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Bronx Banter Interview: Paul Haddad

Paul Haddad’s new book about the Dodgers–available now at Amazon–is a real treat for all baseball fans. Paul grew up listening to Vin Scully and we’re fortunate that he recorded some of those broadcasts. Head on over to Paul’s site and check out this gallery of audio clips.

Here are a few that Paul was good enough to share with us:

Mike Scioscia’s first major league home run:


This one, according to Haddad, is “classic Vin, weaving in a story between pitches, and then he gets caught off guard and does a great, unorthodox (for him) home run call.  He’s talking about Mets’ reliever Neil Allen’s desire to wear number 13, back when wearing such things was considered “bad luck.”  This Pedro Guerrero homer happened in the 8th inning on May 15, 1981.  It tied the game and the Dodgers won it in the 9th.  My 15-year-old self sets up the action, rather blandly.”


This was in Game 6 of the 1981 World Series. “It was still a close game when Nettles made this great play to rob Derrel Thomas in the 6th inning,” says Haddad. “But by the time the inning was over, the Yankees were down, 8-1. Anyway, this play is what I’ll always remember of Nettles in the World Series, just always leaving you flabbergasted. This also is an example of Vin sharing the booth for a postseason game – in this case, Sparky Anderson.”


“OK, this last one is sort of a wild card,” Haddad said.  “It’s Vin admonishing home fans in left field who were pelting left fielder Jose Cruz as it became apparent the Astros were going to cruise into the playoffs by clobbering the Dodgers in the one-game tiebreaker in 1980. During this clip, Vin makes reference to the Yankees and the “zoo… the animals” that the Dodgers thought inhabited the place! This goes with my notion that Yankee Stadium was scary to me, even from afar.”


Meanwhile, I had the chance to chat with Paul about his book. Enjoy.

BB: We don’t have anything like Vin Scully in New York. Can you talk about what he meant to you as a kid in the context of life in L.A.?

Paul Haddad: Vin Scully is the main reason I got into the Dodgers. My Dodger obsession was just as equally a Vin obsession – they were intertwined and you couldn’t imagine one without the other. Fans in 1976 already knew this, naming Vinny the “most memorable personality” in Dodger history, and this from a team that’s had no shortage of iconic players or big personalities. My parents were not baseball fans, but growing up in Los Angeles, Vin’s voice was ubiquitous, like the smell of night jasmine, or smog. You would hear his warm baritone emanating out of storefronts, car windows, gas stations, parking lot booths, even people walking down the street clutching a transistor radio. So really, all those years of hearing this magnificent voice around town lured me into becoming a Dodger fan.

Beyond the spell of his voice and impeccable delivery, I think Vin’s continuity – he’s entering his 63rd year as the Dodgers’ broadcaster – is a big factor in why he’s cherished by so many generations. I work in television, and last year I executive produced a cool series for Cooking Channel called “The Originals,” in which chef Emeril Lagasse visited historic restaurants around the U.S. and hobnobbed with kitchen staff who have been part of these eateries for 50 or 60 years. In New York, we visited places like Keens Steakhouse, Peter Luger, Il Vagabondo and Katz’s Deli. The stories from customers were all the same – I come here to feel a connection to the past and so my kids can experience something that’s real. Vin is a lot like these iconic restaurants – timeless, classy, comforting. He’s an original.

BB: You mention Vin being heard everywhere. I have a sense of what that means in a city like New York. You can walk down the street and see a playoff game on the TV in the bars and know people are following it. But L.A. is so vast and spread out, you never seem to be falling over each other out there, if anything, I always get the sense that people want to be left alone. Can you explain Vin’s connective power in place that seems so disconnected?

PH: Yes, well put, Alex. Because Los Angeles is so spread out and is such a car culture, it lends itself to isolation, and it can be a very lonely place if you don’t have a good social network in place. I think people here do want to connect with other people, it’s just harder to do. And that’s what Vin brings to the table. You don’t hear his voice wafting throughout the city nearly as much now, as it’s become more diverse and baseball’s – especially the Dodgers’ – hold on the city wanes (this is a Laker town now). But as a kid, his radio broadcasts cut through all socio-economic boundaries and it got people talking to each other. A guy in a business suit could walk into a hardware store after work, and he’d bond with the cashier, who had the radio on. Dodger broadcasts allowed for meaningful exchanges between Angelinos who might not otherwise connect with each other.

