Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Great baseball broadcasters, led by Vin Scully; Addressing comments

A few weeks ago, when Vin Scully took a fall getting out of bed and was hospitalized briefly, a friend of mine who is a big baseball fan shook his head and said, “You get to a certain age, you should just hang it up and go home.”

In a lot of cases, that’s true. It isn’t true of Scully. I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when—thanks to the baseball package, one of the great inventions of this century—I was able to sit and watch Scully work his magic during the Dodgers-Diamondbacks game. For a baseball fan, listening to Scully broadcast a baseball game is like someone who loves classical music listening to Mozart or Beethoven.

Some of it no doubt is familiarity. Although I never got to hear Scully work Dodger games as a kid, he was there every Saturday for many years doing the NBC Game of the Week and he was also around a lot doing the NFL and golf on CBS. Part of it also is that unique cadence of his: the way he draws out ‘one and one,’ can be imitated but it is unique to him. It also seems as if every Dodger broadcaster who has followed him—I’m thinking mostly of Ross Porter and Rick Monday—has ended up picking up on Scullyspeak. The Dodgers are never the Dodgers they are the ‘Daaadgers,’ and Daaadger Stadium is almost always referred to as Chavez Ravine—which for those of you under 40 is the area where it is located.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy listening to great baseball broadcasters. Bob Murphy was a huge part of my boyhood and I get a big kick out of listening to Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling on the Mets telecasts now. I don’t enjoy watching the team very much, but the broadcast is terrific, especially since there’s no covering up the team’s deficiencies in the booth. If you’d like to experience the opposite end of that spectrum tune in the Orioles or Nationals sometime. (Disclaimer: Cohen is a friend. Having said that, I don’t think you have to be his friend to appreciate his work).

There are plenty of other baseball broadcasters who are great fun to listen to: Joe Castiglione in Boston; Marty Brenneman in Cincinnati (also a friend though we agree on almost nothing); Dave Niehaus in Seattle and Howie Rose on radio for the Mets (okay, I have a Mets bias) come to mind. The game really misses Skip Caray and Harry Kalas.

But there’s still only one Scully. His calls are lyrical and his familiarity with the players and the game is still astonishing even at 82. Yesterday when the camera showed a shot of injured Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb, he basically went through Webb’s entire life story in about 90 seconds. He wasn’t reading from the media guide either, you can tell when someone is doing that. Webb popped up on camera in the dugout and Scully just started talking.

There’s another thing about Scully: he’s a genuine star—he’s only been doing Dodger games for 61 years (!!!) now—who never acts like one. Although he doesn’t travel east anymore in the regular season, he does during the playoffs. Last October I ran into him—almost literally—in the press box in Philadelphia. We were walking through a door from the dining area to the press box area.

When I stopped to open the door for him, Scully said to me, “Aaah yes John, a man who believes in age before beauty, something I can admire.”

I told him I wasn’t sure if he was right on either count but that I was honored to open the door for him. He laughed and said, “We’re all just honored and lucky to be here aren’t we?”

I’m pretty sure he was 100 percent sincere when he said that which might explain why he still sounds so happy to be in the broadcast booth even after all these years. I hope he keeps doing what he’s doing for as long as he can do it because the day he isn’t doing Dodger games is the day that the ‘Daaadgers,’ won’t really be the ‘Daaadgers,’ anymore. Someone will sit in Vin Scully’s chair, but no one will ever replace him.

I am SO glad it is baseball season.


On a far less pleasant topic I am going to go over this Tiger Woods issue one last time and then people like ‘anonymous,’ who kept insisting on the posting site the last few days that there is some deep, dark secret I am hiding can either accept what I’m saying or not accept it and we’ll all move on.

