Oct 04

Guest Post: Bob Haire’s Letter to Vin Scully

As noted in my piece about Vin Scully on Oct. 2, with my dad’s permission, I wanted to post his letter to Vin Scully here as a guest post. Well, I received that approval. So, without further ado, here’s the outstanding note that he penned on Sept. 22:

September 22, 2016

Dear Vin,

In 1958, I was 10 years old. That year, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and I fell in love with a baseball team by listening to a magical voice on the radio. It was to play a huge role in saving my life. My sister and I grew up in a rough situation. My mother had a severe mental illness and my father was an alcoholic. My childhood consisted of isolating myself from my parents and taking care of my sister, who is four years younger than me. I include this information for context and not as a sob story. At 68, I have lived a life filled with joy, family, and great friends.

However, in 1958, playing baseball and listening to the Dodgers were the activities that helped give my life balance, normalcy, and contentment. The Dodgers became my escape and my passion – and that magical voice my passport to so many things more important than baseball. For the past 58 years, I have eagerly listened to my entertainer, my mentor, my storyteller, my philosopher, my inspiration, and my friend Vin Scully. The games were always entertaining but the education about life that elevated each broadcast to a higher level made every broadcast compelling.

I have so many fond memories of the greatest games. I can hear the “big bouncer over the mound” in the playoff game against the Braves that propelled the Dodgers into the 1959 World Series. I remember playing pool in my garage the night the Dodgers handed Elroy Face his only loss (18-1) in 1959. I can still visualize Sandy Koufax, in Yankee Stadium, striking out the side in the first inning of the 1963 World Series. His curve ball that day is still the best I’ve ever seen. In 1965, I was a junior in high school when Koufax pitched a complete game on two days rest to win the World Series. I was in Spanish class that day, with a transistor radio in my pocket and an earphone running up inside my shirt, because my parents wouldn’t let me stay home that day. I was at Dodger Stadium the night Don Drysdale broke the scoreless inning record. Last but not least, there’s the greatest moment in the history of Los Angeles sports: Kirk Gibson’s home run in the first game of the 1988 World Series. I mark your broadcasts of these moments as milestones in my life because they have brought so much pure joy.

When I go to Dodger Stadium now, I always cry tears of happiness during the National Anthem because it is my cathedral and one place where I feel a true sense of belonging and contentment. From my son’s season seats, I have always been able to look up into the press box and see the man that made this all real for me as a child – and every year since.

Vin, I know from reading so much about you and seeing you interviewed, that you are a kind, humble man who feels blessed to have been able to do the job to which you aspired. I can tell all the adulation makes you uncomfortable. When people say that you are the greatest sports announcer of all time (which you are) they are being complimentary and kind. However, some of them miss the reasons why you are so beloved by millions of people in Southern California and around the country. It is not just your technical ability to announce a game. Rather, it is your humility, your humanity, and your incredible ability to tell a story (your D-Day commentary from this year being a prime example). It’s also your ability to be funny and profound, to know when not to speak, and how you weave all of these elements into a single broadcast.

To me the pantheon of sports in Southern California consists of only four men: Sandy Koufax, Magic Johnson, John Wooden, and Vin Scully. I’ve only met one of them. I had the honor of meeting Magic Johnson when he was the keynote speaker at an event produced by my son. I was able to speak to him personally and found that he was an even better person than he was a Hall of Fame basketball player. I truly believe the other three men on my list fall in to the same category. The massive outpouring of love being directed your way is because we all know that Vin Scully, the great announcer, is dwarfed by Vin Scully, the man.

Vin, I want to wish you and your lovely wife Sandra the very best in retirement. You have been my friend for 58 years. You have lifted me up, calmed me down, thrilled me, taught me the meaning of grace and humility, and eternally entertained me. Even though we have never met, I feel both a need and an obligation to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you have done to make my life richer and happier. For my son Tom, my daughter Jenny, my sister Susan, we send you all our love and best wishes for a blessed retirement. This time the roar of the crowd is all for you!