BB: Did Chick Hearn have the same kind of impact that Vin has had?

PH: He did, in different ways. You could say Chick’s impact on the sport of basketball is even more profound than Vin’s on baseball. Chicky Baby contributed so many phrases that we now take for granted, like slam-dunk, dribble-drive, air ball, finger roll, no harm/no foul, and on and on. From a personal standpoint, I got into the Lakers around the same time as I did the Dodgers, and that was largely because of Chick. Even at 11, I knew brilliance when I heard it, and Chick sucked me in with the way he described the action. He was also funny. When the Lakers got sloppy while showboating, the “mustard was off the hot dog.” If Magic duped a defender, he “put him in the popcorn machine.” And of course, when he felt a game was out of reach, it was “in the refrigerator.” It’s interesting, while I was digging up my old audio tapes and digitizing them, I came across a couple spots where I randomly recorded Laker games so I could rehear Chick during the off-seasons. But ultimately I think I gravitated more toward Vin because the nature of baseball allows for more storytelling and less flash, which was more appealing to me. He was just more comforting to listen to, especially coming out of a transistor radio under your pillow at nights. So if forced into a Sophie’s Choice of Local Broadcasters, I’d have to say I enjoyed Vin and what he brought to the table just a little bit more.

BB: I’ve always wondered, does he have a nickname or is he just known as Vin or Vinny?

PH: Vin is simply known as Vin or Vinny to fans. On air, when he slips into self-deprecating mode, he’ll say, “Nice going, red.” But only Vin seems to call himself “Red.”

BB: Vin is such an icon, do you have any sense of what he’s like as a man? Does that matter to you?

PH: Vin is famously private and modest. He has refused all calls for an autobiography. I know what most people know through the few books and articles on him. You can often glean things about him through his broadcasts. His love of Broadway tunes, his adoration of children, his Catholic schooling with the nuns putting him in his place. I know he’s ferociously patriotic. Every June 6, you can count on Vin to gently reprimand younger viewers for not remembering D-Day, and then explaining its significance. He’s like Johnny Carson was – a very public figure leading a guarded life out of the spotlight. I always admire and respect people like that.

I met Vin one time, in 1996, when I was a TV producer for E! Before the game, I got to visit him in the press booth, and up rose this redheaded man with a crooked smile and sparkly eyes, greeting me like an old friend.

BB: That must have been a thrill.

PH: Meeting him was surreal. As he said hello and shook my hand, I couldn’t believe I was pounding flesh with a living legend. My mouth went immediately dry. The analogy I use with friends is, imagine the animatronic Lincoln coming to life in the “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” exhibit at Disneyland (I’m not sure they even have that exhibit at Disney World).

What I took away from it was Vin’s famed work ethic. Here’s how I describe it in my book:

As we were leaving to head over and interview organist Nancy Bea Hefley, I asked my contact, “So was that a radio ad he was voicing?”

He rubbed his chin. “Mmmmm . . . I think he was practicing.”

“For the ad?”

“For the game.”

The game wasn’t going to start for at least an hour and a half.

But even after almost fifty years, there was Vin, getting his game on, still living by the credo passed down to him by mentor Red Barber from their Brooklyn days: be there early, and be prepared.

BB: Has Vin always worked alone calling Dodgers games?

PH:Since moving to Los Angeles, at least, Vin has always worked alone on Dodger broadcasts. As he explains, it’s not an ego thing… it’s merely so he can connect directly with listeners. Putting another man in the booth changes that dynamic. All you have to do is listen to the radio duo of Rick Monday and Charley Steiner giggling at each other’s jokes to realize that. I wish more announcers worked alone, but the trend these days seems to be to pair people up, which is a shame. There’s a constant yammering. One of the great things about Vin on radio was how he clammed up after a Dodger hit a home run, to let the listener soak in the home crowd’s cheers. In my book, I actually time out how long those silences were after certain home runs.