I have never had any sort of personal run-in with Woods and he has never ‘done,’ anything to me that has caused me to dislike him. When Mike Wilbon said a few months ago I was angry with Woods for not talking to me for the book I did on Rocco Mediate and that’s why I was criticizing him for his behavior, he was, quite simply, mistaken. As I said before, I told Rocco when he first called about doing the book that I KNEW Tiger wouldn’t talk to me for the book and doubted, quite honestly, he’d talk to anyone but he’d have a better shot at it if someone else did the writing. The person who was upset was ROCCO because he’d done a number of favors for Tiger post-U.S. Open. If you don’t believe that, ask him sometime. He’s a very approachable guy.

‘Anonymous,’ sort of wants it both ways: On the one hand he says he bases his disbelief in what I’m saying on the Wilbon theory—which Mike has since withdrawn by the way after we talked the whole thing through. On the other hand he says I’ve disliked Tiger for years. How can both be true? Then he throws in John Hawkins silly comment about my ‘lack of a relationship,’ with Tiger because I don’t cover golf ‘fulltime,’ like he and some others do. I responded to that too: I’ve never claimed to have a ‘relationship,’ with Woods although I’d bet I’ve spent more one-on-one time with him than a lot of the guys he calls by nicknames in press conferences. That isn’t a lot of time but it is probably more than almost anyone other than Jaime Diaz, who may be the one writer who has some sense of who Woods is, having known him since he was 15.

My objection to Woods has more to do with the way he has treated people through the years than anything else: I’ve seen him blow by kids looking for autographs consistently since the day he turned pro (and the excuse that he can’t sign for everyone so therefore he signs for no one is not only tired and worn out it isn’t true; you have one of your flunkies cut off the line at some point and say, ‘Tiger has to go, but he’ll be signing again tomorrow.’ Sure, he might disappoint a couple kids but he’d thrill a hundred of them. Phil Mickelson, for the record, signs every single day for 45 minutes. Most players plan some time into their day to sign).

Woods has also been disdainful and condescending in most of his dealings with the media; he does almost nothing if it doesn’t involve money; he tells TV networks who he will or will not talk to based on how much they have or have not sucked up to him during broadcasts and his on-course behavior has been lousy from day one. (I’m not talking the profanity as much as the club-throwing and club-pounding. By 34 you should have that under control).

Tiger and I have had one major disagreement from day one and it is something we have discussed on a number of occasions: I always saw his dad as just another pushy stage-jock parent who got lucky that his kid was the one with ridiculous talent. Obviously—and understandably—he didn’t see his dad that way.

We had a lengthy conversation about this years ago over dinner in San Diego—yes, we had dinner—during which I said I objected to Earl cashing in on Tiger by writing not one but TWO autobiographies. “He wrote the first one because people kept asking him how he did it,” Tiger said.

“Okay,” I said, “Even though I don’t buy that he did anything, I’ll accept that. Why’d he write the second one?”

Tiger smiled. “Okay, good point,” he said.

So we agreed to disagree and we’ve done that through the years. I know the people around him—except for Glenn Greenspan who I knew for a long time before he joined ETW Inc. two years ago—think I’m the devil because I have consistently not bought into the Tiger off-course myth. Ironically, I thought Tiger was headed in the right direction a couple years ago (I wish I could remember exactly what he did, but there was something that impressed me. It may have been—sadly—his seemingly changed demeanor after he became a father) and actually wrote to Mark Steinberg to tell him that. Turns out I got that one wrong.

Bottom line: I don’t hate Tiger and he’s never ‘done,’ anything to me. I just disagree with a lot of what he’s done and feel like there are enough cheerleaders and apologists out there for him that I don’t need to be another one. I felt that way before November 27th and still feel that way. If cringing when Nick Faldo says, “after all Tiger’s been through,” means I’m ‘out to get Tiger,’ in some people’s minds, so be it.

And, to quote Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.


The Tired Hack said...

You're absolutely right, Scully is still great. Can't you use your substantial influence (just kidding) to dump Rob Carpenter and Dibble on the Nats TVcasts? Jeez. I've been watching baseball for more than 50 years and they are absolutely the worst.

