Jason Benetti’s dream job was to broadcast games for the team of his youth, the White Sox. Against all odds, Benetti, who grew up in south suburban Homewood, lived out that dream when he became a Sox TV announcer in 2016. He turned into a fan favorite and grew his national profile.
But circumstances around the job became anything but dreamy. Last week, Benetti left the Sox, who let him out of the final year of his contract, to become the TV voice of the division-rival Tigers, who offered more money and scheduling flexibility.
Multiple sources said that a contentious relationship with Sox senior vice president and chief revenue and marketing officer Brooks Boyer was at the center of the situation, particularly an inappropriate remark Boyer made to Benetti.
Appearing on the podcast “Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” this week, Benetti explained how he likened himself to Detroiters for being “underestimated.” Benetti, who has cerebral palsy, related that message to a conversation he had during his career.
Said Benetti: “I had somebody say to me when I asked for more respect, and basically demanded more respect just in the way I was being treated, they said, ‘Respect according to normal human beings, or respect according to Jason Benetti?’ That is one of those things that I say, that’s disqualifying and will be for a long time. I’ll have a relationship, but I don’t want to do that long-term.”
Those sources said the “somebody” was Boyer.
When asked for comment, Boyer said, “Jason and I had a friendly and positive conversation last week when he called to say goodbye, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Benetti confirmed the conversation, saying, “Brooks and I had a great conversation last week. I deeply appreciate what he said to me over the course of that discussion and fully believe we’ve moved beyond anything in the past.”
But the damage had been done, and it was evident to those close to Benetti.
“I don’t know that Jason was as happy as he possibly could have been the last year or so,” said Chris Withers, the producer for White Sox games on NBC Sports Chicago. “So the fact that he is happy now and going to be in a place that is going to just love what he brings to a broadcast, that’s most important.
“We had dinner on Sunday; it was great to see him. I saw someone who’s just happy to be doing baseball where they have some great plans. The Tigers know what they want, and in my mind, they got the best in the business.”
Despite perceptions of an organization in turmoil this year – from speculation about relocating or selling the team to the firings of top executive Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn – potential successors to Benetti have been lining up.
The leading candidate is Mike Monaco, who has filled in on Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks games over the last two years and proved to be a high-quality broadcaster. When Benetti was out with COVID in August 2021, Monaco jumped in. He was living in Chicago while working for Big Ten Network and ESPN, and he made quite an impression on Sox analyst Steve Stone.
“Fast-forward six or seven years, you’ve got Jason Benetti,” Stone said at the time. “Mike is going to be outstanding. He does a lot of different sports. He’s very good at each one. He will get better. If you were in the stock market, you’d like to buy Mike Monaco futures.”
However, Monaco recently agreed to a three-year deal with ESPN. The Massachusetts native and Notre Dame graduate also fills in on about 10 Red Sox games for NESN. The White Sox would have to navigate Monaco’s ESPN commitment just as they did Benetti’s commitment to Fox. Plus, they’d have to wonder if he’d be lured back to Boston by a larger schedule.
Another top candidate is Connor McKnight, who regularly hosts Sox pregame and postgame shows on ESPN 1000 and has filled in for radio play-by-play voice Len Kasper as well as Benetti. McKnight has performed well in limited time on TV and would come with no strings attached. But he’d have to grow into the job as opposed to more experienced TV announcers.
Connor Onion, who grew up in La Grange and lives in Chicago, also figures to be considered. He works for Big Ten Network and ESPN and called minor-league baseball from 2017 to 2022, including the Kane County Cougars when they were in the Diamondbacks’ system (2018-19).
Two potential candidates with name recognition are Chris and Stefan Caray, the twin sons of former Cubs announcer Chip Caray and the great grandsons of the late Harry Caray, who called Sox and Cubs games. For the last two seasons, the identical twins have called games together for the Diamondbacks’ Double-A affiliate, the Amarillo Sod Poodles, in the Texas League. It’s unknown whether they’re a package deal or if they’re willing to work apart.
The Sox are leading the search and will make the final decision, but rights-holder NBC Sports Chicago can recommend and discuss candidates. For a team in disarray after a 101-loss season, its TV job is still highly sought.
“I don’t think that matters because there’s only 30 of these jobs,” Withers said. “Yes, it’s attractive by the city and the market size. But this is a job that only 30 people have. I wouldn’t be surprised by any name that is interested in sitting in that booth.”