The Incomparable Jaime Jarrín on Living The Great American Dream
How do you possibly convey the success of a Hall of Fame broadcasting career? It’s impossible to whittle down a lifetime of success into a couple of thousand words.
Perhaps the easiest way is to simply type out the name Jaime Jarrín.
It’s not just a name, it’s a key that unlocks so many memories. Backyard barbecues, laughing with friends, sharing a hot dog with dad at the ballpark. Waves of nostalgia come flooding to the forefront and if you are silent long enough, you can begin to hear the voice, the soundtrack of your childhood, the voice so rich, so full of life.
Jarrín’s voice is tangible. It feels like a familiar hand on the shoulder, guiding you through the ups and downs, the chapters of so many of our lives.
This is Jaime Jarrín’s story, the story of a family that is inextricably linked to a Dodgers organization that means so much to the community. It’s a story about a young man looking for more for his family and finding it in an unlikely place. It’s the tale of the unrelenting power of family.
And it starts, like so many of our American stories do, in another country.
Jarrín has been in front of a microphone since 15, becoming a news reporter on Radio Ecuador, covering the National Congress of Ecuador for three years. By 1955, he had decided to take his growing family to America and explore the possibilities.
Four years later he would broadcast Dodgers games in Spanish. Not only is he still doing it 62 years later, but he’s turned the name Jarrín into a Los Angeles institution and the job of calling balls and strikes into a family affair.
His son Jorge, who himself has had quite the storied carrier, now shares a booth with his father.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 as a Ford C. Frick Award winner and is a two-time winner of the Golden Mike Award.
In recent years he’s launched the Jaime & Blanca Jarrín Foundation—run by his grandson and former Los Angeles Dodgers draft pick Stefan—as well as a podcast named after his iconic home run call “Despìdala Con un Beso.”
When it came to choosing a place to settle down, America was a land of so much possibility.
Jarrín could have gone to New Jersey to satisfy his itch to become a commercial airline pilot, or head to Chicago, a town he discovered later in life to be one of his favorite corners of this country.
But he settled on Los Angeles, a sprawling oasis teeming with Latino culture. He stepped foot in the United States on June 24, 1955. By December he had a full-time job with KWKW and soon became its news director.
It’s around that time that he also discovered this thing called baseball.
“I didn’t know anything about baseball because in Quito we don't play baseball,” Jarrín said. “I never saw baseball in my life.”
That year’s World Series was another classic match-up between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, the fervor for which tipped off Jarrín that maybe there was something to the sport.
“I saw huge amounts of people around TV sets and radio sets listening to and watching the World Series in New York,” he recalled.
Jarrín satisfied his curiosity for the sport with the only professional games in town at the time, taking time to watch the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels. Both teams spent some time playing out of South Central’s Wrigley Field in the Pacific Coast League.
When the Dodgers came to Los Angeles, KWKW won the contract to broadcast the games in Spanish. General manager Will Beaton asked his rising star if he would step in and call the games.
Sure, Jaime had been calling boxing from the Grand Olympic Auditorium, but baseball and its intricacies were still foreign to the young broadcaster.
“Jaime, I'm going to give you one year. I want you to study the sport,” Beaton told him at the time. “There's a great future for you in baseball.”
The 23-year-old devoured baseball, for the next few months he read every book and magazine he could get his hands on, becoming an expert without the aid of modern conveniences like Wikipedia and YouTube.
While he serves up a masterclass in professionalism and expertise now, it was a stressful enterprise at first.
“I was very nervous, very green,” Jarrín remembered. “René Cárdenas was the number one in the booth and he helped me out. At the beginning, I think I took two to three months to start my first inning. Finally, I did two innings, and that was the beginning.”
He hasn’t stopped in 62 years.
Found in Translation
Back in the late 50s and early 60s if you were catching the Dodgers games on the radio you were tuning into something of a stage play rather than a live play-by-play event. And if you listened closely, you could hear some unnamed vendor shout “Peanuts, peanuts” into the crowd.
What was akin to a hidden easter egg, the peanuts line would come around the third inning every game, like clockwork. And it was one sign that the folks at KWKW were utilizing pre-recorded crowd noise to give the illusion that its broadcasters were there in the stadium.
That truth is far more fascinating.
“In our case, you know, we had to be right there. We didn't have the facilities other stations had,” Jarrín recalled. “So, we used to listen to Vin (Scully) and Jerry (Doggett) and give the Spanish translation.”
Think about that for a second. Jarrín was just getting used to the intricacies of the sport and because the Spanish-broadcast team didn’t travel with the Dodgers at the time, he was back in the studio, listening to Scully’s call of the game, translating it and giving his spin on the game as if he were watching in real-time.
These days, Jaime calls the first three innings of Dodgers games. His son Jorge comes in to take over from the fourth through sixth before handing the mike back over to his father.
He marvels at his dad’s ability to call the game despite those early circumstances.
“Listen to one thing and try and repeat it, not even translate. Just listen and try to repeat it without getting confused,” Jorge explained. “It takes a certain knack. It takes a certain ability to be like a U.N. translator where you translate at that moment simultaneously. It's really an art.”
Jaime is quick to offer gratitude to those who made those early days such a success. One person who did all that he could for his colleague was none other than Vin Scully.
“Vin was great,” Jaime said. “With me, he used to help me a lot before the broadcast. He was telling me lots of things about the game to be played. He would tell me about the situation at the ballpark. The attendance there, the climate, the transportation, everything.”
