The Baseball Bunker Archives
First Published 8/22/2022—It’s been said that if baseball had a poet laureate it would be Vin Scully. On August 2, we lost that voice and a national treasure. Upon hearing the news of the legendary broadcaster’s passing at the age of 94, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said, “There’s not a better storyteller, and I think everyone considers him family.” I believe both claims to be true. As a little boy in Brooklyn, a red headed Vin Scully would lie on a pillow underneath the family’s four-legged radio, snack on saltines and listen to football games. The roar of the crowds got him to thinking he would like to call these games some day and be a part of it. And be a part of it he was. In 2016, at the age of 88, Scully retired after calling the Dodgers games for 67 years, the longest tenure of any broadcaster for one team in history.
After serving in the Navy for a year, Scully attended Fordham University where he studied broadcasting, lettered and played outfield for the baseball team for two years while calling sports games on the School’s WFUV. He sent 150 letters to radio stations looking for work. Eventually he was noticed and recruited by legendary broadcaster Red Barber to call college games. Soon after, in 1950 at the age of 22, Scully would join Barber in the Dodgers radio booth. In 1953 a 25-year-old Scully would become the youngest person to broadcast a World Series, a record that still stands. In 1958 he would make the move to LA when the Dodgers relocated. Although he broadcast other sporting events, he always remained a Dodger constant. His poetic and lyrical style, his even tone, his positive demeaner, won him legions of baseball fans across the country, many of whom who had no rooting interest in the Dodgers. He was like listening to your grandfather’s stories through the radio. Fellow broadcaster Dick Enberg said of Scully, “He paints the picture more beautifully than anyone who’s ever called a baseball game.” And though known for his mastery of the English language, it was often his silence that was critical to his broadcast excellence. He knew when to let the game breathe. He allowed the listener to enjoy the “moment” and to hear the crowd reaction. He never buried us with useless statistics just to “fill” or have something to say. Unlike most frenetic and stress filled broadcast booths today that are overflowing with three or more chatty talking heads tripping over each other to present the next pointless stat and rushed to squeeze in endless bullet points, never failing to miss the actual game in an effort to hear themselves talk about exit velocity and launch angles and bat flips. Scully was a one man show, an oasis of solitude, relaxed, measured and calming. For many of us, he was the only “therapy” we needed. He allowed us to escape life’s annoyances, not remind us of or become one of them. Vin would seamlessly stitch together a quilt from patches of factoids and history and all manner of subjects to keep us warm and enthralled while never losing focus on the game. He preferred to tell us “who” someone was not “what” someone was.
If baseball is the thinking man’s game, Vin was the professor. He was a master.
Scully vowed to be unbiased and factual in his career. When asked to be more of a “homer” by management early on he stayed true to himself and said no. This did not prevent him from sharing his feelings on many subjects including his disdain for socialism. His patriotism was on full display when Rick Monday thwarted a would-be flag burner in the outfield and after baseball resumed after the attacks of 9/11. Or his social commentary when Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record in Atlanta against his Dodgers. “What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world – a black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking the record of an all-time idol.” In 1959 the Dodgers held Roy Campanella Night. The HOF catcher was paralyzed in a car crash and proceeds from the night where to help with his medical expenses. The lights were turned off as Pee Wee Reese wheeled Roy to the pitcher’s mound as a record of more than 93,000 fans held candles for the vigil. Scully eloquently asked, “Let there be a prayer for every light, and wherever you are, maybe you, in silent tribute to Campanella, can also say a prayer for his well-being.” Scully was deeply religious and often shared his faith with listeners. He even narrated a CD of the Holy Rosary for Christian players. Throughout his life his Roman Catholic faith would be tested. He was only seven when his father died. In 1972 his wife of 15 years Joan died suddenly, making him a widower with three children. He lost his son Michael at age 33 in a helicopter crash. In 2021 his second wife Sandra passed after a long battle with ALS.
They were married 47 years. Through all the tragedies, Vin endured with grace. “I believe it’s all part of God’s plan,” he would say after Sandras passing. Always kind and humble, always deflecting accolades and applause with his typical “It’s just me” style, Scully would express his gratitude saying, “God has been incredibly kind to allow me to be in the position to watch and to broadcast all these somewhat monumental events.
I’m really filled with thanksgiving and the fact that I’ve been given such a chance to view. But none of those are my achievements; I just happened to be there.” Well, you did have achievements Vin. He is the only non-player in the Dodgers Ring of Fame, the Dodger broadcast booth bears his name, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1982 he won the Ford C Frick Award. He won the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award. He has a Day and a street named after him in LA and has been named California Sportscaster of the year 21 times. He has won Emmy’s including one for lifetime achievement. He is in the National Radio, Sportscasters and Baseball Halls of Fame. And he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by
President Obama, the highest civilian honor, to name but a few. In his remarks President Obama told the crowd how Scully asked him if he was sure he had the right person. Scully said, “I’m just an old baseball announcer.” The President reminded Vin that, “To us, you are an old friend.” Vin Scully called over 10,000 games and in a twist of fate his final game was the Dodgers clinching the division over his boyhood team the Giants. In all, Vin called 25 World Series, 18 no hitters, 12 All-Star Games, and three perfect games including Don Larson’s, the only perfect game in a World Series. To us baseball fans you called 10,000 perfect games and we thank you for each and every one of them.
