This was the last call Vin Scully made for a game at Dodger Stadium …
… and today he is announcing the final game in a career that included this …
… and this …
… and this …
… and this:
This was the last call Vin Scully made for a game at Dodger Stadium …
… and today he is announcing the final game in a career that included this …
… and this …
… and this …
… and this:
The modern baseball broadcaster provides a public service to sports fans everywhere: He receives our hatred; he’s a magnet, or a receptacle, for our frustration. To talk for three-plus hours extemporaneously, particularly during a game as leisurely and mannered as baseball, is to invite listeners to pounce on every poorly researched remark. Each year the baseball site Fangraphs.com asks its readers to rank all 30 teams’ announcers; perhaps the nicest thing written about one was that he was “phlegmatic to a fault.” Snarking on broadcasters is a fan’s sport within a sport.
The rise of hate-listening tracks the decline of the Big Broadcast Personality. Today, baseball announcers pretty much sound the same. John, Dave, Tom, Marty, Joe, Jack, Dan … They are interchangeable and anonymous: Choosing one over another would be like choosing between brands of paper clips.
There are, of course, a few grandfathered-in exceptions to the bland-yet-hated rule: Hawk Harrelson in Chicago, Mike Shannon in St. Louis—and most exceptional of all: Vin.
Vin Scully, who now enters his final month on the job, began broadcasting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 as an apprentice to Red Barber. Three years later, he was the team’s lead broadcaster. By 1958, when the team moved to Los Angeles to play in the Coliseum, he was so vital to fans – many of whom had difficulty following the game in a stadium far too massive for it – that they packed transistor radios so they could listen to Vin in the stands. By 1976, fans elected him the “most memorable personality” in Dodgers history. That was 40 years ago.
Over the decades, the sports-media landscape changed dramatically, and Scully’s once-beloved profession was whittled down to those Johns and Daves and Toms and Joes we like yelling at so much—but he never lost his touch.
The key to Scully’s success is his calm, intimate vibe. While many broadcasters call games as if they’re trying to talk anonymous hordes out of looking at their iPads, Scully is having a conversation with you – and only you. “I’ve always felt that I was talking to one person,” he said in 2007. “But I’ve never envisioned who that one person is.”
To listen to Scully is to be drawn in by a storyteller—and a fellow traveler. Scully has seen nearly 10,000 baseball games but he never sounds like a jaundiced expert. He’s excited to find out what happens just like you. It’s a baseball game. Let’s watch it together.
In 1950, you listened to Vin Scully because you wanted to know if the Dodgers were winning and he was the only way for you to find out. Now, in an age of push notifications and Twitter alerts, it’s difficult not to find out the score. And we have an absurd number of ways to follow along. We can watch the game on our TVs, our iPads, our phones, our video game consoles or even our wristwatches. We can listen to national audio feeds. We can turn off broadcasters altogether and just listen to the crowd. But still we choose Vin.
Ask any baseball fan. When they’re flipping around MLB.tv looking for a default game, just “which game should I turn on right now?” the determining factor is always, always, “Are the Dodgers at home?” Because if they are, Scully’s calling the game, and that’s the one you choose. Sure, the score of that Diamondbacks-Rockies game might be a little closer. But you’re going to turn down the chance to listen to Vin? In his last season, no less? The Dodgers are in first place, but even if they were on a 100-loss pace, they would be must-watch all season. That’s because of Vin.
Though he’s been around forever, he’s not some nostalgia play. He doesn’t complain that They Just Don’t Play Like They Used To or invoke the Good Ole Days, perhaps because he realizes they’re not behind us.
Baseball is the game we love to lament. Fans yearn for the time when it was America’s pastime in more than name, back when every theoretical American was rapt to attention, Ovaltine in hand, to watch the Mick. But that’s not how it really was. (Yankee Stadium was one-third full when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record.) In reality, more people are watching baseball right now than did in 1950, or 1960, or 1970, or any other time in recorded history. The newer fans are a more diverse group, more global, more liable to GIF a Mike Trout catch at the wall than keep a scorebook at the ballpark.
What unites the newer fans to the past is that they adore Vin Scully. The man in the booth – doing the job we now love to denigrate – is more beloved than the players he describes on the field.
His voice has served as the soundtrack of baseball even as that game, and the way we interact with it, has evolved. We’ll choose him right down to the very end. And then we’ll get back to booing the other guys.
KOMO radio in Seattle reports:
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted Thursday that the team “will honor the country and flag” in a “demonstration of unity” prior to Sunday’s season opener against Miami.
When approached in the locker room by reporters, Baldwin declined to elaborate further saying, “you’ll see on Sunday.”
Former Green Beret and one-time Seahawks long-snapper Nate Boyer later tweeted that he had spoken with the Seahawks players about their plans and wrote, “what the team will do is a powerful sign of unification + respect for the Anthem + those that fight for our Freedom!”
In an interview with Fox Sports Radio later Thursday, Boyer expanded on his tweet .
“I spoke with the players, and they realize that 9/11 is a very important day in our nation’s history. The Seahawks, and probably every team, will be honoring those who serve in camouflage, and also those in blue who served on such a difficult day,” Boyer said. “Shortly after 9/11 our country seemed more unified than I had ever experienced, and was the most unified it has been since I have been alive. Since that date, we have grown farther apart in our unity. Standing together this Sunday is key to making progress. What the team will do is a powerful sign of unification.”
That came after previous reports that the Seahawks were planning to emulate in some fashion San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first sat during the National Anthem, then one week later knelt because, as he told NFL Media two weeks ago …
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Just in case it isn’t obvious: The “people” Kaepernick is referring to is the police.
The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Niners coach Chip Kelly told reporters Saturday that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem is “his right as a citizen” and said “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”
The NFL also released a statement, obtained by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”
By taking a stand for civil rights, Kaepernick, 28, joins other athletes, like the NBA’s Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and several WNBA players in using their platform and status to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the U.S.
However, refusal to support the American flag as a means to take a stand has brought incredible backlash before and likely will in this instance. The NBA’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets, formerly Chris Jackson before converting to Islam, refused to acknowledge the flag in protest, citing similar reasons as Kaepernick and saying that it conflicted with some of his Islamic beliefs.
Abdul-Rauf drew the ire of fans and was briefly suspended by the NBA before a compromise was worked out between the league and player, who eventually stood with his teammates and coaches at the playing of the national anthem.
Kaepernick said that he is aware of what he is doing and that he knows it will not sit well with a lot of people, including the 49ers. He said that he did not inform the club or anyone affiliated with the team of his intentions to protest the national anthem.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Kaepernick said that he has thought about going public with his feelings for a while but that “I felt that I needed to understand the situation better.”
He said that he has discussed his feelings with his family and, after months of witnessing some of the civil unrest in the U.S., decided to be more active and involved in rights for black people. Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents and siblings.
Kaepernick was supported by soccer player Megan Rapinoe, as Sam Laird reported:
Rapinoe, a star on the powerhouse U.S. women’s soccer team, took a knee during the national anthem before a Sunday National Women’s Soccer League match between her Seattle Reign and the Chicago Red Stars. Afterwards, she was direct in explaining what went into the decision.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she told American Soccer Now. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
Whatever Rapinoe planned to do for her next protest wasn’t seen in public, because the Washington Spirit’s national anthem was played Spirit and Reign players were in the locker room the next week. This is the case in many high school, college and NFL games, and this may well become the norm soon if players decide to protest instead of stand in something approximating attention.
