I was in the stands Tuesday night listening to the radio-- it was the second game of the Dodgers/Diamondbacks series-- and Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Vin Scully decided to latch onto the compelling story of that night’s opposing pitcher, Livan Hernandez, and how Hernandez dramatically defected to the U.S. from Cuba. “This’d make a great movie,” Vinnie exclaimed, and then went on to explain how the pitcher, whose desire to leave his homeland was apparently widely known, was throwing in a game in Monterey, Mexico, when he was approached by an apple-cheeked young lady with an autograph book. She extended it and Livan opened it, ready to sign. What he discovered inside, instead of a blank page, was an open-faced note which said somewhat ominously, “El gordo quiere verte (The fat man wants to meet you).” (In the story, El Gordo turned out to be the man who facilitated Hernandez’s escape from Cuba via life raft. Cue dramatic stinger.) You could hear Vinnie getting kind of starry-eyed as he thought about the possibilities, as well as getting a trifle annoyed that the game kept interrupting his reverie. But he kept on (with both threads) and began to speculate as to who could be cast in the movie. His first and only suggestion for the role of Livan Hernandez—the far-too-old and dashing Antonio Banderas—betrayed strikingly little imagination. (Luis Guzman would be more convincing, for crying out loud.)
But when he began to think of who would make a great El Gordo, Vinnie took listeners of a certain age on a real trip down memory lane, and left 99.9% of the rest of the KFWB faithful likely scratching their heads. “The first fella I think of is, of course, Sydney Greenstreet,” clearly assuming the young punks in the audience would be culturally literate enough to know Casablanca or The Big Sleep without mentioning them by name. “But if you really wanna go back--“ And my ears perked up, anticipating something great— “You have to think of one of the great character actors of all time, who was always filling out the card when it came to rotund, scurvy villainy… Akim Tamiroff!”
(Never mind that Tamiroff was actually 20 years younger than Greenstreet. As my baseball-loving, movie-literate friend Andy, who also heard the broadcast, noted, “We know what Vinnie was going for—big and swarthy,” before he himself offered up Alfonso Bedoya or Pedro Armendariz-- 13 years younger than Tamiroff even-- as more ethnically appropo suggestions. What, no William Conrad?)
Then Casting Director Vinnie, likely jostled out of his Cinema Paradiso daydream by one of two spectacular defensive plays made in left field that night by Diamondback Eric Byrnes, chuckled with satisfaction and went back to his day/night job, undoubtedly adrift throughout the game on further unspoken memories of Turhan Bey or Lionel Atwill or J. Carroll Naish, leaving it for the Great Unwashed to go to their Internets, Google away and get their Tamiroff on. As if we needed it, this is just one more reason why Vin Scully is the absolute best—he’s never more than a pitch away from another expansive story about Takashi Saito or Rich Aurilia… or Peter Lorre.