Now, of course, Vin did pair up with people like Sparky Anderson or Brent Musburger for CBS Radio’s national baseball broadcasts, and everyone remembers him and Joe Garagiola doing the Games of the Week and three World Series in the ‘80s for NBC. But these were exceptions to the rule to accommodate a national audience. Vin ably acquitted himself, and the other announcers gave him room to maneuver, so it never bothered me.

BB: Do you still listen to old Vin broadcasts? 

PH: Every once in a while, I’ll break out the old Vin broadcasts. They instantly teleport me back to that time, which usually leads to other imagery from my childhood that has nothing to do with games. They’re like a portal to my memory bank. So I’ll often start listening to them to revisit a call, but they end up having a residual effect beyond the call.

BB: Do you have a favorite story or call that he made?

PH: Three calls from 1981 come to mind, all featuring Fernando Valenzuela. Fernando was Vin’s muse, and inspired the artist to new heights. That April 27, 1981 game that caught Fernandomania at its peak (mentioned earlier) remains a high point because he was truly a master at the top of his game. I also love his call on May 14 when Pedro Guerrero hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to help Fernando go 8-0. This is the homer that he dedicated to Fernando, saying, “It’s gone, Fernando, it’s gone!”


And finally, after El Toro sweated and bluffed his way through that 147 pitch complete-game outing in Game 3 of the World Series, 5-4, Vin was summed it all up with a succinct, “Somehow, this was not the best Fernando game. It was his finest.”

BB: Obviously, he’s gotten older but what, if anything, has changed about Scully’s broadcasting over the course of your life?

PH: That question requires a measured response, because to suggest Vin may not be at the top of his game in Los Angeles brands you a heretic! But I think even Vin himself would say he’s slowed down a bit, much like Chick Hearn did. There’s a snap, a verve to his voice when I listen to those late ‘70s, early ‘80s games, whereas now it’s more grandfatherly and in some ways, more soothing. When the Dodgers hit a clutch home run nowadays, he doesn’t register the same excitement in his voice at 84 that he did at 54. But his insights and storytelling remain sharp, and he still seamlessly weaves narratives between pitches without missing a beat. Vin is like baseball itself – just when you think you’ve seen or heard it all, he surprises you every game with a turn of phrase, a story, an observation that makes you think or smile. I wish he did exclusively radio for a few innings, where I feel his genius is really allowed to flourish. Since Fox regional started broadcasting the games, Vin does a simulcast for the first three innings, with the final six on television. This means Vin is always calling a game for a television audience, which is a different experience than listening to a game on the radio. Time that could’ve been spent working in another anecdote is spent, say, commenting on a slow-motion replay. But the impact of That Voice… that still cuts through any medium.

BB: I know that the ’77 and ’78 loses to the Yanks were brutal for you. Which was worse?

PH: Well, 1977 was bad because, at 11 years old and new to baseball, I was ill-prepared for the emotional onslaught that overcame me when Reggie hit his 3 home runs to knock the Dodgers out of the World Series. His casual “Hi, Moms” in the dugout and the seeming effortlessness with which he hit the homers before swaggering around the bases were like kicks in the gut. It reminded me of my older brother and his show-off friends humiliating me, and to know that baseball too had that sort of destructive power on my psyche was a rude awakening. But 1978 was even worse. This was supposed to be the Series in which the Dodgers exacted their revenge. Going up 2 games to none only heightened the expectations. Once the Series switched to the Bronx for the middle three games, it was like living through a nightmare. For one thing, even 3,000 miles away, Yankee Stadium scared me. I was a SoCal kid raised in the sunshiny ‘burbs. My impressions of New York were formed by dark and dangerous movies like “Serpico” and “Taxi Driver,” which I caught many times on Z Channel (a movie subscription channel only in L.A.), and the willy-nilly mob that flooded the playing field at the end of the ’77 Series. Even the “Utz” potato chip sign prominently displayed in right field inexplicably disturbed me. We didn’t have those in Los Angeles, and it spoke of a foreign thing whose pronunciation I couldn’t quite figure out.

My memories of Game 3 are defined by third baseman Graig Nettles and play like a video loop of him making great play after great play after great play. I remember screaming “It’s not fair!” at the TV. He saved at least four runs that game. Game 4 of course was the infamous “hip and run” play by Reggie Jackson. It was one thing for Reggie to beat us fair and square the year before – I couldn’t begrudge him that. But that little hip-jut of his on the basepaths to deflect Bill Russell’s throw… that was downright cheating.