The most famous National Anthem protest took place in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympic Games:
Readers know I have an odd history (“Now he tells us,” readers say) around the National Anthem. Before two 1984 UW games an anti-nuclear dance group called Nu Parable ran out onto the Camp Randall Stadium turf (really green-painted asphalt, but only my joints below my hips find that important right now) when the UW Marching Band got to “And the rockets’ red glare.” (Which was, to say the least, not what I expected to be seeing standing on the field playing trumpet.) This was Nu Parable’s way of showing that Ronald Reagan, having unaccountably failed to destroy the world during his first term in office, would undoubtedly accomplish that in his second term. One of the Nu Parables was literally punted by a band member (and Marine reservist) who found the NuP in his way while marching, and the rest of them were stared at by our drum major, who always struck me as resembling the Grim Reaper (and if looks could kill all the NuPs would have decomposed upon drum major’s sight), while being arrested by UW police.
The next home game before the election, the Nu Parables stayed well clear of the band, while being loudly booed by the crowd, which previously acted confused at what they were seeing. (UW students both weeks chanted “Nuke ’em! Nuke ’em!”, which might indicate that UW students who go to Badger games may not be, or have been, as liberal as popularly portrayed.
There is no First Amendment cause to ban Kaepernick, Baldwin, Rapinoe or anyone else from doing something other than standing at attention. The First Amendment bans government from banning freedom of expression. (Although I’m pretty sure the Nu Parable dancer/protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct or something.) Perhaps surprisingly, the NFL hasn’t censured Kaepernick either. I’m not surprised the 49ers haven’t, although it should be obvious that such a protest would be supported more in some markets than in others, such as Green Bay.
The next time you’re at a sporting event and the National Anthem is played, observe what others do. (Hopefully it’s a live performance and not a recording.) Media types rarely stand at attention hand on heart, in large part because they’re carrying cameras or other equipment, or because they’re inside the press box, which they assume isn’t inside the stadium, or something like that. I’ve seen girls teams link hands and start swinging them toward the end, which must offend traditionalists, or so you’d think. Atlanta Braves fans have amended the last line of the first verse to “And the home of the Braves!” North Dakota hockey fans amended the last line of the first verse to “And the home of the SOOOOOOOOOOO!” before the Boys Named Sioux were divested of their supposedly racist nickname.
Were these not affronts to the National Anthem as well?
(The last video is of the National Hockey League All-Star Game in Chicago during Operation Desert Storm. Notice few people are at attention or singing.)
Some people thought these were too:
It could even be claimed that singers who change the 3/4 Anthem into a 4/4 song (including, among others, Super Bowl singers Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga) are similarly disrespecting the Anthem. There are even those who assert that the Star Spangled Banner should not be the National Anthem because of, among other reasons, the difficulty of singing it.
There is an obvious dividing line during my lifetime in attitudes about the Star Spangled Banner. The line was drawn first during Operation Desert Storm (when Whitney Houston sang arguably the most famous performance at Super Bowl XXV), and the line became a wall after 9/11. (It takes real nerve to protest your country on the anniversary of 9/11, which will be Sunday.)
The cynical note the hypocrisy of claims of oppression by someone getting paid more than $100 million to play professional sports, particularly someone being paid eight digits per year to sit on the bench. (Kaepernick is no longer the starting quarterback, and if anonymous quotes are to be believed he may never play for the 49ers or any other NFL team again, though he is officially the 49ers’ backup QB.)
Some Kaepernick supporters claim (based on two lines of a four-verse song) that the Star Spangled Banner is itself racist, which is a ridiculous assertion. (To wit: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” referring to slaves apparently impressed by the British during the beginning of the War of 1812.) That is as irrelevant, regardless of the level of veracity, as the Star Spangled Banner’s melody coming from a British drinking song.
More importantly, Kaepernick’s protest is based on a false premise, the supposed war on blacks by police. If anything, as scholar Heather Mac Donald points out, there is a war on police and, by the way, on inner-city minority residents by minority inner-city criminals:
Incarceration is not destroying the black family. Family breakdown is in fact the country’s most serious social problem, and it is most acute in black communities. But the black marriage rate was collapsing long before incarceration started rising at the end of the 1970s, as my colleague Kay Hymowitz has shown. Indeed, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his prescient call for attention to black out-of-wedlock child-rearing in 1965, just as that era’s deincarceration and decriminalization movement was gaining speed.
It is crime, not incarceration, that squelches freedom and enterprise in urban areas. And there have been no more successful government programs for liberating inner-city residents from fear and disorder than proactive policing and the incapacitation of criminals. …
Violent crime is currently shooting up again in cities across the country. Police officers are backing away from proactive enforcement in response to the yearlong campaign that holds that police are the greatest threat facing young black men today. Officers encounter increasing hostility and resistance when they make a lawful arrest. With pedestrian stops, criminal summons, and arrests falling precipitously in urban areas, criminals are becoming emboldened.
That is what Kaepernick should be protesting, but of course that isn’t what he’s protesting. Of course, the First Amendment gives you the right to be wrong. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your free expression.
Mike Gonzalez apparently watched much more of the Olympics than I did, and enjoyed it immensely, particularly women’s gymnastics:
The only fly in the ointment has come via the news and the realization that politics and race have once again crept up into the Olympics, just as it has in the past. I picked up USA Today at a local supermarket one morning to read that the Final Five is proof of the triumph of “diversity.”
An editorial notes that race relations are at a nadir in America, “as evidenced by the intense battles over illegal immigration, policing and the Black Lives Matter movement.” All true, and the polls are there to prove it. But the editorial goes on to aver, “But diversity also improves America’s competitiveness, from the balance beams of athletics to the board rooms of the world economy.”
A quick check online that night turned up that a lot of people have been saying similar stuff stateside. Over at the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens had this cris de coeur: “We need the Final Five to push back against the daily rhetoric that tells us we’re a divided, crumbling shell of our former selves.” Vox, as usual, got its knickers in a twist, celebrating the team’s diversity while bemoaning that its achievements “won’t calm race relations.”
America, however, has always been diverse and drawn upon this large talent pool to surmount existential moments, just as it did when during the Civil War, when an estimated quarter of the Union Army’s enlisted men were foreign born.
If this is what the writers mean by “diversity”—that we take people from all over the world, turn them into Americans, and benefit from their talents—then of course I am with them.
But the melting pot isn’t what is usually meant when people celebrate diversity.
In fact, as any college freshman can tell you, diversity and the melting pot are rival models of how to organize the country. The enforced affirmation of diversity above all else often detracts from the greater national identity, and thus the unity that makes a team succeed, whether it’s made up of five or 330 million.
The Final Five are indeed a victory for the melting pot—the idea that we all meld together into an American nation, forging out of many different elements one unified, stronger alloy. But their feat is a rebuke of diversity as it is indoctrinated in campuses and policed by all levels of government. The board rooms that USA Today refers to are in fact not diversifying fast enough even for the independent Securities and Exchange Commission, which is considering mandating stricter rules to force companies to disclose plans to make boards more diverse.
“Diversity,” thus, is enforced through means that are inimical to the success of the women’s gymnastics team:
- Affirmative Action: Diversity enforcers demand that participation in all aspects of society reflect the numbers of members of different groups. If the Final Five were, for example, the Final 10, they would be suspect if they did not include a member of the other two components of the ethno-racial pentagon, Asians and Native Americans. But Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian—two African-Americans, a Latina, and two white girls—as we keep hearing—obviously got their place in their elite group through meritocracy. They deserved to be there because of their talent as gymnasts. Period. If two of them had been replaced to wedge in a less-deserving Asian-American or Native American, the team would have suffered as a result.
- Ethnic Identity: Diversity emphasizes identification with sub-groups at the expense of the traditional touchstones of religion and country. Being a member of one of the oppressed groups deemed to have suffered from historic discrimination—a consideration even accorded to an immigrant whose ancestors could not have been kept poor by the very real legally sanctioned depredations that took place decades ago—is the important identity when it comes to the affirmative action discussed above. But the members of the Final Five give no indication that such racial or ethnic emphasis is present at all. Look up Hernandez, for example, and what jumps out is not that her parents are Puerto Ricans, but that she’s a strong Christian who’s been home-schooled from the third grade. She meditates daily on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (“Give thanks in all circumstances”), a verse that’s hard to square with racial grievance mongering—which may be why it’s missing from most articles on this outstanding athlete. Just last week Hernandez told reporters she didn’t “think it matters what race you are. If you want to train hard enough to go to Olympics, then you’re going to go out and you’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter what skin color or who you are.” Again, not exactly Black Lives Matter.
