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The changes in the U.S. and the World during his baseball announcing career

Vin Scully – Brooklyn Dodgers announcer

There is a lot going on in my life right now, as well as in the life of people I care about.  It has made it more difficult for me to contribute to my blog.  I am working on a post more relevant to the main theme of my blog, but it is a difficult one and it is still in progress.  I also plan to post on some recent experiences of mine, interleaved with this series on Vin Scully.

I also haven’t written as much lately about my passion, the Dodgers.  Quite frankly I was not optimistic last year about their chances compared to the previous years when they won the NL West title.  And I was very surprised when they overcame many question marks and injuries to key players and made it to the NL Championship Series.  This year, I have been much more optimistic about the Dodgers’ chances and that assessment was borne out.  A recent horrific slump has nullified what was a near record-setting pace, although they bounced back to have the best regular season record and made it to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

But more important to me was my desire to salute one of the few remaining famous people in the world that I can admire totally without reservation.  I have never met him, though I’d like to.  So my assessment of him is based on all the accounts I have read or heard: that he is a talented, kind, generous and humble man.  One post will not do him justice.  This will by necessity be a multi-part series.  And I didn’t want to post it until all the pieces were in place.

Queen Elizabeth II early in her reign

Last year at this time, there were two famous people in the world essentially doing the same thing they were doing when I was born.  Now only one is left: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and Head of the British Commonwealth.  Hall of Fame baseball announcer Vin Scully retired last fall after announcing Dodger baseball games since April 1950.

To give you an idea of how much has changed in baseball, sports and the world in general since April 1950, here are a few facts:

  • The number of major league baseball teams increased from 16 to 30 during this time.
  • There were no major league teams west of St. Louis in 1950.
  • Teams still routinely traveled by trains and jet airline passenger service didn’t begin to become commonplace until the end of the 1950’s (after some disasters with British jet passenger aircraft a few years earlier).
  • The Dodgers opponent for Scully’s first regular season broadcast (one inning of a game in Philadelphia on 4/18/50), the Phillies, were still segregated in 1950. They wouldn’t have a black player until 7 years later.  On the same day as Scully’s first broadcast, Sam “The Jet” Jethroe made his debut with the Boston Braves, making them the sixth major league team to have a black player on the field in a regular season game since the end of the 19th century. 

    Sam Jethroe – Boston Braves

  • Jethroe led the major leagues in stolen bases that year with 35. In 2016, the major league stolen base leader had 62 steals (Jonathan Villar of the Brewers).  Under the modern definition of stolen base, a player has stolen more than 100 bases in a season 8 times with a record 130 by Rickey Henderson.  All of those seasons occurred after 1961.
  • 1950 World Series (Yankees versus Phillies) was the last World Series where neither team had a black player.
  • Vern Bickford of the Braves led the major leagues in innings pitched (312 and complete games (27). In 2016, David Price led in innings pitched (230) and Chris Sale led in complete games (6).  Relief pitchers were not referred to as closers in 1950 and with rare exceptions were the pitchers not considered good enough to be starters; the save was not yet an official category.  Today, late inning relief work is a specialty (especially to close out a win) and some of the most talented pitchers are in that role.
  • In 1950 the average time it took to play a 9-inning game was two hours and eighteen minutes. In 2016, it was three hours and two minutes, the first time the three hour mark was eclipsed.
  • Minor Leagues were divided into classes AAA, AA, A, B, C and D. Now the divisions are AAA, AA, A, Rookie.
  • In 1950, there were 58 different leagues in those classifications plus the independent Mexican League (now part of Organized Baseball’s structure) for a total of 454 teams. This year, there are 176 teams in 15 leagues.
  • There was no designated hitter or free agency in baseball. Nor was there any interleague play during the regular season.  There were no video replays of umpires’ decisions.  And baseball bats at all levels of play were made of wood.
  • Major league players left their gloves on the field at the end of an inning when they came in to hit. That practice was outlawed in 1954.
  • In 1950, the average payroll for an entire team was $432,568 ($4,425,244 in buying power today, about the same as the average salary for one major league player now). The current minimum major league salary for one player is $535,000.
  • Baseball schedules featured such items as single admission doubleheaders and Ladies Day games in which a woman accompanied by a man was admitted to the game at no charge.

    Pete Gogolak (Cornell ’64), first successful soccer style placekicker in American football

  • Football kickers approached place kicks straight on rather than soccer style.
  • College football was considerably more popular than professional football.
  • The NFL admitted three teams from the All-America Football Conference before the start of the 1950 season for a total of 13 teams (compared to 32 now).
  • The 1949-50 season was the first year of the NBA, a merger between the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League. They had a total of 17 teams divided into three divisions.  By the start of that 1954-55 season, the league was reduced to eight teams in two divisions. It would not expand again until the 1961-62 season.  In the season just concluded, there were 30 teams divided into two conferences of three divisions each.
  • The 24 second shot clock in the NBA was five seasons away.
  • NBA teams would play games at neutral courts until the practice was generally abandoned after the 1973-74 season.
  • The NHL had been reduced to six teams by the 1942-43 season due to the economic effects of the Great Depression and loss of players during WWII. It would not expand until the 1967-68 season when it doubled in size.  There are currently 30 teams.