Robert Haire


Oct 02

“Hi Everybody, and a Very Pleasant Sunday Evening to You, Wherever You May Be …”

“But watching Rigney’s reaction, it looks like Gorman is gonna call it foul! And Rigney is about ready to eat his glasses. Alston has walked away like a Philadelphia lawyer who has just won his case. Rigney slams his hat down! And the grey hairs glistening under the lights. Bill is now goin’ jaw-to-jaw with Boggess … now he kicks at the dirt. Hands on his hips. Left hand thrown high in the air!”

— Vin Scully, May 30, 1959

My lifetime with Vin Scully actually started years before I was born. Let me explain: I was born into a Dodger family. My dad was 10 years old when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and they became his everything. He wrote an amazing letter to Vinny last week that — if he’s so gracious — I’d love to share on TomRants as a guest post.

Just above my computer monitor in my home office sits this shelf, which includes: a 1981 World Series official ball, given to me by my aunt in 1981; a Vin Scully bobblehead; and a ball signed by Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey — a birthday gift from my wife this year.

Just above my computer monitor in my home office sits this shelf, which includes: a 1981 World Series official ball, given to me by my aunt in 1981; a Vin Scully bobblehead; and a ball signed by Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey — a birthday gift from my wife this year.

Anyway, before I can even remember, I was a Dodger fan. And, therefore, I was a Vin Scully fan. The first game I remember attending at Dodger Stadium was in 1976 — when I was five — against the Padres, in all their brown-and-gold glory. Of course, we took a radio to the ballpark that day.

I really started consciously tuning into the Dodgers in those pennant-winning years of 1977 and 1978. We would listen to every game — and watch the 50 games they showed on KTTV Channel 11. The personalities seemed so big to me: manager Tommy Lasorda; the infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill, Russell, and Ron Cey; and, of course, Vinny — the voice I associated with the Dodgers, probably from before I could speak.

About that time, my dad introduced me to an album from his vast collection: “Dodgers 59,” it was called. It contained audio recordings from the Dodgers’ second year on the West Coast, when they’d become the first team in baseball history to go from seventh place to the World Series the very next year, and then beat the Chicago White Sox for their first championship in L.A.

I sat, transfixed, as Vinny’s calls from that memorable season flowed from the speakers. There was Roy Campanella Night at the Coliseum, with 93,000 fans lighting candles in support of the famed Dodger catcher who had been paralyzed in a car crash in January 1958. There was a record-setting 18-strikeout game from a young fireballer named Sandy Koufax. That same game featured a three-run walk-off home run from Wally Moon to beat the hated Giants. There was Vin calling two games at once during the pennant race — with the Coliseum crowd listening in on transistor radios and reacting to every pitch of the Giants-Phillies game up the coast. And, of course, there’s the famous call of the moment the Dodgers clinched the National League pennant in a playoff against the Milwaukee Braves on Sept. 29, 1959:

Dodgers 59

Click the album cover to visit the YouTube link for the Side 1 audio of the Dodgers 59 album. The audio is broken up into sides one and two.

“Big bouncer over the mound, over second base. Up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!”

While all of those moments were incredible — Vin weaving tales and descriptions of the happenings on the field for an audience listening strictly on the radio — there was one nearly 10-minute clip on the record that stood above everything else. It’s the one that made me a fan for life. On May 30, 1959, the Dodgers were playing the Giants at the Coliseum. In the sixth inning, Willie Mays hit a Don Drysdale pitch high down the left field line where it struck — depending on who you believe — the foul pole or one of two guide wires that helped hold up the 40-foot-tall left field screen. That foul pole was just 251 feet away from home plate due to the Coliseum’s layout as a football and track stadium. The heated argument — first by the Dodgers after the ball was initially ruled a home run, then by the Giants when it appeared the umpires had reversed course and called the ball foul (before splitting the difference and awarding Mays a ground-rule double) — was, as described by Vinny, a dramatic stage play. The quote at the top of this story is from the middle of the rhubarb and is my favorite turn of phrase, but there were others.

