Final thoughts on a weekend, a childhood, Dick Enberg and the Central Michigan Chippewas

So this is really happening, the last umbilical cuts to my childhood soundtrack.

I am honesty not happy, or ready.

Vin Scully and Dick Enberg, one half of the play-by-play pantheon of sports broadcasters who ruled Los Angeles in the halcyon days, are signing off at the end of this baseball season.

Chick Hearn left us a while ago and soon only L.A. Kings’ announcer Bob Miller will remain.

There will never again be a set of announcers like these--not because it can’t happen—but because most owners won’t allow it. They all now want house-men who giggle for their teams and try to make you believe every .235 banjo hitter is about to "get something to drive."

I have been gradually bracing for Scully, but found myself emotionally unprepared for Bill Shaikin’s terrific story on Enberg’s impending retirement in Sunday’s L.A. Times.

Enberg is 81 now, finishing up his last act with the San Diego Padres. I was actually thinking about him Saturday after his alma mater, Central Michigan, pulled off an epic football upset at Oklahoma State (even if the final miracle play should not have counted).

How many people know Enberg is a Chippewa?

I was thinking it was unfair that Central Michigan's magnificent effort was going to be overshadowed by larger, more powerful, outside forces.

A similar thing is happening to Enberg, class of 1957, in going out the same year as Scully. How is Central Michigan ever going to compete with Fordham?

What hit me hardest about Shaikin’s piece was Enberg telling the story of being stuck on a plane, Oct. 27, 2002, during Game 7 of the World Series between the Angels and San Francisco.

Enberg didn’t know the final score until the pilot informed the passengers. He got emotional on the plane as he reflected on a day long-suffering Angels’ fans didn’t know would happen.

“I got shivers thinking about it,” Enberg told Shaikin. “I broke out sobbing. This hefty woman was sitting next to me, she couldn’t understand why this grown man was crying.”

This line stopped me cold Sunday in my office chair, because the same thing happened to me. I was flying back to L.A. from Tallahassee, the day after Notre Dame defeated Bobby Bowden’s Florida State. After Game 6 on Saturday I realized I was going to miss Game 7.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

I spent the entire flight, after connecting through Atlanta, imagining Game 7 in my mind. The pilot finally broke in with the final score as we were approaching Ontario Airport.

The passengers erupted in cheers. At this point I was doing a pretty good impression of a callous, jaded professional sportswriter who had learned to suppress his bubble-gum card feelings.

Also, when you’re bumping up on deadline, trust me, you’d root against your mother.

Just like Enberg, though, I was trapped in a fuselage when the Angels finally won. I got emotional, Ok? Maybe even welled up a bit as I returned my tray table to its full, upright and locked position.

I attended my first Angels’ game in 1966, when I was 9, with tickets won by my sister in a raffle. Frank Howard hit a home run for the Washington Senators.

All kids know this: you don’t pick your teams growing up—they pick you. I grew up in Orange County, 15 minutes from a big league stadium, so it was settled law. I was a junior Angel. The Dodgers seemed as far away as the Moon—who actually went to Los Angeles?

We Angel fans all suffered through the lean years, but at least we had Dick Enberg from 1969 through 1978 to get us through the dog days of August (and May, June, July and September).

While the Dodgers seemed to have a standing World Series date in the 1970s, backed by the greatest baseball announcer ever, we endured AL West basement finishes and the lonely retort, “Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin’”

My guess is that it’s easier to be a broadcaster for a winning team, yet Enberg got stuck 162 games a year with Orlando Ramirez, Rudy Meoli and the rest of us misfits.

With Enberg, however, you never knew where the Angels stood in the standings. His enthusiasm level never waned—the sign of a true pro. He deferred brilliantly to side kick Don Drysdale--"you got to throw at 'em!"-- to make every game seem essential.

Thank God he\we had Nolan Ryan, our fire-balling, flawed version of Sandy Koufax.

Enberg worked masterfully in the suburbs of Scully.

Vin had his signature moment in calling Koufax’s perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. “Two-and-two to Harvey Keunn…” It remains an unmatched, virtuoso performance.

That moment for Angel fans was Enberg’s radio call on Ryan’s fourth no-hitter, against Baltimore. Ryan recorded the final out on a change-up, of all pitches, to Bobby Grich.

“Strike Three Called!” Enberg screamed.

I also once remember radio Enberg describing a 100-mph Ryan fastball that met the bat of Boston slugger Jim Rice.

It wasn’t really a call as much as it was a loud crack and Enberg simply saying “Oh My” to explain just how far the ball was traveling into the night.

So thank you, Mr. Enberg. I wish we could all meet back in my living room on a Sunday in 1975, against Baltimore, with Grich digging in and Ryan staring down.

Or, on a Sunday in the 1960s with the Rams, me with my ear to KMPC and you describing a Roman Gabriel rainbow pass to Jack Snow. Or Dick “Scooter” Bass scampering off right off tackle.

Or a Friday night in the 1970s, me alone with a television while you did the tape-delayed broadcast of Wooden-era UCLA basketball.

So that’s all I’ve got left to say, Mr. Enberg, except for thank you for all that, and all those Rose Bowls and even your loud jackets on the quiz show "Sports Challenge."

You had a walk-off career, so go ahead and start the slow trot.

Don’t forget to “touch ‘em all.”.[/membership]

Comments