From Scully to Steiner:
The boy who once listened to the legend in his mother’s Long Island kitchen now finds himself broadcasting Dodgers games in his own unique way.
Thanks to baseball, Vin Scully and Charley Steiner are friends. But “friends” understates it. Scully, without trying to, inspired Steiner to set a life course.
Sixty years later, whenever a flashback hits him, Steiner marvels over how it worked out.
The Dodgers were the Brooklyn Dodgers then.
Scully called their games on the radio.
In Long Island was the boy Charley, hunkered down in his mother’s kitchen, listening to a brown Zenith radio.
It was very 1950s. Listeners heard not only Scully’s baseball talk but also the ballpark vendors hawking their popcorn and soda pop. The radio, Charley said, seemed as big as the kitchen.
One day with his mother’s assistance, it dawned on the boy that calling Dodgers games was an actual job.
This was not a discovery unique to the boy, nor was the seed it planted.
Charley decided he’d become a Dodgers broadcaster someday. Perhaps, he would work alongside this man whose voice poured through the brown Zenith radio.
One can imagine thousands of other mesmerized boys in the New York boroughs and beyond, hatching similar plans.
Steiner would become a sports broadcaster on the East Coast and would shoot up the ranks. His employers would included a four-letter fledgling TV sports network in Connecticut — ESPN.
Deep into his career, which included a stop in the Yankees radio booth next to John Sterling, the Dodgers called.
They wanted Steiner as their radio play-by-play man.
In the TV booth next to him would be Scully, winding down a legendary career. All these years later, he was the “poet laureate” of baseball broadcasting, as the now late Dick Enberg, one of the play-by-play greats himself, called him.
Steiner, now 68, would become a friend, colleague, mentee and daily dinner companion to the Hall of Fame broadcaster while following the Dodgers across the country for 12 years. The two dined together more than 1,000 times, Steiner figures.
This month, while recounting his real-life fairy tale, Steiner laughed at how preposterous it must appear to outsiders.
“So,” he said from a Phoenix hotel room, where he was jotting down notes for the game to come several hours later, “I’m having the time of my life.”
Tread lightly, though, when connecting any dots between Scully’s retirement after the 2016 season following his 67th year of calling Dodgers games and the piece of his workload that fell on Steiner and broadcast partner Rick Monday.
The radio team took on the initial three innings that Scully had handled on the radio-TV simulcasts.
Swallow the R-word — or you will get an incredulous snort from Steiner when the words “replace” and “Scully” occupy the same tentative query.
“They still haven’t replaced Babe Ruth, they haven’t replaced the Beatles, they haven’t replaced Muhammad Ali,” he said.
“So, you don’t even go there. They still box, they still play baseball, they still play music. I go out and announce a baseball game.”
His powerful, lilting voice punctuating words for empha- sis, Steiner finished off his response.
“I never, ever, thought of myself replacing anybody or anything. I just came out to do what I wanted to do as a kid, and that’s announce for the Dodgers. Never, did I ever think, ‘Ooh, I’m filling in for Vin.’ Never. Nobody does, and anybody who thinks that is a moron.”
As the ballplayers do when talking about their work, Steiner talks of maintaining a simple approach to his craft. Do your best. Tune out what you can’t control.
“I always thought of this job as an honor and still do,” he
said. “I’m part of that lineage that began with Red Barber, Vin Scully, Mo, Jaime,” he said, the latter two being Monday and Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster and Hall of Famer honoree Jaime Jarrin.
“Somehow, they allowed me into this very exclusive club, and I try not to make a mess.”
Set aside pom-poms
Greater Los Angeles is the country’s second-largest media market, a factor in the Dodgers’ ability to outspend most other ballclubs. A TV deal the Dodgers struck late in Scully’s career ensured massive revenue would pour into the franchise for many years to come. However, a stalemate between rights-holder and distributors has reduced the availability of the telecasts.
Some fans who are unable to see the telecasts have turned to Steiner and Monday, a former outfielder who had a 19-year career in the big leagues.
Other listeners just prefer to follow the Dodgers on the radio, TV or no TV.