How’s this for a description of Dodger third baseman Don Zimmer pleading his case:

“Zimmer will be hoarse in another two minutes. The veins on each side of his neck bulging out like the cable that actually holds up the left field screen.”

Or this description of Giant manager Bill Rigney and third-base umpire Dusty Boggess:

“Boggess comes over and Rigney, like a mad traffic cop now, with the right hand indicating all the umpires are mad.”

It was all magic — all of it. I didn’t want to listen to anything else. I probably gave that record as good a wearing out as my dad did when he was 11. Last week, thanks to a quick Google search, I located the audio from the album on YouTube. Both sides are linked in text above (here they are, in case you missed them: Dodgers 59 Side 1 and Dodgers 59 Side 2).

After being hooked for good, I was a lucky kid, because every April I was granted six (or more) months of Vinny and the Dodgers. Not only that, but the Dodgers were one of the best teams in baseball for almost my entire childhood. Between my birth and my 18th birthday, the Dodgers won seven N.L. West championships, four National League pennants, and two World Series. They also finished second in the N.L. West six other times.


“Griffin ready, at the belt. Delivers. Valenzuela lines it in to right field! Base hit! Dodgers lead, 1-0! (40 seconds of silence as the crowd roars.) And they are going wild at Dodger Stadium! And there’s no way this game will continue — not for a while! Valenzuela is told by Manny Mota, ‘Take your helmet off.’ So Valenzuela said, ‘Ok!’ He lifted his helmet high in the air and the crowd loved it! I swear, Fernando, you are too much in any language. Could you imagine, on this night of all nights, he’s two-for-two, he got the first Dodger hit, and he just drives in a run. The Dodgers lead one-nothing and here’s Davey Lopes. Griffin ready and delivers and it’s waved at and missed, 0-and-1. Listen to this crowd just talkin’ to themselves. Whoa-ho, what a show! Dodger Stadium, what a great place to be.”

— Vin Scully, April 27, 1981

1981 Dodgers World Champions

Click the album cover to visit the YouTube link for the audio of the 1981 Dodgers album, narrated by Vin Scully. The audio is broken up into six parts.

Vin was there for all of it. Sure, he had sidekicks like Jerry Doggett (whose radio call of Rick Monday’s pennant-winning home run in Montreal in 1981 is memorable in its own right), Ross Porter (who seemed to have memorized every baseball statistic), and Drysdale, who returned to the team as a broadcaster in 1988 (if you’ve never heard his call of the Gibson home run, give it a listen). But it was always Vinny, every night, welcoming us like a friend he’d been expecting: “A very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be.”

By the time I was 10, you couldn’t pry me away from the Dodgers or Vinny in the summer. We usually only went to one or two games a year, but the radio and TV were always there. We subscribed to ONtv, a pay-TV service that pre-dated cable, when the Dodgers added 20 home TV broadcasts to that channel in the late 1970s. Now, 70 games were televised! And, you could always count on Channel 11 adding a few random home games at the end of the season when the Dodgers were in the race.

With my sister in the backyard in Fullerton. Homeplate for my Scully-inspired re-enactments is right behind us.

With my sister in the back yard in Fullerton. Home plate for my Vinny-inspired re-enactments is right behind us.

I was transfixed by baseball, by the Dodgers, by Vinny. Around that same time, I’d acquired the plastic batting helmets of all 12 National League teams from the local toy store. During the summer, if the Dodgers were in the Midwest or on the East Coast with an early start, I’d take my little Hitachi radio, my Dodger helmet, and the helmet of whichever team they were playing (that gold-topped, black-billed Pirates helmet was probably my second favorite) and head out to the back yard where I’d play along with the game as each hitter for both teams. Vin’s voice and descriptions made it easy for me to mimic the action.

