L.A.'s Gentleman Hall of Famer
by Richard Clayman
For Native Southern Californians, each baseball season begins with a familiar voice. Lucky for us, it emanates from the greatest sportscaster who ever lived.
And one sunny winter's day over 25 years ago, this Dodger fan suddenly ended up hanging out with the incomparable Vin Scully for two glorious hours.
To give some perspective, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Jim Murray called Vinny "the most valuable lefthander in Dodger history." Considering Sandy Koufax was a southpaw, that's quite a compliment. I idolize Sandy to this day. But I can't argue Murray's point
As you may remember from previous columns, the Dodgers came out to L.A. when I was four years old. That was 1958 (you figure it out), and the town went nuts.
Well, not exactly nuts. As a matter of fact, there was a huge political battle over the gift of Chavez Ravine to cigar-chomping Walter O'Malley for a buck. I mean, we already had a couple of well-loved minor league teams, the Pacific Coast League Angels and the Hollywood Stars.
Fortunately for local baseball fans, a group of politicians led by Supervisor Kenneth Hahn (the current L.A. Mayor's dad) made O'Malley an offer he couldn't refuse. That plus, as O'Malley put it, "a town where 17,000 fans will show up every night just to see what all the lights are about," clinched the historic move.
The Rams were here. UCLA and USC. But for kids like me, the arrival of the Dodgers was as thrilling as a new ride at Disneyland. In fact, just like when my parents took me at one to the Magic Kingdom in its first year, a lifelong love was born.
However, it would take three seasons to build Dodger Stadium. So the team arrived to play in the oddly configured Los Angeles Coliseum. Leftfield was shorter than Mini Me. Rightfield as cavernous as the depression on Michael Moore's side of the mattress.
Duke Snider quickly found that out and his great career was effectively over. On the other hand, Koufax, Drysdale, Podres and Sherry had come to a pitcher's nirvana. But, as exciting as the legends arriving from Brooklyn were, and as huge as were the number of seats in the unwieldy new stadium, if the Dodgers were to be a West Coast success, they would have to capture the millions who could only connect with them in one way.
Radio. Fortunately, a 30 year-old redhead, a veteran of eight years, played the tenth position on that nine-man team. Instead of a bat and glove, he arrived with a score sheet and mike.
I don't remember the first time I ever heard Vinny describe a batter "getting the jelly leg" as a nasty side-armer bore down on him. I'm not sure where I was when he first told me that when a runner breaking for second looks back towards the plate it's a hit-and-run and not a straight steal. I couldn't say what I was doing when I was first greeted with, "Hello, everybody and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be."
I do recall imitating Don Drysdale as I threw a tennis ball at the grate behind my grandmother's apartment and listened to Vinny describe my guys blowing the 1962 National League playoff to the hated Giants. I can't forget sitting in my room night after night keeping score to Vinny's account of Big D's record-setting consecutive shutout inning streak.
Koufax' perfect game. Maury stealing 104. Larry Sherry pitching to catcher brother Norm and winning the 1959 World Series against the ChiSox. Wally Moon's Shots.
Sweet Lou Johnson. Junior Jim Gilliam. Stoic Walt Alston. Parker, 3-Dog, Grabby, Tommy Davis, Sizemore, Happy Hooton, Messersmith, Lefebvre, Tommy John, Saxy, Ropes, Lopes, Penguin and Garv.
I got to know them all through the mellifluous, ever-excited tones of a true lover of the game if there ever was one. And, as I was to unexpectedly find out on that winter's day in 1975, as gracious a superstar as has ever walked the earth.
Just out of college, between paying my dues producing sports, I got a job with a company selling brand new technologies like VCRs and big-screen projection TVs to rich people. I not only sold, but learned to install.
You may not believe this, but I sold Pat Riley his first videotape recorder. Elvis (yes, that one) his first (and probably last) big-screen TV (he gave us installation directions from the next room of his Palm Springs home, but wouldn't come out, probably because my co-installer had somehow, for the one and only time, brought his wife along). I put one in at Elton John's Hollywood house, and sat with Dustin Hoffman as I hooked another up at producer Robert Evans' place.
But to me the most exciting of all was taking the right turn at Riviera Country Club and heading up to the pleasant, rambling home of Vin Scully.
Vinny had purchased one of our huge, orange, state of the art (in 1975), 3/4" videocassette recorders. Much younger and stronger than now, I went to install it myself.
To my extreme good fortune, Vinny was home alone this afternoon. He showed me around the pool to the den in which the machine would reside. I ran my cables and began to hook it up. The world's greatest sportscaster watched.
I might very well have simply completed my work and left. But then Vinny began asking me about myself.
Just pleasant conversation, yet there was a strong thread of the same curiosity and humanity which so often drives his never less than delightful radio work. It wasn't one bit phony. Vin Scully was truly interested in what I was up to.
So I told him. In short strokes. Because I wanted to get to baseball and the Dodgers.
With some celebrities, turning the conversation to what they deal with every day might have been a bad idea, and have led to one of those difficult life lessons one learns so often in one's early twenties. Not with Vinny.
I finished my work and showed him how to operate the machine. I was ready to pack up and leave, when he offered me a Coke. So we went out to poolside to talk about baseball and the Dodgers.
Imagine discussing the violin with Perlman. Watercolors with Picasso. Football with Lombardi.
That's what I found myself doing. As the birds chirped and the breezes wafted through the Pacific Palisades palms, I sat with the greatest genius in baseball broadcasting history, drank my soda and talked about the Dodgers, the game and his art.
He seemed intrigued by my nascent broadcasting career. He was open about the Dodger prospects for that season and the future. He made me feel, in every way, as if we'd known each other for a very long time.
All of it delivered in that voice and manner which to this day can turn the coldest night into every sunny summer day of my life.
Ed Hookstratten is an L.A. lawyer who has represented many people in and out of the sports business for many years. In a town well acquainted with "tough," his reputation is "tougher." Yet he once said that of every client he ever had, the only one he'd represent for free would be Vin Scully.
In other words, as the Dodgers are blessed with his remarkable voice for a 55 th year, Vin Scully's greatest attribute isn't his enormous talent.
It's the kind of man he is.
Richard Clayman may be contacted at email@example.com
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