Mike Krukow remembers the admonition that his mom and dad issued almost every baseball night, once the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the voice of Vin Scully declared over 50,000 watts: “Dodger baseball is on the air!”
“My parents told us, my sister and I, to keep our mouths shut and listen to this guy,” Krukow said at AT&T Park, where he has since established himself as one of the top voices in the game. “Everybody hung on every word, is what you did. When the Dodgers would go back to the Midwest or the East, the games would come on right around 4 or 5 o’clock, and right through dinnertime, we’d sit there in silence and listen to the game.”
In suburban Alhambra where Krukow grew up, and in thousands of other homes over thousands of games, Scully burrowed himself into the lives of millions of baseball fans in Southern California and across the country with his mesmerizing descriptions of the national pastime.
With Scully at the microphone, you could see a runner round third while the throw rocketed in from the outfield and all of it came crashing together at the plate. He told stories between pitches, of players and umpires and coaches and managers who served as characters in the ongoing drama of summer that stretched back to the turn of the last century. For generations, he drew in millions with his sense of human interest, his appreciation of history, his unmatched ability to describe the complicated physics of a simple game.
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Now, after 67 years, Scully is retiring, and his last game will be between the Dodgers and Giants, a rivalry that he has lived from coast to coast, on Sunday at AT&T Park. Amid the adulation showered on Scully in recent weeks, Krukow offers an unusual perspective. He is a friend and colleague, a former player who had the honor of having some of his games described by Scully.
Perhaps most importantly, Krukow grew up with Scully’s voice in his head – deliberate and reassuring, never rushed, calm and respectful, one imbedded in him and untold tens of thousands from the moment they reached baseball cognizance. They heard it as part of a communal ritual, shared with their friends and family and neighbors from the desert to the sea, this voice in the background of their lives as they drove the freeways or piddled around in the garage or the back yard or on a transistor radio at school during the World Series.
“We had this big Grafonola HiFi set, and you would turn it on, and he and (backup announcer) Jerry Doggett would come on, and – it was just religiously – we would listen to the games,” Krukow said. “I mean, I was a little guy listening to the games. When I got into grammar school, transistor radios were a big deal, so that’s what you got for Christmas, and a transistor radio was perfect for Vin Scully. I’d kind of lay in bed and listen to Dodger games, and he was just magical.”
Krukow heard all of the great calls. “We go to Chicago” certainly ranked as one of the most spine-tingling, when Gil Hodges scored on a throwing error by Felix Mantilla as the Dodgers beat the Braves in a 1959 playoff to advance to the World Series. More famously, Vin Scully enthralled Southern California with the final inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs in 1965, reporting the time of day on most every pitch – “It is 9:46 p.m.” – and finishing with the melodic, “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away, Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch: swung on and missed, a perfect game!” Then, the uninterrupted crowd noise, for 38 seconds, as the Dodger fans completed the story.
“All the calls, the signature ‘A-way back there, she’s gone,’ ” Krukow said, quoting Scully’s trademarked description of a home run. “We would do that playing Wiffle Ball in the front yard. Everybody in the neighborhood could do Vin Scully, or at least they thought they could do Vin Scully. It was such a rich presentation of baseball.”
From the front yards of Alhambra, Krukow moved on to San Gabriel High School and then to Cal Poly. The Cubs drafted him, and by 1977 the rookie right hander had made the starting rotation. On June 17, Krukow took the mound for the Cubs at Dodger Stadium in front of 52,487 fans on Bat Night. It was a moment he had been waiting for his entire baseball life.
“I’d met Vin that night around the batting cage,” Krukow said. “I introduced myself – first time I’d ever met him. Here I was in uniform, taking BP. So we go out in the bottom of the first inning, and everybody’s got their radios, and you can hear that echo (of Scully’s voice being heard throughout the stadium), and I always told anybody who would listen, ‘My goal is to have Vin Scully say my name on the radio.’ If I could do that, if he does that, then I will have arrived, and you could shoot me. And here I was, on the mound, in the bottom of the first, and I heard him talking about me. He was saying my name, and I could hear him say it.”
Scully knew as a little boy he wanted to be an announcer. The same way Scully enthralled Krukow and the generations to follow, he himself was enthralled by the roar of the crowds that came over the radio when he listened to college football games while growing up in New York City. He became a Giants fan, walking 20 blocks after school to watch them play in the Polo Grounds. Nothing resonated like their crosstown rivalry with the Dodgers. On a recent conference call with national reporters, Scully recalled when he worked in the post office as a young man and how the fans of the two clubs argued with each other while standing “shoulder to shoulder,” sorting the mail. In California, 400 miles separated the Dodgers and Giants, but they still rolled in the dirt when they played each other, Scully told his listeners.
It is fitting that he conclude his career with these teams going at it, with the Giants fighting for a playoff spot and the Dodgers trying to keep them out.
A few booths over from Scully’s, Krukow will work the game with his partner, Duane Kuiper, a duo that has established the same kind of relationship with their listeners in Northern California on Giants broadcasts as Scully did down south with the Dodgers.
“I think every baseball fan has a relationship with an announcer, somebody who was behind the microphone who told the story that enhanced the image of the games in the eyes of that fan,” Krukow said. “Everybody has a relationship with a broadcaster, and here is the guy that is the best that ever was, and for 67 years, he brought so many people into our game. He really was an ambassador in every way, shape and form, as to how he made the game so desirable just by the way he described it, and that’s what his mark on this game was. He brought people into this game, perhaps more so than any other broadcaster.”