Day 7 of 2023 baseball books: They’re talking the talk, and Scully is the language that ties it together

“The Voices of Baseball: The Game’s Greatest Broadcasters Reflect on America’s Pastime”

The author:
Kirk McKnight

The publishing info:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
360 pages; $36
Released April 12, 2023

The links:
The publishers website
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books

The review in 90 feet or less

Back in March, 2015, the first version of this 34-chapter book came out. Jon Miller shared the cover with Vin Scully.

For this revision, it’s just Scully filling the cover, in full color.

You got our attention.

Kirk McKnight used the first edition to collect and process quotes and anecdotes from 50 broadcasters, specifically for their memories, perspectives and moments from the 30 MLB ballparks they called their home base.

Vin Scully and Charley Steiner were handpicked to talk about Dodger Stadium; Dick Enberg, Terry Smith and Rex Hudler were on the clock for Angels Stadium. Enberg is also used on the chapter about the Padres; The Hudman comes back for the chapter on the Royals.

For the revamp, McKnight moves a few things around, but makes Chapter 32 the last one, titled “And That’s A Life: A Tribute to Vin Scully.” It is more about Scully stepping back into retirement than reacting to his passing in August of 2022, but the timing works well.

First, rewind to the Scully-Steiner quotes filling Chapter 3.

As for Dodger Stadium, Scully sets the stage: “They spent a lot of money to make sure it remains the edifice that it is. It’s a great tribute to the game, it’s a great tribute to baseball, and it’s a great tribute to Walter O’Malley, so, all in all, it’s a rather sacred place for me.”

Steiner, unfortunately, takes up a brunt of the seven-page chapter, perhaps because in the update, Scully isn’t available. That means Steiner is left to pompously class things up on page 31, going over how he was there for the Dodgers’ COVID-induced 2020 title:

“I remember at the moment when Urias struck out the final out of the World Series. I’m saying, ‘Finally, the wait is over. The Dodgers are the champions of 2020,’ and in that moment, when I am making that call, I am just drowning in a flood of emotions. From the little kid who was screaming his fool head off in my little house on Long Island and, 65 years later, I’m calling the World Series championship for the Dodgers. I am an out-of-body experience to myself. I thought, ‘Oh shit! It doesn’t get any cooler.’ What made it much more satisfying was it came at a time when everything was rotten on earth. The early stages of COVID, playing in front of cutouts and yet, finally, they somehow won the World Series and I had the last call and didn’t butcher it all too bad.”

He is correct. He could have butchered it much worse. Surprisingly, he didn’t.

But we, as he often does, digress.

Next up: Angel Stadium.

McKnight writes: “After spending the franchise’s first five seasons bouncing around California’s San Fernando Valley like a misplaces foster child, the Los Angeles Angels finally found their permanent home in Anaheim, at a place that would come to be known as the Big A.”

Quick point of reference: Wrigley Field near downtown L.A. is where the Los Angeles Angels played their first MLB season of 1961. They used that park as well as others in the area during the Pacific Coast League days. Dodger Stadium, aka Chavez Ravine, is where the Angels  played from 1962 through ’65 (changing their name to the California Angels for that last season). Anaheim Stadium became home for the 1966 season. In none of those five seasons were they even close to the San Fernando Valley.

Enberg’s quotes about the original Big A are wistful, as we think about his passing in December of 2017. Hudler’s memories are most joyful. Smith brings it all to a dreadful halt talking about the arrival of Mike Trout. Mostly because we can hear Smith’s voice as we read his quotes. Dry. Dull. Dreary. Smith will always remain Smithers in a world of “The Simpsons” characters come alive.

Flip forward to page 278, Chapter 31: “This Was a Parking Lot, Now It’s Turned into an Outfield.”

Scully cycles back to talk about the days the Dodgers had at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

“I had eight years of broadcasting at Ebbets Field, so it became my home away from home. I was as young as many of the Dodger players were, so I felt, indeed, like I was part of the family thanks to the O’Malley family who treated me so well.”

The real treat is he talks more about the Polo Grounds, where his favorite team, the New York Giants, called home:

“As a real youngster, long before I got into the business, I grew up, literally and figuratively, in the bleachers of the old Polo Grounds in New York. I was one of the fans hollering and cheering and rooting for players. That was a horseshoe stadium. I grew up in the bleachers and also in the upper deck in left and right field. In those days, being so young, my eyes were riveted on the players. My first game, if I had to guess, I was probably 11 or 12—somewhere in that area—and sitting in the bleachers, which would put you about 425 feet from home plate. I would sit there, and I would have this dream of someday broadcasting or writing—either one—and I would look at the horseshoe press box, which was suspended from the upper deck directly behind home plate. I would sit out there in center field and dream of, one day, being up in that press box. Because I’ve been greatly blessed, that dream came to fruition, and I wound up sitting in the press box, broadcasting, looking out at the bleachers, thinking and remembering what it was like sitting out there. So, in one sense, the Polo Grounds, which was actually horseshoe in dimensions, and the way the ballpark played out was full circle for me to go from the bleachers to the press box.”

Now to the end:

The Scully tribute is a breakout of almost three dozen broadcasters having something to say — all reverential — about his greatest as a broadcaster, to one degree or another. It starts with Steve Stone (“When God decided to invent a broadcaster, He made Vin Scully and threw away the mold”) and includes luminaries such as Bob Uecker, Chip Caray, Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Gary Thorne, Jon Miller, Doc Emerick, Ken Korach, Ted Leitner, Michael Kay. And Steiner. And Smith. And even Enberg. Also nice to add Wayne Hagin, Pat Hughes, Dave Van Horne, Eric Nadel, Brian Anderson, Ryan Lefebvre.

If only we could still have heard from Don Drysdale, Jerry Doggett or Red Barber.

How it goes in the scorebook

This Tuesday, the Dodgers have an annual fan giveaway related to the memory of Scully – a jersey, sponsored by one of the companies he was famous for being associated with, Union 76.

The Scully brand still stays strong, almost a year after his passing, and since his retirement at the end of the 2016 season.

Whenever you get a chance to talk about, or to, Vin Scully, it’s a lasting memory. McKnight experienced that.

He explains how he had tried several times to nail down a conversation with Scully for his first book in ’15. After a few tries, he got a call one day. “Hello, Kirk. My name is Vin Scully and I broadcast baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers.” They ended up doing the interview.

McKnight concludes: “I have interviewed 50 play-by-play broadcasters for this book alone and another 100 for other works I have done on broadcasting, and no interview meant more to me than speaking with Vin Scully. If life were divided into increments of 30 minutes, only a small handful would top those spent on the phone with the greatest broadcaster in the history of not only baseball but sports itself.

“Scully’s influence will continue to carry itself unfailingly for not only years or decades but for generations to come. His ever so recognizable call of “It’s time for Dodger baseball,” entrenched so deeply into the hearts and memories of the 44,000 plus in attendance every night at Chavez Ravine, will forever ring from the booth named after him in 2001, down the street named after him in 2016, and out into an expanse not even a city the size of Los Angeles could contain. Who knows? Maybe Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo may one day get his tongue-in-cheek wish and the City of Angels will be renamed “Vin Scully, California.”

You can look it up: More to ponder

== In 2016, McKnight wrote “The Voices of Hockey: Broadcasters Reflect on the Fastest Game on Earth.”

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