Dodger fans have seen his face on the Dodger Stadium jumbotron for three decades. He is undoubtedly one of the most photographed people at Dodger Stadium even though most Dodger fans don’t even know his name or what he does. But chances are that nearly every one of them has said (or thought) “Man, I want that guy’s job.”
That guy is Boyd Robertson, the gentleman who sits at Vin Scully’s right shoulder at every Dodgers game that Scully broadcasts, and has since Opening Day 1989. But don’t look to take over Robertson’s job anytime soon because he isn’t leaving it – at least not if he has anything to say about it.
This past week, ThinkBlueLA’s Ron Cervenka had an opportunity to sit down and chat with that guy – Boyd Robertson – the man who is both figuratively and literally Vin Scully’s right-hand man:
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RC: First of all, Boyd, thank you so very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. First question, how old are you and where do you live?
BR: I’m 62 and I live in Lake Forest. I live in Orange County now but I’ve lived all over Southern California. I first moved out here in ’79. I’m from Oklahoma originally, a small town, and moved out here in ’79. I lived in Burbank, I lived in Palmdale, Playa Del Rey, South Pasadena and we ended up in Irvine for a long time and now I live in Lake Forest.
RC: Where in Oklahoma are you from?
BR: A little small town in southeastern Oklahoma called Poteau, Oklahoma, six thousand people. Most people call it “Pot-too” because it looks French and it is French but the locals, and still me, call it “Po-dho with a d-h-o.” Even people from other parts of the state of Oklahoma will say “Po-toe,” like your toe is sore. That’s where I grew up.
RC: How long did you live in Burbank? That’s my hometown, I was born and raised in there.
BR: From ’79 to about ’81. I had a job over at The Burbank Studios at Hollywood Way and Oak Street at a place called The Ranch. We shot commercials there. A lot of the commercials we shot ended up on sporting events and things like that.
Before that I worked as a gofer and a runner and a stage manager for ABC Sports. I did Monday Night Baseball and Monday Night Football, the Indy 500, U.S Open in golf, the British Open, NASCAR, Bowling, Super Stars – all those events all over the United States and different countries.
That’s where I got started, I got started as a gofer for ABC Sports at a golf tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a PGA golf tournament and I was on the college golf team and I just wanted to see Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Trevino up close because I was from a little town, I only saw them on television. So I got to work for ABC as a runner for fifteen bucks a day working about 10 or 12 hours a day. I didn’t care, here I was with a credential going “Look at this, I can’t believe this!” So that’s how I started in the business.
RC: How old were you then?
BR: I was a junior in college when I got to do that and then when I got out of college, I had a business degree, I told my parents “I really like this television thing. I kind of don’t know much about it, but I would like to pursue it” and they said “Go ahead and pursue it,” even though they didn’t know much about it either. From my little world it was an unknown but they supported me and that was the main thing.
They would ask me questions all the time as I got to work more and more as a gofer and a runner. I would stay with guys that were just like me that worked for ABC. There’d be six guys in a room at a Holiday Inn but we didn’t care because we were trying to pursue our goal, and that’s how I got started.
I left ABC and got this permanent job in Burbank and worked for a few years shooting commercials on the back lot there and on the sound stages but I kept in contact doing sports, and as you know here in the early ’80s when On TV started, I worked On TV shows at The Forum where I did stage managing for Stu Nahan, for Tom Kelly, and when Prime Ticket started in ’85, I started with them as Chick Hearn’s production assistant and I started working my way up to being the stage manager down on the [Lakers] scoring table, and then I got to move up and sit with Chick for the last 15 years that he did it, which meant working with Chick and Stu and so forth.
I was really lucky to get started when sports cable started booming in the mid-’80s because of the original Prime Ticket, and that was Bill Daniels and Jerry Buss. Bill Daniels was the cable guy back in those days before everybody thought about it and Jerry Buss had the sports teams, and they got together and formed Prime Ticket when I was one of the productions guys on the ground floor when it all started. I said ‘I’ll do anything and everything to get involved in this’ and it all worked out.
RC: What is your official title here with the Dodgers and with the SportsNet LA television broadcasts?
BR: Stage Manager. You can call me Vin’s assistant or whatever but Stage Manager is what we call it in television. Dean Vincent is the Stage Manager down on the field for Alanna Rizzo on the set they have down there. Dean does that and I work up here in the booth. It has been a privilege to work with not just Vin in the booth but everybody in the booth that I work with.