- Official Multilingualism: This other shibboleth of the diversity movement would render Americans less able to pull together for a common purpose (for examples, please see Belgium and Canada in the industrialized world, and places too numerous to cite in the less developed world). But the Final Five work as one. Hernandez again: “We’re always building each other up and making sure that we’re cheering for each other and shouting ‘C’mon, you got it, confidence.’”
The melting pot cuts against the grain of all this, which is why it is denigrated and discouraged today from kindergarten on. The melting pot, in fact, is what allowed Reisman and Kocian—one Jewish and the other with one likely Czech ancestor—to be undistinguishable Americans. While the Czech immigration into Texas begins in the 1840s, many of the East European immigrants who came in through Ellis Island from 1890 to the 1920s weren’t even considered white at all, and neither of course were Jews for decades. The melting pot got rid of these differences, though of course African-Americans were kept out of it. The answer obviously is to extend one American identity to all, and to minimize our differences.
I was on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Week in Review Friday morning segment this morning, which you can listen to or even download here. (Listen for the references to nuclear holocaust movies, which didn’t include “The Day After” or “Fail-Safe.”)
This week starts the high school football season, which means I am announcing a game tonight and a game Saturday night, both of which can be heard online. The start of high school football is not a holiday, but, believe it or don’t, today is Black Cow Root Beer Float Day, National Aviation Day, National Hot and Spicy Food Day (you’d think that and the previous holiday wouldn’t really go together), National Potato Day, National Men’s Grooming Day, National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day, World Humanitarian Day and World Photo Day.
Saturday, by the way, is highlighted by National Radio Day, National Honey Bee Day, Lemonade Day, National Bacon Lover’s Day and National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day.
But about tonight and tomorrow, Travis Wilson writes on the state of high school football:
It is en vogue to take shots at football for being too violent, too dangerous, and something that will not last the next few decades.
In Wisconsin this year, three 11-Man football teams have canceled their seasons in the last few weeks, with a pair of 8-Man teams suffering the same fate. It led to numerous questions about the sustainability of high school football, especially in the small schools. Newspaper articles and internet commenters rushed to forecast the demise of high school football.
However, despite challenges faced in the arena of public opinion, the actual game at the high school level in the state of Wisconsin remains strong.
In data provided by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, while overall high school enrollment in the state of Wisconsin (public and private schools) fell by 3,094 students from the 2014-15 year to 2015-16, the number of players out for football at the start of 2015-16 was 883 higher than the previous season, this despite four fewer teams overall.
An analysis of enrollment and participation data provided by the WIAA shows no significant change in the overall participation rate in high school football over the last 16 years. In 2000-01, the first year private schools joined their public school counterparts in the WIAA and the first year full data is available, the beginning-season football participation rate amongst all high school students was 9.50%. Outside of several years where full private school enrollment information is not available, which skews those seasons, the football participation rate has remained between 9.12% (2003-04) and 9.63% (2001-02).
The participation rate for the 2015-16 season of 9.46% was the third-highest of the last 16 years (not counting the years of no enrollment data for private schools). So, in the face of increased publicity about concussions, heat-related dangers, etc., the sport continues to be the highest participation sport in the country and the state at the high school level, and the participation rate has been largely unchanged for nearly two decades.
While it is true that the raw participation figures for football are decreasing over the last 10-15 years, it is a result of decreasing populations in the state of Wisconsin more than a decrease in the interest or participation levels.
The WIAA and the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association have done a great job trying to spread the message about the measures taken in recent years to make football even safer, with numerous studies continuing to show that football is as safe as it has ever been. But public opinion and the shots taken at the game in the media are an ongoing challenge.
Both the WFCA and the WIAA, along with the schools impacted by low numbers in football programs, have to search for solutions to ensure that those student-athletes and communities that want to continue the sport of football have that option. As evidenced by recent rules changes that make the game safer as well as increased support of 8-Man football, the leadership in the state remains proactive and I trust will continue to do so. No one wants to cancel a season, especially right before games begin.
There is a sense among some that the start date of football, which has crept into the end of July the next two years, is chasing away players. While that may the case in some isolated instances, the overall participation numbers continue to show no significant change. Many coaches cite other reasons (sport specialization, not going to start on varsity, jobs, etc.) that players have given for not coming out for football.
It is important for everyone to be up front and honest about the possibilities of injury and the out-of-season work it takes to be involved in football. But it is also important to continue to spread the word about the measures taken to improve the game, and wherever possible, cultivate a sense of excitement, not trepidation, about high school football.
As a former football player under coach Jim Harris and WFCA Hall of Fame coach Avitus Ripp at Richland Center High School, I can certainly attest to the many positives that I took from the game, and can tell you unequivocally that I have no regrets about coming out for football my sophomore year after choosing not to play as a freshman. It is a great game that you will cherish for the rest of your life.
Two baseball news items sadly chronicle my advancing age.
First: Today is the final day of the baseball career of Alex Rodriguez.
I saw Rodriguez before he was “A-Rod.” Rodriguez’s baseball career began in Appleton in 1994, after he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. We saw him at Goodland Park in Appleton, playing for the Foxes, one year before the Foxes became the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and moved to Fox Cities Stadium, and 15 years before the Timber Rattlers became an affiliate of the Brewers.
Rodriguez had quite a 1994 season. He started with the Foxes, then right after we saw him was promoted to Class AA, then to the parent Mariners. Just before the season-ending strike Rodriguez then was demoted to Class AAA so he could keep playing. One year later, he was on the big club for good.
Rodriguez undoubtedly will go down as one of the most famous Foxes/Timber Rattlers (the franchise dates back to 1942). Whether he becomes one of the three ex-Foxes named to the Baseball Hall of Fame depends on how Hall of Fame voters view the players of the steroid/PED era of baseball, such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.
Rodriguez is also a symbol of the wacky finances of pro sports, including Major League Baseball. After coming up with the Mariners, Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers for $252 million over 10 years. Four years later, the Rangers traded him to the Yankees, and four years after that he signed a 10-year $275 million contract.
Speaking of the Rangers, the Dallas Morning News reports:
Three sources close to the situation confirmed Tuesday that [Prince] Fielder’s career is over after a decade in the majors due to a pair of disk herniations in his neck. An official announcement will be made Wednesday afternoon in Arlington where, presumably, Fielder, still in a neck brace from his second spinal fusion surgery in the last 27 months, will address the decision.
Fielder, 32, will be declared “medically disabled,” as doctors will not clear him to return to baseball over the perilous risk to his spine from the two cervical fusions, according to sources. The Rangers were aware of this possibility at the time he underwent the surgery in July. Teammates such as Adrian Beltre said at the time they were “shocked” over the development. In that regard, the news Tuesday, which broke about an hour before a 7-5 win over Colorado, wasn’t a complete surprise to his teammates, but was depressing nonetheless.
“I don’t know exactly what he is going to say, but his family has to come first,” Beltre said Tuesday after acknowledging that he’d known the situation was dire. “If he’s pushed out of baseball at 31 or 32, that’s tough to swallow. We know how talented he is. But he has to do what is right for him and his family.”
He is due to receive the full remaining value of his contract, roughly $104 million through 2020, unless the sides work out a retirement settlement. The Rangers will be responsible for $44 million of it, Detroit $24 million and another $36 million will come via an insurance policy the Rangers inherited when they traded Ian Kinsler for Fielder after the 2013 season. The Rangers will receive 50 percent of their annual $18 million salary commitment to him via the claim.
