The storied sounds of SoCal

In baseball, there is no shortage of people for fans to fall in love with.

There is the obvious choice: the players. Blessed with athletic ability, the likes of which you and I will never even approach in our lifetimes, they are the heroes that slam game-winning homers and spin dazzling shutouts from the mound. They are the jerseys we wear and the autographs we want, the purebred celebrities of sport.

There is also the less obvious choice: the managers. They are the ones, most often replaced by our armchair selves, writing out line-ups and making pitching changes when needed. The strategic heads of the dugout, many only draw much attention for the most extreme highs and lows, with only the Casey Stengels, Tommy Lasordas, and Joe Torres of the world, garnering the kind of longterm behind-the-scenes success that refuses to go unnoticed.

Then, there are the people who fit into a category all their own: the broadcasters. Not player, but not spectator either, they bring the game to life for fans on a nightly basis. Despite generating little attention from the casual masses, they are the most familiar to anyone who has the privilege of tuning into a game. Broadcasters’ voices describe the action on the field and the personnel in both dugouts, filling the role of the beloved relative who tells better stories than anyone you know.

This weekend, Southern California lost two of its favorite baseball orators to retirement, as Hall of Famers Dick Enberg of the San Diego Padres and Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers called their final games.

Enberg began his career as the play-by-play man for Indiana Hoosiers football and basketball games in the late 1950s. His first baseball games behind the microphone didn’t come until 1969, when he introduced fans to one of the league’s newest teams as the California Angels’ TV and radio play-by-play broadcaster. Since those early beginnings, Enberg has covered a wide variety of athletic events, from professional and college football games to golf tournaments and the Summer Olympics.

The Padres, who are no strangers to great baseball voices, especially after the late Jerry Coleman owned the airwaves for more than forty seasons, brought Dick Enberg on board prior to the 2010 season. Over the course of the next six years, Enberg teamed with fellow broadcaster Mark Grant in bringing Padres games into the homes of the Friar Faithful, his trademark phrase punctuating every big play with a resounding “Ohhh my!”

Legendary Padres broadcaster Dick Enberg in the house for the #MLBDraft.

Legendary Padres broadcaster Dick Enberg in the house for the #MLBDraft.

By the time of his final game, Enberg had received the Ford C. Frick award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and earned the distinction of being the second sportscaster ever to be selected for broadcasting awards in professional football, basketball, and baseball.

The Dodgers also happen to be familiar with auditory artistry, if only because of the blessing of having Vin Scully himself behind the microphone. With the team since their Brooklyn days, Scully ultimately spent a mind-boggling 67 years with the ball club, the most of any broadcaster with a single team in professional sports history.

Scully’s romance with the game of baseball began as a red-haired 8-year-old growing up in Manhattan, where he became enamored with the New York Giants. It was then that Scully first decided that he wanted to be an announcer when he grew up. Following a successful start to his career covering college football, Scully joined the Dodgers in 1950 and, in 1953 at age 26, became the youngest person to call a World Series game, a record that stands to this day.

Following the 1958 season, Scully accompanied the Dodgers as they moved to Los Angeles. Fans struggling to see the action in those early days at the L.A. Coliseum quickly fell in love with him as they brought their transistor radios to games. Since then, he has been on hand for some of the most memorable moments in sports history. At one time a football broadcaster, Scully called Dwight Clark’s leaping touchdown grab in the 1982 NFC Championship Game, a play that still ranks among the most indelible in NFL history.

However, his best work was always in baseball. From Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run to Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, he was there. From Bill Buckner’s infamous championship blunder to a crippled Kirk Gibson home run to win Game One of the 1988 Fall Classic, Scully was behind the microphone. From no-hitters by Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw, Dodger aces of the past and the present to everything in between, Scully was on hand for all of them.

There is certainly no shortage of history when it comes to Vin Scully and Dick Enberg in the broadcast booth. University of San Diego junior Sunit Bhakta says that Scully is as much a part of the Dodgers as the color blue and Dodger Dogs.

“He is the Dodgers,” Bhakta said. “The bridge between Brooklyn and Los Angeles for the organization.”

Scully also had a great deal of reverence for Enberg.

“Wherever I am,” Scully said. “If [his] name comes up, I will say from my heart, ‘As good as they come.’”

Yet, for all of their significance in accomplishment and awe, Enberg’s and Scully’s best moments, like all great sportscasters, came in the mundane. Without a doubt, there are thousands of baseball fans both young and old, including this writer, who have fallen asleep at night to the sound of those recognizable voices coming through the radio or the television. On a nightly basis, they brought the sport into homes not just in Southern California, but around the country as well.

That, ultimately, is the beauty of baseball broadcasting. It is not just the big play or the championship moment that grabs our attention. It is the little anecdotes, between pitches, of utility players and All-Stars, celebrities and common fans, all tied together by the 216 stitches of a baseball and the familial conversations that such a sport can so effortlessly spark.

It is the kid with a transistor radio tucked under his pillow at night, trying to stay awake and celebrate an extra-innings victory. But it is also the older gentleman on his porch at first pitch, soaking in the sunset and reminiscing about the great players of the past. In either case, and many more like it, it is the national pastime at its absolute best.

It is with bittersweet gratitude that baseball fans young and old say goodbye to two of the game’s great orators as Southern California fades to silence. It is a ride that we all hoped would never come to an end, even while we knew that someday it would have to. But oh my, wherever you may have been, what a tremendous ride it was.

Written by Noah Hilton, Contributor