That same Hitachi radio served as my bedtime buddy. Growing up in Fullerton, just a few miles north of Disneyland, I have three distinct memories of going to bed in the summer: bedtime was 9 p.m.; at 9:30, you’d hear the “Boom! Bam! Bam!” of the Disneyland fireworks in the distance; and trying my best to stay awake as long as I could listening to Dodgers’ home games on the radio.

(In the winter, those same “stay awake to listen” memories belong to the Lakers and Chick Hearn.)

It’s only because of Vin that — at that age — I knew names like John Ramsey (the long-time Dodger Stadium and all-L.A. public address announcer in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) and Helen Dell (the Dodger organist from 1972 to 1987). It’s because of Vin that I knew then — and I know now — that Farmer John meats are always “the easternmost in quality, and the westernmost in flavor.” It’s because of Vin that I learned to “Go with the spirit! The spirit of 76!” when the car needed gas.

And it’s because of Vin that my family was brought together by those damn Dodgers. Because, as often as they enjoyed glorious victories, they also sustained crushing losses. The Dodgers always made things exciting — as when they won the last three home games of the 1980 regular season to catch the Astros for first place, only to lose, 7-1, in the single-game playoff against Houston in the same stadium on the next day.

Could be wrong, but this certainly looks like the same Hitachi transistor that was bedside throughout my childhood.

Could be wrong, but this certainly looks like the same Hitachi transistor that was bedside throughout my childhood.

The 1981 World Champions, led by the only group of Dodgers I’d ever known at that point — Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Baker, Smith, Monday, Yeager, Hooton — were simply remarkable. Not only did they produce one dramatic victory after another in the postseason (trailing Houston two games to none in the division series, Montreal 2-1 in the LCS, and the Yankees 2-0 in the World Series), but they also produced maybe the best one-player phenomenon I’ve ever seen in baseball. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like Fernandomania again — and Vin was there to spin the tale into the tapestry of baseball history.

As the team began to change — age and the era of free agency forcing the Dodgers to make moves — the successes continued. Vin’s call of a dramatic 1983 pennant race victory over the Braves, closed out on a squeeze bunt by rookie R.J. Reynolds is a memory seared into my head: my whole family, jumping around the living room on a hot September Sunday, as Vin called, “The squeeze! And here comes the run! They squeezed it in!” (No. 13 on the Dodgers’ Top 20 Vin Scully calls as ranked by Dodger fans)

By the fall of 1988, I’d reached my senior year of high school. That summer, my dad and I fell into the magic of that Dodger team, attending a pair of memorable Saturday night games on back-to-back weekends in August. But the Dodgers also had been crushed time and again by a Mets team that had taken 10 of 11 regular season meetings. When they playoffs started, the Mets did it again, rallying from 2-0 down in the ninth inning of Game 1. There was simply no way the Dodgers were going to come back from that. But come back they did, gritting and grinding through a memorable seven-game series win, capped off by another shutout performance from Orel Hershiser.

Game 1 of the World Series, in which the Cinderella Dodgers again looked overmatched, this time by the powerful Oakland A’s, took place on a warm Saturday evening in L.A. The Dodgers looked even more overmatched because National League MVP Kirk Gibson was not expected to play in the series due to a pair of injured legs. That night, I was at a friend’s house in Fullerton, watching with a group of other friends and planning on going to a high school party later, when Gibson suddenly appeared — and a 3-2 Dennis Eckersley slider suddenly disappeared into the right-field pavilion.

“High fly ball into right field. She is … gone!”

And then, perhaps, Vin’s greatest line. After more than a minute of silence, letting the sound and NBC’s pictures tell the story, he returned to air with the perfect description of that Dodger season:

“In a year that’s been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

A few minutes of deep breaths later, I was on my friend’s house phone, calling my dad. We proceeded to, essentially, ugly cry into each other’s ears for about three minutes before hanging up. To this day, it’s still the greatest single moment I’ve ever seen as a sports fan — and it had to be Vin at the mic.

