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Charley Steiner joins the house that Vin Scully built

Steiner, who was bit by the broadcast bug as a child listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games on the radio, will join Scully in the Radio Hall of Fame on Saturday.

November 08, 2013|Bill Dwyre
  • Dodgers radio broadcaster Charley Steiner will be inducted into Radio Hall of Fame.
Dodgers radio broadcaster Charley Steiner will be inducted into Radio… (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty…)

Saturday night at a black-tie dinner in Chicago, a Dodgers broadcaster will go into the Hall of Fame and it won't be Vin Scully.

A shocker? No.

Scully is already there. If there is a Hall of Fame that has any connection whatsoever to broadcasting and Scully isn't in it, it's a lousy Hall of Fame.

Now, Charley Steiner will be joining him. That means, next year, when fans tune in to Dodgers' baseball, they will be informed and entertained by three Hall of Famers. That's far from the norm, maybe a first, and should make Dodgers fans proud. Even if their team doesn't turn out to be a winner, they'll be getting the news from two of them. And in Spanish, from a third Hall of Famer, Jaime Jarrin.

Steiner's induction into the Radio Hall of Fame will be frosting on a lifetime of chocolate cake. We all have our dreams. Steiner lives his daily.

He is 64 and has been headed to where he is now, being a Dodgers broadcaster, for the last 58 years.

He grew up in Malverne, N.Y., on Long Island. He was a Dodgers fan. One October afternoon in 1955, left-hander Johnny Podres beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. It was the famous 2-0 game, the Sandy Amoros catch, the only Brooklyn World Series title.

Six-year-old Steiner was smitten, not just with the team, nor with just one of the golden voices describing the action, some kid named Scully. But also with the medium getting him the message.

"I was the proverbial RCA Victor dog," Steiner says, taking us back to the famous terrier, staring into the phonograph. "My parents bought a big old Zenith radio and I spent hours, ear pressed to it, listening to the Dodgers."

Somewhere between Amoros' catch and Roy Campanella hugging Podres in celebration, Steiner decided, as his life work, he wanted to broadcast Dodgers baseball games.

Two years later, the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, leaving behind millions of angry fans in Brooklyn and one very sad youngster on Long Island.

"Eight years old," Steiner says, "and my career path had ended."

Actually, Steiner was just presented with some turns in the road.

He graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and went back years later as the school's commencement speaker. His broadcast career took him from Peoria to Davenport, Iowa; New Haven, Conn.; Hartford, Conn.; Cleveland; and on to New York. He did everything, from attending school board meetings to broadcasting high school sports.

"Here I was, this Jewish boy from Long Island, reading the hog prices on the radio," Steiner says. "I never mentioned that to my mother."

He got his national fame as an anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter, just as ESPN began to take off in the late 1980s. Before that, he worked United States Football League games in New York for Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals, and after that did Yankees games for George Steinbrenner. When he came to the Dodgers nine seasons ago, the team was owned by the McCourts.

That employment tripleheader alone should get you in the Hall of Fame. Or maybe into heaven.

For a while, he was in management at ESPN. When Steiner was at RKO radio, he hired Keith Olbermann. Also John Madden.

He also was among the best-known boxing broadcasters in the country. Slowly, the sport's brutality eroded his interest, and when Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear in 1997, Steiner knew he had done his last boxing match. But he went out swinging, leaving the audience with the classic summary: "Evander Holyfield and portions of his right ear were taken to a hospital tonight in separate cars."

In the fall of 2004, Steiner got the call. The Dodgers were looking for a replacement for Ross Porter. Soon, he was driving to his mother's house in Long Island, the same house where he put his ear up to the giant Zenith and dreamed about this job. He was about to do the only thing he ever really wanted — broadcast Dodgers baseball.

"My mom was 92," he says. "My dad had died six months earlier. I called and told her I was coming with some news. She was excited. She fixed lunch.

"I told her I got the Dodgers job. She says, 'Oh, wow. When do we move to L.A.?'

"My cellphone rings. The voice on the other end says, 'Charley, this is Vin. Welcome to the Dodgers family.' I tell my mom I better take this call.

"I am getting chills up and down my spine. Same house where I first heard that voice. Same house where I first wanted to be what I had just become."

Charley and Gertrude Steiner moved to Los Angeles, she into an assisted-living home, where she could hear her son call games. She died five years ago.

Saturday night in Chicago, Steiner will tell much of this story. Surrounding him will be pictures of his sports predecessors — the Hall is for all of radio, not just sports. Steiner's previously inducted peers include the likes of Red Barber, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen, Bob Uecker, even Ronald Reagan, who used to dazzle them on WHO in Des Moines.

Oh, yes, and that Scully guy, who is sports radio's Sultan of Swat.

"I tell people I have the perfect job," Steiner says. "Everyday, I go to work and get to play pepper with Babe Ruth."

Now, Charley Steiner gets to do more than play pepper. He gets to join Babe's club.

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