On Tiger, the one time I saw him human was a few years ago when Stanford won a game on a buzzer shot and he was out on the court celebrating with everyone else. That was the one and only time.

case said...

great stuff on vin s
i was blessed to grow up in brooklyn in the 50s and got to hear the best broadcast team in baseball history--maybe the 3 best single announcers ever--red barber,(later a traitor to the hated pinstripes) , connie desmond--imo the best of the 3 , but a shortened career-and vin of course
the brooklyn dodgers were a real home town team,with most of the stars living in brooklyn all year found--hodges , reese, snider ,etc
the 3 announcers only added to the pleasure of my passion for " dem bums "
i heard scully on mlb on one of the final games of spring training--still dulcet tones

Bo Smolka said...

John -- There is nothing like drifting off to sleep with baseball on the radio. It's old school, but now my 8-year-old does it too, which is great. I disagree slightly on the Orioles. Jim Hunter is a huge homer (and will harp on an ump's bad call for four innings), but Jim Palmer will call it like he sees it and call out the O's for poor play or poor preparation or poor decision making. And of course, he's one guy Angelos won't can because of his legend status.

Anonymous said...

Met Vin Scully at a Pirate game at 3 Rivers Stadium in the press box. He came into the dining room and looked at the overhead menu and said, "let's take a look at tonight's starting line up" before making his menu selection. Everyone cracked up and as he tucked his napkin into his shirt to protect his attire he told stories throughout his dinner. You could have heard a pin drop as the press room hung on his every word. He was holding court and loving in and had the respect of his peers. I hope he goes until he is ready to leave. ehy would someone want to deny someone something that they enjoy so much!

Kyle said...

John - I was lucky enough to be able to grow up listening to the great Ernie Harwell and his partner Paul Carey do the Tigers games. (We were also fortunate to have George Kell on the TV side)

Aside from many younger being "homers", I think the main difference is the older broadcasters know/knew when to talk and when NOT TO. Sometimes it's nice just to hear the natural sounds of the ballpark.
Unfortunately, it seems as though every thing that happens in an inning is sponsored and needs a live read so the team/station can make more money.

Oh, and they also knew to give the score frequently because you never know when someone might just be tuning in.

Mike said...

I grew up falling asleep with a radio hidden under my pillow when the Tigers were on the west coast, I only realized later how good and lyrical and literate Ernie Harwell was (and Paul Carey) when the Tigers replaced him and we moved cities and I was forced to lsten the pedestrian play by play on the air elsewhere Ernie is in his last days, and if you'll pardon the cliche, is one of the classiest people I've ever known of. He deserves a mention.

Anonymous said...

As I read the blog about baseball radio commentators I knew I had to chime in to mention Ernie Harwell (Tigers). I am glad previous posters brought him up, too. I am biased because I grew up in the Detroit area, but there was nothing better than hearing Ernie's voice on the radio. To be honest, I was never a fan of the George Kell and Al Kaline duo on TV (Channel 4) and would often mute their volume and turn on Ernie on AM radio. I also brought my AM radio to Tiger Stadium so I could hear Ernie's play by play. Who else remembers Detroit starting out 35-5 in 1984 - that was a great summer! Anyway, I haven't followed baseball much since I was a kid but wanted to give a shout out to Ernie's talents since the subject of radio commentators has been brought up.

WFY said...

I'll agree that the Nats MASN broadcasters are awful, but Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler are rock solid on the radio even with all the IHOP ads.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article on Vin Scully. There is something about baseball and radio. My memories are of the pre-ted Turner Braves and Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson and a sometimes staticy (we lived about 5 hours from Atlanta) WSB radio broadcast. After reading your article I found a web site that had side by side recordings of Hank Aaron hitting 715. Curt Gowdy did the TV call, Milo did the Braves broadcast (that is the one usually paired with the video clip now) and Scully did the Dodgers radio version. As much as I loved Milo, I have to admit Scully's is the best of the three. He calls the play then lets the crowd take over then gives the historical context and notes "what a great moment for all of us."