As big as those figures are, they still seem a little bit menial when it allows a father of two boys – one a week shy of his 12th birthday and another a rambunctious 10-year old – to actively partake in their growth. It will also allow Fielder to continue to grow his marriage to his wife Chanel, with whom he celebrated his 10-year anniversary on the day the surgery was announced. Fielder has often said that they were kids when they got married and they were kids having kids. They made mistakes together, but still grew a close-knit and also extended family. …
He simply can’t play baseball anymore. His neck won’t allow it without a significant risk of impaired mobility – or worse. It is not a weight issue; as Rangers personnel told me, his neck didn’t carry the burden of carrying his weight. It is more a function of a violent, jerky swing that created incredible force on baseballs, but also incredible torque on the neck.
It seems unthinkable that he has gone from being one of the most durable players in baseball to incapacitated in three years. He played 157 or more games from 2006 until the Rangers traded for him after 2013; only after he experienced some neck stiffness and weakness in his arms two months into the 2014 season. After a sad end to his tenure in Milwaukee and two unhappy years in Detroit, the recovery from the surgery gave him time to rediscover how much he enjoyed playing. He responded with a .305 season and 23 home runs in 2015, but struggled all this season before the latest herniation was discovered.
Fielder, of course, came up with the Brewers, and was part of the 2008 and 2011 playoff teams.
MLB.com gives the Milwaukee perspective:
Drafted seventh overall by the Brewers in 2002, Fielder hit .282 with 230 home runs 656 RBIs over parts of seven seasons in Milwaukee. He ranks third on the franchise’s home run list behind former teammate Ryan Braun and Hall of Famer Robin Yount, is sixth in club history with 439 extra-base hits and seventh in RBIs. Among players to make at least 2,500 plate appearances in a Brewers uniform, Fielder ranks first with a .929 OPS and a .390 on-base percentage.
Fielder’s 50 home runs in 2007, 141 RBIs in 2009 and 114 walks in 2010 are single-season franchise records. His 87 extra-base hits in ’07 tied Yount’s record from 1982, when Yount was American League MVP. Fielder owns the top two seasons in franchise history for home runs, the top two seasons for OPS, and the top three seasons for walks. He’s also the only player in franchise history to play all 162 games in multiple seasons.
“I remember one day I was doing the Kenny Macha show,” Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker said, referring to the former Brewers manager. “Macha tells me he was giving Prince a day off. I said, ‘You haven’t told him yet?’ He said, ‘No, but I’m going to.’
“I looked at him and I said, ‘Kenny, I can tell you right now, that ain’t gonna happen. He might kick your [rear end].'”
Sure enough, Fielder played that day. He set a Brewers record by playing in 374 consecutive games from 2008-2012 before sitting out a game in Houston with the flu. Fielder was so sick that the Astros team doctor administered intravenous fluids, and Fielder still lobbied for a spot in the lineup.
When he did return to action, Fielder started a new streak that spanned 547 games and three teams — the Brewers, the Tigers (who signed him to a free agent mega-contract in January 2012) and the Rangers (who traded for Fielder in November 2013). The 547-game streak, which ended with the onset of his neck woes, is the 25th-longest in Major League history.
“He played so hard all the time,” Uecker said. “If he hit a bouncer back to the mound, he ran his butt off. Every time. That’s the one thing that people should remember about Prince, and I think once people sit back and read this, they will say to themselves, ‘That is right.’ He always ran hard. He played hard. I just liked him, and I appreciated what he did. I played. I know what it is.
“I’m sad, I really am. I talked to him in the spring when they came over the play in Maryvale. We had a really good talk about his family and himself and how good he felt, and how things were going to be better. It didn’t happen. But he’ll always be one of my favorite guys.”
One doesn’t necessarily think of hustle when considering 275-pound (according to the Rangers’ roster, and that might be 30 or so pounds light) baseball players. But Fielder clearly was a team leader for the Brewers, and an enormously clutch player on teams that most seasons had just two power threats, Fielder and Ryan Braun.
Doug Russell adds:
“The doctors told me that with two spinal fusions, I can’t play Major League Baseball anymore,” an overcome Fielder said, flanked by sons Haven and Jayden on one side and agent Scott Boras on the other. “I just want to thank my teammates, all the coaches. I’m really going to miss being around those guys. It was a lot of fun. I’ve been in a big league clubhouse since I was their age, and not being able to play is tough.”
We’ve seen Fielder jubilant and stoic. Until Wednesday, we had never seen tears.
Someday, Fielder will certainly have a Brewers Wall of Honor plaque outside of Miller Park; he already meets several of the criteria, any of which would provide for his enshrinement. Perhaps one day he will have a Walk of Fame induction ceremony at Miller Park as well. As an elector, I plan to vote for him the year he becomes eligible.
After all, his 230 home runs rank third on the team’s all-time list, but his name is littered all over their offensive leaders’ all-time top-ten lists. Fielder is sixth in extra base hits; seventh in RBI’s, eighth in total bases, and ninth in runs scored and career batting average.
Simply put, Prince Fielder is Milwaukee Brewers royalty.
Prince was never a guy who said more than he needed to when there microphones and cameras around. Perhaps he felt betrayed by reporters who wanted to fish around his strained relationship with his father, former MLB slugger Cecil Fielder. Perhaps he was just shy around people he didn’t really know well.
But that’s okay. He was never rude. He just didn’t say much, at least not until the cameras and recorders were gone, and he became the heart and soul of the Milwaukee clubhouse. Craig Counsell called him one of the most influential players he had ever been around.
“I’m sad,” Counsell said shortly after Fielder made his announcement. “The game never lets anybody go when they completely want to, but for somebody like him, he should still be in the middle of a great career. It’s sad that it has to happen like that.”
“It’s heartbreaking for him,” former Brewers teammate Ryan Braun agreed. “I remember how hard he competed. I think he played the game as hard and competed as hard as anybody I ever had on my team. He’s a guy who never wanted to come out of any game, played through so many injuries, wanted to play every inning of every game.”
My generation of Brewers fans had Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. A previous generation had Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and Eddie Mathews.
Millennial Brewers fans have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.
Life will go on for Prince Fielder and his family; After all, he’s just 32 years old. But a part of him – the athlete part – died on Wednesday.
And even though he had been gone for a half-decade from Milwaukee, a part of Brewers history died too.
Fielder left the Brewers after their last playoff season, 2011. Before that the Brewers decided to give Braun a huge contract and not Fielder, which probably foretold Fielder’s departure. (As it is, Fielder will get $102 million to no longer play baseball.) I think a majority of Brewers fans understood the decision, though, upon looking at Fielder, who already was larger than his father, Cecil, and seemed unlikely to get smaller. Both Fielders basically had bodies meant for the designated hitter position, and indeed both ended up as DHs. (And hit exactly the same number of home runs, 379.)
That, of course, demonstrates the reality of small-market baseball. The Brewers traded for pitchers C.C. Sabathia (2008) and Zack Greinke (2011), but couldn’t keep them. The Brewers developed pitcher Yovani Gallardo, but traded him away because what rebuilding team needs a number one pitcher? (One of the three players for whom Gallardo was traded, Corey Knebel, is with the Brewers; pitcher Marcos Diplan has a 4.62 ERA in Brevard County, Fla.; and infielder Luis Sardinas is already gone, traded to Seattle (and designated for assignment Thursday) for outfielder Ramón Flores, currently batting .202 for the Brewers.) The Brewers traded for outfielder Carlos Gomez, but didn’t keep him either, in part because he’s sort of an underperformer (now batting .210 for Houston). The Brewers developed catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but he’s gone too.
