In my perfect world, dogs would live to 40, ice cream would be good for you, and Vin Scully would never retire. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?
Much of my new book High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania: A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years, 1977-1981 is a celebration of the past. Once upon a time, the Dodgers were the Yankees of the National League, something unfathomable for anyone under 30. In fact, they faced their American League rivals three times from ’77 to ’81. These were indeed the glory years.
Now, with Magic Johnson’s group assuming ownership of the team, there’s been a lot of buzz about restoring the team to “the front page,” in Magic’s words. The new regime’s organizational philosophy seems to be defined by a desire to insert the past into the present. This is a smart move. The quickest way to re-energize longtime fans is to talk about Dodger tradition. Player development, spending what it takes to win, making Dodger Stadium a fan-friendly destination, reconnecting with Jackie Robinson’s widow -- so far, all of these promises have been music to our collective ears, much like Vin Scully‘s polished baritone radiating out of our speakers on a warm twilight evening in the City of Angels.
Which brings us to the maestro himself. Vin Scully was a big reason I got sucked into baseball in the first place as an 11-year-old. I’m not alone. There are countless others whose indoctrination to the Dodgers can be attributed to Vin’s lyrical voice, colorful storytelling, and classic home run calls, which are an integral part of my book and my website www.dodgerglory.com. Even incoming president Stan Kasten’s first call after the sale was to Vin Scully, according to the New York Daily News.
At 84 years young, the legendary announcer is still going strong. But for the 2012 season -- his 63rd with the Dodgers -- Vin has already insinuated that he’ll limit his broadcasts to home games, and road games in Arizona and California. One can imagine a day when he only announces home games, like Laker announcer Chick Hearn’s arrangement near the end of his career. And then… And then…? I banish the thought.
While we fans can choose to stick our heads in the sand, the Dodgers are in a different position. It’s great that the new owners are so focused on the past; however, the radio and TV booth is one area where they would be well served to immediately start planning for the future. Vin needs a successor. No offense to Charley Steiner or Rick Monday, but neither can carry Vin’s mouthpiece -- and they’d be the first to tell you that. The problem is, nobody can.
But we live in a big country. There are no doubt some diamonds in the rough. For a while during the McCourt era, there was vague talk of the Dodgers bringing San Diego Padres’ announcer Matt Vasgersian into the booth. Matt reminds you of a young Bob Costas -- well-spoken, erudite, an ability to rise above the banal -- but there were contractual issues and the chatter faded away like so much radio static. Vasgersian is now employed by MLB Network.
Now that Kasten has promised to beef up player scouting and development, one of his first moves should be to assign someone to find the Next Vin Scully (to the extent that one can replace a living icon). If the Dodgers are going to become the crown jewel of baseball again, that luster has to extend to every corner of the organization, including the broadcast booth. Most people experience Dodger games through radio or TV broadcasts. The voice that we welcome into our cars, our living rooms, our ear-buds is our portal to the team, a mirror of the franchise itself.
The search for a successor will take time. But time will allow for this appointed person to scour broadcasts on the Internet, even comb the country the way old-time scouts used to. I don’t think he should poach from another major league team, where this play-by-play man will already be entrenched. And please, no more personalities from ESPN, or former big-league jocks. Vin himself was signed straight out of Fordham University at 22 years of age.
I would direct this sleuth of the airwaves to immerse himself in minor league broadcasts, from rookie ball to Triple-A. He should listen to broadcasts from other sports, like college basketball and football, even high-profile high school wrestling tournaments. He should sample thousands of audition tapes, put out casting calls to bi-coastal and local voiceover agencies, blanket all sports media for that one singular, timeless voice that stands out above the rest and you could imagine calling Dodger games for the next 40 to 50 years. A Vin for future generations, someone whom younger fans can claim as their own and grow old with.
As part of a generation that got hooked on Vin, I also got hooked on the Dodgers. And that ultimately is what should speak the loudest to Magic’s group: Finding a young wunderkind broadcaster as Vin’s successor just makes good economic sense. Hook one young fan in with a voice (while also not disenfranchising older fans), and you’ve hooked a Dodger fan for life, one who will spend ridiculous sums of money to express his fandom.
A word of warning: After spending two billion dollars to purchase the team, the new owners will feel pressure to find a “known quantity” to eventually fill Vin’s shoes. But for a fraction of that person’s salary, they could find the perfect unknown who could rise to prominence the way Vin did. (It would be even better if they found him while Vin was still announcing, so he could learn from the master, the way Vin did with Red Barber.) It’s an unenviable -- some would say impossible -- task for Magic and company. But it has to start on the day they inherit the keys to the kingdom. It will be one of the best investments in the team’s future that they could ever make.
Paul Haddad’s book High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania: A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years, 1977-1981 (Santa Monica Press) is available now in Los Angeles-area bookstores and online booksellers.
Paul will be in Echo Park April 4 to read from the book at at 7:30 p.m.