Los Angeles Summer Soundtrack
“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.”
– Vin Scully
I had another Fawn Hall paper-shredding session this afternoon. I went through about twelve inches of papers from the files in the garage, scanning some before I shred them and deciding for others that even an electronic image wasn’t necessary. I filled the shredder four times and although I have a ways to go, I am now that much closer to being clutter-free. While great strides are always a thrill, every little bit is incremental and helps with my effort to get rid of stuff. I’ll take it. However, some of this stuff is just too good to toss – like something I came across today.
When I was a child, I wrote to the front office of Los Angeles Dodgers seeking autographs from their players. The team had been to the World Series two years in a row, but when I sent my letter, Sandy Koufax had recently retired and Maury Wills had been sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates. So if I had targeted only stars, I would have been limited to Don Drysdale. For a more comprehensive approach, I may have made a blanket request or singled out a few others, such as Willie Davis or Wes Parker. I don’t remember how I handled it. I didn’t receive any autographs, but the team did send a season schedule and other bits of papers that captured the imagination of a young baseball fan.
I had never been to Los Angeles as a child and I could only imagine it from books and magazines. It seemed so exotic – there were beaches and an ocean nearby, the weather sounded delightful and during the state’s glory days, California’s shine was quite real. Dodger Stadium was a curiosity to me as well. Since I was two hours ahead in Illinois and the night games started at 8:00 PM Pacific Time, I’d be in a dreamy and relaxed state of mind as I’d tune in to WGN, the Chicago radio station, to listen to my Cubs play the Dodgers. The rhythm of the game and the radio announcers’ calls, images of the palm trees outside of the ballpark and of ocean breezes and even the names, City of Angels and Chavez Ravine, the part of town where the park was built, all created wonderful good-night stories for me.
While I would have cherished Don Drysdale’s autograph as a child, I’d now think it’d been fun to look back on receiving a note or photo from Vin Scully. Scully is the dean of baseball broadcasters. He is beloved throughout the game by the players, the fans and his peers for his unique and distinctive broadcasts, his professional and curious approach to the game and his kind and respectful manners.
According to John Miller, Scully’s friend and our own broadcasting master in the San Francisco Giants booth, Scully became a Dodgers fan as a young boy growing up in New York City, where the team played before their move to Los Angeles in 1958. He and his classmates knew which attendants would let them into Ebbets Field after school so they could watch the last few innings of the games. It started when he witnessed the Dodgers take a shellacking one day. He felt sorry for the team, committed his loyalty that day and has cheered for them ever since.
Scully has announced the Dodgers games for sixty-three years. He recently announced that he will return for the 2014 season as well. He started in 1950, when he joined Red Barber and Connie Desmond in the booth. He now works alone. To my knowledge, he is the only baseball broadcaster to do so on a regular basis. He handles it with aplomb and ease. I don’t know if I would enjoy his games as much as I do if there was someone else in the booth with him. He knows when to talk, knows when to be quiet and describes the games beautifully. His rhythm is just right. There’s always a story – about games from the past, players he’s known or watched over the years, the players on the field or a moment that he recalls from his long tenure. He weaves all of this seamlessly into the game on the field that he is announcing.
- “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”
- “Tom Glavine is like a tailor; a little off here, a little off there and you are done, take a seat.”
- “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post – for support, not illumination.”
- “When he (Maury Wills) runs, it’s all downhill.”
- “The Dodgers are such a .500 team that if there was a way to split a three-game series, they’d find it.”- all from Vin Scully
I’m not a Dodger fan, by any stretch. They are a competitive team and play very good baseball, but they also have some personalities that just don’t endear the guy watching from his soft green chair after a day’s work. Plus, I’m not inclined to cheer for the teams that spend a lot of money to shape their roster with a lot of high-priced stars. The Dodgers’ opening day salaries were the second largest in all of baseball. (I have to be careful here, since the Giants are a spendthrift operation itself, albeit nowhere near the level of the Yankees and Dodgers.) But I watch the Dodgers games when I can, just to listen to Vin Scully. It is a real delight to follow the game with him. My sons also enjoy his calls and there’s always one of his stories or descriptions to share with one another.
The big networks bid on the MLB playoffs and we’re stuck with their awful production. There isn’t very much focus on the games themselves. Instead, we get a constant stream of quickly moving camera shots, mostly close-ups of the players, managers and fans, incessant and unneccessary slow-motion shots of everything and anything and one graphic, crawler or advertisement after the other plastered all over the screen. They also like to zoom into the owners’ or general managers’ boxes. It’s all very manipulative and designed to create the illusion of drama. And the announcers? They clearly know the game, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to their broadcasts. At this point, I can’t tell if they are really as bad at their trade as we witness, simply following the producers’ guidance or perhaps under contractual requirements to babble on as they do. It’s more than annoying to sit through it all and it’s only the love of the game that’ll carry me through the games. This happens at the end of every season and baseball fans brace themselves when they have to switch to these companies from the good quality that we get on many of the local broadcasts that we watch during the regular season.
This year, the Dodgers are playing the Cardinals for the National League championship. TBS bought the rights to announce the game – a bit better than Fox, who is handling the American League series, but none of it pulls you into the game and you shouldn’t ever expect to get the same joy that you’ll feel as a baseball fan listening to the local stations. However, TBS has brought a nice touch to its post-game yakety-yak. They are showing highlights from the game with Vin Scully’s radio broadcast, rather than the network’s booth. Keith Olbermann, the lead talking head and a man who knows and loves the game of baseball, appears genuinely pleased and honored to let the tapes roll. For me, it’s the best part of these playoff broadcasts. Even though we are stuck with the national broadcasters during the game, we can at least get a few words from one of the game’s revered announcers afterwards.