Eric said...

Great to see you take a moment to recognize Scully. I often go sit in the car at 10 PM to listen to the first 3 innings of Daaadgers games on XM radio just to hear that voice one more time.

Gunnar said...

I think baseball is the only sport that is much better on radio, than on tv. It must be the pace of game, and the great broadcasters. Thanks for mentioning Dave Niehaus for the Mariner's, he is part of the family for many Northwest households.

Anonymous said...

John Miller is my favorite announcer and has been since the Senators decamped to Texas and I turned to the Orioles for relief...
Steve in SF

Gordon said...

Sadly most of the voices of the game are gone! Far to many guys now are trying way to hard to have some kind of "stick". It did work and work well for Harry Cary and "Scooter" but it was natural for them, never contrived. Guys today just don't understand how to broadcast baseball.

I too grew up in Detroit and Ernie Harwell, George Kell and Ray Lane were the voices of the Tigers.

Bob Costas is the only one who can be mentioned in the same breath with the great voices of the game a generation ago.

And please John I'm BEGGING you. No more Tiger. I'm sick of him and sick of hearing about him. On the course or off! Leave it to dopes like Alex Meceli and John Hawkins. Neither of whom know anything about the game of golf or are even the least bit objective.

If I hear anyone from the golf channel or CBS again say how brave and couragious Tiger was last week I'll throw up.

As for Faldo who I normally like he needs to change his words. It's what tiger did to himself that caused what he's been through.

NO more Tiger. i hope he never breaks Jacks record!

Anonymous said...

I loved hearing Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell doing the Orioles games. Great duo!

Anonymous said...

I can't stand Wilbon. What a complete jock sniffer name dropper. It is almost embarassing the way he is so caught up in his own pseudo celebrity. I never thought he was a good writer or particularly talented on tv or radio, but somehow he has managed a career. Dumbfounding really ...

Anonymous said...

Amen on Vin Scully. I never heard him on a regular basis until I got the baseball package a couple of years ago. Now put him on every chance I get. It's not just that he's a legend and has a great voice. He's still shockingly good at what he does. I keep waiting for some sign of slippage, but there has been none. Hope he can go on for years.

Double C said...

SKIP Caray? Please tell me that's a typo and you meant his father or grandfather. Skip is the worst.

Anonymous said...


On the sports reporters you said yesterday that Phil hates the British Open. Why? You would think he could hit all of his trick shots there.

Just wondering,

TomWalsh said...

When I was a kid-- Harry Caray and Jack Buck worked Cardinal games together. Basically I knew no other broadcasters. Harry said it broke his heart to leave St. Louis, he was born and raised in St. Louis, but later said it was the best thing that ever happen to him. 20 years in St. Louis was long enough. Vin is a link to broadcasting before tv, a wordsmith. And I mean this in the best possible way--he's a living fossil, completely unique I think. Harry, Jack, Ernie, Kalas--all gone. I like John Miller when I hear him on espn. In St. Louis we have the ex player Mike Shannon. He's from the Ralph Kiner school, and mostly beloved in the STL.

Greg said...

Chip is the son of Skip and grandson of Harry.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Las Vegas and loved listening to Vin Scully's broadcasts of Dodger games on the radio (picked up by the local sports talk station). I even enjoyed listening to him read commercials for Farmer John meat products! He is truly one of a kind.

I completely agree with your take on Woods. He only cares about making $ and winning majors, and only cares for sycophants who will suck up to him.

Jeanne said...

John, I'm thrilled just to see a mention of Ms announcer, Dave Niehaus. His induction into the HOF was mostly ignored by everyone West of Salt Lake City, which is a shame.

My oh my.

DT said...

Jon Miller--simply the best!! His rain delays are better than other's no-hitters.