When you have little margin for error, as the Brewers have due to their poor finances, you have to be superior in developing players, particularly since you seem destined to not be able to keep them. The Brewers did not successfully develop anyone to replace Fielder, as evidenced by their playing 24 first basemen since he left. The replacement was supposed to be Mat Gamel, but he (1) missed nearly two seasons due to the same injury, (2) was a butthead according to his minor league manager. and (3) ended up hitting exactly six home runs in his major league career. Then the Brewers acquired Mark Reynolds, who in a 130-game season (platooned with ancient former Brewer Lyle Overbay) had more strikeouts (122, which you’ll note is nearly one per game) than hits (74, for a batting average of .196), and had the unlikely stat combination of 22 home runs and 45 runs batted in. (At least the 2000s answer to Dave Kingman apparently isn’t a jerk like Kingman famously was.) The Brewers did acquire left-handed first baseman Adam Lind one year late, and after a decent season (.277, 20 HR, 77 RBI, .820 OPS) traded him away for three minor leaguers after last season.
The sad irony is that had the Brewers held on to Fielder, this column would be about the end of Fielder’s career with the Brewers. Their current first baseman, Chris Carter, has Reynolds-like stats (.217, 25 HR, 61 RBI, .782 OPS, and by the way 143 strikeouts in 109 games). Carter is claimed to have brought stability to first base, but as someone in his seventh big-league season, well, what you see is what you (are going to) get. The Brewers’ Class AAA first baseman, Andy Wilkins, is now with the Brewers despite hitting just .238 in Colorado Springs; at 27 and in the majors for the second time, he seems unlikely to have a very long career. The Class AA first baseman, Nick Ramirez, is also 27 but hasn’t gotten to the majors yet, and with a .197 batting average he probably never will.
The best first baseman in Brewers history is either Fielder, the aforementioned career leader in OPS who hit 230 home runs in seven seasons, or Cecil Cooper, who hit 201 home runs in 12 seasons with the Brewers, including the team’s first seven winning seasons. After them would be George Scott (for whom Cooper was traded in one of the best trades in Brewers history), who hit 115 home runs in five seasons of some bad Brewers baseball. (Scott hit 36 home runs and drove in 109 in 1975. The Brewers still finished 68–94.) After Prince, Coop and the Boomer? Take your pick.
This being Independence Day, a traditional baseball day, the Wall Street Journal interviewed the greatest baseball voice of our time:
It was another cloudless day in this Southern California canyon, another day for baseball at this idyllic mid-century ballpark. I asked Vin Scully if he felt lucky to do what he does.
“Oh, no, not lucky,” he said, firmly. “Lucky is too cheap a word. I really feel blessed. I truly believe God has given me these gifts. He gave it to me at a young age, and he’s allowed me to keep it all these years? That’s a gift. I say this because I believe it: I should spend a lot more time on my knees than I do.”
You probably know that this is the esteemed baseball broadcaster Vin Scully’s last year in the booth for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is 88 years old, and after an astonishing 67 seasons, one of the greatest voices in sports—a melody of the American summer for nearly seven decades—will say farewell this October.
“I’ll miss it,” he said. “I know I’ll be very unhappy for a while.”
Then he smiled, because Vin Scully is a human sunbeam. When we met, he offered me a cupcake, and then asked about my three-year-old son. He’d instructed me to bring the boy when I came to visit him at Dodger Stadium. I didn’t, because A) I am truly an idiot and B) the kid’s a bit wild, and I feared he would have run around and climbed both of the foul poles.
“We raised six, and have had 16 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren,” Scully said. “You tell me a three-year-old runs around, and I say, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ ”
Below us, on the field, the Dodgers were getting ready for another ballgame. The late afternoon air was still warm enough for just a T-shirt, and you could smell popcorn and sausage. A lot of folks think a scene like this is pretty close to heaven. Scully thought so when he was a child growing up in New York City, saving up 11 cans to buy a 55-cent ticket to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants. …
Like everyone who’s ever spoken to Vin Scully, I recognize quickly that everything Vin Scully says is a treat, because he is saying it in that famous, honeycomb voice, which migrated with the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and described Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Kirk Gibson, among countless others. Scully’s voice called Hank Aaron’s 715th home run…and it’s now talking about a cupcake? Dodgers president and co-owner Stan Kasten told me about a time he was talking to Scully, who was describing a friend’s surgery in great, gory detail “but it was Vin Scully describing it, so it was still kind of lyrical.”
“Whenever you talk to Vin on the phone, it really is kind of surreal,” Kasten said.
Scully occupies rare space. At a moment in our culture in which antagonism is the preferred currency, Scully is as universally beloved as it gets. There he was, a few weeks back, on the cover of Sports Illustrated. “VIN SCULLY IS READY TO DROP THE MIC,” the headline read. There’s his name on the Dodger Stadium entrance road from Sunset Boulevard. Though he’s worked a reduced schedule in recent years, his voice is the first thing you hear when you enter the park. Inside, his presence looms larger than any player’s. Even a screwy cable-TV controversy in L.A. that’s prevented a lot of Dodger fans from seeing games hasn’t diminished the goodwill.
There will be no one like Scully again—an ideal package of talent, paired with a historic franchise, and perfect timing as baseball expanded from the radio to TV era. And yet he isn’t a foghorn for the “good old days” but an exuberant voice for the current game offering just the right sprinkle of nostalgia. To listen to Scully is to be transported, said Bob Costas, who praised Scully’s “mastery of the craft.”
“A Vin Scully broadcast is simultaneously today’s game and whatever notion you have about any game you’ve ever listened to,” Costas said. “It’s a news bulletin and a flashback.”
He is a reservoir of moments. I ask Scully the loudest he ever heard the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. He mentions Cookie Lavagetto’s pinch-hit double in the 1947 World Series that gave the Dodgers a win over the Yankees. And Dodger Stadium? That’s easy: Kirk Gibson’s walk-off homer in the 1988 World Series, which happened not long after Scully told the audience at home that the hobbling Gibson wouldn’t appear.
I’ll let Scully handle the rest, because nobody on Earth wants to hear me tell it:
I had no idea that Gibby was in the clubhouse, all by himself, looking at the television set with ice packs on his knees. And whatever I said struck a note in him, and he hollered, ‘Bull—-!’ and then hollered to the clubhouse kid, ‘Go down and tell Tommy [Lasorda] I’m coming down.’
And then, as the inning progressed, I remember [seeing Gibson] out of the corner of my eye, and I just responded—it wasn’t a broadcasting line, I was absolutely shocked—‘Well, look who’s here.’ And the rest is history.
If you go and watch the Gibson clip now, what’s striking is that as soon as Gibson’s homer clears the fence, Scully says nothing until Gibson gets to home plate. The drama breathes. The moment is enough. It’s the same with Aaron’s 715th home run. Scully says little. The game’s greatest voice also knew when to not use it.
He still cares, still loves it, and is still adored. So why leave now? Why is Scully retiring young?
“I’m not young, I’m young at heart, for sure,” he said. “Little by little, you start losing it, and I’m aware that I’m not nearly as sharp as I was 10 years ago.” He compared it to a ballplayer whose bat starts to become a little late on a good fastball.
“I think it’s just time,” he said. “I just know it’s time.”
Respectfully, I have to disagree. Vin Scully is forever.
The Oshkosh Northwestern — sorry, “USA Today Network–Wisconsin” — has interesting news:
Windward Wealth Strategies, an Oshkosh wealth management firm, is competing against other cities to bring a Milwaukee Bucks D-League farm team to Oshkosh. The group has been in talks with the Bucks for about a year.
If a deal is reached, the basketball club would be the first professional team to play in Oshkosh since the Wisconsin Flyers disbanded in 1987.
To make it happen, Windward would need to build a 3,500-seat stadium for the team, said Greg Pierce, president of Windward Wealth Strategies. The group is scouting locations for the venue with the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) and the city of Oshkosh.
