September 9, 2009

KID?:

The Transistor Kid: When Announcer Vin Scully (left) came to Los Angeles with the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers, he was a stranger in alien corn. But in the six years since, he has become as much apart of southern California as the freeways (right), whose radio-listening drivers form a huge part of his audience (Robert Creamer, 5/04/1964, Sports Illustrated)

In the six years that he has been in California, Scully has become as much a part of the Los Angeles scene as the freeways and the smog. His voice reporting the play-by-play action of the 162 games the Dodgers play during the regular season, plus the few dozen extra in spring training, plus playoff games (the Dodgers have been in two postseason playoffs in six years), plus World Series games, floods southern California from March until October. He is seen as well as heard on television a few times a year (the Dodgers usually telecast only the nine games the team plays against the Giants in San Francisco). "Everybody" probably is not a mathematically precise description of the number of people who listen to Scully's broadcasts, but it is close enough. When a game is on the air the physical presence of his voice is overwhelming. His pleasantly nasal baritone comes out of radios on the back counters of orange juice stands, from transistors held by people sitting under trees, in barber shops and bars, and from cars everywhere—parked cars, cars waiting for red lights to turn green, cars passing you at 65 on the freeways, cars edging along next to you in rush-hour traffic jams.

Even during the off season, when baseball is wrapped up and put away until spring, Scully's personality infiltrates Los Angeles. He does a 15-minute afternoon sport show five days a week, and he is a frequent guest on television. This past winter he was a regular irregular on a TV panel show called First Impression; he was on for a couple of weeks, off for a couple of weeks. Because of his appearances on First Impression he is becoming a familiar TV face and personality as well as a radio voice, and several people have approached him with ideas for new TV programs that would use him as master of ceremonies.

Vin Scully's voice is better known to most Los Angelenos than their next-door neighbor's is. He has become a celebrity. He is stared at in the street. Kids hound him for autographs. Out-of-town visitors at ball games in Dodger Stadium have Scully pointed out to them—as though he were the Empire State Building—as he sits in his broadcasting booth describing a game, his left hand lightly touching his temple in a characteristic pose that his followers dote on and which, for them, has come to be his trademark.

Baseball broadcasts are popular in all major league cities, but in Los Angeles they are as vital as orange juice. For one thing, the Dodgers have been an eminently successful and colorful club in their six seasons in Los Angeles (two pennants and a tie for a third, two world championships, a Maury Wills stealing 104 bases, a Sandy Koufax winning 25 games). For a second, the Los Angeles metropolitan area is huge (6 million people in the 1960 census, the biggest in the country after New York). For a third, because of a minimum of efficient public transportation, practically everybody drives to and from work and, for that matter, to and from everywhere, and in almost every car there is a radio and every radio is always on. When a home-rushing driver bogs down in a classic freeway traffic jam, he finds that nothing else is as soothing as Vin Scully's voice describing the opening innings of a Dodger night game just getting under way a few thousand miles and three time zones to the east. This time difference has been a key factor in the growth of Scully's audience. A man who drives home from work listening to an exciting game is not about to abandon it when he reaches his house. As a result, millions of southern Californians have Vin Scully with their supper.

But it is not just the happy timing of road games that endears Scully to his audience. He appeals to them when the Dodgers are home, too. In fact, he holds his listeners when they come to the ball park to see games with their own eyes. When the Dodgers are playing at home and Dodger Stadium is packed to the top row of the fifth tier with spectators, it seems sometimes as though every member of the crowd is carrying a transistor radio and is listening to Scully tell him about the game he is watching. Taking radios to ball parks to listen to the game as you watch it is a fairly common practice, but nowhere is it so pronounced a characteristic as it is in Los Angeles, and has been since 1958, the year the Dodgers left Ebbets Field and moved west. Los Angeles was hungry for major league ball, and though the Dodgers had a dreadful season that first year (they finished seventh), the crowds jammed into Memorial Coliseum, where the team played until Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine opened in 1962. Perhaps their unfamiliarity with major leaguers prompted so many fans to bring transistors along at first in order to establish instant identification of the players. But a large percentage brought radios not just to identify players but to learn what they were doing. Scully was talking to an audience that had not been watching baseball. The old minor league teams that Los Angeles and Hollywood had in the Pacific Coast League seldom drew more than a few hundred thousand spectators in their best years. Now a million and a half, two million, two million and a half were pouring into the ball parks. Through Vin Scully they learned the fine points, the subtleties, the In language of the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 9, 2009 6:06 PM
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