Baseball Broadcasting

Curt Smith looks at the years when Jaime Jarrin and René Cárdenas, do the Dodgers in Spanish

PART III. BÉISBOL ON THE AIR—THE DODGERS’ HISPANIC RADIO/TV STORY

By CURT SMITH

Curt Smith keeps pumping out wonderful historical tidbits broadcast and MLB tidbits.

The great writer Jerry Izenberg once observed, “For generations … the Hispanic voice of the World Series [a record 42] as heard by the collective ear of Latin America was Buck Canel,”  profiled in our recent second of a three-part series on Hispanic baseball. In addition to U.S. and Latin network radio, Canel described 1970s Yankees and Mets home games. Earlier, he broadcast the Dodgers as they prepared to leave one coast for another.

A letter to The Sporting News in 1957 said listeners “should hand [Canel] an orchid” for airing games in the year the Bums bid Flatbush adieu. The Spanish Mi casa es su casa means “My house is your house.” As noted in the new book, Béisbol on the Air: Essays on Major-League Spanish-Language Broadcasters (McFarland), Southern California became the ex-Brooks’ home as upheaval reshaped baseball’s map.

In 1958, the transplanted Dodgers regularly broadcast bilingually, extensively served a growing Spanish-speaking market, and hired a Spanish-language Voice: René Cárdenas, born in Venezuela. He had begun airing the pastime there as a teen on Radio Mundial. At 21, René left for family in Los Angeles. In late 1957, learning of the Dodgers’ impending move, Cárdenas pitched play-by-play to Spanish-speaking KWKW.

At the time, the Southland boasted “nearly a million Spanish speakers,” René recalled. Dodgers boss Walter O’Malley needed no convincing. After four years in the L.A. Coliseum, Cárdenas joined the expansion Houston Colt .45s (later Astros) to head Spanish broadcasting. When the seminal Astrodome opened in 1965, René’s signature was imbedded in the last beam used in construction. Next year the now-U.S. citizen launched the first international radio baseball network, helping Houston recruit players throughout the hemisphere.

“When sorrows come,” Shakespeare wrote, “they come not [as] single spies, but in battalions.” After the Astros ended 1970s Spanish-language wireless, Cárdenas returned to Nicaragua, where in 1979 the Sandinista National Liberation Front seized his home and other property and executed René’s half-brother. Cárdenas and wife Jilma fled to America, René airing the 1981 Texas Rangers and again the Dodgers in 1982-98 and Astros in 2007-08. He retired after 38 years, said the New York Times, as “the first Spanish-language radio announcer at each stop.”

In the late 1950s, Cárdenas had mentored a young neophyte, Jaime Jarrín: born, Cayambe, Ecuador, learning radio at a 750,000-watt station. In 1955, “the bug to fly” led Jarrín to California. “I unpack in time for [that year’s] Dodgers-Yankees Series, and can’t believe the interest,” Jaime marveled of Brooklyn’s only world title. “I’m like, ‘What is this game?’” Hired as a local sports/news director, radio Latinos then rare, he immersed himself in “reading books on baseball” and watching the Pacific Coast League Angels and Stars in person.

In 1959, like Cárdenas, Jarrín began to re-create, translating English Voices Vin Scully and partner Jerry Doggett in studio with the Dodgers on the road. Jaime copied Vin’s rhythm, envying his “choosing the right word in the right place.” In turn, Scully liked the then-No. 2 Hispanic Voice’s spontaneity, saying “I was in awe. Jaime’d immediately interpret me.” Originally, Jarrín meant to “do about six or seven years, then go back into news or boxing or soccer.” Instead, year after year he carried the Dodgers—Esquivadores—to city, suburb, and farm.

In 1973, Jaime baptized L.A.’s 162-game live Spanish Network. His phrase “La pelota viene como una mariposa!” meant “The ball moved like a butterfly.” “Se va, se va, se va, despidala con un beso!” meant “It’s going, it’s going, it’s going, kiss it good-bye!” By 1980, Hispanics totaled 25 percent of the Dodgers’ gate. Next April, 20-year-old Mexican left-handed  pitcher Fernando Valenzuela made the club. “Especially with more immigration,” said Jarrín, “the interest was unbelievable.” Soon the area’s San Fernando Valley seemed to signify his name.

Increasingly, “You saw Hispanic names on the field,” Jaime mused. A question, though, lingered: When would more Hispanics be hired to announce them? In 1997, Columbian Edgar Renteria’s Game Seven single won the Series for the Florida Marlins. “A Hispanic hits it,” said Jarrín. “Another [Jaime] called it”—his Latina Broadcasting Company audience of 35 million as many as heard Scully simultaneously on CBS Network Radio. That season 35 Hispanics aired the majors v. eight a decade earlier.

In 1998, Jaime became the then-sole Hispanic save Canel to receive the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s yearly Ford C. Frick Award for “broadcast excellence.” His wife “began to cry” upon the call from Cooperstown informing him of the honor. A year later Jarrín started to mentor Pepe Yñiguez, today like Jaime’s son Jorge a popular Dodgers announcer. All are extended members of Los Angeles’s baseball clan, buoy the franchise, and abet America’s fastest-growing minority.

Jaime retired after the 2022 season. Scully died that August 2, having retired in 2016. Their friendship had been long and deep, Jarrín hailing “my mentor” and Vin thanking him for “teaching me to say La Jolla and La Cienega”—landmarks in L.A. Baseball bewitched for each, like Béisbol’s “Who’s Who” of Spanish-speaking Voices, including Uri Berenguer, Cárdenas, Jessica Mendoza, Tony Oliva, Junior Pepén, Amaury Pi-González, Felo Ramirez, and Yñiguez, to cite a few.

The book’s contributors also vaunt the beauty of a triple up the alley, circus catch, or dazzling double play: among them, Roberto Avant-Mier, César Brioso, Lou Hernández, Jorge Iber, Patrick McConnell, Scott Melesky, Frank Moreno, Bill Nowlin, Juan Jose Rodriguez, Luis Rodríguez-Mayoral, Francisco Romero, Anthony R. Salazar, and Richard A. Santillán. English or Spanish, the pastime entices in either language.

It’s baseball, all the same!

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Curt Smith

CURT SMITH is the author of 18 books, including Voices of The Game, recently named by Esquire magazine among “the 100 Best Baseball Books Ever Written.” His latest is the official Hall of Fame book, Memories from the Microphone. USA Today calls Smith “the leading voice of authority on baseball broadcasting.” He wrote more speeches than anyone for President George H. W. Bush, The New York Times styling his work “the high point of Bush familial eloquence.” Since 1998, Smith has been Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Rochester, teaching Public Speaking and Presidential Rhetoric. curtsmith@netacc.net

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