Windward, working with local stakeholders, has responded to a Bucks bid for the project and will submit plans at the end of June. The project would be funded entirely with private money at a cost upward of $4 million, Pierce said.
The chosen city would likely see an economic boost from 24 home games in the dead of winter, when tourism spending drops for many Wisconsin cities, Pierce said.
“Oshkosh has a long history of supporting basketball,” Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff said during a city council meeting Tuesday. “There’s a lot of excitement that’s being generated because of this.”
The push to bring a Bucks farm team to Oshkosh comes as the Bucks franchise is working to keep pace with the growing trend of D-League teams in the NBA.
Since the D-League’s first season in 2001-02, only eight players made the jump from the minors to the big leagues. But last season, 40 percent of pros began their career with a farm club team. Only 11 of 30 NBA teams, including the Bucks, are without a D-League team.
In a statement to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, the Bucks said a farm team would be an important addition, but plans for that are still in the early stages. The team hopes to launch a farm team by fall 2017.
“While there is no immediate timetable for an announcement, we are excited to learn more about the cities throughout the region that have expressed an interest in welcoming the Bucks’ D-League affiliate to their community,” the statement said.
Unlike baseball, NBA D-League teams often drop roots within a short drive of the pro club’s headquarters, though the Bucks also have the option of forming a farm team out-of-state.
The bucks would likely seek out a D-League site somewhere in Wisconsin to build a fan base outside Milwaukee and Madison, Pierce said.
The Bucks have not announced the cities that have expressed interest.
Pierce, though, is confident that his group will beat out plans in other cities.
“My belief is that Oshkosh is the right fit for a D-League team,” he said. “We are better organized, better funded and have a better plan than other communities.”
Readers of a certain age may remember the Continental Basketball Association and its Wisconsin Flyers, which played at, from what I am told, in approximate chronological order Oshkosh West High School, UW–Oshkosh’s Kolf Sports Cave — I mean Center, Oshkosh North High School, Neenah High School and Appleton East High School. (The Bucks formerly played “home” games at the UW Fieldhouse and the Dane County Coliseum in Madison when there were Milwaukee Arena conflicts, so having more than one home arena per season isn’t unheard of, though it is certainly not the preferred arrangement.)
The CBA was not directly tied to the NBA (in fact the CBA predated the NBA), but a number of NBA coaches (including former Bucks coach George Karl, Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, and Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders) got their coaching starts in the CBA. The CBA also featured the innovation (which didn’t stick elsewhere) of awarding standings points not only for winning games, but for winning quarters, presumably intending to keep fans watching during blowouts.
(Small world alert: The first year I announced Ripon College games I worked with the Flyers’ former announcer. He had some interesting stories to tell about the Flyers. He also had the grueling task of announcing the road games, because their station didn’t carry home games. Being a road announcing warrior is grueling, as I can attest.)
Ten years after the Flyers flew to Rochester, Minn., Keary Ecklund of Ecklund Logistics got a franchise, the Wisconsin Blast, in the International Basketball Association, at the same time that Ecklund started the Green Bay Bombers in the Professional Indoor Football League. The Blast played one season at the Brown County Arena and, I believe, one season at UW–Fox Valley. Their first coach was Pat Knight, son of Bob, who I interviewed for a story in my previous life as a business magazine editor. Knight was a good interview, and, I discovered while covering the Blast’s first game, out of print had a vocabulary similar to his father’s. The Blast moved after two seasons to Rapid City, S.D., as the Black Hills Gold, and then moved to Mitchell, S.D., to become the South Dakota Cold (not, sadly, Corn Kings), and then disappeared into the sports franchise afterlife.
Around the time of the Blast’s founding, there were proposals in the Fox Cities to build a small arena to hold not only a sports team, but such events as the Fox Cities Business Expo (which was at the Tri-County Arena in Neenah, an ice arena). So it’s interesting that this proposal is based in Oshkosh, a smaller area population-wise (and for that matter already possessing an arena that you’d think would be D-League size) than the Fox Cities. The fact I’m writing this should prove that no group in the Fox Cities managed to get its act together to build an arena for the Blast or any other team.
I wonder how well this is going to work in Oshkosh, if that’s where the D-Bucks end up. Given the Fox Cities’ greater size and lack of a larger college team (Lawrence University is in Appleton, but private NCAA Division III schools obviously have smaller fan bases than UW System schools), that seems a more logical place were it not for the arena issue, and as it is a new arena apparently will be built for the D-Bucks anyway.
Monday Morning Quarterback has a fascinating, though long, read of the attributes of the newest NFL quarterbacks.
We talk about them the most when we talk about quarterbacks. Yet we rarely discuss where they come from, or how a passer goes about acquiring them. For many quarterbacks who end up in the NFL, this grooming process often begins all the way back in Pop Warner. But how, exactly, do you raise and mold a quarterback? And what traits make QBs rise and fall in the eyes of NFL decision-makers?
For answers, The MMQB examined the youth football careers and family backgrounds of the 15 quarterbacks who were drafted in 2016 (a record number). They are not all coach’s sons, nor are they all sons of ex-athletes. And while a certain basic requirement for arm strength unites them today, it didn’t link them when they were first handed a football as kids.
After consulting with experts in the field of training and evaluating quarterbacks, and after interviewing more than two dozen parents and coaches of these newly minted NFL passers, we identified several key life experiences that appear to be predictors of success:
• 13 of the 15 quarterbacks grew up in homes that were valued near or above the median home value in their respective state, according to public records and online real estate figures. Seven families lived in homes that were more than double the median values: Goff, Hackenberg, Carson Wentz, Connor Cook, Jeff Driskel, Kevin Hogan and Jake Rudock.
• 13 of the 15 quarterbacks in the 2016 draft spent their early childhoods in two-parent homes. (Of note, a majority of the 30 parents hold four-year college degrees.)
• On average, the 15 quarterbacks taken in the 2016 draft began playing the position at age 9, with only two having taken up the position in high school.
• At some point before high school graduation, with many paying significant fees or traveling great distances to do so, 12 of the 15 received varying degrees of individual instruction from a QB coach who was not a parent or a team-affiliated coach; 12 of the quarterbacks also participated in offseason 7-on-7 football during their high school careers. …
Many of the 15 quarterbacks selected in the 2016 draft have benefited from factors such as parental involvement, family wealth, individual instruction and offseason competition—or some combination that increased opportunity not only for personal growth, but also to be noticed by coaches and scouts along the way. It begs two obvious questions: How much do these factors separate NFL draftees from the rest of the crop? And who is being left out?
You might find this part really interesting:
At Michigan State’s pro day on March 16, Chris Cook paced nervously behind a row of bleachers assembled in the middle of Spartans’ indoor practice facility. An imposing man with a broad smile, Chris had played tight end at Indiana from 1982-84 …
Chris’ involvement in his son’s affairs and his outsized, sometimes abrasive personality were noted by several NFL evaluators as potential red flags for Connor Cook, who fell to the Raiders in the fourth round. After the Michigan State QB was drafted, screenshots of aggressive and homophobic tweets apparently published years ago by Connor’s father surfaced in media reports and provided a public glimpse of what teams had known for months. According to a source close to the Spartans’ program, Chris called coach Mark Dantonio at the beginning of last season and expressed concern that the team’s decision to not make Connor a captain would damage his draft stock. …
“A lot of it comes down to resources,” says Bruce Feldman, author of The QB: The Making of the Modern Quarterback. “The position is so nuanced, you don’t have guys showing up in college with very little experience and having success at quarterback like you see with other positions. Rarely do guys all of a sudden become quarterbacks.
