I miss Vin Scully.
I am not a die hard Dodger fan. I have only been to Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium once. I was attending my now wife’s cousin’s wedding in Oxnard and as part of the trip we went to Dodger Stadium for a game. Even then I went to the game more to see the stadium than the team. The Dodgers pummeled the Phillies and we got to experience the most annoying Phillies fan on the West Coast.
The most annoying Phillies fan on the West Coast. Philadelphia was losing 6-0 in the 2nd inning at this point. (The Winning Run/ KCL)
My primary love for the Dodgers is Vin Scully. In recent years, I always enjoyed listening to the broadcast when Los Angeles were at home so that I could listen to the voice of baseball. It never mattered what the score was, I just wanted to listen to the stories. The history of the foul pole, the rise in popularity of beards on ball players, or anecdotes about some player who has not played a game in decades. Yes, please, and thank you. There was no need for a partner, Vin Scully could do it all. He could call the game, debate controversial calls, supply the history of almost anything going on, and provide endless entertainment and information.
I have tried to watch a few Dodger games this season, but Charlie Steiner, Rick Monday, Joe Davies, Nomar Garciaparra, and Orel Hershiser just are not Vin Scully. It is unfair to compare these broadcasters to the greatest of all time. Steiner and Davies are professional, they earned the opportunity to call games in the Majors. Monday, Garciaparra, and Hershiser bring their playing experience and expertise to the booth. In some ways it may be better with this new group of Dodger broadcasters, but the retirement of Vin Scully leaves something missing from every Dodger home game.
I have never met Vin Scully, doubt I ever will. The closest I will probably ever get was sitting in the outfield bleachers that day, straining my eyes to see if I could see the voice of baseball in his broadcast booth calling the game. Watching a master ply their craft allows you a look inside a world where greatness is the norm. I wanted to watch.
The score never mattered, it was about spending time with my buddy, Mr. Scully. (Jean Fruth/ National Baseball Hall of Fame)
My now sister-in-law went to the game with us and asked me why I kept straining to see the press boxes. My now wife told her it was because I was trying to see my buddy, Vince Gulley. I should explain. When I started dating my wife five years ago she knew the bare minimum about baseball. She has learned more than she ever wanted to, mostly through exhaustion and/or osmosis. Even now she can only name a handful of announcers. Marty Brennaman, mostly because she is from and we live in Cincinnati. Harry Caray, Skip Caray, and Chip Caray because my love for the Atlanta Braves, and thus the connection of the Caray family. She knows Joe Buck, but she has a physical reaction at the mere mention of his name, that turns even more sour if he is “announcing” a baseball or football game. It took some time but she now knows Vin Scully. For several years she did not understand how to pronounce his name and thought I was saying Vince Gulley. The many late nights I have stayed up late just watching a Dodgers game after a long day of work she began calling him my buddy.
Vin Scully as my buddy is an easy visualization. Listening to him call a game was like watching a game with a friend and just talking about what was happening and anything else that came up along the way. Maybe it was about the game on the field, or maybe it was just something that came to mind. It did not matter what it was, listening to Vin Scully was always a pleasure. The game on the field was central, but not necessarily required for the time spent between Vin Scully and his friends to be quality time. He knew when to talk and when to just let the sounds of the game flow over you and transport you to Dodger Stadium.
I miss Vin Scully. I am glad I was able to spend so many late nights and sunny Sunday afternoons with him. I am also glad he was able to leave the game at a time and in a fashion that suited him. There is a certain justice in seeing the greatest of all time walk away at a time and place of their own choosing, not when age, injury, or declining ability force them out. During his farewell address to Congress, General Douglas MacArthur said, “old generals don’t die, they just fade away.” Vin Scully was never a general, but his retirement has allowed him to fade away, just the like sun on a baseball diamond where for so many decades he called the game.
Note-taking is a tough task. It requires you to have an organized mental system to judge what is important and what isn’t necessary to recount for general understanding. Looking at box scores can give you a general understanding of what went on in a baseball game. Then there’s the scorecard. It’s a triumph of shorthand. This simple system, through development over decades, has a broad language and style that is the textbook definition of a picture saying a thousand words.
Deciding I wanted to learn how to fill out a scorecard came about for several reasons. Mostly that I wanted to learn more about the game. One of my favorite comedians talks about her love for sports and mentions that she enjoys filling out scorecards when she watches games live.
