Jaime Jarrin of the Dodgers inspired generations of Spanish language shows

Oscar Soria grew up as a teenager in his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, long before he became the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Spanish-language play-by-play radio station.

He already loved baseball and was interested in radio. He was already intrigued by Fernandomania, the phenomenon named for Fernando Valenzuela, the left-handed rookie pitcher from Mexico whose impressive start with the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers captivated Southern California and his home country.

As Soria walked the 30 minutes to high school, he mentally narrated baseball games in the style of Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ longtime Spanish-speaking host.

“When Fernando caught Mexico’s attention, the man on the broadcast, Don Jaime, had the perfect voice,” Soria said recently in Spanish. “It was a different style, but so elegant and poetic. He provoked and sparked something in me about being a broadcaster.”

After the Dodgers were eliminated by the San Diego Padres in a league division series, Jarrín made his last appearance on the radio in his storied career. This was his 64th and final season with the Dodgers before retiring. But even if he is no longer behind the microphone, Jarrín’s influence on work and sport will remain. Soria is one of many Spanish-language sports broadcasters—not just in Major League Baseball—that came to Jarrín and grew up with and were influenced by him.

“Jaime put Spanish radio on the map,” said José Tolentino, a Spanish-language Los Angeles Angels broadcaster and former major league player, who said he owes Jarrín so much for encouraging him early in his career. “He valued this position.”

“He had a global impact,” said José Mota, a Spanish-language Dodgers broadcaster who got into the business after retiring from the big leagues and being coached by Jarrín. He later added, “I’ve met broadcasters in Mexico who have never worked here but tell me Jaime was the first person they heard. They tell me, ‘Tell Jaime Jarrín thank you!’”

For decades, Dodgers shows were synonymous with two people: Vin Scully and Jarrín. Scully, who died in August at the age of 94, was the English voice of the Dodgers for 67 years before retiring in 2016. Jarrín, 86, who was close friends with Scully, was known as “the Spanish voice of the Dodgers” and began calling their games in 1959 — the year after the franchise moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and hosted the first full-time Spanish-language show in MLB announcer René Cárdenas had started.

A native of Ecuador, Jarrín came to the United States in 1955 without ever having seen a baseball game. He eventually became one of only three Spanish-language broadcasters to receive the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, a recognition reserved for broadcasters. The others: Buck Canel, who began broadcasting World Series radio in 1937, and Felo Ramírez, a broadcast partner of Canel who called Miami Marlins games from 1993 until his death in 2017.

During his long tenure on the air, Jarrín not only inspired other broadcasters but also advised them on their own careers.

“It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to open the doors of baseball to our community,” Jarrín said in Spanish. “And I’m grateful to the Dodgers for giving me the chance to get close to the community and the fans.”

Take Eduardo Ortega for example. The Spanish-speaking voice of the San Diego Padres for 36 years, Ortega grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, just across the border from San Diego. At home, his family listened to both the Padres’ and the Dodgers’ Spanish-language broadcasts, and Jarrín’s elegance made an impression on Ortega.

“Everyone has a different style,” Ortega said in Spanish. “I tend to raise my voice and Jaime is a romantic in the air, more old school, but he connects with all ages with his subtle style. I think listening to Jaime was the inspiration to seek excellence and follow the greatest.”

Or take Polo Ascencio. Before becoming the play-by-play Spanish-language radio announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals seven years ago, Ascencio was a Valenzuela fan and discovered Jarrín while listening to Dodgers games while growing up in Tijuana. After coming to the US, Ascencio worked as a night watchman in Santa Barbara, California. And while he was cleaning, he took turns listening to Scully in English one day and Jarrín in Spanish the next on a portable radio.

After Ascencio went from being a frequent radio call-in guest to being a regular contributor to a television sports commentator in Santa Barbara to a producer at Dodger Stadium, Ascencio said Jarrín recommended he take over the pre- and post-game shows, while Jarrín is on vacation.

And in 2014, while Ascencio was in his first job as a play-by-play announcer for a Mexican winter league team, he said he was in a tough place mentally and was considering quitting. But one day he said he got an encouraging text message from Jarrín, who happened to be changing channels and overheard Ascencio’s call.

“If that wasn’t a sign of a baseball god or a hoax from someone trying to put something on me, I don’t know what it was,” Ascencio said. “Without that text, I would have gone home and quit my job as a broadcaster in Mexico and most likely wouldn’t be here.”

Pepe Yñiguez, a Dodgers broadcaster since 1997, Tolentino and Mota all have similar stories of Jarrín encouraging them. A former player, the Mexican-born Tolentino worked as a radio color analyst but he says Jarrín pushed him to do more play-by-play, which later opened the door to national television opportunities.

Mota’s broadcast spark began when he was a kid sitting in Jarrín’s locker room during games because Mota accompanied his father, Manny, a former Dodgers player and coach, to the ballpark. When the younger Mota retired from the field in 1997, he became interested in becoming a television broadcaster, so he immediately called Jarrín, who gave him voice exercises.

“He told me to not just focus on being an analyst but play-by-play because I speak both English and Spanish,” said Mota, who is from the Dominican Republic. “He said, ‘Don’t limit yourself because ex-players just get cornered. You can do more.’”

Perhaps Jarrín’s biggest influence, several networks said, was the standard he set for Spanish-language broadcasts so that other teams could follow suit to reach their large and growing Latino fanbase.

“Jaime’s influence is flowing into organizations that recognize that this is not a desire but a necessity,” Ascencio said. “The fact that the teams are willing to do this in Spanish is important. Without Jaime and his guidance and his being in the Hall of Fame with the support of the likes of Vin Scully and Jack Buck, this isn’t happening. As slow as it seems to be growing, that growth isn’t happening without Jaime.”

Of the 30 MLB teams, Ortega said, 16 have some form of Spanish-language broadcast of games.

Some teams only broadcast part of their games, be it weekends or day games. Unlike their English-speaking counterparts who travel for road games, some Spanish-language shows don’t, and so they call their games from a studio from a TV feed. According to Ortega, only three clubs — the Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks — have their Spanish-language broadcast crews travel to broadcast every game live.

Several broadcasters said Jarrín has advocated for more investment in Spanish-language broadcasts over the decades.

When he was traveling, Ortega said, Jarrín sometimes called to ask which cabin he was staying in, and when it was one in a less attractive location, Jarrín made a few calls on his end to make sure the Spanish language was spoken Spoken channels received the same treatment as English language channels.

“He always made sure we were better positioned,” said Ortega, who refers to Jarrín as “the godfather.” “He helps us. He advises us. If we have questions, we go to him. He carried the flag so we would be respected.”

Jarrín said he’s long been grateful that the Dodgers recognized the importance of their Spanish-speaking fans. He said his dream is for as many teams as possible to sponsor Spanish language shows. He said he hopes the way he’s acted throughout his career has served as an example of the potential of the Latino market. The stations that came after him are proof.