It’s Worst Thing to call a Dodger, but Scully was a Giant

By T.J. Simers

It was his mantra: “Leave them wanting more.” And I want more.

Vin Scully died, and it was just a few days ago I tweeted that I missed him. I know how hard he took the death of his wife, Sandy, and without his chance to connect with the Dodgers faithful most nights, I can only imagine the loneliness.

I have his personal phone number listed under, “Red,” and my dad’s nickname was “Red.” Scully heard all about my dad’s life, and maybe he didn’t give a rip, but he never let on.

When he wasn’t working, he wasn’t listening to baseball or watching it. It was the fans that kept him going when he was behind that microphone, the roar of the crowd and the reason why whenever he called a big moment like Henry Aaron’s home run, he would just shut up.

He walked to the back of the pressbox when Aaron hit No. 715 so he wouldn’t be tempted to muck up the moment. He didn’t say a word for several minutes as the fans cheered.

But when he finally did speak, it was Scully poetry: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.

“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met a home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother.

“He threw his arms around his father and as he left the home plate area his mother came running across the grass, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for all he was worth.”

Goose bumps.

I sat down with Vin in the pressbox named for him to have him tell me what he was thinking when he called the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. It is genius, every word uttered like it has been scripted for months and months of rewrites, while just rolling off the top of his head.

He was a kid who grew up sticking that head under the family radio to feel the thrills of the game, and so good for all of us he never got a big head and got stuck under there.

I wrote about Scully’s call of Koufax’s perfect game a few years ago and he said, “I almost felt like it was an out-of-body experience. I was so mesmerized; I almost felt everything he did. All of a sudden I was sweating on the mound…”

He explained it all, every phrase and butterfly description, while saying the first time he saw the skinny Koufax in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, he said to himself, “This guy will never make it.”

I asked if he had gotten the chills that night while calling Koufax’s perfect game, and he said, “I’m getting them right now talking about it.”

What a gift, the ability Scully had to laugh at himself. No one ever felt small in his presence, Scully saying he saw a replay of his call of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series, “and I was terrible.

“If you asked me what I said during the ninth inning with Larsen? No idea.”

He listened to show tunes on his drive to the ballpark and fancied himself a decent singer in a barbershop quartet. I thought I had him when I asked him to sing for the crowd while on stage with Wooden He stood with a grin on his face and led everyone in the place with “Take me out to the ball game.”

He seemed to always have that grin on his face, except when asked about the death of his son, Michael. Michael died in a helicopter accident in 1994 and Scully said how tough it was to even mention it while preparing for his night with Wooden.

The losses are mounting. Wooden, Lasorda and now Scully.

Scully gave me one of the best sports memories in life during the early moments of Wooden & Scully for the kids. Scully and I had joined Wooden at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum earlier in the week and Wooden looked like a dead man slumped over in a wheelchair.

Scully was deeply concerned the night scheduled for the Nokia Theatre would be a disaster. We met at a Padres game in San Diego to discuss how it might be salvaged, Scully figuring he would have to be both guest and moderator.

I was a rube as a broadcaster, and while Scully knew it, he was kind enough not to mention it.

Off to a shaky start, after the first commercial break we brought a youngster from Mattel Children’s Hospital on stage. The youngster had lost the lower part of one leg from bone cancer, but Wooden pounded on him in joy. He tried to get out of his wheelchair to show him how to put on his socks and shoes as he had done Bill Walton. He put the sock over the kid’s prosthesis while offering a few wisecracks about Walton to the audience.

Wooden came to life and there was no shutting him up. What I witnessed next was the greatness of a man, and in this case, I’m not talking Wooden. Scully noticed Wooden enjoying himself and visibly stepped back to give Wooden his night, at the end of the show wheeling Wooden out to center stage and stepping back so the crowd could applaud the coach one last time.

It was just Scully making sure everyone got all they could get from Wooden.

I cut the show sort, the rube broadcaster thinking they were signaling me to wrap it up when they really wanted the show to go on. Back stage, Scully loved that, noting that I left people wanting more.

Now before the show Scully had insisted on a contract being drawn up that called for the show never to be repeated. I guess he really was afraid it would be a disaster.

But as soon as it ended, he asked if it would be possible to get a tape of the night and when Wooden passed, he suggested showing the event on TV once again.

I tweeted earlier in the evening about our get togethers in the pressbox bathroom, knowing I could get to Scully without someone interrupting for an autograph. I knew his routine, so I would be there and I’m happy to say Scully never called the authorities.

He was the best, and I’m not talking broadcaster, giving me one of the best quotes I ever received.

I asked him while reliving Koufax’s perfect game, what he did after the game?