I also thought it might help me get a better idea of the flow of a game. I can still look at the box score and team stats of a football game then piece together a good idea of how the game went. I can’t say I can do that with a baseball box score. What I realized is that it’s because there are so many more details that matter to me when trying to interpret how things went, such as what part of the line up scored, what sort of pitch counts were occurring, etc.
On the other hand, I know baseball fans who bring books to the game because they enjoy being at the ballpark and listening to game being played. In the same way, I’ve often been playing Dodgers home games on my computer and just listening to Vin Scully call the game while I putz around on the internet.
All of this introduction to basically say that I was having a bad day and decided to drive a few hours away to catch a Double A game between the Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Erie Seawolves where I decided I would also learn to fill out a scorecard on the fly.
I decided in the morning that I would head down for the game. So I started looking online for instructions on how to fill out a scorecard. I was shocked at how many different methods people have posted. Here are a few that I found by typing in “how to fill out a baseball scorecard” via Google.
I was planning on getting a program for the game and thought there was a pretty good chance there would be a scorecard in it. If there wasn’t, I’m sure I would have been able to get one from somewhere in the stadium. If not, I was already bringing a notebook to take down my thoughts about the game, so I would use that if I had to.
I got the stadium about 90 minutes before the game started. I had already missed out on the free t-shirt giveaway and the courtyard area was packed with Girl Scouts who were getting to have a sleepover at the park after the game. Sadly, they weren’t selling cookies.
But I got 32 oz beer and some food – a pound of curly fries, a burger, and some chicken tenders then found my seat. If you’re reading this then it’s not likely that you need to be reminded that minor league baseball is quite awesome. However, it can always be restated because the beer, food, hat, and ticket cost me less Tubmans than I’ve got fingers on one hand.
I mean got this great hat.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (The Winning Run/ BL)
And this was my viewpoint for the game (one of the opening pitches).
First pitch from Richmond (The Winning Run/ BL)
There was a scorecard in the game program but the gloss on the paper made it nearly impossible to write on it with the pen I brought. So by the 2nd inning, I was madly scribbling together a scorecard in my notebook. I had missed the announcement of the lineups so I spent part of my time trying to cobble together everyone’s position. I didn’t mark basepath travel or pitch counts. It’s pretty sparse but if you gave me some time, I could give you a decent account of the game that would go beyond the box score.
My first attempt to score a game. (The Winning Run/ BL)
I know I missed a lot. But I was engaged the whole time into the game. It also went by rather quickly. When you’re keeping track of the action, you’ll see that there’s a lot more going on in baseball than you think.
Derek offered to help me learn how to score a game. The beauty of the internet is that we cued up a game from earlier that day and watched it together while chatting online. I had run out of printer ink though so I sketched out another scorecard, using the following as a template.
And here is what I got.
A little practice can go a long way. (The Winning Run/ BL)
I think I did a much better job this time around.
As I looked over the various instructions and thought back to some of the methods people have discussed with me in the past week, I’m amazed at the richness of baseball vocabulary. Even as I was learning from Derek, I think we disagreed on which K was a strikeout looking and a strikeout swinging. If the shortstop fields the ball, tags a force-out at 2B and then makes the throw to 1B for the double play, how do you score it? My first thought was to put down 6-3 DP but I got another suggestion of 6-6-3 because the first number is the person who fields it and then subsequent numbers are for each player that is involved with an out. But what about a cutoff man? 8-6-2 play to catch someone at home plate?
The language of the baseball scorecard is something amazing to converse over. If you look carefully you see what’s important to the scorer when they follow the game. One of the above linked examples includes writing a line to illustrate the direction of a ball put into play. Some scorecards include balls and strikes as that can tell you how a pitcher and line up are squaring off against each other. Other people instead look to the bottom of the card to see the inning totals and innings pitched to get a similar idea.
As I am finding my baseball storytelling voice, the scorecard is a fun way to define that voice and get snapshots of its development. I haven’t looked it up so I’m speculating that Vin Scully probably keeps a scorecard of the games among what must be a serious list of concise notes as he calls and comments on games all by himself.
We keep track of the things that are important to us. Our notes take on a language that allows us to share stories and relate our interpretations of events. So how we track things becomes an integral part of that retention.
