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Venerating Vin

In all of his 67 seasons of describing Dodger baseball, not once did Vin Scully, who was honored all weekend in Los Angeles, harken back to his big league playing days. That's obviously because he didn't have any.

Vin did play the outfield at Fordham University in the 1940s before turning his full attention to broadcasting. However, being the humble sort, it's doubtful that Scully would have relived his diamond exploits on the air even if he had played major league baseball. Unfortunately that is not always the case with many former players who have remained in the game as broadcasters.

The scene in L.A. was memorable from the ceremony before Friday's game against the Rockies with "Vin" chalked behind the mound, along the baselines in foul territory, and behind home plate. Players doffed their caps in the direction of the press box as they came to bat on Sunday. The love and appreciation for the man who called the games from the days of Don Newcombe all the way to Clayton Kershaw were genuine and palpable.

However, once the weekend's games began, Scully, who works without a sidekick, did what he does best. With virtually no dead times of silence, Scully tells his audience what's happening on the field while disclosing factoids about players from both teams.

Anecdotes from his remarkable career are sprinkled into the conversation - and it is a conversation because he's speaking to the each individual listener - but the stories rarely are about him. His mastery of the language is legendary both in terms of vocabulary and his ability to turn a phrase into a descriptive image, such as when, just prior to Kirk Gibson's historic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Scully observed, "Gibson, shaking his left leg making it quiver like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly."

On Friday, Colorado pitcher Jon Gray got into a jam and loaded the bases in the first inning. Scully told his listeners that the opposition is hitting .471 against Gray with three runners on. Sure enough, Dodger catcher Yasmani Grandal singled in two runs.

While extolling the promise and potential of the 24-year-old Gray, Vin pointed out that hitters batting second in the lineup are hitting .361 against the hard-throwing right-hander compared to .238 overall. Remember, this is a pitcher from the opposing team, not a Dodger player.

Once Dodger reliever Josh Fields entered the game, Vin pointed out that Fields was a first-round draft choice of the Mariners in 2008 after a successful college career at the University of Georgia.

Once Scully mentioned Georgia, he added that he always thinks of Ray Charles as in "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Georgia on My Mind." In a post-game interview, Scully related the story that Charles, being blind and a Dodger fan, loved to listen to Scully on the radio. During a dark time in his life, the great Ray Charles, suffering from deep depression, asked to be introduced to Scully.

"It was a heartwarming experience," said Scully. "He had lost interest in living, but there was one thread and that was listening to baseball games. It kept him alive and got him out of depression."

My sense is that Vin Scully acknowledges and respects the fact that if fans want to watch or listen to a ballgame, they have little choice as to who will report and describe the contest. In this media-saturated age, our insatiable appetites for news and commentary are fed by thousands of websites on the Internet while radio, TV, and even newspapers, of which there are a few remaining, fill in the gaps. The choices are staggering.

But for Sox fans listening on car radios, only Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson can give us play-by-play and commentary. Steve Stone, Ken Harrelson and now Jason Benetti provide the television coverage in our living rooms and man caves. If you don't like their presentation, too bad. That's all you get.

Scully is the consummate journalist. He loves the Dodgers, but he doesn't root for them in his broadcasts. What he does root for is the game of baseball. He reveres the players' talents, the intricacies and beauty of the game, the history, and the idea that each game is different from all the others. More than anything else, he venerates the fans by painting an understandable image of what's happening on the field while filling in background information that is pertinent to the action in front of him. The superfluous fluff that characterizes too many broadcasts is absent from Scully's presentation.

Of course, no two broadcasters are the same, and there are as many styles as there are men and women who have these jobs. Scully just seems to be the most widely respected of them all.

The five men employed by the White Sox in the broadcast booths - all but Benetti are former players - tend to cushion the action on the field with attempts at humor along with frequent references to their own major league careers. Harrelson, Stone, Jackson, and Farmer have a cumulative total of 81 seasons broadcasting Sox games. They've covered thousands of games. What more can they relate about their playing days that we haven't already heard? If relating their personal playing experiences has any bearing on the current game to enhance our understanding and enjoyment, then we need to be informed. But that often is not the case.

