For 67 years Vin Scully was on the microphone for the Los Angeles Dodgers and when he died Tuesday night at age 94, the entire sports world bowed its collective head. Mr. Scully - yes, he was that revered - was in my opinion the best baseball announcer of all time and put him in a broadcast booth with Joe Garagiola and you’ve got more magic than Disneyland.
To read the plaudits and the comments that have rained this week is fabulous fun for me and other geezers.
“There’s not a better storyteller and I think everyone considers him family,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this week. “He was in our living rooms for many generations. He lived a fantastic life, a legacy that will live on forever.”
“We have lost an icon," team president and CEO Stan Kasten added. "His voice will always be heard and etched in all of our minds forever.”
Wow! How about this from the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher: “He was something that’s pretty much vanished from the American landscape: a genial truth-teller, well-liked because he was honest, beloved because he was reliable, trusted because he loathed phonies, frauds and showboats as much as his audience did.
“Vin Scully’s act never fell out of fashion because it wasn’t an act and it was never in fashion. What he delivered each night through more than six decades as the voice of the Dodgers - really, the voice of baseball; no, really, the voice of the nation - was a clear, unvarnished report of what happened, along with plain-spoken pearls of wisdom about what it all meant,” Fisher wrote.
“He issued each night a fanfare for the common man, an American anthem of constancy that never flinched from controversy but never hyped anything either. His nightly love song to his sport and his audience captured the nation’s triumphs and tensions as Aaron Copland’s music did, told the truth as Walter Cronkite did, burst bubbles of pomposity the way Johnny Carson did, and won our hearts the way the pre-scandal Bill Cosby did.”
Ironically, the best tribute was made almost 40 years prior to this week’s death. His dearly beloved friend Jim Murray, the great sports legend for the Los Angeles Times and my friend and idol, wrote a memorable column on Mr. Scully that appeared in 1983 and here are a few of its paragraphs:
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“It wasn’t that Scully was inept at other sports. It was just that he was miscast. It was like Errol Flynn playing a faithful old sidekick. Scully could do golf and do it well. Rembrandt could probably paint soup cans or barn doors, if it came to that. Hemingway could probably write the weather. Horowitz could probably play the ocarina. But what a waste!
“Nobody understands baseball the way Vin Scully does. He knows it for the laid-back, relatively relaxed sport it is. Scully is the world’s best at filling the dull times by spinning anecdotes of the 100-year lore of the game. He can make you forget you’re watching a 13-3 game, as we were Wednesday night at Chicago, and take you with him to a time and place where you are suddenly watching Babe Ruth steal home. He is like a marvelous raconteur who can make you forget you’re in a dungeon. He can make baseball seem like Camelot and not Jersey City.
“He knows baseball fans are ancestor worshipers, like the British aristocracy, and he can invest a game with allusions to its gaudy past that give meaning to the present. We suddenly see knights in shining armor out there carrying on a glorious tradition instead of two rival factions of businessmen trying to land the order,” Murray wrote.
“Football requires screaming. 'They’re on the five and it’s second down and goal to go!' 'They’re on the three and it’s third down and there’s 29 seconds left to play!' Baseball requires humor, deft drama, a sprinkling of candor, mix well and serve over steaming hot tradition.
“Scully knows the sport as few do. He learned it at the knee of Branch Rickey at the time he was most impressionable, a young, ambitious, career-oriented student out of Fordham. Scully will tell you why a batter should try to hit to right with a man on first and none out. (“The first baseman has to stay on the bag to keep the runner close. The second baseman has to cheat a step toward second in the event of a steal or a double play. There’s a hole there you could dock ships.”)
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So what made Vin Scully so unique? What fascinates me is that Vin knew his television viewers and radio listeners better that most. Get this: over 10 million people have gone to YouTube and watched Vin Scully describe Kirk Gibson's full at-bat that finishes with a legendary walk-off homer during Game 1 of the World Series in 1988.
Wait a minute: Gibson’s appearance was a total surprise. Nobody saw it coming and Mr. Scully handled it, and what happened, like an all-star shortstop. It was classic journalism and let me tell you why:
Listen to Cindy Boren on the Washington Post: “Technically, the Los Angeles Dodgers had to win four games to beat the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series, but what happened in Game 1 all but sealed it thanks to one man’s sole plate appearance.
“Gibson was hobbled with injuries to both legs and was not expected to play in the Series. But, with the Dodgers trailing 4-3, Mike Davis on first and two outs in the ninth inning, Manager Tommy Lasorda called on Gibson.
“High flyball into right field, she i-i-i-is … gone!” Scully said. More importantly, he let the insanity of the moment tell the story, keeping quiet for 65 seconds.
(Did you catch that? The best baseball announcer of all time didn’t utter a word, the crowd’s reaction and accompanying video tapes telling the whole story. Scully’s a genius. To say one word would detract from the moment!
When he did speak, he added, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” Then he was quiet for another 29 seconds (that’s right; 29 seconds of silence as the story wrote itself) before taking it all in again as cameras replayed the reaction of A’s pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who had given up the mother of all walk-off home runs.
“Look at Eckersley,” Scully said, “shocked to his toes.”
HERE IS YOUR BONUS: To watch Gibson’s plate appearance and the pandemonium it caused at the 1988 World Series CLICK HERE.
BONUS NO. TWO: Vin Scully was often able to educate as well as illustrate; here’s a diatribe on men’s beards (!) while calling every pitch. He was unbelievable, I promise you. Then watch Scully describe men’s beards, too funny: CLICK HERE.
BONUS NO. THREE: Vin Scully also did a history lesson on the American flag during a Dodgers game against the Mets. CLICK HERE.