Five days later the Dodgers won the World Series in Oakland (“Like the 1969 Mets, it’s the impossible dream — revisited,” Vin said.) Twenty-eight years later, they still haven’t been back.


Dodgers 12, Giants 1. The 103-win Giants finish out of the playoffs thanks to Mike Piazza and the Dodgers.

Dodgers 12, Giants 1. The 103-win Giants finish out of the playoffs thanks to Mike Piazza and the Dodgers.

“He hits a high fly ball to right field. Back goes Martinez. To the wall, it is gone! Miracle upon miracles, he’s hit another one! And it’s 10-1, Dodgers! They are going wild at Dodger Stadium as Mike Piazza has just put a fillip on one of the more dramatic moments of the year — and he gets another curtain call!”

— Vin Scully, October 3, 1993

You might ask: haven’t those 28 years without a World Series been frustrating as a fan? Of course they have, especially after the success I’d grown used to in the early stages of my life. However, while of course we all want to see the Dodgers in (and winning) a World Series again, there is something more to being a Dodger fan then any other team I’m a fan of. Certainly, having graduated from USC, Trojan football is right up there with it — and I do love my Kings and Lakers.

But there’s something extra special about the feeling I have for the Dodgers. What it comes down to is a feeling about life and family — those summers as a kid, playing along. Those nights with the radio nestled next to my pillow. Those times where my family would be listening or watching to an important game in the living room. Those times — limited as a child — where you walked into Dodger Stadium, smelled the Dodger Dogs, the beer, the peanuts, heard the organ, the roar of the crowd, and Vinny over the radio.

With my dad and sister at Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS.

With my dad and sister at Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS.

What all of those feelings come back to is Vin Scully. All of us can list our favorite Dodger memories — beyond those I’ve mentioned: the Fernando Valenzuela no-hitter in 1990; the Kevin Gross no-hitter (which I attended) during the dismal 1992 season; being at the park with my dad on Oct. 3, 1993 when Mike Piazza destroyed the Giants’ post-season hopes; Steve Finley’s walk-off grand slam to beat the Giants on the next to the last day of the 2004 season to clinch the division; Vin’s aptly named “Magic Castle” of 2013, when — for two months — it seemed the Dodgers couldn’t lose.

But what we can’t list or quantify is the feeling of knowing — at the end of a long day at school or work, or after a difficult argument with your mother or girlfriend, or even when you woke up on a brilliant Sunday morning with a spring in your step — that Vin would be there to let you know that “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”

For most of my adult life, I commuted somewhere between 25-45 miles to work each day. Work, you say? Well, here’s another facet to my story about Vin: I went to journalism school at USC because he (and Hearn) inspired me to be a sportscaster. While that dream didn’t quite come true, there’s no doubt that his inspiration is — in part — responsible for where I am today in my professional career.

Playing catch with my dad on the Dodger Stadium field, June 1, 2014.

Playing catch with my dad on the Dodger Stadium field, June 1, 2014.

Back to the commute: about four years ago, I was able to turn things around to where I could work at home four days per week and take that load off. But during the 20 or so years I was out there driving L.A.’s freeways, there was no better feeling than getting to 7 p.m. and knowing that Vin would carry me the rest of the way home: “Hi everybody, and a very pleasant Wednesday to you, wherever you may be. We’re at Dodger Stadium for the final game of a three-game series between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds.”

It never had to be a big game. It just had to be a Dodger game with Vin on the call. It was like getting home while you were still on the road. You knew you’d be able to see the action through Vin’s words — and you knew you’d probably learn something, whether it was about an obscure rookie shortstop for the Reds, about the history of pirates, or about just how cute the baby was that everyone was seeing on TV. You knew that if there were two balls and two strikes on a hitter with two outs and two runners on base that the deuces were wild. You knew that Vinny would never put you on the wrong path with an overhyped call on a lazy fly ball — when he said, “There’s a high drive to deep left field …” you knew it was gone.

