you need a great sense of humor. If you don’t have one, call me. I will surgically implant one for little or no charge.”
DB: It’s the only way to stay sane. If you are passionate about something you have to find a way to compartmentalize that passion or you will be miserable.