“Que tal? amables amigos. Dondequiera que se encuentren, es un placer saludarles y darles la bienvenida a otra transmision del beisbol de los Dodgers.”
Once again, Jaime Jarrin is on the air.
Nearly every day in each of the past 36 baseball seasons, Jarrin has welcomed himself into more homes than GTE, describing Los Angeles Dodger games in Spanish for listeners of more than 40 radio stations in Guatemala, Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and throughout Southern and Central California.
In the Caribbean and Central and South America, his accounts are pirated by local announcers and illegally retransmitted to millions more.
So how big is Jaime Jarrin? In his native Ecuador, he has been awarded the closest thing that country has to knighthood. Then there was the time in the mid-'60s when a gunman hijacked a plane to Los Angeles and held 56 passengers hostage until Jarrin was brought to the Tarmac.
That never happened to Vin Scully.
But then, Jarrin and Scully are as different as, well, Spanish and English. Scully, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who calls the Dodger games in English, is the friendly and knowledgeable neighbor who asks his listeners to “pull up a chair and spend part of Sunday with us.” With the professorial Jarrin, you feel compelled to sharpen your No. 2 pencil and pay close attention because you will be tested.
“Here, the Americans, they start with baseball in the schools,” Jarrin explains in the dulcet tones that have become a radio staple. “But we have an audience that comes from all over Latin America. And they came from Latin America without knowing baseball. They didn’t care about baseball.
“But now, from contact I have with people and from letters that I receive . . . (people) that weren’t familiar with baseball before, that have been in this country 10, 12, 15 years, are starting to develop a fondness for baseball. Now they really follow baseball. I think they learn it through us, through our broadcasts.”
As a result, those broadcasts are often a disparate mix of information, opinion and simple rules interpretations. In one typical inning this season, Jarrin waxed philosophic on the danger of walking batters, explained how free agency works and gave a short course on the various mispronunciations of outfielder Raul Mondesi’s surname. (It’s Mahn-dah-SEE, for those of you taking the home extension course.)
That last lesson, Jarrin admits, was directed at a small but growing segment of his student body: American-born listeners who know baseball but are struggling to learn Spanish. “Yes, I know they are there too,” Jarrin says with a wink.
But the pedagogy is never pedantic. Undaunted by the challenge of performing before an audience of baseball experts and baseball novices, Spanish speakers and Spanish students spread throughout three time zones, Jarrin is almost always interesting, informative and entertaining.
“I think baseball is a public service from the radio station to the community,” he says. “We are giving something that the people can enjoy. Some form of entertainment.
“So I want to be sure that I do my best. That’s the only thing I pray every morning: Please, God, give me the facility to put into words what I am seeing at the ballpark.”
Baseball was a foreign game to Jarrin when he arrived here from Quito in 1955, the year the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series. He worked as a cafeteria busboy and studied English for a year before joining KWKW-AM (1330)--then the only full-time Spanish-language radio station in Los Angeles.
Within two years, he became director of the station’s modest news and sports department. When it was announced that the Dodgers would be moving west for the 1958 season, KWKW quickly cut a deal with the team to broadcast its games locally in Spanish, something no major league franchise had ever tried before. Rene Cardenas, an experienced Nicaraguan journalist, was signed to handle the play-by-play and Milt Nava, one of the station’s regular deejays, was asked to provide color commentary that first season.
The lineup was just a temporary one, however: Station management had already decided they wanted Jarrin in the booth. Trouble was, he knew nothing about baseball. To him, soccer and boxing were sports. Baseball was a waste of an afternoon.
Or so he had heard. He’d never actually seen a major league game himself.
“William Beaton, who was the (station’s owner) then, came to me and said, ‘I’m going to give you a year. At least try to learn the game. There’s a big future for you there.’ So that first year I was listening to every game, watching all the games on TV, reading everything I could about baseball.”
Jarrin went on to start more than 6,000 big league games, more than Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth combined. In the process, he has worn out two other announcers. Cardenas left in 1962, the year Dodger Stadium opened, to join the expansion Houston Astros and was replaced by Jose Garcia. In 1972, Garcia left, and Jarrin was promoted to the No. 1 spot in the booth, where he was joined by a television actor named Rudy Hoyos. Cardenas, now 64, eventually returned in 1982; he and Jarrin have been together, on and off, for 16 years.
But despite his longevity with the Dodgers, Jarrin, who also calls the World Series and playoffs for CBS Radio each fall, has won his greatest plaudits as a news reporter. “News is what is in my blood,” Jarrin admits.
And, says Jim Kalmenson, KWKW’s general manager, that hard news background has had a lot to do with making Jarrin a household name in the Southland’s Latino neighborhoods.
“I think much of the reason for Jaime’s popularity is because in the late ‘50s and ‘60s . . . any time anything around the world would happen, Jaime wouldn’t even ask. He’d be on a airplane to far parts of the world to cover the news,” Kalmenson says. “No one in the Spanish-language media ever did that.”
Jarrin’s voice became a familiar, reassuring one in times of crisis. He reported live from the Capitol rotunda on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, from London on memorial services for Winston Churchill and from New York on the Pope’s first visit to the United States.
That credibility has helped make Jarrin one of the 100 most influential Latinos in the United States, according to Hispanic Business magazine, and a wealthy man, according to just about anyone’s standards. It’s almost impossible to watch Spanish-language television without catching one of his many commercial spots--and it could be more. Says Kalmenson: “There’s 50 other (sponsors) he’s declined.”
Jarrin, whose son Jorge has followed him into radio and is heard delivering traffic reports on both English- and Spanish-language stations, has no plans to leave the broadcast booth.
“I love what I do. I don’t think of this as a job. It’s something I enjoy doing,” he says. “I am 59 now. I can’t keep doing this forever. But what am I going to do if I retire? I’ll probably wind up going out to the ballpark anyway.”