The Day Vin Scully Met Public Enemy Number One

During the pandemic-induced outage, I haven’t had the chance to avail myself of many of the multitude of rebroadcasted classics, but on Monday night, when my wife and I were trying to figure out what to fit into the Better Call Saul-shaped hole in our TV viewing schedule, she discovered that we had TiVo’d the MLB Network re-airing of Clayton Kershaw’s major league debut on May 25, 2008. The Dodgers were at home that day, facing the Cardinals, and so on the microphone was none other than Vin Scully. I answered the question of whether we should watch it by breaking out the birthday package of imported jamón iberico. This one called for the top-shelf stuff.

Less than three minutes into the broadcast, while Kershaw was still facing leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker, Scully cut to a clip from a March 9 spring training game, likely the first time the legendary Dodger announcer saw the team’s 2006 first-round pick in action. “The pitch that we will forever remember,” began the 81-year-old announcer, witness of literally millions of pitches over the course of the first 58 years of his stint with Dodgers — including thousands from Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, and Juan Marichal — but at this point probably fewer than 100 from the 20-year-old southpaw, “was made by Clayton Kershaw against the Boston Red Sox. He retired the side in Vero Beach, but he threw a curveball that buckled the knees of Sean Casey….”

“Ohhh, what a curve ball! Holy mackerel! He just broke off Public Enemy Number One. Look at this thing! It’s up there, it’s right there and Casey is history.”

That snippet has come and gone on the internet more times than I can count; Dodger Thoughts’ Jon Weisman uploaded a version to YouTube that got 700,000 views before the jackboots took it down. The only version I could find is distorted and pixelated, and so I took the trouble to transfer my recording and share it here and on Twitter. Watching it a couple of dozen times in the past 14 hours has produced feelings of pleasure and momentary normalcy, so I hope it can do the same for you.

Note that Kershaw was wearing no. 96 in the spring training clip, and no. 54 in his debut; he would switch to the now-familiar no. 22 later that season. Three Cy Young awards and one march towards Cooperstown later, it’s likely that no other Dodger will ever wear the number. In the outing against the Cardinals, he worked six strong innings, throwing 102 pitches, and allowing five hits, one walk, and two runs while striking out seven, the first of which was Schumaker, swinging at a high 94 mph fastball. Kershaw did not get his first win that day; the Dodgers needed until the 10th inning, when Andre Ethier hit a walk-off single. The 20-year-old southpaw finished his rookie campaign just 5-5 with a 4.26 ERA, 4.08 FIP, and an even 100 strikeouts in 107.1 innings. Until last year, when he finished at 3.03, he hadn’t posted another ERA above 3.00.

As for Casey, he shared his memory of that Kershaw encounter at the Players Tribune in 2016. “It was the first time I had felt like a little kid in the big leagues in a long time,” he said of the plate appearance, during which he never took the bat off his shoulder.

As for the now-92-year-old Scully, he recently took a fall at home — a headfirst sliding accident, he called it — and spent five days in the hospital, but he’s back home and in good spirits. On Monday, the Dodgers released a video with a message from the great one:

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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Cave Dameron
4 years ago

The postseason has become Kershaw’s public enemy #1.

4 years ago
Reply to  Cave Dameron

Boooo 😁

4 years ago
Reply to  Cave Dameron

In the 2017 World Series he was great in game 1 and 7.

Obviously he pitched very poorly in game 5 in Houston, completely on him. It’s not like the Astros knew what was coming or anything.