Ernie Harwell’s passing and Vin Scully’s commentary on it, combined with Bob Eucker’s heart surgery last week, got me thinking about a lot of things. This is something I’ve thought about before and even mentioned to others, but felt I should put out there for broader consumption.
I’ve been very fortunate in my time working with The Gloucester County Times, getting to do things like go to Richmond, Virginia on my own to do several stories about local minor leaguers and Phillies minor leaguers (including Ryan Howard and Gavin Floyd, giving you an idea of when), and put together a series of stories chronicling the minor league baseball teams in our area (within a couple hours’ drive so we could include Reading) over a summer that helped me meet Cecil Fielder and Tony Franklin (who formerly managed my hometown Birmingham Barons) and see some great minor-league stadiums and baseball.
The biggest thing, though, had to be going as the No. 2 writer covering the Phillies during their 2008 playoff run that resulted in their second World Series championship. I had been the backup guy the previous couple of seasons if we were covering the team and our No. 1 guy, Bill Evans, wasn’t able to be there, but that was usually just once or twice a season. This was being there with Bill for every home game and providing material every night as well as features for between series.
Hopefully this story will have the same impact without me being able to remember precisely which game it was, but it was during the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers (as will become apparent). We had only been able to get one press pass for the NLDS against Milwaukee because even more press outlets were interested then, so this was the first series of the postseason I’d been at.
Our seats (actually my seat; Bill had a reserved spot in the press box, but it was so hard to see from he decided to hang out with me instead since there were free seats around me as outlets reserved 10 spots and only sent one or two people) were in the auxiliary press box, which is in the 200 level of seating down the left field line in foul territory. They were exposed to the elements (which came into play a good amount that postseason, if you’ll remember), but with a good but distant view and monitors all around showing the FOX feed on a slight delay.
Anyhoo, after one of the games of the Dodgers series at Citizens Bank Park, Bill and I were rushing down to the post-game press conference to get a few quick quotes so we could finish our stories for the night for deadline and get the hell out of there (as fun and great as it was to be there, the weather delays, cold and long nights were somewhat draining).
We get off the elevator and rush along the corridor connecting the two clubhouses under the concourse and get to the lobby leading to the press briefing areas. As we’re heading toward the doors of the room, we pass Harry Kalas and Vin Scully — having just concluded their announcing duties for the night — heading out a side door next to the room we’re going into.
Immediately I wanted to skip the press conference and follow two of the sport’s most legendary voices wherever they were going. Scully has been in the business for more than six decades, and Kalas’ work with the Phillies for nearly 40 years as well as with NFL Films was iconic. Just imagine what the two of them could talk about!
Of course, it would be sheer insanity to think they wanted anyone — particularly me — to tag along for any conversation they might have, and just as quickly as it had come the thought passed and I went into the press conference and kept my job … for the time being.
But just six months later Harry was gone, and now Ernie’s passed as well. Hopefully Euck’s surgery will have him fit and back in the booth in a few months, and it’s impossible for anyone of mine or even my parents’ generation to imagine Dodgers baseball without Scully. I was also lucky enough that our cable system in the 80’s carried WGN so I could waste many a summer day watching the Cubbies with Harry Caray and Steve Stone.
I was devastated when Skip Caray passed away suddenly in 2008, as he was the main voice of my youth growing up in Birmingham and watching and listening to the Atlanta Braves. I grew to appreciate Kalas’ unique style and relationship with the Phillies and Philadelphia upon moving to New Jersey (though I wasn’t here long enough to get a good taste of Richie “Whitey” Ashburn), and am too big a baseball fan not to know the likes of Scully, Harwell and Uecker (“I must be in the front row!”).
To hear the likes of Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler do Phillies games now just makes you appreciate the great announcers all the more, and they’re slowly disappearing and being replaced with inferior talent. In part, I wonder if it’s a product of the times in which we live, a time when style often wins out over substance and sometimes you wonder what style the people in charge are seeing.
I for one appreciate every day this breed of announcer that is quite literally dying out before us. And every now and then, I wish I had taken a shot at trying to follow Vin and Harry out that door.