“At the same time, I remember Oliver Luck telling me, you can’t force it on the kid. If they don’t really love it, they’re not going to be doing the extra work and doing all the stuff that it takes to be really, really good.” . …
What all of these quarterbacks have in common—even the outliers in this study—is empowerment. Along the way, their efforts were first validated by parents or guardians, and then by multiple people whom each athlete respected in a football sense. From California to Louisiana, parents of quarterbacks who make it this far are often described by people using the same words: devoted, intense, and very supportive. The high school coach of former Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick of the Broncos, describes David and Stacie Lynch as having been “very involved.” …
Kevin Hogan, the former Stanford QB and fifth-round pick of the Chiefs, was once ferried by his parents from a summer basketball tournament in New Jersey to a 7-on-7 tournament his high school football team was playing in at the University of Virginia—all in the same weekend. “They were just very supportive of everything Kevin did,” said Joe Reyda, Kevin’s head coach at Gonzaga High in Washington D.C.
The Dolphins’ seventh-round selection, Brandon Doughty, is a local kid who grew up in Davie, Fla. In order to get on the recruiting radar, his father took him to camps as far away as Boston College and Ohio State. “I’m gonna be honest man, my dad’s my best friend,” says the former Western Kentucky quarterback. “I don’t even know why I remember this, but we were at N.C. State when Michael Jackson died, and I just remember exactly where we were. The recruiting stuff was a bonding time with me and my dad. It’s something I’ll hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life.” …
One of the major benefits to youth quarterbacks is the progressive effect of empowerment, according to Dr. [Kevin] Elko, the sports psychologist. “All coaches are not created equal,” Dr. Elko says, “but the really good coach will show you how you’re better and convince you you’re better. That’s especially important for quarterbacks, because we know the best quarterbacks have a confidence that’s not really related to anything tangible. They just believe.”
The upshot is that these potential future NFL stars’ parents support and help them (often to financially large extent), but, unlike Cook, aren’t overbearing problems to their sons’ high school coaches. I’ve seen a fair number of overbearing problem parents. I have yet to see any of their children become professional athletes, and few end up having an impact even at the Division III college level. And once their playing days end, then what?
A sports editor I know points out it’s much easier to get an academic scholarship to a college than it is to get an athletic scholarship.
Sports Illustrated writes about the best baseball announcer of all time, Vin Scully, beginning with a commencement address at his alma mater, Fordham University:
“I’m not a military general, a business guru, not a philosopher or author,” Scully told the graduates in the adjacent Vincent Lombardi Fieldhouse. “It’s only me.”
Only me? Vin Scully is only the finest, most-listened-to baseball broadcaster that ever lived, and even that honorific does not approach proper justice to the man. He ranks with Walter Cronkite among America’s most-trusted media personalities, with Frank Sinatra and James Earl Jones among its most-iconic voices, and with Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor and Ken Burns among its preeminent storytellers.
His 67-year run as the voice of the Dodgers—no, wait: the voice of baseball, the voice of our grandparents, our parents, our kids, our summers and our hopes—ends this year. Scully is retiring come October, one month before he turns 89.
One day Dodgers president Stan Kasten mentioned to Scully that he learned the proper execution of a rundown play by reading a book written by Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey, who died in 1965. “I know it,” Scully replied, “because Mr. Rickey told me.” It suddenly hit Kasten that Scully has been conversing with players who broke into the major leagues between 1905 (Rickey) and 2016 (Dodgers rookie pitcher Ross Stripling). When Scully began his Dodgers broadcasting career, in 1950, the manager of the team was Burt Shotton, a man born in 1884.
It is as difficult to imagine baseball without Scully as it is without 90 feet between bases. To expand upon Red Smith’s observation, both are as close as man has ever come to perfection. …
I am not in search of more tributes to Scully, nor, as appreciative though he may be, is he. “Only me” is uncomfortable with the fuss about him. He blanches at the populist idea that he should drop in on the call of the All-Star Game or World Series.
“I guess my biggest fear ever since I started,” he tells me, “besides the fear of making some big mistake, is I never wanted to get out ahead of the game. I always wanted to make sure I could push the game and the players rather than me. That’s really been my goal ever since I started—plus, trying to survive. This year being my last year, the media, the ball club, they have a tendency to push me out before the game, and I’m uncomfortable with that.”
Tributes are plentiful. What I am searching for is a rarity: Scully on Scully, especially how and why he does the incomparable—a man on top of his game and on top of his field for 67 years.
Vin is America’s best friend. (“Pull up a chair….”) He reached such an exalted position not by talking about himself, not by selling himself, or, in the smarmy terminology of today, by “branding” himself, but by subjugating his ego. The game, the story, the moment, the shared experience…. They all matter more. …
I remind Vin about the home opener this year, when Koufax was among many former Dodgers greats who greeted him in a pregame ceremony on the mound.”
“I thought, Oh, wow. That’s nice,” he says. “Sandy has always been one of my favorites. Of all the players on the mound, he and I threw our arms around each other.”
Just then something magical happens.
I see it in his eyes. Vin is about to go on a trip. It’s the kind of trip that is heaven for a baseball fan: Vin is about to tell a story. For a listener, it’s like Vin inviting you to ride with him in a mid-century convertible, sun on your arms, breeze on your face, worries left at the curb. Destination? We’re good with wherever Vin wants to take us.
“Because, oh, I’m sure I’m the only person alive who saw Sandy when he tried out.”
And we’re off….
“Ebbets Field. We had played a game on kind of a gray day. Not a lovely day. And I was single, and the game was over early. I had nowhere to go, and somebody said, ‘They’re going to try out a lefthander.’ So I thought, Well, I’ll go take a look, and went down to the clubhouse. I looked over and my first thought was, He can’t be much of a player. The reason was he had a full body tan. Not what you call a truck driver’s tan, you know? Full body.
“But I did notice his back, which was unusual. Unusually broad. So I thought, I’ll go watch him, you know? And I had played ball at Fordham, so I saw some kids that could throw really hard and all of that. He threw hard and bounced some curveballs and … nice, but you know, I never thought, Wow, you’re unbelievable. Nothing like that at all. So what a scout I am.”
It’s classic Vin. He never speeds when he drives. He takes his time. He stops to note details, such as the weather and the expanse of a teenage Koufax’s back. The use of the word “so” to link his sentences, where most people use the sloppier “and,” is warm and friendly. It is one of his trademarks. He includes himself in the story, but only as a self-deprecating observer.
“His timing is impeccable,” Monday says. “He’s never in a rush. It’s like the game waits for him. We have a little joke among us. When Vin starts one of his stories, the batter is going to hit three foul balls in row, and he’ll have plenty of time to get it in. When the rest of us start one, the next pitch is a ground ball double play to end the inning.” …
From 1958 to ’68, with only a rare exception here or there, Dodgers fans in Los Angeles could see their team on television only in the nine to 11 annual games the team played in San Francisco. O’Malley blocked the national Game of the Week from the L.A. market, even when the Dodgers were on the road. Virtually the only way to “see” the Dodgers play was to hear Scully describe it—even if you were in the Coliseum. California’s booming car culture, its beautiful weather that encouraged a mobile citizenry and the early local start times for most road games made Scully’s voice ubiquitous.
After just two years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers left KMPC for KFI and a sponsorship deal with Union Oil and American Tobacco Company that paid the club $1 million annually, the game’s second biggest local media package, even with virtually no television income, behind only the Yankees. Scully was the driving force of the revenue. By 1964 the Dodgers were paying Scully more than most of their players—$50,000, which was more than three times the average player salary and almost half the earnings of Willie Mays, baseball’s highest paid player at $105,000.
“I had played six years in the major leagues,” says Monday, who grew up in Santa Monica and broke in with the Athletics in the American League. “It wasn’t until my seventh year, when I was with the Cubs and we played the Dodgers, that my own mother finally thought of me as a major leaguer. Because it wasn’t until then that she heard Vin Scully say my name during a broadcast.”
