Loran Smith: On Vin Scully

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Loran Smith: On Vin Scully

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

When the Dodgers played their first season of baseball in Los Angeles in 1958, they competed in what had to be the worst facility in major league history.

Built in 1921, owing to civic pride, it was configured for the Olympics, but it became the home of the Los Angeles Rams and later the L. A. Raiders.  Although acceptable for football, it was, nonetheless, cavernous and distant from the action for many fans.  The Dodgers played there for four years as Chavez Ravine was being built.





It was a forgettable layout for baseball with the left field seats only 250 feet away with a 42-foot screen atop the outfield wall; this made Fenway Park’s Green Monster 315 feet away 37 feet high seem a distant challenge by comparison.    

When giant crowds of 90,000 or more gathered—even a modest crowd (for the facility) of 50,000—some fans sat so distantly that they could not read the numbers on the player’s uniforms.

That turned out to be a good thing for announcer Vin Scully, who died last week at 94.  Fans brought transistor radios to keep up with the action. That became a Dodger tradition.  They brought those transistor radios to Chavez Ravine when Dodger Stadium was built.





At that time, there was no televising of Dodger games, and if you wanted to follow the team, listening to Scully was the ticket.  Radio made him and his voice ubiquitous, and a daily companion with sports fans long before the televising of baseball games came about in Southern California.  

I remember former Georgia basketball coach, Jim Harrick, recalling the first time he arrived into Los Angeles.  It was late in the afternoon.  He had driven cross country to L. A.  Accompanying Vin’s call of a Dodger game was a glorious sunset which always heightened the appeal of the City of Angels.   “It made you realize how all that made L.A. such a great city,” Harrick remembered.

A similar circumstance played into the legend of Larry Munson.  Radio, for him, was a boon to his popularity.  If you recall, there was no proliferation of TV broadcasts until late in the Bulldog announcer’s career.  With the Bulldogs on the way to a national championship in 1980, the team did not appear before network cameras until the South Carolina game, the eighth of the season.

With the expanding of the network packages, Munson had built a following to the extent that many Bulldog fans still listened to the Georgia broadcast by silencing the TV network broadcast.  

I thought about all this when Scully was so eloquently memorialized. Those recent tributes to Scully were most generous and well deserved.  He was a man who was gracious, devoid of vanity and profanity, and was imbued with uncommon modesty for a man with his credits and signature moments.  I bet he never uttered a swear word in his life even though he was daily in the midst of men who could make boatswain mates blanch with their advanced profanity.  Baseball players, especially lifers, know more four letter words than Miriam Webster.

For a couple of years in the late seventies, Scully spent the first quarter of the year announcing golf tournaments for CBS.   He worked the 1979 Masters when Fuzzy Zoeller won the championship.

I had several conversations with him that year and would later see him at Dodgertown at Vero beach in the spring.  Fast forward to 2015, late August.  It was the weekend before the opening of football season.  With enough frequent flyer points to enjoy a nice travel outing before football got underway, I booked flights for a long weekend in L. A.

First, I called Keith Jackson, whose home was in Sherman Oaks, to inquire if he, and his wife, Turi Ann, would meet us for dinner, which turned out to be quite memorable in that he suggested a change in venue.  He chose to cook lamb chops in the pergola of his deck.  What an evening as he regaled us with countless stories over Irish potato vodka from Idaho.

I had called the producer of Dodger television, an old friend, and told him of my past relationship with Vin.  “Not sure he will remember me,” I said, “but I would like to come by the booth and say hello.”  He called back a day or so later with good news.  “He remembers,” the producer said.  My plan was to stay only a few minutes, but Vin invited me to stay while he organized his spotter boards and game notes.  

A seasoned raconteur, Vin took a walk down memory lane, recalling his early days in Brooklyn with the Dodgers, Ebbets Field, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, and Pee Wee Reece.

The subway series with the Yankees and a brash fan named Hilda Chester, who became one of the best-known fans in the history of the Big Leagues.  Vin recalled that she walked down a concourse one day and yelled out to him in the press box as he was working a game.   Embarrassed, he looked down, which caused her to admonish him, “Look at me, I’m talking to you.”  Hilda became as well-known as Vin and the Brooklyn players.

Vin had stories for everybody and time for the rookie and the little guy, but he never let anything distract him from his work which he loved.  However, he never thought his work was important.  That is among the many things that made him so exceptional—not just as a big league announcer but as a human being.

Thirty minutes later, after hanging out in the Dodger radio booth, I moved to my press box seat to bask in the warm glow of an unforgettable weekend—dinner with Keith Jackson at his mountain top home and a pre-game conversation the next day with Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium.  Unforgettable.

Then there is the sad reality that there will never be an encore.





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