“I got in the elevator and went home,” the man just doing his job over a lifetime to the benefit of so many.

Yup, I already miss him.

Unglued Freeman Forces Me to Read Dylan

By T.J. Simers

I had no idea LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke had control of who and who does not get the newspaper.

…Until I didn’t get my newspaper delivered this morning.

The Times claimed the paper boy’s vehicle was stolen and then eaten by dogs; you can just imagine the demand for the Times.

Don’t know if you know this, but when Plaschke writes something he thinks is award-worthy, he hand-delivers the newspaper to everyone. It’s much easier now that circulation has been in such decline.

At some point Monday morning I figured out how to skirt Plaschke’s control and get the newspaper online. I wanted to read Sam Farmer’s story on tennis shorts, an insider tipping me off that Sam will remain in England to cover the British Open with his first story on who polishes the silver at the Old Course.

I noticed online that columnist Dylan Hernandez had written about Clayton Kershaw, and I like Kershaw, so I admit, I read a Hernandez column. I’m pretty sure I was the first on my block.

The headline said he was writing about Kershaw, but I was now reading about Freddie Freeman. I’m not surprised the Times’ copyeditors didn’t read the story before slapping a headline on it.

Dylan began his column by writing that it is a “good thing he’s still hitting.” I had no idea he was going to write about Kershaw’s hitting. He wasn’t, he was writing about Freddie, using almost the same exact lead he had used on July 1 when he wrote about Freeman.

On July 1 he wrote, “Good thing he’s hitting.” Now 10 days later he was going with another variation, and that’s why some writers can be columnists and others cannot. I’ll get to Plaschke in a moment.

Freeman didn’t make it on the All-Star team, the voters presumably knowing there is no crying in baseball and Freeman weeping upon his return to Atlanta.

Hernandez asked Freeman about not making the All-Star team, and don’t you hate people who ask direct questions? Freeman does, and he’s already proven to be unstable.

“Come on,” Freeman is quoted as saying, “That’s a terrible question.”

I know something about terrible questions. I was actually placed on trial in LA Superior Court to defend myself for asking Mark McGwire if it was time to “give the Dodgers some steroids,” since he was the team’s hitting coach and the Dodgers were last in the league hitting home runs.

The editor of the Times, who since has been fired, said that was a terrible question. I wish I had the chance to ask him why he was fired.

Hernandez reportedly asked Freeman if the All-Star snub had made him come “unglued.” Someone online classified the question as “bizarre,” probably an upgrade from “terrible,” but here was Freeman yelling across the clubhouse at Hernandez.

I guess you could say Freeman became unglued.

He yelled that Hernandez was the worst reporter he’s dealt with in his 13 years in baseball.

Hernandez fired back in his column: “I guess he still hasn’t met Bill Plaschke.”

Brilliant. I might have to read some more of Dylan’s work.

Then I didn’t get my newspaper delivered. And I’m guessing Hernandez’s subscription was cancelled. Plaschke?

Freddie, Stop Wallowing

By T.J. Simers

The more that I read about Freddie Freeman, and the wimp that he is, oh boy, we get him around here for the next six years.

Now it’s being told he fired his agent because Freddie learned this past weekend in Atlanta his agent got him a deal that might’ve kept him in Atlanta.

He reportedly fired his agent although his agent got him exactly what he wanted: lots of money, a six-year contract rather than five and a chance to play with maybe the best collection of talent in baseball.

If staying in Atlanta had trumped all that—let’s remember, the agent didn’t sign the Dodger contract. Freddie did.

Convenient that he just learned that he had been hoodwinked while in Atlanta, and then made sure to let everyone know how much he appreciated being a Brave.

!!!Bad enough that he stood out there on the field in a Dodgers’ uniform French kissing his Atlanta World Series ring.

And all the time, I mean, all the time this wimp was crying. All weekend long.

He had the chance to stay in Atlanta but he had his agent slogging for more money. His agent played it rough and tough with the Braves, which is what agents do, but now Freddie wants us to know it was his agent who did everyone wrong.

Here’s why I really like Clayton Kershaw. He’s one of my favorite people, and terrible to know as a reporter if all you want from him is quotes, but he’s a leader and a steely-eyed competitor.

I don’t care what the post-season says about Kershaw to head off the twitter trolls, he’s a stand-up guy.

He told an Atlanta reporter, “I hope we’re not second fiddle,” echoing what every Dodger in that clubhouse probably thinks: Freddie left his heart in Atlanta.

It had to nauseate the Dodgers to watch Freddie wallow in remorse or homesickness or whatever all weekend long. Enough already.

And if his agent didn’t tell him everything about negotiations—and sometimes agents don’t because maybe the Braves said some bad things about Freddie and the agent didn’t want him to hear that—then shame on Freddie.