First Published 8/20/2022—Happy Birthday to Todd Helton. The “Toddfather” played his entire 17-year career with the Colorado Rockies. At the time of his retirement in 2013, Helton led the franchise in just about every offensive category including games played (2247), hits (2519), runs (1401), doubles (592), HR (369), and RBI (1406) to name just a few. He is the first MLB player to have 35 doubles for ten consecutive seasons (1999-2007). He is the first Rocky to have his number retired (17). In college he won the Dick Howser Award for National Collegiate Player of the Year. In 1998 he finished second to Cub P Kerry Wood for Rookie of the Year. The first baseman would go on to accumulate 3 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers, 5 All-Stars and a batting title in 2000. Helton is ranked no.8 all-time in fielding percentage (.9962) by first basemen. He is only one of three first basemen to have at least a .315 average in eight consecutive years (Bill Terry and Lou Gehrig). Helton would finish his career a .316 hitter with 2500+ hits, 550+ doubles, and 350+ home runs. Only one other player in baseball has done that, Stan “The Man” Musial. Time will tell if Todd Helton will be the first Rocky in the Hall of Fame. He has the numbers and accolades, but perhaps Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post made the best case for Helton’s cause in a 2004 Denver Post article. “If the baseball gods are keeping score, (Todd) Helton will be the first player wearing a Rockies cap in Cooperstown. In this era of the asterisk, when a bleacher bum cannot be certain if the homer he just grabbed was the product of a juiced ball or a synthetic slugger, there are no doubts about Helton. Helton is a pure meat-and-potatoes, made-in-America athlete. He is the pride of the Rockies. The Colorado first baseman never cheats a paying customer. Loves winning, hates to talk about himself. His game is no brag all bat.”
First Published 7/24/22—In a world seemingly full of the seven deadly sins, seven players who represent the good qualities of humanity went into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday.
If the childish rhetoric on some “news” channels or the general negativity of society, have you feeling down, I suggest you watch the induction ceremony, baseball fan or not. I suggest you turn your phone off and let the seven speeches given Sunday reaffirm your faith in our country. I also suggest some tissues. Thankfully, the toxicity and arrogance of Washington D.C. did not reach Cooperstown, at least not Sunday. In contrast to the deadly sins, it was a pleasure to watch and listen to the virtues of patience, honesty, kindness, charity, perseverance and humility on full display. Patience.
The dapper Jim Kaat spoke of his dad turning down the temptation of a $25,000 offer that likely would have allowed his son to be in the majors immediately, but in a limited roll. Knowing many players did not last with similar offers, his dad instead took a $4,000 offer for his son to start in the minors. That patience led to Jim learning baseball deeper allowing him to have a 25-year career in the bigs, the third longest in history. Honesty. Gil Hodges won three World Series with the Dodgers and managed the “Miricle Mets” to their first title ever. We lost Gil in 1972, so his daughter Irene gave his induction speech. She spoke of his Marine days teaching scared Japanese children to play baseball during WW2.
She also spoke of him, having just won the World Series for the Mets, waiting to make a long-distance call until he got home and not from his managers office as to not run up a charge. Kindness. Twins great Tony Oliva joked about his English and his wife’s Spanish while sending nothing but kind thoughts to the people of his adopted home of Minnesota. Charity. Three-time Red Sox Champion David Ortiz did more than hit 541 home runs, he helped heal a city after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Today he runs the David Ortiz Children’s Fund that provides cardiac services for kids in his native Dominican Republic and his new home of New England. Big Papi showed his appreciation of this country further by becoming a US citizen in 2008. Perseverance. White Sox great Minnie Minoso left the sugar cane fields of Cuba to be among the first players to cross the color line. Bud Fowler, who was born just down the road from Cooperstown in 1858, played in over 25 states and Canada trying to get a steady role with a white team that would allow a black player. He would die in poverty but until Jackie Robinson came along, he would be the only known black man to play 10 professional seasons.
Humility. Buck O’Neil was among the most interesting and lovable people in all of baseball’s history. He had an excellent career as both a player and manager in the Negro Leagues. He was a scout for the Cubs who found three players that would make the Hall of Fame before him. He eventually became the first black coach in baseball (1962 Cubs). He was also a huge part in the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Despite not making the Hall while living, Buck never complained. We lost a national treasure in 2006 at the age of 94. Famous for his stories and kind, gentle, grandfatherly demeanor.
