Monday , August 15 2022

Remembering Vin Scully, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers announcer and beloved voice of baseball

AS A BOY, Vincent Edward Scully often lay on the floor in the front room of his family’s Washington Heights fifth-floor walk-up, put his head on a pillow tucked under a tabletop radio and listened to Saturday morning football games. He loved the spark of the announcer’s voice coming through the speaker from some far-off stadium and imagined himself in the crowd, surrounded by its happy roar. The sound, he said years later, “just poured over me.”

Scully broadcast Dodgers games, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, starting in the spring of 1950. It is the longest association between a single franchise and an announcer in American professional sports history. He began with the team as a 22-year-old graduate of Fordham University, at the invitation of the legendary Red Barber who saw in Scully an “appealing young green pea” whose earnest Irish lilt would connect with listeners.

Scully was behind the microphone on Oct. 4, 1955, when the bridesmaid “bums” of Brooklyn won their first and only World Series title, defeating the New York Yankees in Game 7 behind Johnny Podres. In a career full of memorable moments, the chance to tell the borough’s downtrodden faithful, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world,” was his most cherished baseball memory.

When the team moved west in 1958, fans in the Los Angeles Coliseum, many in seats far from the action, took to listening to Scully’s calls on handheld transistor radios, his voice carrying through the soft Mediterranean air of game nights. L.A. was a football town then, but as Hall of Fame right fielder Duke Snider later remembered, Scully “educated” Angelenos on the game and made them care about the Dodgers, made them fans. On the May night in 1959 when the Dodgers honored MVP catcher Roy Campanella, who had been paralyzed in a car accident four months earlier, Scully, describing the crowd of more than 93,000 holding up lighters and matches in tribute, spoke for the city: “Let there be a prayer for every light, and wherever you are, maybe you in silent tribute to Roy Campanella can also say a prayer.”

As Sandy Koufax neared his fourth no-hitter, a 1-0 perfect-game win over the Chicago Cubs in September 1965, Scully, looking to personalize the call for Koufax and his family, brought listeners inside the tension of the moment by repeatedly noting the passing time on the Dodger Stadium clock: “One and two the count to Chris Krug. It is 9:41 p.m. on September the 9th. The 1-2 pitch on the way: Curveball, tapped foul off to the left of the plate.” Koufax’s magical ninth inning was perhaps Scully’s finest call, steeped in a simple empathetic impulse to imagine what it must be like to stand in another man’s shoes. “I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world,” he said. “It is 9:46 p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away … “


SCULLY KEPT HIS own scorebook. He wrote starters’ names in blue ballpoint pen and pinch hitters and relievers in red ink. He researched his own game prep on the Internet. He stashed Jolly Rancher candies in his glasses case to keep his mouth moist between innings. He memorized each day’s starting lineup after one look at the press box white board. He tended to stay clear of the field and the clubhouse — Barber had told him once not to get too close to the players, and he never forgot it. He hung his sport coat on a hanger on the wall of the broadcast booth over his left shoulder; the hanger, made for him by the wife of a stadium security guard, was decorated with tiny baseballs, caps and bats. He had a favorite chopped salad, prepared by Dave Pearson, the Dodger Stadium chef. He liked a cup of coffee about 10 after 4 every afternoon. He wore gold cufflinks, a gold watch and gold-rimmed glasses to the ballpark. He sometimes soft-shoed to the music of the stadium organist, Nancy Bea Hefley. He teased the camera and makeup folks about trying to make him look pretty for TV. When he told stories during a broadcast, he turned in his chair so he could share them face-to-face with his director, Boyd Robertson. And in the moments before the mic went live, he gathered himself with a deep, quiet breath.

He was a witness to history, there in the demoralized Dodgers’ clubhouse in the aftermath of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World;” there on the air for Don Larsen’s last perfect pitch in the ’56 World Series; there shouting “Clark caught it!” in the waning seconds of the 1981 NFC championship game; there marveling — “and look who’s coming up … ” — at Kirk Gibson’s bum-legged heroics in 1988; and there easing fans back into some kind of connection to the game after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001: “Despite a heavy heart, baseball gets up out of the dirt and brushes itself off … hoping in some small way to inspire the nation to do the same.”

On the April night in 1974 when Henry Aaron hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth as baseball’s all-time leader, Scully called the game for the visiting Dodgers. As Aaron stood hugging his mother in a crowd of celebrating fans, reporters and photographers after rounding the bases, Scully, who prided himself on dispassionate description, felt goose bumps. “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world,” he said. “A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”

You tucked a radio under your pillow to fall asleep to his calls. You turned down the national television broadcast to listen to the Dodgers feed. You bent your antenna searching for his signal in the night; and when cable made it possible, you paid the extra money to listen to him from clear across the country. The son of Irish immigrants (he briefly lived in Ireland as a toddler after his father died), Scully’s voice was old-country lyrical and warm and he played it like an instrument. He sounded folksy when he introduced listeners to a new player from some small Midwestern town, wistful telling a story from days gone by and near operatic tracking a home run ball in flight. He coined phrases and borrowed lines from the poets — the man on deck in a crucial moment might call to mind John Milton’s “They also serve who only stand and wait … ” — but it was his tone and the music in his delivery that moved you. The sound of Scully spoke to your better angels somehow, reached some genuine place inside you. Listening to him meant reliving the feeling of going to your first ballgame. When he said, “Hi again, everyone, and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be,” you were home.