The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond by Jeff Silverman is a collection of excellent baseball stories. Some recount real events on the diamond, whereas some leap from the imagination of their authors. The book includes the classic comedy of Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First”, which I always find hilarious. Al Stump brings Ty Cobb back to life and shows a side of the Georgia Peach which many fans never saw. The immortal Red Barber discusses Jackie Robinson and the lead up to the permanent breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Gary Smith follows the home run chase of 1998. It was more than just Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Vin Scully calls the final inning of Sandy Koufax throwing a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. The missed greatness of Pete Reiser is told by W. C. Heinz.
The stories Jeff Silverman chooses to include in this book are great for the novice fan and for the baseball fanatic. The art of the short story is on full display. The writers do not have the chapters to develop characters and story lines. Rather they must develop the entirety of the story through careful selection of every word. This to me makes these stories come to life, as the reader does not get lost in the descriptive language. Letting the reader visualize the story for themselves, with the author as the guide is what makes great story telling.
Baseball books typically dive deep into the sport and focus on specific themes, people, or events. The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told deviates from this and to great success. Silverman provides a brief introduction to each piece to get the reader the proper context before they embark on the story. This is a great read, especially for those of us who take public transportation in our daily lives. Silverman does not require long stretches of time for the book to be read and enjoyed. His change of pace with this book is just what baseball fans need for filling those minutes during their commute, at lunch, or before bed.
40 years ago today, April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king with his 715th career home run. The most revered record in Major League Baseball, perhaps in sports, passed from arguably the greatest player ever to a man who faced increasing racism with every home run he hit as he approached Ruth. The grace which Aaron displayed in the face of the ever increasing threats and media pressure showed the true character of the man. He was, and remains, a well-spoken and confident man, but you would never confuse his confidence for arrogance, he let his greatness speak for itself. Hank Aaron remains one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.
Aaron’s 715th home run is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. The packed house at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves playing the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers before a crowd of 53,775. Al Downing pitching for the Dodgers. The high kick and Downing delivered to Hank Aaron. The ball flying over the ball over the left-centerfield fence with the quick and easy swing. Announcer Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully each giving their own infamous call of the home run. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker pointing towards the fence as he rose from a knee on the on-deck circle. Dodger leftfielder Bill Buckner climbing the wall trying to make a play. Braves relief pitcher Tom House catching the ball, and eventually returning it to Aaron. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers second baseman, and Bill Russell, the Dodgers shortstop, congratulating him as he rounded second base. The two fans running onto the field and running along with Aaron as he headed for third. The mob of people who greeted Aaron at home plate, the bear hug his mother gave him. The short, yet eloquent speech,
~“Thank God it’s over.”
While I was not even born yet when this happened, I have seen and heard about Aaron’s 715th home run enough to feel like I was there. Just watching a video of it gives me a bit of butterflies in my stomach. It is a truly magical moment in baseball history.
The man who broke Aaron’s record had a very different experience as he marched towards the record. The closer Barry Bonds came to hitting 756, the louder the noise become regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. More and more debate about whether he should even be, playing or if he should be suspended for his transgressions, or if his accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them. Yes Aaron faced an onslaught of racism, and no doubt Bonds did too from similarly ignorant people, although it seems less so which showed the progress of American society during the in the 33 years which Aaron held the record. However, I believe much of the ridicule and animosity against Bonds was due to his own actions. Aaron is by no means a perfect person, but Bonds epitomizes the steroid era and its assault on the record books. This for many baseball fans was, and is, unforgiveable.
Bonds is the all-time home run record holder, I do not dispute this. I was alive when it happened, so you would think I would remember more of the details of his breaking Hank Aaron’s record. It happened less than seven years ago, so it has not been that long ago. However, if I were to be put on the spot all I could tell you is the game was played in San Francisco in 2007. Not much else.
The story of Bonds’ historic night is much less romantic. On August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record during the Giants game against the Washington Nationals. He hit the home run off of Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, before a crowd of 43,154. Bengie Molina was on deck. It was not nearly the same celebration of the game and its records which Aaron passing Ruth elicited. Bonds passing Aaron should be a moment that is played over and over again by Major League Baseball, but it is not. Putting it mildly, Bonds is a polarizing figure in baseball, ask Jeff Kent. His mere presence at Giants Spring Training this year set off a media frenzy about whether he should be there. He was also asked again about his performance-enhancing drug use, which he still tap dances around. Bonds will never be the beloved figure that Aaron is; it is just not in his personality.