RC: When did you start working in the booth with Vin?
BR: In 1989. What happened was [the Dodgers’] win the World Series in ’88 and there was a guy before me, his name is Tony Jocobucci, I knew him, not very well but I knew who he was. He decided that he was going to go do other things and he was doing other things when baseball season wasn’t going on, he decided to move on. Well the guys that produced and were the associate producers and the director that worked on the Dodgers telecasts for KTTV Metromedia Channel 11, I knew them because I had worked sporting events with them in Southern California.
So they call me up and said “Would you be interested in working Dodger baseball and working up in the booth with Vin Scully?” and I said ‘”Sure” because I didn’t have that much summertime work. That was during the winter and I was working with Chick working Lakers and I said “I’ve got to kind of balance this to get started because I don’t want to sleight the people who I’ve been working with at Prime Ticket but yet I want to work with you guys.” So it worked out and I started with Vin.
RC: What was your very first game like working with Vin?
BR: My first game was Opening Day 1989 in Cincinnati. Here are the defending champions and I’m the new guy, I’m really the new guy with the team. I go down on the field and that’s actually where I met Vin for the first time. I had my coat and tie on and I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know him. I knew who he was because I lived in L.A., I saw him on T.V. and all that kind of stuff, and I stuck out my hand and said “Hi Mr. Scully, I’m your new stage manager, my name is Boyd Robertson.” He shook my hand and said “Look, if we’re going to work together, it’s Vin.” But what I heard was “If we’re going to work together” and that told me “Uh oh, I’m on double secret probation. I better be good or I might not be here tomorrow or next road trip or whatever it might be.”
He wasn’t thinking that, he was putting me at ease or trying to put me at ease because he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, but that’s how my mind was working at that time. I was like “Hey, I gotta get this right” type of thing but I think that was good for me. So that’s how I got started working with Vin.
I’ve been able to work with him and with the guys in the booth, Rob Menschel who’s our camera guy, he directs some, he’s the guy that lights Vin, and Brian Hagan is the statistician that works in the booth too. So we’re all doing all kinds of different things together to make the telecast as good as possible.
RC: How do you guys communicate with one another when Vin is on the air?
BR: We’re all attached by headsets and we’re all listening to each other, and with Glenn Diamond, our producer out in the truck and Dustin Denti who directs also, and the crew. I’m listening to Vin in this ear – even though he’s sitting next to me I’m listening to him in this ear – I listen to the the director and I’m listening to the producer. That keeps us going, that keeps us interested and sharp.
Sometimes we’ll miss something and going back to ’89, I made a mistake by giving Vin some information in the booth. He’s still “Ball three” – Cincinnati-Dodgers – so I told the guys in the truck “Hey, I gave him some information that was wrong. I need to tell him when we go to commercial break and they said “Sure, fine.” So during the break I gave him the sign to take his headset off and he took his headset off and he said “What’s up?” And I said “You know that information that I gave you about whatever it was?” and he said “Yeah?” And I said “That was incorrect, I made the mistake, I was wrong.” And he paused, and he looked at me, and he said “Welcome to the club,” which helped me a lot. It made me a little at ease when I thought “This could be it.” But that’s how he’s been from day one and we’ve all enjoyed working with him.
RC: Were you a baseball fan growing up in Oklahoma?
BR: Little League all the way through, American Legion, and then I got a scholarship to play baseball for two years at a junior college in my hometown. And then when it was time to go to a four-year school I had to make a choice – do I go out for the baseball team or do I go out for the golf team? I made the decision to go out for the golf team and it worked out really well. I played varsity golf for two years at the same college that Brett Butler went to – Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He went there a few years after me.
Being from Oklahoma, I was a St. Louis Cardinals fan growing up. KMOX AM boomed down through all of Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma so I grew up listening to Harry Carry and Jack Buck, they were my Vin Scully voices in my little transistor radio. We would drive eight hours to go to Cardinal games when I was a kid.
My first game ever was in 1960 in old Sportsman Park in St. Louis and I got to see the tail end of Stan Musial’s career. We sat out in the upper deck and it was wonderful. I got to see Willie Mays and all those guys.
