Anthony Castrovince

Respect mutual between Scully and men in blue

Umpires offering final salutes to esteemed Dodgers broadcaster

Respect mutual between Scully and men in blue

It began, as so many great stories do, in a hotel bar.

Specifically, it was the back-room bar at the since-demolished Shamrock Hilton in Houston, where an umpire found himself sitting two seats away from an iconic broadcaster on the eve of a Dodgers-Astros series.

Bruce Froemming sidled over when the seat next to Vin Scully opened up. The two, by this point in the early 1980s, had known each other awhile, going back to Froemming's days as a Minor League ump invited to Dodger owner Walter O'Malley's St. Patrick's Day parties at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

But this was the night they truly became friends.

"Bruce, you don't know this," Scully told the ump, "but I don't ever bother an umpire. I don't second-guess calls. The only reason I would ever bother an umpire is if he doesn't give me a clear call on strikes, because I can't say anything until he calls it."

Froemming, who was in the midst of his 37 seasons as a big league ump, respected that rationale, and he respected the heck out of Scully. On that night, he learned the respect flowed both ways. He learned that Scully, the man whose melodic voice has now been painting the picture of baseball for his listeners and viewers for 67 seasons, cared not just for the Dodger blue but for the men in blue.

And Froemming never forgot it.

So one day in the early 2000s, when Froemming was working a game at Dodger Stadium, he presented an idea to his crew mate Mike Winters.

"When we go to home plate," Froemming said, "let's take our hats off and tip them to Vin in the press box."

Thus began an understated but long-standing tradition between umpire and broadcaster that has carried all the way to Scully's final weekend in the Dodger Stadium press box that bears his name.

"Just a special touch to a special guy," Froemming said. "And he's as special as they come."

If you pay close attention before this weekend's Dodgers-Rockies games, after the lineup cards are exchanged, you'll see crew chief Larry Vanover and his cohorts waving to Scully, and you'll see Scully stand up and salute them right back.

Sure, Friday is officially Vin Scully Appreciation Day. But for the umpires, Vin Scully Appreciation Day has been taking place at every Dodgers home game for as long as most can remember.

"Every crew I've been on the last 15 years has taken time before the game to turn around and salute Vin out of respect for him," umpire Jim Reynolds said. "One of the things that makes Vin so unique is he celebrates all aspects of the game -- the players and how they play the game and even the umpires. He is very educated on who we are and our importance to the game."

You know how it is with umps. You only hear or notice their names when they screw up. You've likely never stood and applauded for an ump, but there's a good chance you've probably voiced your displeasure with their work.

So as great a gig as it is, it can also be a thankless one. And the class Scully has shown in his approach to the umps is something that resonates with these men.

"He does use that media guide, and he recognizes the umpires for whatever they're doing," said umpire C.B. Bucknor. "Whether they have a foundation or a special interest or a special instrument they play, you can usually find out a lot about an umpire when you listen to a Dodger broadcast."

The umpires listen, albeit usually after the fact. Froemming was working at second base the night Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run in Game 1 of the World Series against the A's, inspiring one of Scully's most famous calls.

"How he could describe the situation was like a movie in a radio box," Froemming said. "Just unbelievable."

A less-famous moment was the first game Reynolds worked at Dodger Stadium, about four or five years into his tenure in the big leagues. He saved the recording of Scully introducing the umps to the audience.

"Him calling my name," said Reynolds, "made me feel like I finally made it."

When Froemming gave Scully that first tip of the cap, he had no idea he was initiating a tradition among his brethren. Nor did he have any idea how much the gesture meant to Scully.

"I love it," Scully told the fan blog Think Blue L.A. in 2013. "I don't want to be taking a bow for the fans, I just like the association with the umpires."

Froemming retired from field duty at the end of 2007 and will retire from his position with MLB as a special umpiring assistant at the end of this season. Just so happens he's scheduled to be at the Dodgers' regular-season finale in San Francisco that doubles as Scully's final series, so the umpire will have one last chance to say hello -- and goodbye -- to his old friend.

Asked what message he would deliver to Scully, Froemming made a perfect call.

"You were down the middle, and you were fair," he said. "An umpire can't ask for more than that."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.