This is what made this Series so painful. Reggie’s ploy told me that if someone could cheat that openly and get away with it in a sport with clearly defined rules, then there was no justice in this world. (Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that rules are open to interpretation, and no one ever promised there was justice in this world!) I have almost no memories of Games 5 and 6. Everyone knew the momentum had shifted the day before and the Dodgers would lose the Series. The Dodgers seemed to know it too, getting outscored 19-4 in those last two games.

BB: What is your worst memory? Reggie’s three homers, Reggie interfering with the ball or Reggie’s revenge homer against Bob Welch?

PH: Definitely the non-interference call on Reggie Jackson. To my earlier point, it differed from the others in that it involved a player being duplicitous and getting away with it. And I hate to draw another negative analogy to my older brother – these things shade our perceptions of things as kids, so it’s hard not to – but it reminded me of something my brother would do. Michael was notorious for cheating at board games. During Monopoly, I would often catch him slipping an extra $200 for himself whenever he passed “Go!” while playing the “banker” – a role we all eventually banished him from taking. But just as my brother and I are now close, years later I grew to really respect Reggie Jackson and what he brought to the game. When he signed with the Angels in 1982, I remember being excited that someone who went to any lengths to win a game was now on a local team.

BB: Can you describe the ’81 season, the impact of Fernandomania, Rick Monday’s homer, and the Series win against the Yanks–especially in light of how they trailed 2-0?

PH: Relief. Like those Rolaids commercials. That was the biggest emotion I felt when the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees after the debacles of ’77 and ’78. And especially once the Dodgers went down 2 games to none in ’81. It was hard to shake that unmistakable “here we go again” feeling. I was also happy that a magical season – despite the players’ strike that shut the season down for 50 days in the middle of summer – did not go to waste. That magic, of course, was led by Fernando Valenzuela. You simply cannot describe the kind of excitement he brought to Dodger Stadium. One of my favorites is the last out of an April 27 game at home that sounds like it’s the last game of the World Series. You had 50,000 rabid fans clamoring for Fernando to strike out the last Giants batter so that he could capture his third shutout in only his fourth big-league start. Vin puts on a clinic – it’s the best I’ve ever heard him and it still gives me goose bumps. In my book, I devote four full pages to this 3 ½ minute at-bat alone. You can hear how much Vin is also swept up in Fernandomania – he even starts trotting out phrases he’s learned in Spanish!

Rick Monday was an enigmatic player for the Dodgers in that he was sort of a bust since coming over from the Cubs in 1977, streaky and often injured. But then in 1981 at age 35 (he looked 45), he finished really strong. As a part-timer that year, he averaged one homer every 11.8 at-bats, which was just a hair behind home run leader Mike Schmidt’s one for every 11.4. So the notion that Rick Monday came out of nowhere to hit that home run that put the Dodgers in the World Series is a bit misleading – he was their hottest player in the second half. As for hearing the actual homer, I was stuck in math class with an unsympathetic teacher named Mr. Bland who would not let us listen to the game (it was played on a Monday afternoon since the day before was rained out). My friend Andrew and I tried to listen to the game on radios that we smuggled into our backpacks and laid on our desks, passing notes back and forth when the teacher turned his back. But Bland busted us. Shortly after we were instructed to turn our radios off, all the other classrooms erupted in deafening cheers, whoops and hollers. They were all listening to the game, courtesy of their teachers! I was seething with resentment – I knew it had to be some kind of momentous home run. Luckily, I had set up a timer to record the game off the radio at home, but hearing it later obviously wasn’t the same thing as hearing it live. Just talking about this now still makes me angry!

I was 15 ½ years old when the 1981 season ended. I knew instantly after they won the World Series that I would not continue recording their games. Really, after finally beating the Yankees, the team had nowhere to go but down! Turns out I was right – they’ve appeared in (and won) only one World Series in the 30 years since 1981. In the five years I documented them, they got in three times! Who knew after experiencing such heartbreak, we would all look back at those times as the glory years.

[Photographs of Vin Scully via Sports Illustrated; pictures of Paul Haddad provided by the author]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver