© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Veteran baseball broadcaster Jaime Jarrin says goodbye


One of the most veteran broadcasters in sports is saying goodbye. Jaime Jarrin is retiring as the Spanish-language voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's held the job since 1959.


JAIME JARRIN: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTINEZ: The ball is going, it's going - kiss it goodbye. Sounds a lot prettier, though, when he says it. After 64 seasons, Jaime Jarrin has connected generations of Dodger fans. His name is synonymous with baseball. But it didn't start out that way.

JARRIN: I never saw baseball in my life, a bat, nothing like that until I came to this country.

MARTINEZ: You see, Jarrin was born and raised in Ecuador, where soccer dominates. There, kids grew up wanting to play in the World Cup. The World Series? Not so much. His first love was radio. He was introduced to it by his cousin, Alfredo, who was an up-and-coming radio announcer in the city of Quito. Alfredo used to take Jarrin to live broadcasts around town.

JARRIN: And I fell in love with radio when I was 10 years old. Then, a couple of years later, he said, Jaime, I think you have a microphone voice.

MARTINEZ: Alfredo took that nascent, adolescent voice and helped Jaime develop it.

JARRIN: He put me in a corner of a room to read every day about 30 minutes in the newspaper in commercial Quito - said, I am putting you in a corner because you will hear yourself the way that we hear you. That was my first lessons.

MARTINEZ: And that reading paid off because within just a few years, Jarrin began a career of his own. And this is where his story will become something a lot more recognizable to many Americans.

JARRIN: In '55, I decided to come to this country as an immigrant.


RITCHIE VALENS: (Singing) You're mine.

JARRIN: Then I start reading about Southern California. And I start reading about Los Angeles and, like, how many Spanish-speaking people were here. So I said, that's the place where I have to go.

MARTINEZ: Jarrin says there was so much opportunity in LA back then, just not in Spanish broadcasting.

JARRIN: I took a job at a factory making metal fences.

MARTINEZ: He says, at the time, the city's lone Spanish radio station did not have any open positions. But more than that, the people at the radio station didn't like the way Jarrin spoke Spanish. They felt that his Ecuadorian accent would sound strange to Southern California's Mexican population. Now, you might think, it was the 1950s. It was a different time. Forty years later, when I was starting my career in LA doing traffic report in Spanish, I too was told my Ecuadorian Spanish would not cut it in LA. And just as I did, Jarrin realized that he needed to neutralize his accent.

JARRIN: So I went to study Spanish at a school in Los Angeles, 7 o'clock until 11 o'clock in the morning. I kept going until, finally, they gave me a job on weekends.

MARTINEZ: Jarrin wound up becoming the news and sports director for KWKW just as baseball was about to be turned on its head. In 1958, the Brooklyn Dodgers left New York and moved to Los Angeles. And Jarrin, fluent in English and Spanish but only barely conversational in baseball, became part of the first crew to call Dodger games in Spanish. He still remembers the big meeting with the station's general manager.

JARRIN: Mr. William Beaton called all the announcers to his office. And he looked at me, said, I want you to be one of the announcers.

MARTINEZ: And so Jarrin sent himself to baseball boot camp. He attended minor league games around the city and read all the sports columns he could get his hands on.

JARRIN: I'd listen every single broadcast on radio. So like, in '59, I said, OK, I'm ready. And I started doing one inning first, then two innings, then three innings.

MARTINEZ: Within a few years, Jarrin became a respected voice, had built an audience. And it wasn't long before other teams took notice.

JARRIN: When they saw the success of the Dodgers regarding the Latinos, they started wondering. What you have to do is hire a couple of announcers, hire a salesman to sell Spanish broadcasts. And it's a great, great way of making money.

MARTINEZ: And that was where things were headed when a new mania took over baseball, Fernandomania.


VIN SCULLY: It is incredible. It is fantastic. It is Fernando Valenzuela.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS BROADCASTER: Valenzuela set a National League rookie record, pitching eight shutouts this year.

MARTINEZ: Late in the 1980 season, the Mexican ballplayer Fernando Valenzuela was brought on to pitch for the Dodgers. Within a year, he was named Rookie of the Year and helped the Dodgers win the World Series. But more than that, he brought more Spanish speakers to the game.

JARRIN: He created so many new baseball fans. It was unbelievable. People didn't know baseball at all, so we had to teach them.

MARTINEZ: And Jarrin went along for the ride because in addition to calling the games, Jarrin became Valenzuela's interpreter.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Jaime Jarrin, ask him if he felt that the first three innings tonight, when the Mets got the eight base runners on against him, was the toughest stretch he's had so far since coming to the National League.

JARRIN: (Speaking Spanish).

Up to that day, I was very well-known only in Southern California. But then when I had to travel with Fernando and be with him in front of the media, they knew about who Jaime Jarrin was in Chicago and St. Louis and other cities.

MARTINEZ: Since Jarrin's early days with the league, Latinos have become a real force in baseball. In 1955, just around 5% of all Major League players were Latino, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Today, more than a quarter of the players are Latinos. And you can see it in the stands, too. I was only 11 years old when Fernando Valenzuela broke through. But I remember noticing a lot more Spanish speakers at Dodger games. They had their transistor radios in their hand and to their ear to listen to Jarrin's broadcast. Alex Padilla was among them. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley and now serves as California's first Latino U.S. senator. Padilla grew up bilingual, but his parents only spoke Spanish. So in order to enjoy Dodger games as a family, they would all listen to Jarrin's voice narrate the action.

ALEX PADILLA: It was smooth. It was so descriptive. Literally, you can close your eyes and just listen to him and know exactly what was happening on the field. But as a Latino, as a bilingual Latino, it was great to sort of be seen by his voice.

MARTINEZ: In many respects, Jarrin's resume speaks for itself. He's in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He's got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And he's even received an honorary doctorate from Cal State University, Los Angeles.

JARRIN: I have received many accolades. But what really fills my heart - people approach me. They stop me, say, Mr. Jarrin, thanks to you, I spent more time with my grandfather. Thanks to you, my father used to spend more time with me. And we just wanted to thank you for that.

MARTINEZ: When I sat down to interview Jarrin for this story, I had one final question for him. Is it really coming to an end?

JARRIN: When I do my last broadcast, it will be my last, last, last intervention on the microphone.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

JARRIN: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTINEZ: A journey that started with reading the newspaper for 30 minutes a day in Quito, Ecuador, will come to an end three-quarters of a century later in Los Angeles, when Jaime Jarrin retires as one of the greatest broadcasters of all time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.