Steiner is worth a listen, said longtime Southern California newspaper columnist Mark Whicker.
“I think he’s very good,” Whicker said. “He weaves in a lot of perspective but is never disengaged from the game. I also think he’s very good on the technical part of game-calling. He’s comfortable to listen to.”
Jon Weisman is a listener who, as caretaker of the venerable blog Dodgers Thoughts, which he created in 2002, has gleaned what numerous other Dodgers fans think of the radio broadcasts under Steiner and Monday that date to 2005.
Weisman, for his part, is in the pro-Steiner camp.
“I like Charley because he seems to truly love baseball without taking it too seriously,” said Weisman, who wrote a recently released book, Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition.
Steiner’s candor is part of the appeal.
“He’s not afraid to say a long dull game is a long dull game,” Weisman said, “but he genuinely gets excited for the good stuff, and so I appreciate that out of him. I honestly think he has a good flair for being a baseball announcer, and he’s an original announcer. He’s own his guy.”
Weisman said Steiner “is a little too much on his own wavelength” for some Dodgers fans.
“But,” he said, “I guess I would say that every broadcaster, short of Vin, has that semi-you-like-him-or-you-don’t element to it.”
In style, a similarity between Scully and Steiner is narration almost entirely devoid of the home-team partisanship that one might hear from several other broadcasts teams that cover one big-league club.
“I leave the pom-poms at home,” Steiner said.
He said the same approach served him well as both a football and baseball play-by-play broadcaster in the Northeast.
Weisman suggested that the majority of Dodgers fans wouldn’t have it any other way because they were groomed to appreciate a broader-spectrum broadcast.
“I personally don’t hear the complaints that (Steiner) is not enough of a partisan,” he said. “Look, people in L.A. were raised on Vin. And, Vin wasn’t that way. I don’t think anyone listening to the broadcast here expects what I take to be like a Hawk Harrelson kind of thing, be openly rooting.”
As for the notion of Scully being replaced, Weisman doesn’t buy it, either. He noted that Scully’s workload had tapered off in the years ahead of his retirement. By the time Scully worked his final Dodgers telecast in October 2016, the tandem of Steiner and Monday had well-established their radio identity, Weisman said.
Steiner said he chats with Scully every month.
But he misses seeing him at the ballpark and dining with him before games.
In the media food room at Dodger Stadium, the team had set aside a table for Scully, Steiner, Monday and Billy DeLury, a Dodgers traveling secretary and team employee for 66 years.
DeLury died in April 2015 at 81.
“It was just four guys and then three guys just talking about life and baseball, and more life and some baseball — that’s what I miss,” Steiner said. “Now, Mo’s stuck with me.”
Baseball is still the abiding constant for Steiner, whose journey last year went through Game 7 of the franchise’s first World Series since 1988.
He proudly called himself an old school broadcaster.
Although advanced baseball analytics are a staple to Dodgers operations and increasingly a part of national broadcasts, Steiner said he has plenty of other material to choose from that suits his storytelling and descriptive style.
Yet he marveled at how the Internet Age has expanded his audience to, say, a Dodgers fan “tending the sheep in Botswana.”
Other than when on the road, he walks 3 miles a day. He puts in about five hours of research before games and calls about 155 games a season.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else — not at this late date,” he said. “Talk about being grandfathered in. I am a single guy, which makes it considerably easier. It’s one of these things where, I wouldn’t know what else to do. Shoot, I’m going to be 69 in July.
“I’m riding on the horse, I’m still upright, and having a ball.”
In his Los Angeles home is a reminder of the journey’s beginning, courtesy of a mom-andpop shop in Indiana.
It’s a replica of the brown Zenith radio, in the Long Island kitchen.
Listening to Vin Scully, center, call Brooklyn Dodgers games while growing up in Long Island inspired Charley Steiner, left, to get into broadcasting and eventually work with Vin Scully in L.A. At right is Dodgers president Stan Kasten.
Longtime broadcaster Charley Steiner has called Dodgers games on radio and/or TV for the team since 2005.