While we’ll all relish in the great calls — the classic calls, the historic calls, the calls only the greatest sports broadcaster of all time could make — what I’ll miss the most are those random weeknights in earlier in the season against any random opponent. The pennant race is still so far off then, the games — while not meaningless in any way — more of an exercise in languid enjoyment. Listening to Vin on those nights always brought me back to my childhood, my house in Fullerton, my family together. It brought me back to those years where I’d get a pair of Dodger tickets for my birthday and my dad and I would sit in Dodger Stadium, likely somewhere high up in the reserve level, with our radio on a late May night. One particular night — a 1980 game against the Cardinals won on a three-run, eighth inning homer by Dusty Baker — is so etched into my memory that I can nearly reach out and touch it.


My ticket from Vin Scully's final home game.

My ticket from Vin Scully’s final home game.

“O-and-1 to Charlie. Swung on, a high fly ball to deep left field. The Dodger bench empties! Would you believe a home run? And the Dodgers have clinched the division and will celebrate on schedule!”

— Vin Scully, September 25, 2016

Last Sunday at Dodger Stadium was, perhaps, the most incredible day in the ballpark since Oct. 15, 1988. More than 51,000 Dodger fans piled into the stadium for Vinny’s final home game on the air and for a chance to see the Dodgers win their fourth consecutive N.L. West title.

I was very lucky to be there with my amazing wife of 18 months. In 2013, when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, she agreed to take a 30-game plan of Dodger tickets with me. That year, she fell in love with those Dodgers — a loveable group, for sure, with personality plus from folks like Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, and unreal rookie Yasiel Puig. But, as she’s wont to do, she fell in love with the part-timers like scrappy Nick Punto, as well. The next year, we took season tickets for the first time. To say that becoming a Dodger season ticket holder was the culmination of a childhood dream is an understatement. And she’s been by my side there for 25-30 games a year since, building the same types of memories I’ve had since childhood.

From the start, last Sunday was so special. Each Dodger batter tipped his hat in Vin’s direction the first time through the order. There were a series of spontaneous ovations for Vin throughout the day. And when we all sang along with his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch, it was nearly overwhelming

With my wife in the Dugout Club on July 7, 2016.

With my wife in the Dugout Club on July 7, 2016.

Meanwhile: the game! Corey Seager tied it at two with an RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Seager crushed a home run to tie it up at three (“And a high drive into deep right field … Seager has done it again!”).

Finally, in the 10th inning, with the team, the crowd, and Vinny about as wrung out emotionally as you could imagine, a part-timer — just the kind of guy he has the best stories about — named Charlie Culberson etched his name into Dodger history.

The celebration on the field. The celebration in the crowd. The team turning in unison and tipping their new division champion hats collectively to Vin. And Vin asking us to listen to his rendition of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” I still have a hard time fathoming it — and I watched all of it happen from my spot in Loge 159. Maybe 45 minutes later, as my wife and I were still wandering around the stadium, dazed but thrilled, my phone rang in my pocket. It was my dad. We spoke briefly about the game. He said, “You know, ‘The Natural’ was written as fantasy. I’ve now seen the Dodgers do something better — and less believable — than that movie twice in my life.”

More importantly, as we moved to end the call, he said, “I just wanted to call you to share this moment with you. It was so special. And I love you, son.”

I blubbered out an “I love you, too,” as I fought off tears of my own. I’d already cried enough that afternoon!

The NL West champion Dodgers doff their caps to Vin Scully on Sept. 25, 2016.

The NL West champion Dodgers doff their caps to Vin Scully on Sept. 25, 2016.

You can tell me all you want about sports being silly, or about how dumb it might be to idolize another person. But, I can tell you that Vin Scully — a man I’ve never met, whom I feel I know incredibly well — puts the lie to all of that. He’s brought families together, given so many people refuge from the daily battles in tough times, and given so many people even more joy at the best times.

