Roger Miller's story of 15 minutes at 15 thousand feet
The man who for 67-years was the voice of Dodger baseball retired at the end of the 2016 season. As newspapers around the country tell his story, I reflect on a special occasion that occurred May 2015 in Taft. The visit to the Westside from American Sport casting Icon Vin Scully stands as one our community’s finest days. He was sincerely impressed with the hard working, dignified and patriotic culture he witnessed in Taft. This narrative is my version of a conversation I had pleasure of sharing with him. —Roger L. Miller (Third Generation Westsider)
“Can you fly Vin Scully to Taft?” Westside Recreation and Park District Administrator Don Koenig asked.
“When and where do I pick him up?” was my quick and anxious response.
My three hobbies in life are piloting aircraft, Dodger baseball and journalism. Imagine my excitement when asked to fly Dodger broadcasting icon Vin Scully to Taft so he could see Scully Stadium, a Whiffleball field named in his honor. This experience is my Trifecta: something worth writing about.
The original plan called for me to pick up Scully alone in my five-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza. However, as the entourage grew for Scully and event host Congressman Kevin McCarthy, it was quickly obvious we needed a bigger plane.
Jay Mercer of Golden State Air was pleased to oblige with a 10-seat Beechcraft King Air 300. Even better, with Jay’s commercial pilot Todd Schultz at the controls, I would have more time to visit with Scully in the confines of our 20-foot aluminum tube.
Within minutes of arriving at the Van Nuys Airport executive terminal, we met Scully and his lovely wife, Sandi, professionally attired for their daylong outing in Taft.
Introducing myself as Roger, Scully’s infectious smile parted with the words, “Roger Dodger.” The sweet reassuring expression on Sandi’s face made it clear this was a day the Scullys and the citizens of Taft would not soon forget.
It was also one that a star-struck pilot from Taft would cherish.
Conversation flowed majestically from the Shakespeare of Sportscasting. I needed to contain myself from asking too many questions, I thought. After all, I had been taught from high school through graduate school the most important tool in interviewing is to LISTEN.
Questions from Scully regarding the day’s activities triggered his first story.
Warned there would be hundreds of autograph seekers, he recalled Walter Alston’s opening of Chavez Ravine.
“Alston was constantly promoting the club, and as a reward to potential advertisers, every night he had a dozen baseballs in the press box signed by the entire team. As the weeks went on, Alston noticed the autographs were less legible. One night he realized the names could not be read. He slammed his fist on the broadcast table and yelled, ‘Take these balls down to the locker room and have a dozen more re-signed.’ Alston got his way, and there were no more illegible signatures from that day on.”
Scully must have learned from that episode because everything he signed in Taft was done in precise cursive.
The dulcet sports broadcasting sound to which all of America has become accustomed started at the Fordham College FM radio station. An English major, Scully relished the thought that the broadcast medium offered him full control. He could write the copy and speak it. He was a natural.
That led to his next story about how he first received notoriety. He told me his big break came at Fenway Park in November of 1949. Fresh out of college, Scully was being recruited by CBS Radio Network President Red Barber. Thinking he would be working from a press box, Scully left his gloves and coat in his hotel room. When he arrived at the frigid venue, he was shown a table and microphone on top of the stadium roof. “Despite my discomfort, I never mentioned the miserable conditions to the audience.”
Barber was impressed and soon he and Scully would work as a team calling Brooklyn Dodger games.
Scully’s prowess gained attention rapidly after that. At age 25 he was anchoring the World Series. One of his notable quotes – “There are 29,000 people in the park and a million butterflies” – was inspired by that first World Series, he said.“Besides Dodger baseball and the World Series, I broadcasted for NFL play-offs and PGA golf."
Asked about his game preparation and style he commented,” If you say ’are you different on the air and not on the air,’ the answer is no, I’m just me. I treat the game like one long conversation.”
Giving Romance a Sporting Chance
The day’s activities in Taft had kept Scully speaking for at least four hours and as he relaxed in his seat near the rear of the plane for the return trip, wife Sandi took up the conversation and talked about how they met.
Tragically widowed in 1965, Scully had many friends in the LA sports scene and one of them suggested he visit Los Angeles Rams owner Carol Rosenbloom, whose secretary, Sandra Hunt, was described as “that beautiful blonde you need to check out.”
So Scully did and invited her for coffee and later dinner, but on both occasions she stood him up. When his third overture was accepted, he was relieved to know the other two dates were declined because Sandra had two young children and babysitting arrangements had fallen through. She also didn’t have a phone number to reach her suitor.
“He respected me for that,” she said, “and our romance went smoothly thereafter.” They were married in 1973.
“She had two children and I had three,” he said. “We were The Brady Bunch.”
Today the couple enjoys16 grandchildren. While in Taft, they were presented a bundle of Vin Scully logo T-shirts. ”I can’t wait to see our youngsters running around the back yard with those on,” he said.
Best in the Business
It’s gratifying to meet a celebrity who makes family top priority.
For a man who in 1976 was named the Dodgers most memorable personality, he is overwhelmingly humble. He still marvels that the public put him ahead of such Dodger notables as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. There is nothing polarizing about Scully. Even the most ardent Giants or Yankees fans would concede he’s the best in the business.
Looking across at him as he speaks, you would think he is broadcasting. Never a verbal slip-up, not even the common “um,” or “ya know” most of us fall prey to. He has mastered a God-given talent so fluid, meaningful and precise it would make any writer envious. A prime example: his parting words for the large Taft audience assembled around the ball field named in his honor.
“I look at the crowd and I tell you this from the bottom of my heart, I will remember this crowd far more, far often and much deeper emotionally, than any crowd I have ever seen.”
Back at Van Nuys airport, the mood was bittersweet. The flight and day’s activities were perfect. Taft had put on it’s best to show their admiration. But, sadly, we were saying goodbye.
“Roger, you tell everyone in Taft that this was a most pleasant day; it could not have been better. Tell them I meant every word I said on that field a while ago.”
Walking back to the King Air, I realized this man of faith just might be the most genuine, brilliant, talented, true and inspirational individual I’ve ever met.
When and where can I pick him up again?
(Roger L. Miller was Public Information Director and Journalism Instructor at Taft College 1975-80. He has been a private pilot and Vice-President of Pacific Perforating (a Taft based tubular oilfield service company) for 35 years).