August 27, 2016

By JO Chids  for Cubsquest   


One of the most annoying aspects of the now established unbalanced schedule – where teams play triple the amount of games versus opponents in their own division than the rest of the league – is the resulting fragmentation of the west coast road trip by non-division rivals.

Back in day, every season would involve two west coast swings for the Cubs, that would include L.A., San Fransisco and San Diego, and many times would not turn out well for our boys in blue. Images of veteran sluggers Nate Colbert and Ollie Brown, then of the expansion Padres, launching game winning homers that seemed to drift forever into the maritime fog, off a usually beleaguered Cubs bullpen, haunt veteran fans to this day.

Though the trips were usually a disaster, there was a distinct coolness about them. Much like when a Big Ten team goes to play in the Rose Bowl, the Cubs trips west had a certain exotic, vacation-to-the-land-of-beaches-and-palm-trees feel, as much as that of a baseball series. Kind of like when Jed Clampett rolls into Beverly Hills for the first time. “Look we got us a ce-ment pond here boys!…”

But in the here and now, for better of for worse, today’s trips west come across as baseball business as usual; the positive bi-product of which being the lifting of a losing stigma that plagued Cub teams of yesteryear. In recent years, and particularly lately, the North Siders have actually done quite well amongst their west coast rivals.  The sense of dread has been lifted.  So we got that going for us…

The negative however, is more about aesthetics than wins and losses – and is illustrated most vividly by the now solo annual stop to Los Angeles. Not only to watch our heroes play in Dodger Stadium – MLBs third oldest park (hard to believe isn’t it?), but more specifically to hear a Cubs-Dodger game called by broadcaster extraordinaire, Vin Scully.

Now in his final of 67 seasons announcing Dodger games, Scully remains a treasure to behold, amongst a sea of monotone mediocrity spewed by his much younger, lamer colleagues. And unlike many who revere those for their longevity in any artistic field when it seems the end of the road, (and yes what Scully does can definitely be called “art”) Vin has drawn accolades as the Dean of baseball sportscasters for decades.

A native New Yorker born in the Bronx, Scully’s career in broadcasting got kick-started when while doing a 1949 University of Maryland / Boston University football game at Fenway Park, he drew the attention of legendary radio voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers Red Barber, who recruited the fellow rusty-haired announcer to join him in the booth the next season.

Scully never left.

When the Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1958, East Coast Vin became West Coast Vin, as seamlessly as he transitions between play by play and substantive player anecdotes to this day.  A fact reminded of during last night’s Cub-Dodger telecast, where by the 3rd inning, the listener found out more about Ben Zobrist’s baseball background than they would have all season listening to local Cubs telecasts. (Big Ben actually paid $50 out of his own pocket to attend his first major league tryout!)

Now this is not to dis Len Kaspar or Jim DeShaies, who CQ wrote up favorably earlier this season. It’s just the style that Scully applies to each and every broadcast is solely his own creation, and the primary reason he will be so sorely missed.

It’s why to this day, Scully still commands a one man booth, offering play by play as well as top notch color commentary. And he’s pretty much the only broadcaster in any sport that does so, and certainly the only one who does it perfectly.  To put another in the booth with Scully, is like putting A-1 on a prime cut Filet’ Minon. It just doesn’t need any help to be marvelous.

Ever the pro, Scully showed no discomfort when in the 80s, MLB wisely tapped him to call the NBC game of the week, as well as All Star games, League Championships and the World Series, all of which required a two or three man booth; for decades the MLB standard. Though as always, his delivery was silky smooth and professionalism unparalleled, his talents were underutilized, and thusly under-appreciated.

It wasn’t until this writer’s decade long residence in LaLa land during the 1990s, that Scully’s true brilliance was fully appreciated. Daily exposure to both his TV and radio play by play, launched the epiphany that the Scully I knew from the national telecasts heard as a youth growing up in Chicago, was only a fragment of the real deal.  It was soon realized, that as much as admiration which our fine city bequeathed upon beloved Harry Caray (and VERY deservedly so!), Scully was indeed the announcer that had no peers.