This is what Vin has meant to me, to us — to all of us who have been a part of those 67 years calling the Dodgers. Home, family, love, learning, life, winning, losing — and how to handle it all with grace and dignity.

Thank you, Vinny. While we’ll miss you, we’ll always have you in our minds and in our hearts — where, forevermore, it will be time for Dodger baseball!

Apr 09

Welcome Back to Dodger Stadium!

One thing you should know about me as a sports fan: the Los Angeles Dodgers are a veryclose second to USC football. And, to be honest, without the fact that I eventually attended USC after growing up a Trojan football fan, the Dodgers would likely be far and away No. 1. The first Dodger game I remember attending was in 1976 (vs. the then-brown-and-gold clad San Diego Padres), and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of my annual birthday presents was tickets to a game, usually on the next homestand (in mid-late May). Those tickets included two of the more memorable moments I enjoyed as a child with my dad at Dodger Stadium: a Dusty Baker 3-run HR to beat the St. Louis Cardinals and seeing Pete Rose and Larry Bowa of the Philadelphia Phillies both get thrown out of the game arguing the same call at third base in an eventual Dodger victory.

2009 Opener

The colors ... the packed house ... it's Dodger Stadium on Opening Day (here, 2009).

However, those memories – and many, many more – often take a back seat to one of the greatest traditions in this city: the Dodgers’ home opener. It’s an event that is always sold out, and for generations of Southern Californians, tomorrow’s 50th anniversary opener against Pittsburgh (intriguingly, it’s the Dodgers first home opener against the Pirates since 1957, the club’s final year in Brooklyn) carries an awful lot of emotional attachments. With the recent announcement of the sale of the team to a big-bucks investor group fronted by Laker legend Magic Johnson, hopes are high that a turnaround from the embarrassment of the past two seasons is not too far off, and that the 24-year drought without a National League pennant or world championship may be closer to an end. At the same time, the fact that the opener is 50 years to the day from the first Opening Day at Dodger Stadium once again will allow long-time fans to revel in the decades of great memories that have occurred in Chavez Ravine.

Tomorrow will be my 27th Opening Day in the past 31 seasons, and the night before has always been a Christmas Eve of sorts for me. To celebrate, here are my personal top 10 Dodger Stadium Opening Day memories.

Familiar pose.

Armando Benitez likely looked rather similar after the 2005 Dodgers' home opener.

10. April 12, 2005: Dodgers 9, Giants 8. In a very sloppily played opener between two teams that would go on to underwhelm for the next six months, Jeff Weaver allowed eight runs in 3+ innings and the Dodgers trailed 8-3 after four. It was still 8-5 Giants heading to the bottom of the ninth, when the Dodgers staged a two-out rally against San Francisco’s wildly unreliable closer, Armando Benitez. With the bases loaded and still trailing 8-6, Milton Bradley lined a single to left field that went between defensive replacement Jason Ellison’s legs, allowing all three runners to score for what, looking back, was probably the most enjoyable win of a horrible Dodger season.

9. April 1, 1997: Phillies 3, Dodgers 0. In the second-most masterful Opening Day pitching performance I’ve seen at Dodger Stadium, Curt Schilling strikes out 11 L.A. batters and allows just two hits over eight innings to outduel Ramon Martinez and silence the big Dodger Stadium crowd.

Top Opening Day pitching performance.

Hideo Nomo outdueled the Braves' Tom Glavine on Opening Day 1996.

8. April 8, 1996: Dodgers 1, Braves 0. Schilling’s performance, though, paled to Hideo Nomo’s complete game shutout one year before. While Nomo was (predictably) wild, walking five while striking out six, he made his best pitches at the biggest moments. Atlanta’s Tom Glavine made just one mistake, allowing a two-out run scoring single to Raul Mondesi in the third inning, during his 7-inning performance. But Nomo had an answer for every Brave rally, holding Atlanta to just three hits.

