Before every major league baseball game across America, the managers from both teams meet at home plate with all of the umpires to exchange lineup cards and to go over the ground rules for each specific ballpark. When finished, the managers return to their respective dugouts for the National Anthem and play begins.
At Dodger Stadium and only at Dodger Stadium something else happens before the first pitch is thrown, but if you do not know to look for it you will never even notice it.
It is subtle, it is brief and it happens without any hype, hoopla or fanfare.
But if you do know to look for it and you do notice it, it will put a smile on your face every time it happens – and it happens before almost every Dodger home game and has for years. All four umpires will turn and face the Dodger Stadium press box and will either wave or tip their hat to the man who has been so appropriately named ‘The Voice of Baseball’ – Vin Scully.
No other broadcaster at any other ballpark in the MLB has ever received this show of respect from the men in blue and most likely never will.
But how did this tradition (and make no mistake about it, it is a tradition) come about? When did it begin and by whom? What better person to ask than the legend and Hall of Fame broadcaster himself, Vin Scully.
“It started with Bruce Froemming who used to do all the games in Vero Beach during spring training and we became friends,” Scully recalls fondly. “And one year out of the blue he was working here (at Dodger Stadium) and he and his three partners looked up and they took their hats off. So the next night they did it again and (Dodger photographer Jon) SooHoo took a picture of them holding their hats and I have that picture at home. And then it just seemed to spread.”
Scully said that when major league umpires go on vacation or have personal matters to attend to they are replaced by minor league umpires who are not always familiar with the tradition but are quickly educated in the protocol by their veteran partners.
“Sometimes a young minor league umpire is working and is not aware. But like last night, Bill Welke must have said ‘Hey’ and so they did it. I love it. I don’t want to be taking a bow for the fans, I just like the association with the umpires,” Scully added.
Although Scully isn’t sure of the exact date that Froemming started the tradition, he believes that it was three years before Froemming retired from the field to take on the position of Special Assistant to the Vice President on Umpiring in 2008, which would put it sometime around 2005. He added that even to this day he is flattered by the kind gesture and always makes it a point to wave back to the umpires.
During last month’s press conference in which Scully announced that he would be returning in 2014 for an unprecedented 65th season in the broadcasting booth, he told the gathered media that he simply does not understand the attention and affection he receives from everyone – from Maria the elevator operator, James the security officer outside the appropriately named ‘Vin Scully Press Box,’ the many writers and other media people he sees daily, to the players, coaches, managers, and yes even the umpires, and especially from the most important people of all – the fans.
During that press conference, Scully said that the most overwhelming moment in his 64-year career occurred just recently on his bobble head night this past July 25 when he received a long standing ovation from a sold out Dodger Stadium crowd.
“I almost cried,” said Scully of that very emotional moment.
You are loved by all, Vin – even by the men in blue.