Though never a jock himself, Scully’s analysis of baseball nuance has always been sage, and his historical pedigree reads as a Hall of Fame who’s who. Simply, he has witnessed and broadcasted the best of the best; including the entire careers of Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron. He’s seen Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams compete; Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitch.

He was there to document the historic pennant run of the Dodgers lead by the amazing Jackie Robinson. He called three perfect games and 20 no-hitters – including all four of Koufax’s, Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series walk-off, and a list of baseball history spanning six decades too substantive to even begin to tackle here. Heck he even saw Babe Ruth dominate the sport growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium! He’s one of the very few who can from first-hand experience articulate the transition from Baseball’s golden to modern era.

Historical expertise aside, it’s Scully’s anecdotes masterfully woven into the fabric of the the game that has always separated him from the pack. Like no other, the man does his homework.

During my tenure there, California Cub Fans (and there were many) anxiously anticipated the handful of games the club would play at Chavez Ravine, and the myriad of of riches about Shawon Dunston’s hard scrabble upbringing in Brooklyn NY, Mark Grace’s beach boy antics while attending college in San Diego or Ryne Sandberg’s latest practical jokes, that would flow from Scully’s silken tongue.

Always respected by players on both sides, Vin seemingly has unprecedented access to everyone from the superstars to the kid just up from the minors, and an uncanny knack of acquiring and delivering intimate, insightful and entertaining tidbits from each. Ex-Cub and veteran Dodger announcer Rick Monday reflects, “Vin can start a story with two outs and two strikes on the hitter, and the game will just slow down to let him finish…”

The fact that Scully’s anecdotal style packages the Earthy eloquence of Mark Twain, and the home-spun humor of Will Rogers should not be taken for granted. He has always been the hardest working announcer in professional sports. His game prep is on-going and begins well before arriving at the ballpark. Scully’s photographic mind, absorbs encyclopedic knowledge about everything Dodger and beyond, and his ability to seemingly not only know, but report more substance about the opposing team’s players than their own announcing crew is more than impressive – It actually pales all other broadcasts in comparison.

Those who consider baseball boring on TV / Radio have never listened to Scully. That is an undeniable fact. Fortunately the access to do so has never been so available.

One positive thing about today’s 24/7 digital universe to all things MLB, is the ability to watch or listen to any game anywhere at anytime. Meaning one doesn’t have to live in L.A. to appreciate this phenomenal talent on a daily basis.

Just last night during a lengthy drive, I tuned in the Cub-Dodger game on the MLB at bat phone app, and was immediately bummed out that it wasn’t Scully doing the call. Prompting a rapid rush home, sprint to the saved telecast on the DVR and alas music to my ears: The 88 year old Vin-meister effortlessly and eloquently calling the game; telling tales of the unique kinship between Rizzo and Bryant – how Kris wears his Dad’s college number 17 because he couldn’t get his own college number 23, retired for Ryne Sandberg, who by the way was attending tonight’s game, of CJ Edwards being nicknamed “String Bean Slinger” in the minors, of Jason “Alias” Heyward’s scholarly upbringing by his Ivy league parents, of new Cub lefty Mike Montgomery and the surprise offense he’ll bring to an already solid hitting Cub’s pitching staff… not to mention the spontaneous jewels of articulation; on a Matt Sczuzr pop out to second base, “Render to Caeser what’s Caeser’s, but this time Matt renders it to (Dodger 2B Chase) Utley…”

Baseball delivered for the post 75 IQ…  All was good with the universe!

Next week we enter the final month of the 2016 campaign and sadly the last we’ll hear from the legendary Vin Scully who is going to retire at season’s end.

For those young fans, who have never been enraptured by the sage commentary and poetic musings of this national treasure, I urge you to tune in, for just one game and hear how it should be done.

There will never be another like Vincent Edward Scully. Savor every last drop.