Archive for October, 2008


October 27, 2008

By David Farside

Some of the sports news drifting around indicates that Vin Scully, the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, might retire this year. The rumor brought back memories of my youth growing up in central new jersey and the 1950 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.

From the time I was 6 years old, I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. I remember trying to listen to baseball games in my bedroom on an old crystal set I built. I know, crystal sets were before your time. I could always find either the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers on my oscillator and sometimes even the Boston Redsox. By the time I reached the ripe old age of 10, I had an Emerson two-way portable radio and during baseball season I never left home without it. I couldn’t believe it: a radio you didn’t have to plug into the wall.

Every kid on the block had their favorite New York team and player. Most of the neighborhood brawls were over which team was the best. I had many a bloody nose defending those darn “bums.”

The Dodgers played in Ebbots Field. It was built by Charlie Ebbots, the owner of the Dodgers, and completed in time for opening day in April 1913. It was located in the “pigtown” section of Flatbush. Two subways/rail stations and nine trolley lines were located within three blocks of the park. Since very few fans owned a car, most people had to dodge the trolley to get to the game and that’s how they got the name “Dodgers.” Their playing style earned them the name “bums.”

One hot summer afternoon in 1950, I was sitting on my front stoop listening to the Dodgers. Red Barber and Connie Desmond were doing the play-by-play. Red introduced a new announcer to his booth and gave him quite a build-up. The new kid was competing with the voice of the Yankees: Mel Allen, his sidekick Curt Gowdy and Russ Hodges with the Giants. Curt Gowdy went on to be the voice of the Boston Redsox. Mel Allen would start the Yankee games with, “Hello there, everybody!” overused “How about that?!” and coined, “Going, going, gone!” to describe home runs. The new guy in the booth for Brooklyn was Vin Scully.

Scully and the Dodgers had a great year. Their record in 1950 was 89-55. They placed second in an eight-team division and had a great team loaded with all-stars and future hall of fame players.

Managed by Charlie Dressen, they had Billy Cox at third base, Pee Wee Reese at short, Jackie Robinson at second and Gil Hodges holding down first base. Hermanski played left field, Duke Snider cruised in center, Carl Furillo protected right and the catcher was the workhorse, Roy Campanella. What a team!

That same year, they led the National League in batting, total hits, total bases, home runs, RBIs stolen bases, team fielding and double plays. How in the world could they lose the pennant? Easy! Even with pitchers like Don Newcombe, Ralph Branka, Carl Erskine and my favorite lefthander at the time, Preacher Roe, they were fifth in the league in pitching with an era of 4.24.

A few of them were accused of throwing the “spitter.” I could never understand why a pitcher couldn’t spit on the ball to create a wet spot for a better grip when they’d allow the pitcher to throw a wet ball when it is raining.

The following year, in 1951, Dodger pitcher Ralph Branka carved his name in baseball history by giving up his famous home run to the Giants Bobby Thompson. The Giants and Dodgers were tied for first place and had to play a three game playoff to determine the National League championship. The Dodgers went into the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead. Then what the sports writers called “the shot heard around the world,” Thompson came to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two men on base and smacked the ball into the bleachers to win the game and the National League title for the Giants. To this day, I still can’t root for the Giants. But there was more than skill involved in the Thompson homerun.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2001 that Giant catcher Sal Yvars said he relayed Thompson stolen signs. The Giants used a telescope and buzzar wire to relay the stolen finger signals from the Dodger catcher to Thompson. In other words, Thompson knew when the fast ball was on its way and where it would be located. Thompson had always denied he had any knowledge of the pitch. He wouldn’t be the first hero in history who built his reputation on deception. As a matter of fact, I think a couple of them might be politicians.

When Vin Scully retires, it will end an era of great sports announcers dating back to the late ‘40s, making room for talented new voices to create unforgettable childhood memories that will last a lifetime.

The new era began with Al Michaels, who during the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team win in 1980, asked, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Hopefully for the sake of sports, this new era will never end.

I sometimes miss the days of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the brawls in the neighborhood streets. But I will always miss the voices that created baseball memories during my childhood that lasted through my lifetime: the voices of Vin Scully, Mel Allen and Curt Gowdy.