Thursday, February 14, 2013

Piazza's Rap on Scully Doesn't Ring True

    By Ross Newhan

    No one is perfect, including Vin Scully.

    The iconic Dodger broadcaster is not a complete journalist, and has never claimed to be.

    He is paid handsomely by the Dodgers, and has always believed his primary role is to report developments in the game of that day or night. Off the field controversies affecting the club or players do not fall in his purview, he frequently told me in the years I covered the Dodgers and travelled with the team or covered the industry overall as national baseball columnist of the Los Angeles Times.

    This is not to say that there aren't times that Scully may make a point statistically, leaving the viewer/listener to read into it what he/she will, but the complete reporter?

   When emotions boiled over, for instance, and Don Sutton and Steve Garvey wrestled in the then Shea Stadium clubhouse before a game between the Dodgers and Mets in 1978, neither Scully nor his late partner, Jerry Doggett, reported the incident during their broadcast that night.

    There are a myriad other examples of headline developments involving ownerships or players that were basically ignored or received only a cursory mention in the Dodger broadcasting booth.

    I bring all this up because of a claim by Mike Piazza in his new book, "Long Shot", that Scully, in his broadcasts, turned fans against him during the catcher's 1998 contract stalemate with the Dodgers that preceded his trade to the Florida Marlins in May of that year, a trade that arguably ranks with the trading of Pedro Martinez as the worst in L.A. Dodger history.

   Given Scully's view of his function and job it is difficult to accept Piazza's interpretation, memory or insinuation that the broadcaster would have conducted a campaign against him.

   Piazza, who was eligible for free agency after the 1998 season and hoped to stay with the club, reiterates in the book that he set a Feb. 15 deadline for a new contract and that Scully asked him about the negotiations in a spring interview.

   "He wasn't happy about it," Piazza wrote of Scully, "and Scully's voice carried a great deal of authority in Los Angeles."

    Piazza details the negotiations in his book, confirming what Jason Reid as the club's beat reporter for The Times had written then, or I had in my overview column.

    He then writes in his book:

    "The way the whole contract drama looked to (the fans)--many of whom were traking their cue from Scully--was that by setting a deadline and insisting on so much money ($105 million initially), I was demonstrating a conspicuous lack of loyalty to the ball club. I understood that."

     The Dodgers were willing to make Piazza the highest paid player in baseball with a multi-year offer of $76 million, but the catcher ripped the club in an opening day interview with the Times and also went hitless in his first four games.

    None of that played well with the fans, Piazza wrote, and added,  "on top of that, Vin Scully was crushing me."

    Scully, in a Thursday story in The Times, denied all of that, said he could not recall the spring interview with Piazza, and "as God is my judge, I don't get involved in these things. I can't imagine I would ever put my toe in the water as far as a player and his negotiations. I have no idea where he is coming from.... I'm really flabbergasted."

    It was a tumultuous period. Given the Pizza contract issue and the fact that Fox had only recently bought the club from Peter O'Malley, I was at the ballpark almost every night. I certainly did not hear all of Scully's broadcast during this period.

   However, given his philosophy and approach to ongoing controversies of the Piazza type, and not recalling anyone telling me Piazza was taking a beating on the air, the book interpretation just doesn't ring true.

    Six weeks after the start of the '98 season Piazza was traded to Florida by Fox executive Chase Cary, going behind General Manager Fred Claire's back, and was traded by the Marlins to the Mets about a month later, signing a seven year, $91 million contract in 1999.

    Unlike many books in the player genre, Pizza's (written in collaboration with Lonnie Wheeler), touches on several headline subjects and is worth reading.

    I just don't buy the Scully rap.  


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