Erik M. Jensen: Broadcaster Vin Scully mattered in Utah, too

Broadcaster’s voice carried to Brigham City in the 1960s.

(AP Photo/Paul Connors, File) In this July 3, 2002, photo, Los Angeles Dodgers television play-by-play announcer Vin Scully rehearses before a baseball game between the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix.

The death of Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully saddened many of us, even though we knew a 94-year-old wasn’t going to last forever.

Vin’s passing of course got front-page coverage in the New York newspapers; he was a Bronx guy who began his major league career in Brooklyn, mentored by the legendary Red Barber. And, having been a Californian for over 60 years, he got similar treatment from the Los Angeles press. He was an institution throughout major league baseball.

He was also an institution for many people in Utah.

I grew up in Brigham City, and, in the early to mid-1960s, I’d listen to Dodger games on KFI, a 50,000 watt, clear-channel AM station that reached Brigham City after dark.

After the sun went down, I turned on the radio. When the games were in California, the time difference meant I could hear almost the entire game — most of it called by the man with that unmistakable, soothing voice and impressive vocabulary. Vin told lots of stories along the way — baseball lends itself to reminiscing — and Vin could discourse learnedly about almost anything.

I remember hearing Vin describe the first game played at Dodger Stadium, in April 1962. You don’t walk to Chavez Ravine, and thousands of cars converged for the event of the year. (In what became the LA fashion, many arrived fashionably late.) With his work in that game, Vin could have been elected to the Traffic Hall of Fame.

They didn’t win the pennant, but the 1962 Dodgers were great: Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, Tommy and Willie Davis, Frank Howard, among others, and a few holdovers from the Brooklyn years. The superstar-to-be was a holdover, Sandy Koufax, finally able to find the strike zone after years of searching.

From 1962 until his early retirement in 1966, Sandy dominated baseball, all reported by Vin. Occasionally Vin would tell us that Sandy wasn’t sharp, which seemed to mean that Sandy would give up five hits, say, and a couple of runs, but still finish — and win — the game.

I’m old enough to have heard Vin while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. With Mel Allen, Vin handled television coverage for both the 1955 and 1956 World Series — Yankees versus Dodgers.

All series games were played during the day, which meant that weekday games on the east coast were usually over before Utah school kids got home. But baseball was the sport, and my sixth-grade teacher would let one of us listen to the game and report to the class as developments warranted. This was history in the making, after all, even without Vin on the radio broadcast.

We did get to hear Vin on the weekends, and I was able to watch one weekday game in 1956. Vin was at the mike when Yankee Don Larsen finished the only perfect game in Series history — 27 batters up, 27 down. Wonderfully exciting, but Vin’s call of the last out was, as always, understated, letting the reaction of the crowd (and Yogi Berra) tell the story.

Why wasn’t I in school that day? Well, I sometimes developed mysterious illnesses at World Series time. My mother must have known that I was faking a bit, but she let me stay home anyway. So, I saw and heard a magical event. But then every day with Vin Scully describing a ballgame was magical.

Erik M. Jensen

Erik M. Jensen is the Coleman P. Burke Professor Emeritus of Law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a 1963 graduate of Box Elder High School in Brigham City.