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Vin Scully Needs to Correct the Record

by Tony Medley

Vin Scully is the greatest sports broadcaster in history, bar none, even Graham McNamee. When he calls a game it is poetry. Thatís why this column is so difficult to write.

Last Tuesday Scully once again told the story about 195 lb. Jackie Robinson intentionally blasting into 160 lb. Davey Williams covering first base in 1955 at Ebbets Field and then Giantsí captain and shortstop, 185 lb. Alvin Dark, deliberately trying to blast into Jackie at third base a couple of innings later in retaliation. Jackie wanted to attack Giantsí pitcher Sal (The Barber) Maglie because Maglie had a habit of throwing close to Dodgers battersí chins (ergo the appellation ďThe BarberĒ), so Jackie dragged a bunt down the first base line, hoping Maglie would field it. But Maglie was too smart to field it, leaving it to First Baseman Whitey Lockman, who threw the ball to Williams covering first. So Jackie hit the first person he saw, which happened to be Davey, knocking him out of the game.

Dark and the Giants were incensed so two innings later Dark hit a normal double but didnít even pause at second, aiming to hit Jackie, who was playing third base, as hard as he could, even though Jackie (unlike Williams) was expecting the hit. Scully told the story impeccably. But both times Iíve heard him tell it, Scully ends the story by saying, ďOf course, Jackie held onto the ball.Ē

This is an odd thing to say for several reasons. First, because itís irrelevant to the story and, second, he doesnít say whether or not Williams held on to the ball when Jackie blindsided him, so why mention anything about Jackie holding on to the ball?

But, third, and the point of this column, is that Jackie ≠did not hold onto the ball. I saw that game and what Scully said is dead wrong. In fact, Robinson dropped the ball and Dark was safe. I well remember Dark leading off third after the play, and the game had to be stopped again because the two were still jawing at each other.

Scully also never mentions that because of the collision at first base with Jackie, Davey suffered a spinal injury so severe that it effectively ended his career at the young age of 28. 

Although that game was played more than 59 years ago, I donít think thereís anybody who saw it who doesnít remember it vividly (there probably arenít too many of us left and Vinny and I are probably the only two in Los Angeles). Nobody who saw the game could accurately remember that ďJackie held onto the ball,Ē because he didnít. One dichotomy that stares you in the face is that Williams did hold onto the ball despite the fact that Jackie outweighed him by 35 pounds, that he was not expecting to be hit, and that the hit ended his career, while Jackie, hit by a man 10 pounds lighter, and expecting to be hit, did not hold onto the ball.

With all due respect, and I certainly canít read his mind, I personally donít believe that Vin Scully can remember that Jackie held onto the ball. I think heís trying to tell the story in a light most favorable to Jackie, so he completely changes the facts, but thatís just my opinion.

In case you doubt my memory, hereís an excerpt about the incident from Jack Andersonís 1972 obituary about Jackie in the New York Times:

ďRealizing that Dark hoped to avenge the Williams incident, Robinson stepped aside and tagged him in the face. But his grip on the ball wasn't secure. The ball bounced away. Dark was safe.Ē

Jackie Robinson was one of the greatest and most admirable men of the 20th Century. He doesnít need Vin Scully or anyone else rewriting history on his behalf.

Whether what he said was intentional or the result of faulty memory, my suggestions to Vinny are:

  1. Tell the truth (Robinson dropped the ball);
  2. The whole truth (Williams held on to the ball);
  3. Nothing but the truth (Robinson ended Williamsí career by blindsiding him).

September 27, 2014