Toward the end of the telecast of Sunday's 3-0 Sox victory over playoff-bound Cleveland, Stone told Hawk how much he has enjoyed working with him the second half of this season. Without providing much detail, Stone pointed out the overall disappointment in the team's performance while emphasizing that being the color guy next to Hawk's play-by-play has gone swimmingly well this season.

I noticed some subtle changes in the booth this year as Harrelson handled the road schedule while Benetti made his debut for games at The Cell. Stone and Harrelson often engaged in serious technical baseball talk about hitting and pitching. We heard about "hitting with short arms" and beating pitchers to their "arms' side," new material as far as I could tell.

There was less talk about their golf games and favorite restaurants and a greater concentration on the game.

Many Hawkisms remain overstated such as "everything is contagious." That may be true for one particular game when everyone in the lineup hits the ball all over the park in a blowout. However, Jose Abreu is hitting .355 since August 1 while the rest of the team has checked in at a respectable .264 but still 91 points below Abreu's efficiency. Assuming that contagion can work both ways, aren't we fortunate that James Shields' shocking 7.11 ERA hasn't spread to the other starting pitchers?

While Stone supplies most of the background information about the players, Hawk reminds us of his 57 years in the game, describing how much the game has changed. He holds a dim view of agents, pitch counts and coddled players, though he admits that present-day ballplayers are better conditioned than decades ago. He says that many managers from his days couldn't manage the athletes of today. This is mostly stuff we've heard before. along with his patented cliches like "He Gone," "Kansas City Special" and "You Can Put It on the Board, Yes!"

The interaction between Benetti and Stone is entirely different. Benetti, whose enthusiasm for his new position is readily apparent, consistently defers to Stone for his opinions. The introduction of Sox Math and the gift shelf have become staples of the telecasts. Sticks and Stones, where Stone is asked to guess how he did against specific opposing players, comes along in the middle innings. Stone continually needles Benetti about his prodigious appetite, while Benetti counters with mild jabs. The banter clearly amuses the pair, which is similar to Jackson and Farmer, who engage in macho agitation just like ballplayers do.

Benetti has shown that he has anecdotal background about players, and as he gains confidence, we can expect him to share more of his knowledge without calling on Stone to do so. The mood in the booth seems lighter when Stone is working with Benetti as compared to Harrelson, whose displeasure with the team's ineptitude boils over amid these losing seasons. Benetti seems just happy to be there.

Of all the announcers, Jackson is probably the most honest when it comes to pointing out the Sox's blunders and lack of talent. As a fan, you want the truth without any sugar-coating, and Jackson can be dependable in this regard. Harrelson tends to clam up, characterized by lengthy silences, leaving Stone to pick up the pieces, while Benetti remains cheerful and bushy-tailed regardless of the team's performance.

Like most weeks of this season, that performance was wildly inconsistent last week as the team endured a six-game losing streak before bouncing back on the weekend to beat Cleveland two straight. Starting pitching was the culprit. In the last five losses of the streak, the starters pitched a total of 21 2/3 innings, yielding 28 earned runs for an ERA of 11.63.

Shields pitched one of those games. Maybe Hawk's right. Everything is contagious. At least it was last week until Jose Quintana shut down the Indians for six innings on Saturday as the Sox won 8-1. And Carlos Rodon pitched probably his best game of the season on Sunday, allowing no runs and just two hits in eight innings while striking out a season-high 11.

The Indians are going to win the Central Division, but the Sox have beaten them five times in seven outings this month. Four games with Tampa Bay followed by three more with Minnesota will close out the season this week at The Cell, where the Sox are 41-33 as opposed to a dismal 33-48 road record.

Not even Vin Scully would be able to boost the ratings as the season limps to a conclusion.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021