Ask a baseball fan-any fan-to say what enters his mind when he hears the word “catcher.” The first thing he could say might be “durable, strong, tough, good with pitchers, good arm throwing to second, good hitter.” Some Brooklyn fans felt if Roy Campanella had caught the last of the 9th against the Giants on Oct. 3, 1951, he would have by some magic nursed Don Newcombe through that inning and Bobby Thomson’s home run would never have happened. Yankees fans have had many catchers to rave about-Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and of course the late captain, Thurman Munson. But the word “speed,” isn’t liable to come up in any discussion of catchers. Then a catcher hits an inside the park home run, as Boston’s Blake Swihart did last night and your eyes pop (if you have any eyes.) Since I don’t, I said a number of unprintable things and turned the radio off.
I went hunting to see how many catchers had hit inside the park home runs. All I found was that 357 of those home runs had been hit by catchers up to 2002. Without a research department I couldn’t locate any numbers from 2003 to 2014. For this year, Tigers receiver James McCann appears to be the only other catcher to circle the bases without his hit leaving the lot.
In fact, there was some immediate controversy as to whether Swihart’s shot had left Citi Field. The way the field is configured, there is an orange line on the wall in center field. Above that line is a home run. Below that line, anything goes. The ball caromed off the wall. No signal was given by the umpires. Mets center fielder Juan Lagares appeared to assume the ball had gone the distance. He chased it in a leisurely fashion after it bounced back. Much later, well after the game, it became clear the ball had cleared the orange line, but no change in the scoring was made. Mercifully, there was no review by the umpires. If there had been, I might not even be able to write this column yet. You can make a Thanksgiving dinner in the time it takes for most baseball reviews to be decided. Hockey does reviews the same way, but somehow theirs are much shorter. They need to be. Hockey fans are waiting for the next fight to break out and would revolt if hockey reviews were done at the glacial pace of baseball reviews. Since the scoring will stand, Swihart is the first Red Sox player-catcher or otherwise-to hit an 1890’s style home run since Jacobi Ellsbury managed it on Sept. 19, 2011. You can expect it of Ellsbury, who when healthy travels on the wings of the wind. Swihart said it was his first inside the parker at any level including Little League.
Double Winner in Los Angeles
It would have been good enough that the Dodgers beat the Cubs 4-1 last night, and that Clayton Kershaw tied his season high with 14 strikeouts. But the fans at Dodger Stadium got an extra bonus early in the game. They were informed that Vin Scully-the voice and face of the Dodgers-would broadcast again in 2016. Why was this announcement special? why was it even made? Because when Vin Scully first settled into a broadcast booth, Harry Truman was president. Cars still didn’t have power steering, much less seat belts or FM radios. The new 33-RPM “long playing” record was in its third year in music stores.
2016 will be year 67 for Vincent Edward Scully, originally from the Bronx. He had been a mail carrier and beer delivery man before taking the mike in hand for the first time. Can you imagine him hauling a load of beer into a place and saying “Hello everybody, pull up a chair and enjoy a few cold ones.” He got his chance with the Brooklyn Dodgers because of a football broadcast he did which impressed Red Barber, and the Old Redhead was no easy man to impress. Barber, working for CBS radio assigned Scully to a football game between University of Maryland and Boston University at Fenway Park-in November! Scully assumed he would have a booth to work in. No such luck. So there he was on the roof-coatless and without gloves. Yet, unlike today’s broadcasters who go on incessantly about how bad the weather is, he said nothing about it on the air. That sealed the deal for Barber.
Vin Scully joined the Dodgers on radio and TV in 1950. After the 1953 season, when told Gillette would only pay him $800.00 for the World Series, the same fee they had been paying up until then-Red Barber revolted. Once he took a stand, Barber couldn’t be moved without dynamite. This left Gillette one man down for their TV coverage of the Yankees-Dodgers World Series of 1953. Enter Vin Scully. At age 25, no younger man had ever called the World Series. He would go on to do countless World Series for NBC TV and CBS radio. But his major claim to fame is what he has done in Los Angeles. Before Dodger Stadium was built, the Dodgers played in the enormous Los Angeles Coliseum. While it held nearly 100,000 fans, many of them couldn’t see the action. So they brought the latest invention, the pocket transistor radio to the games. They brought them by the thousands and kept bringing them even after Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. Scully could have rejoined his old boss Red Barber in his home town of the Bronx. The offer was made after the unceremonious firing of Mel Allen following the 1964 season. In retrospect, Scully wisely stayed in L.A. The Yankees began their 11-year collapse and by the end of 1966 Barber had been run off the air as shabbily as Allen had been two seasons before. Meantime the Dodgers won the 1965 World Series and lost in the next Fall Classic. Scully’s last World Series was in 1997 when the Marlins beat the Indians. 3 frigid games in Cleveland convinced him that he’d had enough of the World Series on national radio.
His one concession to Father Time is, Scully won’t travel east of the Rockies except for the playoffs, where it appears the Dodgers will be for the third straight season. And the fans can breathe easier whether the Dodgers play ball in late October this year or not. They know their voice will be back in 2016.
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