Two icons of the sport, going back and forth about the ambiance of the day, knowing full well how they might employ that during the broadcast. Both of whom are so descriptive, adding a layer to the broadcast you just don’t get anywhere else.
“Literally translating for Vin Scully really impacted his style,” Jorge said. “Not to say that he is a copy of Vin Scully, but there's a strong similarity in the fact that he's very relaxed, very much into storytelling.”
There’s something pleasant about a nice amble around Chavez Ravine, a relatively pastoral setting in the middle of a bustling city. Jarrín would often take a walk with then-Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley around the friendly confines.
The two had an affinity for one another, and Jarrín recalls some of what they would talk about from time to time.
“He used to ask me every 10 minutes, when are you going to find me a Mexican Sandy Koufax? It is so sad that he passed away one year before Fernando came to the Dodgers in 1980.”
Up for a cup of coffee in 1980, the young man from Etchohuaquila, Mexico, really made his mark on Opening Day 1981.
Fernando Valenzuela took to the mound, went into his wind-up, looked up to the heavens and never quite came down.
Los Angeles fell in love with him. Latinos heralded him as one might Superman. And Jaime Jarrín was there from the start, painting the picture for Angelenos who didn’t dare miss an inning.
“You really can look at the arrival of Fernando Valenzuela having changed so much that affected us as a family,” Jorge recalled.
Not just in Los Angeles, but cities like New York and Chicago were bursting with Latinos clamoring to see Valenzuela pitch.
“My dad was thrust into now a much bigger spotlight that was more on the national basis as opposed to just the local scene,” Jorge explained.
His father explains that there is a noticeable difference in the ballparks these days. Latino fans file into their seats on every last level of the stadium, from the upper deck on down to the field level.
“I don't think there is another player, another that I don't think has created more baseball fans than Fernando Valenzuela,” Jaime tells me in Spanish.
The Jarríns know heartache. Jaime's second-oldest son, Jimmy, passed away in 1988 at the age of 29. More recently, Jaime’s wife Blanca died in Feb. 2019.
The months leading into last season gave Jarrín some pause as he reflected on his future with the team. There was a very real consideration that he might dial back his travel, spend some more time at home.
However, if there was any notion of calling it a career and walking away, it was short-lived. Jaime and his family forge ahead, diving into their passion to heal the heart.
So why go on?
“The first thing is my love for baseball,” Jaime explained. “I fell in love with the game. I can do two games every single day for seven days a week without getting tired. I love what I do. The second reason is the support I have from my wife. She passed away almost a year and a half ago, but she was a champion in my corner.”
There were long stretches of time when Jorge was a kid that his father would be gone. His dedication to his craft and the norms of the time meant time off just wasn’t in the cards.
There would be the occasional trips with dad up north or down south on away games against the Giants or Padres, but Jaime was gone a lot during the summers.
“They had forged such a good understanding and a partnership that my brothers and I never felt like we missed out on anything, even though my dad was gone most of the time,” Jorge said.
Blanca’s passing pushed the family to fast track something that had been in the works for some time, the Jaime & Blanca Jarrín Foundation. But it also made Jaime question for a moment the enormous load a 162-game season mandates.
Vin Scully was there again, offering condolences and advice.
“I don't have enough words to really appreciate and to express my feelings towards Vin Scully because he has played such a big, big part in my formation as a baseball announcer,” Jaime said.
“When I lost my wife, I was still really thinking before she passed away that it was time for me to cut down my traveling.”
Scully isn’t one to dish out advice and only really told Jarrín one thing early in his career, a nudge to not get too close to the ballplayers, keep distance emotionally. The second time he offered wisdom came when Jarrìn needed it most.
“When my wife passed away, I had a beautiful talk on the phone with Vin,” Jarrín said. Scully’s support came with a suggestion. “Go back to work full-time now that you lost your wife. The only thing that will really help you would be doing what you love to do [calling] baseball.”
Jarrín called 162 games again that same year.
The Story Continues
Despite this most profound 2020 season, Jaime is adamant that the passion remains. He could call a double-header every day of the week. You only need ask.
But longevity and talent are only half of this family’s story. Their mark on a city can’t be measured.
Grandson Stefan was drafted by the Dodgers in the 40th round in 2011 and now serves as the director of the family’s foundation.
He grew up pleasantly unaware of how beloved his grandfather was, how immense his stardom.
“As a kid, I think it went unnoticed,” Stefan recalled on his grandfather’s impact. “I didn't really realize how big he was in the L.A. community and in baseball. And then when I was eight years old, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And shortly after that, it really started to hit me … Now, you hear my grandfather's name mentioned with Vin Scully, Bob Costas, some of the great broadcasters in sports.”
As grills fire up and the weather warms, families from Santa Monica to San Bernardino engage in a tradition. They flip on the Dodger game and invite a familiar voice into their homes. Suddenly, it feels more like summer; it feels more like home.
“It is the best reward I can get,” Jaime said when asked what it’s like to be considered far more than a broadcaster in countless Angeleno homes. “When I hear things like you say that I grew up with families, that I was considered a part of the family because they used to listen to me, It is really something so, so great, so beautiful. And that's one of the reasons why I’ve lasted so long.”
This is part one in a two-part series covering the Jarrín’s legacy in baseball and sports broadcasting in general. Part two will publish this Friday, Sept. 18.