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Trip to L.A. Was the Road to Immortality for Jarrin

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jaime Jarrin learned on Monday morning, Feb. 2, that he had been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, but the impact didn’t really hit him until later that day.

Jarrin, the Dodgers’ longtime Spanish-language announcer, was at the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Assn.'s annual awards luncheon to receive a lifetime achievement award, and Peter O’Malley was there.

“Peter came up to me to offer his congratulations,” Jarrin said, “and he put the Hall of Fame in perspective. He said, ‘This is not just a trophy you put on a shelf or a plaque you hang on a wall, this is immortality for you, your sons and your sons’ sons.’ ”

Jarrin, 62, will be inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall of Fame today as the 1998 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.

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Past winners include Vin Scully, the 1982 recipient; Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola and Harry Caray.

It has been presented annually since 1978, but there has been only one other Spanish-language announcer, shortwave radio broadcaster Buck Canel, who received the award posthumously in 1985.

Jarrin is fortunate to be alive to accept the honor, having come very close to death in 1990 after an automobile accident near the Dodgers’ spring training camp in Vero Beach, Fla. Rushing in his rental car to get a blank audio tape from an electronics store one evening, he had a near head-on collision with a pickup truck that witnesses said was speeding. Jarrin never saw the truck.

His spleen was ruptured, his lungs collapsed, he had three broken ribs and his liver was nearly destroyed. Because of the damage to his liver, Jarrin wasn’t expected to survive. He spent four agonizing months in a hospital.

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“I really thought I was going to die,” he said. “I was so weak and in so much pain that I couldn’t even move. It was an awful, awful feeling.”

Two years earlier, he experienced a different kind of pain when Jimmy Jarrin, the middle son of Jaime and Blanca, died at 29 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

“I was with him at dinner one night and he was gone the next,” Jarrin said. “It was the toughest thing I ever had to deal with.

“I started questioning God. I thought, ‘How could you take him away from us?’ Jimmy was so young and bright and had a great future.”

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He had master’s degrees from UCLA in psychology and business and had become vice president of a major department store chain.

“When I got a call from UCLA Medical Center that my son was dying, at first I thought it was Jorge, that his helicopter had crashed. Then I learned it was Jimmy. It’s something I’ll never get over.”

Jorge, the Jarrins’ oldest son, is “Captain Jorge,” a well-known radio traffic reporter. Mauricio, the youngest, is a political science major at Harvard.

Jaime Jarrin’s early childhood was spent on his parents’ expansive ranch in rural Ecuador in the Andes Mountains 40 miles north of Quito, the nation’s capital.

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When he was 15, and by then his family was living in Quito, he got a job at HCJB, “the voice of the Andes,” which Jarrin says is the world’s largest radio station.

“We think of a 50,000-watt station as a major station here,” Jarrin said. “It was a 750,000-watt station and when I was there it employed 3,000 people. It was a city within a city. There were 80 announcers that broadcast in 20 languages.”

By the time he was 19, Jarrin was one of the station’s top announcers, doing news and covering special events.

The station was owned by a group of U.S. churches and employed many Americans. Jarrin became fascinated by the United States.

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“I wanted to expand my horizons and experience the U.S. for myself,” Jarrin said.

He told Blanca, whom he had married a year earlier, that he wanted to go to the U.S., and she encouraged him. He came here in 1955 without Blanca, sending for her six months later after he had landed a job as a reporter for Spanish station KWKW, his current employer. KWKW (1330) will broadcast today’s induction ceremonies live from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

KWKW began broadcasting Dodger games in Spanish when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Even though Jarrin knew nothing about baseball, he was assigned to do the games the next year with Rene Cardenas, who is in his second stint with the Dodgers after a tour of duty with the Houston Astros from 1962 to ’81. Jarrin has done the Dodgers straight through, even during a stint when KTNQ carried the Spanish-language broadcasts (1979-86).

Before 1970, the Spanish-language announcers didn’t travel with the Dodgers, so they had to listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett and re-create the road games.

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“I remember the first time I met Jaime,” Scully said. “He came up to me and thanked me. I wondered what he was thanking me for. I had no idea they were re-creating games off our calls. I thought, ‘My goodness, how do they do that?’ ”

That first meeting was the beginning of a long friendship between Scully and Jarrin.

“I can’t really attest to Jaime’s broadcasting abilities, although I’m told he is marvelous, but I do know you’d be hard-pressed to find a classier gentleman,” Scully said.

One little-known fact about Jarrin is that he had a consecutive-game streak that tops Chick Hearn’s.

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“I think what Chick has done is incredible, working more than 3,000 games in a row, but my streak was nearly 3,800,” Jarrin says matter-of-factly. “It ran from 1961 and ended in 1984, when I took three weeks off to produce Spanish-language radio coverage of the Olympics.”

Although Jarrin has always been well-known among Latino Dodger fans in Southern California and throughout Latin America, it was the arrival of Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 that gave him real celebrity status. That’s because he served as Valenzuela’s interpreter.

“I accompanied Fernando everywhere,” he said. “I was at every one of his news conferences. I went with him to the White House. The whole thing was a marvelous experience.”

And it has been a marvelous career for Jaime Jarrin, one that reaches its pinnacle today.

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