    Jacques Plante dons the mask for the first time in a regular season NHL game.

  • No NHL goalies wore face masks. The first to do so for the remainder of his career was Jacques Plante in 1959.  With the retirement of Andy Brown after the 1976-77 season, all hockey goalies at the major league level wear masks.  It is now a requirement in the NHL for goalies to wear masks, and the rest of the players to wear helmets.
  • Ivy League: While the term was used as early as the mid-1930’s and championships in some sports were held prior to 1950 (for example the Heptagonal Games: originally all the Ivies except Brown), the league didn’t become official until 1954.
  • The President of the United States was Harry S. Truman.
  • Alaska and Hawaii were still territories of the United States.
  • The doctrine of “separate but equal” from the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson was still the law of the land. The Supreme Court had not yet overturned laws prohibiting interracial marriage in some states.  That didn’t occur until Loving v Virginia in 1967.  The Montgomery bus boycott would not occur until December 1955.
  • Women’s rights: In 1950, women could be fired for getting pregnant; could be rejected for employment simply on the basis of gender; could be discriminated against in the classroom. Women could not report sexual harassment in the workplace as a form of discrimination; could not apply for credit on her own (especially married women); could not open a bank account without the permission of her husband or near male relative; could not refuse to have sex with her husband; could not use domestic violence as grounds for divorce in some states; could not practice law or sit on a jury in some states.
  • There were 60 members of the United Nations in 1950 with the addition of Indonesia. There are currently 193 members.
  • Joseph Stalin was the head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by virtue of being General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. There is no more Soviet Union.  As to the Communist Party, opinions vary.
  • There were four independent nations on the continent of Africa in 1950: Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa. Today there are fifty-four.
  • Common everyday items of today that either did not exist or were rare in 1950: home computers, laser printers, color printers, 3-D printers, caller ID, cell phones, the Internet with hand-held devices to access it, e-mail, blogs and vlogs, hand-held video cameras affordable for the average citizen, digital photography, CD’s and DVD’s, ATM’s, practical light-emitting diodes (LED’s) used in a wide variety of devices, color TV, flat-screen TV’s many times the size of the early TV tubes in 1950, remote control, instant replay, TV dinners, transistor radios (making it much easier for LA Dodger fans to listen to Scully while at the game), passenger jets, IRA and other qualified retirement accounts (like 401K’s), microwave ovens, automatic doors, diet soda, pop-top cans, Velcro, bubble wrap, roll on deodorant, oral contraceptives, ultrasound, and child safety car seats.

    What insomniacs looked at after the last late movie until programming resumed in the morning.

  • Things which have pretty much disappeared since 1950: vinyl records (although they are making a comeback with some aficionados), record stores, telegrams and related services (like Candygrams – how would the Saturday Night Live shark get people to open the door now?), TV antennas, TV test patterns, the teaching of penmanship, two point seat belts (either the lap belt or sash belt, but not both), drive-in theaters, maps given away at gas stations, milk and other dairy product deliveries, Polaroids and other instant cameras, home movies on 8mm film, rotary phones, typewriters, carbon paper, slide rules, filmstrips, vacuum tubes (and tube testers).

    when floppy disks became rigid

  • Things which have come and gone since 1950: 8-track and cassette tapes, video tapes (especially Betamax) and video rental stores (like Blockbuster), gigantic boomboxes, analog television, splash tones during cable TV programs, dial-up Internet and external modems, floppy disks, slide projectors, mimeographs and spirit duplicators aka ditto machines (and sniffing the paper), pull tabs on cans.
  • AT&T and its subsidiaries had a monopoly on providing phone service and equipment to the general public, while the U.S. post office had no significant competition in the delivery of first class mail. Air Mail was a separate category; like the long distance phone call, it could become very expensive.
  • Banks were not permitted to cross state lines (i.e. have branches in more than one state).
  • While fast food restaurants date back to 1919 (A&W), the term fast food was not added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary until 1951. While McDonald’s existed since 1940 (as a BBQ restaurant until 1948), it didn’t have its first franchise with the golden arches until 1953.
  • Major companies which did not exist in 1950 include Walmart (1962), Microsoft (1975), Apple (1976) and Starbucks (1971).
  • Mankind had not yet come close to reaching outer space. The first artificial satellite into earth orbit would not be launched until 1957, the first person reaching outer space in 1961 and the moon in 1969.
  • $1 in 1950 had the purchasing power of about $10.15 when Scully retired. The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened at a little over 200 at the beginning of 1950. It was over 18,000 when Scully retired.
  • Diner’s Club introduced the first credit card in 1950.

So that gives you an idea of some of the changes in baseball and sports in general, as well as geopolitical and socio-economic changes since 1950.

Vin Scully has been behind the microphone of the Dodgers the entire time.  He was a fine announcer when doing football play by play or describing a golf match.  But it was his career announcing baseball that sets him apart from the rest of the broadcasting profession.  No one has done it longer or better.  And he did it for only one team.  It happens to be the team I have always rooted for since my earliest memories of baseball at age three when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.

I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. – Ecclesiastes 3:14

God bless,