RC: What does a typical day for you involve?
BR: For a 7:10 game I get to the TV truck, the mobile unit, around 3 o’clock. I meet with them briefly – the producer and director, and the associate producer and associate director – we go over a couple of things, they give me promos that I look at, and then I go to the booth. Rob Menschel is usually already there and, as I say, I set up shop. We start getting everything out that we need and we wait for the stats to show up, we wait for the line-up sheets, the game notes and things like that. Not only is Vin working on his scorebook and his notes and line-up and sheets, but we’re working on it as well.
And then the producer comes in and talks to all of us about what time we’re going to tape the stadium open (the game preview that fans see on the video boards before every home game) which is usually at 5 o’clock. And then we tape “It’s time for Dodger baseball” open for SportsNetLA, and if there’s any billboards or any reads or voice-overs that he has to do he does them there. And then we’ll show Vin a few graphics ahead of time and he’ll say they’re fine or what about this? That’s the ethic that we all make to put the pre-production together.
And then the last thing usually I give him is “This Day in Dodger History” because he goes on-camera in the top of the sixth inning during the game to do something historical. I give him research that four or five of us have done – Brian Hagan, Rob Menschel, Ben Platt from way back – I complied all of this into a big file. Sometimes it’s a Dodger history thing and sometimes it’s a baseball history thing and he’ll pick and choose what he wants to do during that 15 to 20 seconds that he goes on-camera. Most of the time he’s witnessed it, especially Dodger history, and that’s the uniqueness that nobody gets to do anymore because of the longevity that he’s had.
That’s how we get started and then he goes to eat, we eat – believe it or not – and then we go On The Air at 7:00 and the taped open happens. At 7:08 we start the simulcast, he does a simulcast on radio and television for the first three innings, so I’m listening to radio, I’m listening to the TV truck – we call that the “join” for the simulcast – and we’re counting, and I’m counting out loud in the booth. As we get closer to the magic moment, Vin will put his headset on about 30 seconds before he’s about to start talking for radio and TV, and I’ll count him down like that and away he goes. He does his “Hi everybody, wherever you may be” and at 7:08 he does the line-up for the visiting team and the game is started. So, that’s our day.
RC: So what do you do in your spare time? (laughter)
BR: But that’s the good thing about it, we’re constantly doing things, with the guys in the truck, with the guys in the booth, we’re constantly doing things while he’s over there doing play-by-play. There might be a stat that the stat guy will pass through me and I’ll put it beside his scorebook. Sometimes he’ll incorporate that into his play-by-play, sometimes he’ll hang on to it and he’ll use it later, or it doesn’t fit or something like that. We’re used to that because we know with baseball the numbers are unbelievable now with all the categories that everybody has. That’s what Brian Hagan does and he does it so well. If I can help Brian, I’ll help him but a lot of the time I just stay out of the way, I’m just passing notes to Vin. Or if I’ve got to do a promo or if Brian’s giving me a pitch count, we constantly do things.
RC: I imagine that silence is imperative in the booth during the broadcasts, does that create any problems for you guys?
BR: We talk to each other during the commercial breaks but during the game we have to be careful talking because it will go into the microphones.
RC: When Vin travels, do you travel with him to maintain the continuity and comfort level?
BR: When Vin did all the games – Eastern time zone, Central time zone and obviously Western time zone, we used to do all the games that were available to us – not the ESPN games or the National Fox games – and I would travel with him. But he’s cut back his schedule as you know, so I’ve cut back mine because they don’t send me to those other cities. Would I like to go with Charlie and Orel and Nomar? Of course I would and I’ve worked with them before. But right now it’s not in the cards.
RC: What do you do when the team is on the road or has a day off?
BR: Most of the time I’m off. Sometimes I’ll go do Angel games, those are like home games because I live so close to Angel Stadium. They do Spanish TV with Amaury Pi-Gonzalez and Jose Mota, I’m like a substitute stage manager because there’s a main guy and when he has to go off and do other things I’ll take his place. I’m doing some in the next few weeks, working down there some when the Dodgers go back East.
RC: In 26 years of being literally shoulder to shoulder with Vin Scully, I can only imagine that you have seen some pretty incredible things. What are some of your favorite memories in the booth with Vin?