Circumstances created an ideal audience for Scully. By tone, wordsmithing and sheer talent, Scully turned that audience into generations of votaries. He became not only a Southern California star but also a national treasure, branching out to call 25 World Series on radio and television when baseball was king. (In 1953, at age 25, he was the youngest ever to call the Series; in 1955 he called the first one televised in color; and in 1986 he called the highest-rated game in history, the Mets’ Game 7 win over the Red Sox.) He was the lead announcer for CBS in the 1970s on football, golf and tennis; the lead announcer for NBC on baseball in the 1980s; and even a game-show host (It Takes Two) and afternoon talk show host (The Vin Scully Show) in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The man who called his first event, a 1949 Boston University–Maryland football game, from the roof of Fenway Park armed with a microphone, 50 yards of cable and a 60-watt bulb on a pole now can be heard worldwide by anyone with an Internet connection and an MLB.tv subscription (though, because of a cable carrier dispute, not in 70% of the Los Angeles viewing market).
“Many of the best announcers have some of the best qualities Vin may have,” says MLB Network’s Bob Costas. “The command of the English language, the terrific sense of drama, the ability to tell a story…. But it’s as if you had a golfer who was the best off the tee, the best with the long irons, the best with the short irons, the best short game and the best putting game.”
Time for another ride. Hop in. . . .“We were in the back of the auditorium,” Vin says. He is driving us back to Fordham Prep in the early 1940s. “I remember I said, ‘Larry, when we get out of here, what do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘I’d love to be a big league ballplayer.’
“And I said, ‘I wonder what those odds are.’ And then I said, ‘Well, you know, I’d like to be big league broadcaster. I wonder what those odds are.’
“And then I said, ‘How about this one for a long shot: How about you play, I broadcast, you hit a home run?’ And we said, ‘The odds, no one would be able to calculate that!’ ”
Larry was his friend, Larry Miggins. A few years later, on May 13, 1952, playing for the Cardinals, Larry Miggins hit his first major league home run. It happened at Ebbets Field against the Dodgers. On the call that inning in the broadcast booth happened to be Larry’s buddy from Fordham Prep, sharing duties with Red Barber and Connie Desmond.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” Scully says. “I mean, really, absolutely incredible. And probably the toughest home run call that I ever had to call because I was a part of it. He hit the home run against Preacher Roe, I’m pretty sure. And I had to fight back tears. I called ‘home run,’ and then I just sat there with this big lump in my throat watching him run around the bases. I mean, how could that possibly happen?”
Scully has called roughly 9,000 big league games, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to Canada to Australia and scores of places in between. He has called 20 no-hitters, three perfect games, 12 All-Star Games and almost half of all Dodgers games ever played—this for a franchise that was established in 1890. The home run by Miggins was and remains the closest Scully ever came to breaking down behind the microphone. …
Says Costas, “He never shouts, but he has a way within a range that he can capture the excitement. If you listen to the [1988 World Series] Gibson home run…. ‘In a year that has been so improbable…’ he’s letting the crowd carry Gibson around the bases, but then he has a voice that has a tenor quality that cuts through the crowd.”
Most every other great announcer is framed by singular calls—and Scully, from the 1955 Dodgers to Koufax to Aaron to Buckner to Gibson, has a plethora of them. Such a narrow view, however, sells short his greatness. Like listening to all of Astral Weeks, not just one track, Scully is best appreciated by the expanse of his craft.
“What he truly excels at,” Costas says, “is framing moments like that and getting in all the particulars so the drama and anticipation builds. You don’t always get the payoff, but he always sets the stage. Other announcers have great calls of special moments. What he’s incredibly good at is leading up to those moments—all the surrounding details and all the little brushstrokes to go with the broad strokes.”
Here is more of what sets Scully apart: his literate, cultured mind. Scully is a voracious reader with a fondness for Broadway musicals. He doesn’t watch baseball games when he’s not broadcasting them. “No, not at all,” he says. He has too many other interests.
He once quoted from the 1843 opera The Bohemian Girl after watching a high-bouncing ball on the hard turf of the Astrodome: “I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls.” When he appeared with David Letterman in 1990 he quoted a line from Mame. He suggested a title if Hollywood wanted to turn the 1980s Pittsburgh drug trials into a movie: From Here to Immunity. Last week, during a game against the Padres, he offered a history on the evolution of beards throughout history that referenced Deuteronomy, Alexander the Great and Abraham Lincoln.
Barber, his mentor, majored in education and wanted to become an English professor. Lindsey Nelson taught English after he graduated from college. Mel Allen went to law school. Ernie Harwell wrote essays and popular music. Graham McNamee started out as an opera singer. When Scully calls his last game—either the Dodgers’ regular-season finale on Oct. 2 in San Francisco or, if they advance, a postseason game—we lose not just the pleasure of his company with baseball but also the last vestige of the very roots of baseball broadcasting, when Renaissance men brought erudition to our listening pleasure.
“I really like to do the research,” he says. “So, in a sense, that’s a little bit in that renaissance area, the research of the game. Plus, I’ve always been—even in grammar school—always afraid to fail. So I always studied, not to be the bright guy but just to make sure that the good sisters didn’t knock me sideways, you know?”
A story: At age 88, in preparing for his 67th home opener, Scully notices a player on the opposing Diamondbacks’ roster with the name Socrates Brito. The minute he sees the name, Scully thinks, Oh, I can’t let that go! Socrates Brito! Inspired in the way of a rookie broadcaster, Scully dives into his research. So when Brito comes to the plate, Scully tells the story of the imprisonment and death by hemlock of Socrates, the Greek philosopher. Good stuff, but eloquentia perfecta asks more:
“But what in the heck is hemlock?” Scully tells his listeners. “For those of you that care at all, it’s of the parsley family, and the juice from that little flower, that poisonous plant, that’s what took Socrates away.”
It’s a perfect example of a device Scully uses to inform without being pedantic. He engages listeners personally and politely with conditionals such as For those of you that care … and In case you were wondering…. Immediately you do care and you do wonder.
Scully isn’t done with Socrates. In the ninth inning, Brito drives in a run with a triple to put Arizona ahead 3–1.
“Socrates Brito feeds the Dodgers the hemlock.”
Someone once asked Laurence Olivier what makes a great actor. Olivier responded, “The humility to prepare and the confidence to pull it off.” When Scully heard the quote, he embraced it as a most apt description of his own work. So I asked Scully, because he pulls it off with such friendliness, if he had a listener in mind when he broadcasts games.
“Yes. I think when I first started, I tried to make believe I was in the ballpark, sitting next to somebody and just talking,” he says. “And if you go to a ballgame and you sit there, you’re not going to talk pitches for three hours. You might say, ‘Wow, check out that girl over there walking up the aisle,’ or, ‘What do you think about who’s going to run for president?’ There’s a running conversation, not necessarily the game. So, that’s all part of what I’m trying to do—as if I’m talking to a friend, yes.” …
There was a moment at the end of the ceremony when the former players retreated to give Scully his own space and his moment near home plate. Gazing up on the adoring Dodger Stadium, where he has worked 55 of his 67 years in the business, Scully stood alone with his thoughts.
“I looked at him,” Monday says, “and I saw a look I never saw before. It was emotional. He never lost it, but it was wistful.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” I remind Vin of this, and then I tell him, “You can’t be this great for this long without enthusiasm. So, for Vin Scully, what are the points of enthusiasm?”
“Well, I guess the challenge to be prepared, number one,” he says. “As soon as I have a little breakfast, I’m on the computer checking rosters to make sure that in that dramatic moment [I know if] somebody comes into the game who wasn’t on the roster three days before. Again, the fear of failing.
“And then, there’s the one thing that to me is the most important, and that’s the crowd. The enthusiasm of the crowd is enough even on those days when I think, you know, I’d rather be home sitting under a tree and reading a book or something. I’ve been asked several times now already, ‘What would you miss the most when you retire?’ I said, ‘The crowd. The roar of the crowd.’”