He’s part of the team, but he’s not part of the team.
During his 11 years as a radio reporter for the Dodgers and host of the popular “Dodger Talk” David Vassegh has never forgotten this contradictory truth.
He flies with the team but sits in a separate area with his colleagues. He is staying at the team hotel, but his room is on a separate floor. Before games he waits outside the clubhouse for general media access and once inside he stays within the same confines as all reporters. As soon as the game starts, he retires to a seat in the press box, unless he is working in television.
As an employee of KLAC-AM (570) radio, Vassegh, 45, has always stayed on track.
Which made it so awkward before a recent game in Milwaukee, when that track snaked down a giant chute and into a wall, where he fractured multiple bones in his right wrist and six ribs.
Chances are, you’ve seen it. Chances are you laughed and then felt awful laughing. It was one of baseball’s most brutal local injuries this summer. It was certainly also the most watched.
In a stunt performed for SportsNet LA cameras, Vassegh rode down the left field slide at American Family Field, mimicking the trip that team mascot Bernie Brewer made after each Brewers home run. Wearing a shirt and tie while lying on his back on a sack of potatoes, Vassegh sailed down the slide and yelled “Holy shit!” five times before crashing into a retaining wall below, ending with a sickening crash as he fell rolls over in excruciating pain and can’t breathe.
The beginning was fun. The end was bad. The video went viral.
“I was trying to put on a show, be a little silly,” Vassegh recalled with a sigh. “It didn’t go so well.”
Humiliated and injured, Vassegh was taken by Dodgers Director of Player Relations Juan Dorado to the Dodgers practice staff, who arranged for him to visit a nearby emergency center because the stadium’s X-ray technician had not yet arrived. Knowing the rules of the media, Vassegh retired to a seat outside the Dodgers’ clubhouse while waiting for a colleague to take him away.
“There’s still this line that I’m not a player in and there was no way I wanted to wait in that clubhouse,” Vassegh said.
At this point Justin Turner, David Price, Cody Bellinger and Austin Barnes showed up and erased that line. They dragged him into the clubhouse. They looked after him until his vehicle arrived. They looked at him in his moment of crisis and saw more than just a microphone.
“He just sat there and looked like he was about to pass out,” Barnes said. “We didn’t want to just leave him there. He’s like one of us.”
Price grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat from Vassegh’s worried face. Turner gave him a chicken sandwich so he wouldn’t have to be treated on an empty stomach. Barnes and Alex Torres, the Dodgers’ clubhouse manager, helped him remove his shirt and tie and outfitted him in a Dodgers T-shirt so doctors could more easily access his torso.
It was the beginning of a surge of affection that turned one of the most embarrassing moments of Vassegh’s life into one of the most revealing.
“I will always respect that line,” Vassegh said. “But when I needed her most, there was no line. I wasn’t a member of the media. I was just one person and they were people who helped me and that says a lot about them as a team.”
After cameraman Mick Larson drove him to the emergency room for 20 minutes, a familiar face popped up on Vassegh’s phone. It was Mookie Betts, FaceTiming Vassegh from the Dodgers clubhouse.
“Man, what have you done?” Betts asked.
The phone buzzed again. It was Orel Hershiser from SportsNet LA Studios who called to offer support. Vassegh eventually returned to the stadium and was surrounded by more affection. As he walked in front of the dugout in the fifth inning, he was greeted by Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner and Betts, with Betts insisting that Vassegh give him a hug. Afterward, he was hugged by Craig Kimbrel at the Dodgers’ clubhouse, then returned to his hotel to find that even former Dodgers had blown up his phone.
Kenley Jansen FaceTimed him. Enrique Hernandez texted him. Shawn Green texted him. Mike Scioscia called him. Even Mickey Hatcher’s wife Patty called him.
Through it all, Vassegh has honored his actions with his signature self-deprecating sense of humor.
“I’m the one who went down that stupid slide, it’s my responsibility, I just had to show a showboat,” he said. “I’m glad everyone enjoyed it.”
Then there was the one-word lyrics by Clayton Kershaw.
This was not referring to Vassegh’s slide, but what happened afterward. Vassegh stayed true to his reputation for not missing a day’s work.
“There’s no way I would go out like that, I didn’t want the last picture the players had to be of me walking into the ER,” he said. “I had to show them I’m tougher.”
“Vassegh is the only guy in the world who can go down that slide and break as much stuff as he’s broken and still laugh and tell a good story about it.”
– Max Muncy, Dodgers infielder
He did a pregame interview with Justin Turner, though he was still in shock and hasn’t had to be rushed to the ER yet.
“I gotta say, you’re really keen to get a picture of this thing right now, and you insisted on doing that interview first,” Turner told him on camera.
After a Dodgers win, he conducted a postgame interview with Barnes, who hit longballs despite his cracked and strained ribs pounding and cast wrist throbbing.
“Yeah, that home run was for you,” Barnes told him. “I know you had a little accident on the slide today, so we all gathered for you today.”
The Dodgers are rallying around Vassegh precisely because he’s a grinder. He shows up every day, swallowing teasing constantly, teasing them, hounding them for interviews, then processing it all during his boisterous post-game “Dodger Talk” show. With a comfortable manner that works for both sides, he has become a valued link between players and fans, although some have winced at his earlier stunts, such as losing a race with the lumbering Adrian Gonzalez.
“I’m just trying to humanize the players for the fans,” Vassegh said. “There’s a heartbeat in them that I’m trying to illuminate.”
This incident illustrated that heartbeat. Once the players knew he would be fine, the raid began again as Justin Turner walked up to that retaining wall and taped it down like it was a crime scene. A few days later, the players showed up wearing a blue t-shirt with a photo of Vassegh holding up his broken wrist, alongside the words “Sliding Ain’t Easy”.
“Vassegh is the only guy in the world who can go down that slide and break as much stuff as he broke and still laugh and tell a good story about it,” said Max Muncy, who wore the shirt on the day wore when the Dodgers announced his contract extension. “Every single guy in this clubhouse would get on his feet in an instant.”
Don’t look now, but the Dodgers could return to Milwaukee for the playoffs. They will play there next season. Some players have already suggested that the radio reporter stage a roaring comeback in a convincing rematch that…
No chance. Despite the encouraging victories to come from the most remarkable clash of his career, David Vassegh is fully aware of the bottom line.
“No, I’ll never do that again,” he said. “I feel good knowing the slide won.”