BR: Watching [the Dodgers] clinch divisions because you feel like you’ve worked hard as well in the broadcasting business. Not as hard as the players on the field but when you see them clinch a division, whether it’s home or road, it doesn’t make any difference, that’s a good feeling. It’s September, it’s the end of the season or almost at the end of the season and they’re getting rewarded. We feel like “Okay, we presented it in the right way” and that’s gratification for us, and I enjoy that a lot.
But the calls that he’s made over the years of home runs and double plays, kids in the stands and things like that, that makes the day go by so well. There’s no one important game or play that I can really pick out.
It’s just waking up in the morning knowing that “Wow, I get to go work a Dodger baseball game,” and who I get to work with, not only the great crew but the announcer that I get to work with. Every day I get rewarded for that. It’s wonderful.
RC: You mentioned the kids in the stands thing. When he does this, the things he says are absolutely priceless. Does he pull this and his other great stories out of the air?
BR: He does, and his timing is amazing. Vin and Frank Chirkinian, the longtime CBS golf producer and producer for CBS Sports, worked together many years ago. I met Frank at the Masters in Augusta one year, told him who I was, introduced myself, and we were talking about how Vin does things and Frank said “He’s got a clock in his head.”
Vin is very good about information. We’re looking for a minute, we’re looking for a minute and a half, we’re looking for fifteen seconds – whether he was doing a golf telecast or taping an open or an interview or something like that, he doesn’t have to wear an IFB (Interruptible foldback earpiece). All he needs to know is the amount of time he needs and we’re here to support him with that. That means commercial, his I-Line (station identification) or something like that, he’s always in that neighborhood. He’s got a clock in his head.
Another thing that makes him special is how he’s trained himself over the years of learning the game and learning television and radio, and as you know, he learned under Red Barber, that was the man back in the day.
RC: The personal stories that he tells about the players, even players from other teams or players making their MLB debut are absolutely incredible. Where does he get this information?
BR: He does his research. He reads the newspapers, he still gets magazines, he goes on-line, he takes his iPad on the road. He’s digging, I guess you can call it that, he’s looking and researching all the time. As you know now, there’s information about players, their background and things like that, that’s available to announcers, the media guides are bigger, better, more detailed than they ever have been, the internet helps. He’s into all that, he’s used it to his advantage as the internet came on line and the technology has advanced. And like I said, he takes his iPad on the road.
RC: What are some of your worst nightmares?
BR: Probably extra innings and rain delays, especially when you’re on the road. That’s about the only nightmares that we have.
RC: What about bloopers?
BR: Internally in the truck, I might say something wrong and say “Uh oh, I made a mistake, that’s not right,” or “that card is incorrect that I’m about to give him, pull that back, don’t use it,” those kind of bloopers.
But Vin’s bloopers you don’t really see them very often. If they come out, they come out. But as he says, “Welcome to the club.” We’re all human, we all make mistakes. We don’t want to make them but when you have live television once you say something or once you do something, you can’t grab it back, so you make the best of it and you move on. That’s the main thing, you have to move on in television. You probably still feel bad when one of us foul up or make a mistake but you have to keep going on because you’re still On The Air.
RC: There’s been a lot of talk over the last four or five years that this is it, that Vin Scully is going to retire. Thankfully, he keeps coming back. But when that well-deserved day finally comes, where does that leave you?
BR: I don’t feel sorry for myself because I’ve gotten to do this more than anybody else, so I always take the high road. It’s been a gift, it’s the pinnacle of my professional life, without question. Yes, I got good training with ABC Sports, but this is special, this is different and I’ve been fortunate to do it for as long as I have.
If somebody said “You’ll get to this for X amount of years, or you get to do this for five years, what would you like?” Well, you know what I would pick. I would pick as many years as I could working for Vin Scully.
I’ve learned so much from him as a person – television, how you treat people, how you bring it every day and how you prepare, preparation. The John Wooden line: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Well he prepares, that’s what I noticed right from the beginning. And I’m talking about dress, mind, body, spirit. He’s all-in when he comes into the booth and he prepares more when he comes to the booth. It’s been a wonderful ride with him, an incredible ride.
I know what the people of L.A. think about Vin. They trust him, they’ve listened to him, they’ve learned from him. He’s like the uncle or the grandfather. He’s been welcomed into their homes for 66 years – and that’s pretty special.