7. April 14, 2000: Dodgers 8, Reds 1. In what was to be Orel Hershiser’s final major league victory (he had rejoined the Dodgers in the offseason and would retire in late June after struggling for most of the season), the Bulldog pulled out one more bit of Dodger Stadium magic, holding the Reds to one run over 6 tough innings. The Dodgers then broke open a tight game with a 6-run seventh inning, including back-to-back 2-run doubles by Shawn Green and Eric Karros.


1990 HR

Hubie Brooks' game-winning HR in 1990 was just part of a packed day.

6. April 9, 1990: Dodgers 4, Padres 2. In a season opener delayed one week by a pre-season players’ strike, new Dodger Hubie Brooks clubbed a 3-run home run in the bottom of the eighth innning to give Dodgers’ fans a memorable Opening Day victory. This day was also the only time where I attended both the Dodgers and Angels home openers on the same day. My friends Lee and Jeff rolled with me to Dodger Stadium for the afternoon game and then headed south down the 5 for the Angels evening opener, where Ken Griffey Jr.’s booming 3-run HR off Bert Blyleven provided the difference in a 7-4 Mariners win. Amazingly, our seats for each game were within about 2o feet of the landing spots of both Brooks’ and Griffey’s home runs. A truly memorable day.

5. April 13, 2009: Dodgers 11, Giants 1. The Dodgers walking through the stands and among the 56,000 fans down to the third-base line during pre-game introductions. Vin Scully, perhaps the most important Dodger of them all, throwing out the first ball to celebrate his 60th season broadcasting for the team. And a 10-run victory over the rival Giants? That’s gotta be a top-fiver, right?

2-HR game

Raul Mondesi celebrates his game-winning HR on Opening Day 1999.

4. April 5, 1999: Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 6 (11). Raul! Raul! Mondesi’s 3-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth spoiled Randy Johnson’s strong 7-inning start by tying the game at six. And his two-run blast deep into the Dodger bullpen in the bottom of the 11th won it. A great memory provided by a player whose flashes of brilliance were too far and few between for a man of his prodigious physical tools.

3. April 13, 1989: Astros 4, Dodgers 2 (15). The game itself was a 4 1/2 hour exercise in pulling teeth, basically previewing the Dodgers’ season that year. But, oh, the pregame ceremony celebrating the 1988 World Champions! Watching the entire roster carry the World Championship banner from home plate out to the centerfield flagpoles and hoist it up – unforgettable. It was the perfect way to celebrate a team that truly was more than the sum of its parts.

2. March 31, 2008: Dodgers 5, Giants 0. Speaking of unforgettable, the Opening Day celebration of the Dodgers’ 50th season in Los Angeles featured a who’s who – in uniform – of past players, all gathered in their positions on the field. With the final trio of Tom Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela and Sandy Koufax literally bringing thousands of Dodger fans to tears, it was the perfect encapsulation of Los Angeles Dodgers history. The poetic justice of the final score – 5-0 (fifty years); 5-0 (then the total of World Series titles won by the rival Dodgers and Giants in the 50 years since their tandem move west) – was just icing on the cake.

Game-winning single

Dusty Baker's walk-off single is still the highlight of my ultimate Opening Day.

1. April 6, 1982: Dodgers 4, Giants 3. Amazingly, after all these years, the first is still the best. And, that’s the glory of Dodger history (as well as representative of the struggles of most of the past two decades). My favorite childhood player, Dusty Baker, singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Giants about three hours after the Dodgers raised the 1981 World Champions banner in centerfield. I remember our family and friends lingering after the final out for souvenirs, the awe of the fact that we’d gotten to see the opening game, the banner raising and the Dodgers beat the Giants – all in one day – kind of coursing through me. And then my sister and I spotted Dodger pitcher Bob Welch jogging through the field level concourse to his car, and chasing after him for his autograph. Unfortunately, he was a lot faster than a 10-year old and an 8-year old.

Will April 10, 2012 crack the list? Isn’t that always the hope that is part of Opening Day?

Go Dodgers!