The humble kid from Florida, who use to harvest celery to help support his family, who shagged fly balls of Future Yankee Hall of Famers in Spring Training practices as a kid, who spoke glowingly of all, would never say he “deserved” to be in the Hall. He would only say, “God’s been good to me. They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.” Sunday’s ceremonies not only showcased baseball, but they also showcased what America is and what we can be. Be they white, black, Latin or another, America is a melting pot for people seeking a dream. The goal of life and baseball are the same, to find home. Seven more people, from very different backgrounds, persevered and found home in Cooperstown Sunday.
What is more American than that? The Baseball Hall of Fame is meant to preserve the history of the game and the people who played it or where a part of it in some way. Perhaps too, it is helping preserve our country by helping restore our souls.
First Published 7/23/22— Don Drysdale would have been 89 years old Saturday. The Dodger HOF pitcher won a Cy Young, 3 World Series and was an All-Star 9 times. He set many records including once recording six consecutive shutout wins.
When his rotator cuff forced him to retire early, he held the record with six 200+ strikeout seasons (later broken by Tom Seaver with 10). He was also regarded as one of the fiercest pitchers of all time. He led the league in hit by pitch a record six times. “My own little rule was two-for-one. If one of my teammates got knocked down, then I knock down two on the other team.” One legendary story about Drysdale happened when his Dodgers hosted the rival, Cardinals. St Louis catcher Gene Oliver admired a home run too long and yelled for the bat boy to “come get the bat,” loud enough for Drysdale to hear. The next Oliver at bat Drysdale drilled him with a fast ball.
As Oliver was writhing in pain on the ground teammates and trainers gathered around him. Drysdale said loud enough for everyone to hear, “hey bat boy, come get Oliver.”
First Published 7/11/22 — Most baseball fans are familiar with Fernando Valenzuela and the phenomenon known as “Fernandomania.” The pitcher who led the Dodgers back to a World Series title in 1981 with his lefthanded, knee-lift up to his ear, corkscrew, eyes to the heavens delivery. Some baseball fans are familiar with Robert “Babo” Castillo.
He would pitch nine seasons for the Dodgers and Twins earning a 3.94 ERA over 250 games. Fewer fans know Mike Brito, but without him, Fernando and Babo and dozens more major leaguers might never have been. Mike Brito was born in Cuba in 1935 and played in the Washington Senators minor league system as a catcher. He reached Triple-A in the 50’s and then played professionally in the Mexican League in the 60’s. He later moved to LA, drove truck a while to make ends meet and operated his own adult amateur league “The Mike Brito League” in LA.
He found work as a Mexican League scout because his passion to stay in baseball was so strong. Eventually he was asked to scout for the Dodgers by then GM, Al Campanis. He jumped at the opportunity. Brito recalled, “It’s like you find a guy in the desert and ask him if he wants a glass of water.” He would often suit up for his own league games when schedules allowed. In one game, with bases loaded, Brito would strike-out.
Unsure of the pitch that got him, he would ask the pitcher post-game. The Pitcher was Robert “Babo” Castillo, and the pitch was a screwball. The very first player Brito signed was Robert “Babo” Castillo. The next year he signed Fernando Valenzuela. Both he and Campanis agreed Fernando had electric stuff but was in need of another pitch.
They sent him to work with Babo and in two weeks’ time Fernando had mastered what would become his signature pitch, the screwball. Fernando would become the winningest Mexican pitcher all-time, earn a Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Award (the first to earn both in the same year). He would win three games in the 1981 World Series helping the Dodgers beat the Yankees in seven. Fernando would play 17 seasons and earn six All-Star Games. In all, over 30 players would make the majors thanks to Brito’s talent evaluating skills including Yasiel Puig, Juan Castro and current Dodger pitcher Julio Urias to name a few. Well respected among his peers, Brito would be named International Scout of the Year in 2014, win the Tony Gwynn Award in 2021 for lifelong contributions to the game and was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Brito was a fixture at Dodger Stadium along with his cigar and Panama hat behind home plate with his radar gun.
“You’re not going to believe it, but I use to smoke cigars when I was 15 in Cuba,” Brito once told an interviewer. For more than four decades and well into his 80’s, Brito helped keep the Dodgers among the elite teams in all of baseball. He even played a role in one of baseball’s most iconic moments, Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Brito was asked to scout A’s closer Dennis Eckersley before the series began. Brito noted Eck would often throw a two-strike backdoor slider to lefties. He passed this info on to Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda and the team. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Lasorda would pinch-hit an injured Kirk Gibson. Gibby would hit a two-strike slider for, arguably, the most memorable walk-off in baseball history.
Mike Brito passed away Thursday night at 87. “My heart may be very heavy right this moment,” Valenzuela said. The next time Fernando aims his eyes to the heavens he’ll see his friend scouting from the best seats in the house.