Where does this leave us? In my opinion the Home Run King remains Hank Aaron, even though Barry Bonds has hit more home runs. The performance-enhancing drug cloud which surrounded Bonds’ career, especially after he became a San Francisco Giant, has led to cries for him to be stripped of his records. I am strongly against the use of PEDs, and believe those who are found guilty of using them should be punished, as I have previously stated here. Throwing someone out of baseball is not the same as removing their records and statistics from the game. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, but his records remain. Pose like Bonds is an integral part of baseball history which should not be forgotten, good or bad. Bonds, judging by the 36.2% and 34.7% of votes he received in his first two years of eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, will never receive the ultimate honor of being enshrined with the immortals of baseball. This will have to suffice as his punishment.
Like Pete Rose, Bonds will be remembered but never honored in Cooperstown for his accomplishments. The argument against removing Bonds from the record book is simple, if you start with him, where do you stop? Do you remove Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, what about Leo Durocher for his relationship with known gamblers, or Ty Cobb for his pronounced racism, and the list goes on and on. If baseball does decide to throw all these players, coaches, and other associates of baseball out, who plays the judge and jury? This is an entire other debate. You can ban someone from baseball, but you cannot change what they did. It would alter the outcomes of games, and there would be no end to revising the history of the game. Revising history makes the record book a mockery and without any value to be reverenced. Bonds and the steroid era are a part of the history of baseball, not necessarily a good part, but nonetheless it is a part that should be remembered.
Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are two very different people. Aaron goes about his business with a quiet confidence and people truly listen when he speaks, as they have respect for his insights and opinions. Bonds has always had more flair and more of a demonstrative personality, which has rubbed many people the wrong way, just ask Bonds’ Pirates Manager Jim Leyland. People tend to only listen when Bonds speaks because they are waiting for a confession, not because they respect him. Neither Aaron’s or Bonds’ approach are completely right or wrong, they are just different. Both players were among the elite when they played. Both were clearly Hall of Fame caliber players, however Bonds chose to hang on to his youthful strength a little longer than father time would naturally allow. While Major League Baseball and the Players Union have in recent years become serious about weeding out the cheaters in the game, Bonds was like many players before him and after him seeking an advantage. Some players use a corked bat, like Sammy Sosa, or a foreign substance on the baseball, like Gaylord Perry, Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. While I wish all sports could rid themselves of these drugs, the past is the past. It happened. Baseball, and sports in general, has two choices. They can remember the past, both good and bad, and learn from it. The other option is to revise or erase the past and over time repeat the same mistakes. There are two options, but only one should ever be taken. It is best to remember the past and its blemishes and to work to never repeat those mistakes.
40 years ago, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’ record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball. While Aaron no longer holds the record he is still the Home Run King. Simply having the most of something does not make you the king of something in sports; rather you are the record holder. Cy Young holds the record for most career wins, but he is not the King of Pitching. Arguments can be made for Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and a few others. The title of King is reserved for those who are among the elites, yet also receive the reverence of the fans. Aaron had the record and lost it. However, Bonds has not been enthroned as the Home Run King because he lacks the admiration from the fans, and I doubt he ever will, and he has only himself to blame.
The time has come once again to shake off the cold of winter and rejoin the Boys of Summer. While it may be strange to have Opening Day for the 2014 Major League Baseball season in Australia, it is with great joy that another season starts. As with every season there are countless questions to be answered, unexpected achievements to be witnessed, and a World Series Champion to crown. Opening Day gives hope to every team. Cubs fans know this year is the year. Marlins fans know they can win another World Series this year. The Astros try to avoid losing 100 games again. Robinson Cano expects to lead the Mariners resurgence. Vin Scully returns to the air ways. Derek Jeter trots out to shortstop. Mike Trout looks to win his first of many MVPs. Families and friends go through the turnstiles and take their seats. The home plate umpire adjusts his mask to make sure it is nice and tight. Spring Training is winding down and the regular season is about to heat up. Baseball is back. Let’s paint the foul lines. Cook the hot dogs. Pour some beer. Sing the Star Spangled Banner. Cheer the home team as they take the field. Listen for the home plate umpire declare, “PLAY BALL!” Watch as the pitcher winds up and with the release of the ball from his hand let’s get this season started.