He loved to tell stories and reminisce with scouts and reporters who’d been on the beat a long time — the one about the night he and Joe Garagiola had to lie down in the back seat of a car to sneak out of Tiger Stadium in the literally riotous minutes after Detroit had won the 1984 Series was a doozy. He read detective fiction on flights and in hotel rooms. He was conflicted about being on the road, away from family over the years, and had limited his travel to cities west of the Rockies in the last few seasons. He was a private person; he moved in and out of the ballpark quickly, waving to fans but rarely lingering. He was devoted to his 16 grandchildren and he would tell you that his best afternoons were spent swimming with them in the pool at his home out in Hidden Hills. He listened to show tunes in the car on the way to the park each night, and he sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” to his wife, Sandi, on her birthday. He was devout, giving God all credit and praise for the chance to live out his dream for so many years.

And he never seemed to understand what all the fuss was about. Why had Barber chosen him, a skinny redhead who grew up playing stickball in the Bronx? Why had the fans so generously, so consistently, welcomed him into their homes?

“There’s only one feeling that you have, and that is overwhelming thanks,” he said at his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.


ON OCT. 15, 1988, Kirk Gibson, whose injured knees made it almost impossible for him to walk, let alone turn on a ball, somehow wristed a 3-2 slider from Dennis Eckersley over the right-field wall and into the pavilion seats at Dodger Stadium to win Game 1 of the World Series. Scully called it the most theatrical home run he had ever seen. At the crack of the bat, he exclaimed, “High fly ball into deep right field … she iiiiiiis gone!” And then he said nothing. His open microphone broadcast the crowd’s crashing, unending delirium. NBC’s cameras traced Gibson’s giddy fist-pump hobble around the bases, caught Tommy Lasorda’s sprint from the dugout, panned the bouncing stands, flashed on a dumbfounded Oakland A’s dugout emptying out, and finally settled on the mob of teammates waiting to celebrate with Gibson at home plate. You could hear the stadium organ play in the background. But not a word from Scully. For a full one minute and seven seconds, he was silent. And then he returned, as if on cue, and delivered the line he would tell you came from the man upstairs himself: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”

He had done the same thing 14 years earlier when Aaron passed Ruth, silent then for one minute and 44 seconds after the ball cleared the fence. Ask him to explain the habit and he’d say something like, Really, what am I going to add? For all his gifts with language, the greatest baseball announcer who ever lived might have been the greatest baseball announcer who ever lived because he knew when to shut up, too.

He also knew when to have fun, and seemed to truly enjoy the game. You could hear it when he laughed his way through a description of a young Clayton Kershaw‘s curveball in the spring of 2008: “Holy mackerel, he just broke off ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ look at this thing … ” Or when he riffed on Vicente Padilla’s 50-mph “soap bubble” eephus pitch in the summer of 2010. Not too long ago, Scully “translated” Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy’s seventh-inning meltdown after a disputed call. Lip-reading as Tracy became more and more agitated, Scully said, “He caught the ‘blinking’ ball … that is ‘blinking fertilizer’ … you gotta be ‘blinking’ me … no way, no ‘blinking’ way … ” A clip of the winking, blinking, G-rated rendition was a YouTube and blog sensation and lit up Twitter overnight. Think of the bookends: on the one hand, a broadcast to Brooklyn so local he would sometimes tell people over the air whether there were seats available and if they should hustle on down to Ebbets Field; and a re-tweeted, linked-up video of his teases with a satellite-scaled gathering of listeners on the other. There’s the reach of six-plus decades behind the microphone.

In the end, Scully’s longevity may best define him. Not because he was an institution, which he was. Not because he could draw on a seemingly endless reserve of memories every time he took the air, which he could. And not because it is remarkable to do any one thing for so long even half as well as he did it, which it most certainly is. But because his listeners could mark the passage of time in their own lives against the background of his steady, familiar presence. Scully was the soundtrack when you were a boy and when you were a grown man, too. You inherited Scully. You shared him with friends like some sacred shibboleth. You passed him on to your sons and daughters. You came to feel as though you knew him because he was always there.

In his last season in the booth, Scully recited the iconic “People will come” monologue from “Field of Dreams” to mark the start of spring, reaching forward and back in time all at once. On his last day in the booth that fall, he took to the mic to say he needed us more than we ever needed him, closing with “I’ll miss our time together more than I can say.” In the years since his retirement in 2016, he made occasional appearances at Dodger Stadium, hosting ceremonies, waving to the crowd and beaming with gratitude. He established a Twitter handle in 2020 and used it to share stories about Jackie Robinson and Larry Miggins, too. He thanked fans for their love and support when his beloved wife, Sandi, died in 2021.

Scully liked to say that he wasn’t broadcasting, he was having a conversation; he was talking to you. One of the people he had a conversation with was Mrs. Marty Squires, a fan from Woodland Hills in L.A. Every year around August, she would send Scully a batch of chocolate chip cookies, to say hello, to thank him, as a gift. In 2011, she sent them with a note saying the cookies were a bribe to persuade him to return for another season with the Dodgers. Scully brought the cookies to the press box to announce on air that he would, indeed, return for another season.

“I don’t want to make a big deal out of it,” he said that night. “I mean, you and I have been friends a long time.”

He was right about that.

And the sadness we feel now is because our old friend, Vin, is gone.




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