He’s at the highest level in baseball with the power to call his agent every other hour or demand an hour-to-hour breakdown of what is happening. He comes off like some kind of Nuke LaLoosh rube, in a manner of speaking now taking his status as a client and going home.

I’m sure he’ll hit a ton and lead the Dodgers to many victories, but you can have him.

Torre, Koufax and Kershaw

By T.J. Simers

I was in Arizona with the grandkids over the weekend, my daughter giving me four of them over the years, the Father’s Day gift that just keeps on giving.

So, I missed the Koufax statue hoopla, a disappointment because it brought together three of the finest men I have ever met—lucky me.

Koufax, Torre and Kershaw_such a trio of greatness. Throw in a ton of breakfasts with Tom Lasorda, time spent in John Wooden’s condo and chats with Vin Scully while standing next to him in the Dodger Stadium press box restroom and tough to top those gifted moments.

Going to Vegas every year to bet the NCAA basketball tournament with the other daughter is right there, too, along with breakfast most every morning for more than 49 years with the wife.

She hasn’t aged a bit, and it’s still important after 49 years to score points when you can.

As for the trio of greatness, Clayton Kershaw is the youngest, but maybe the most eloquent in explaining what Sandy Koufax meant to him. I read a transcript of what Kershaw had to say at the ceremony and it was so generous and heart-warming.

Takes a lot to get me gushing with mush, but if your youngster has Kershaw’s name spelled across his back, he has the ideal role model. If your husband has it across his back, he’s just weird.

I was there in the beginning with Kershaw when he came to the Dodgers, and he was obviously raised right. He’s smart, polite and when it’s called for prickly. The post-season has done him wrong, but what a competitor and hero for helping the disadvantaged.

If you missed the ceremony, check out Kershaw’s comments on Koufax on the Times’ web site.

Kershaw appeared at my request on a night we had for Joe Torre and Koufax in the Nokia Theatre or whatever they call it now to raise money for Torre’s Safe at Home charity.

He came on stage and I introduced him to Angels’ owner Arte Moreno, who was sitting in the audience. In those days Arte commanded respect, and not the laughter his boorish ownership does today.

I had Kershaw put his hand against Koufax’s hand, and for a moment there it was gone. Koufax’s paw was massive, Koufax explaining that’s how he could get more spin on the ball.

I thought about calling a timeout and explaining it all to Moreno, but nobody really cares about the Angels. The Times monitors how many people read the Angels’ stories they run, and the numbers are so minuscule there is great internal reluctance to give the team much coverage.

The audience loved seeing Kershaw and Koufax together. After the show Koufax and Kershaw flew back to spring training together and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It was fitting because the reclusive Koufax appeared at the event only because of his friendship with Torre.

Torre is one of the finest men I have ever had the good fortune to meet. We used to exchange Denny Crane shouts of joy when we would get together before a ball game, the William Shatner character from Boston Legal tickling Torre’s funny bone.

I never got visibly under his skin, making him the only one I ever came across who didn’t crack on occasion. Compared to Torre, Phil Jackson came off like Barney Fife.

Torre testified on my behalf in Trial No. 3, a friend doing a favor because he was asked to step forward. And how many times did I make fun of him on Page 2 in the LA Times?

Is there anything better than a friend who stands tall under tough circumstances? I thought I would say that about Jim Mora, but I am afraid I cannot.

It was because of Torre that I met Koufax. I remember it as a four-hour breakfast; he probably thought it felt like eight hours.

He rocked the Nokia Theatre a night later, and said the experience helped him emerge from the shadows, while insisting he never went into hiding.

He had so much to offer, telling the audience his grandfather taught him time was the important thing in life and why waste it dwelling on things that have happened in the past.

That’s why he said he didn’t spend much time appearing publicly to talk about his exploits.

I introduced him as the man who threw four no-hitters, while telling everyone Torre had hit into four double plays in the same game.

Torre hit into four double plays and I got booed.

Koufax also explained how he could never get Henry Aaron out, so one game he started him out with a changeup. Aaron drilled it into the chest of Tommy Davis, who was playing third.

Koufax was giddy with excitement at getting him out as Davis came over with the ball, wheezing and struggling to breath.

“Don’t ever throw him that pitch again,” Davis said, and the story as told by Koufax was hilarious because he imitated Davis’ breathing troubles.

There was so much more, every chance to spend time with Koufax, Torre and Kershaw a once in a lifetime treat.

And yet here I was in Arizona, watching the 16-year-old pour in 24 three-pointers in four games, and a few days later on Father’s Day watching the 12-year-old hit another half dozen threes.

I’m not complaining.