There was a generation of workers after World War II who found it not uncommon to remain on the job for 30, maybe 40 years. They were as regular and reliable as clockwork—always ready, always on time … always excellent.
Now, imagine someone “clocking in”—albeit for five months at a time—for 67 consecutive years. There’s a man in town who has done that with extraordinary professionalism, charm and grace. Vin Scully will depart the Dodger broadcasting booth one final time on Oct. 2 and will leave with his countless fans fond memories of transistor radios perched on nightstands or, sometimes on a warm, jasmine-scented summer evening, a portable TV on the front porch along with glasses of cold lemonade as you hear him describe some of the greatest ballplayers in history displaying their finest moments.
Beginning of ‘Dodgermania’
For baseball fans, Scully introduced the game on the West Coast. Any Angeleno born in April 1958 may have placed a close second to “Dodgermania,” when the team began its first season here. Many years ago, three generations of our family were watching a game and it dawned on some of us just how long Scully has brought the game into our households: “Vin Scully has sure called the game for a long time,” I said. “You’re right son. I believe we had the game on in the car, when we brought you home from the hospital,” mom replied.
Scully may be the most listened-to broadcaster of any sport that ever lived. As a trusted media personality, he ranks with Walter Cronkite. His iconic voice is on a plane with Frank Sinatra, and as far as storytelling goes, only Mark Twain could surpass him. When you hear “It’s time for Dodger baseball” or “Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant afternoon wherever you may be …” and, possibly the best of all, “Pull up a chair and spend part of Sunday with us,” you know that an old friend has invited you once more into his domain of expertise, and you won’t depart until you’ve been choicely entertained.
Los Angeles sports fans adore their announcers and we’ve had some legends, for sure, explain the games. But long before Lakers fans would turn down the volume of a national telecast in favor of Chick Hearn’s inimitable radio “words-eye-view,” Dodgers fans would bring their transistor radio to Chavez Ravine and attach the ear plug to enjoy his storytelling and his one-of-a-kind home run call: “high fly fall into deep right field … back goes (outfielder’s name) … a waaay back … it’s gone!” Scully may have inspired the purchase of more transistor radios than the Beatles sold electric guitars.
A 20th century Wordsworth
He was a perfect fit for a new destination point. In 1962, Chavez Ravine was shiny and new—and as Scully would often remark decades later “not a hair out of place”—and the young, articulate announcer would describe the action as if he were scripting Wordworth’s “Lyrical Ballads.” You learned words listening to Vin Scully. You didn’t have to fetch a dictionary as if listening to Howard Cosell but, rather, Scully would hold your rapt attention even during the most boring games by using just the right phrasing and never letting his oratory divert the listener/viewer from the action. When Don Drysdale or Sandy Koufax pitched years ago, for instance, it was usually a boring game—no homers, few extra-base hits, even fewer “hot liners”—mostly strikeouts and ground balls. It was during such contests that Scully’s personable style of broadcasting, sprinkled with delightful anecdotes, would make even the most rudimentary play or “slow game” sound intriguing.
Scully once described his broadcasting style as “secondary” to the action on hand. That is, he never branded himself as the “star” or “focal point” of the event.
Listening with a ‘best friend’
“I guess my biggest fear ever since I started—besides the fear of making some big mistake—is I never wanted to get ‘out ahead’ of the game,” he said. “I always wanted to make sure I could push the game and the players rather than me.”
The influence of Scully on the West Coast made Los Angeles baseball what it is today. For the better part of six decades, Scully has transformed hundreds of thousands of radio listeners and television viewers into a loyal team of followers. And although he is “tried-and-true Dodger blue,” his objectivity makes him an independent observer or better, a “best friend” chatting with the listener about what he is seeing on the field and in the stands. Scully’s mellifluous voice and poetic descriptions of the game have earned him a spot in Dodger lore just as much as Jackie Robinson, Tommy Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela or Clayton Kershaw.
Scully is equally comfortable discussing Shakespeare, Steinbeck or the infield-fly-rule and has demonstrated a breadth of knowledge and a quick wit generally associated with legendary entertainers in the realm of Will Rogers, Johnny Carson or Mel Brooks. News broadcasters such as George Putnam or Jerry Dunphy, and politicians like Tom Bradley and Kenneth Hahn even had to take a backseat in 1998, when a Los Angeles Times Magazine poll of readers voted Scully the “Most Trusted Man in Los Angeles.”
The ‘roar of the crowd’
Scully is known for a vivid yet simplistic description of a baseball game. Much of that came from his mentor, the legendary Red Barber (a former English teacher), who he joined in the Brooklyn Dodger broadcast booth in 1950 one year after graduating from Fordham University. Early on, Barber told Scully that “there’s one thing you can bring to the booth that no one else can and that is yourself.” Because Scully seemed to know so much about baseball—and its signature players—the average fan would always wonder if he played himself. He did. Scully once said his collegiate career was “far less than illustrious,” but it allowed him to learn about strategy and tactics which was knowledge that he would work to impart to the audience in each game. In his profession, Scully never permitted himself to get too close to the players, explaining that such close interaction might tinge his objectivity.
Scully was lured toward broadcasting, when he was a boy during the Great Depression. The “roar of the crowd,” he once confided, gave him goosebumps.
“I would come home and listen to a football game—there weren’t other sports on—and I would get a pillow and would crawl under the radio,” he said. “The loudspeaker and the crowd would wash all over me … I knew then that of all the other things in this world, I wanted to be the fella saying, whatever, home run or touchdown. It just really got to me.”
Adored around the world
Baseball was first broadcast over the radio in 1921, and amazingly Scully has been announcing for roughly two-thirds of the game’s on-air lifespan. You can’t watch Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Duke Snyder play live anymore, but thanks to the ever-expanding access to broadcast technology—whether it be old newsreels, TV or radio clips, satellite and now broadband—people around the world can lay claim to a man who has brought the greatest players of all time into our homes.
Last year Scully announced that 2016 will definitely be his last year. He’d said that before, but the Dodger organization kept luring him back primarily because the fans demanded it. Of course, a handsome salary didn’t hurt, either. As announcers go, he’s always been among the most well compensated financially, according to a Gentleman’s Quarterly article. In 1964, for instance, the Dodgers were paying Scully $50,000 which was more than three times the average player salary and almost half the earnings of baseball’s highest paid player, Willie Mays, who brought home a then-astounding $105,000 per year.
During his tenure, Scully has not only become a Southern California treasure, but a national one as well. So far, he has called 25 World Series on radio and television, when baseball was king. (In 1953, at age 25, he was the youngest ever to call the Series; in 1955 he called the first one televised in color; and in 1986, he called the highest-rated game in history—the New York Mets’ Game 7 win over the Boston Red Sox). Scully was the lead announcer for CBS in the 1970s on football, golf and tennis; the lead announcer for NBC on baseball in the 1980s, and even a game-show host (“It Takes Two”) and an afternoon talk show host ( “The Vin Scully Show”) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Historic baseball moments:
Today Scully broadcasts primarily from Dodger Stadium. He’ll travel down to Anaheim Stadium, to San Diego and maybe up to San Francisco or Oakland, but that’s about it. The many years of packing and unpacking, rushing to a bus, boarding a plane en route to another town,then doing the same thing over and over again basically forced Scully, now 88, to drastically cut back on cross-country trips.
“I really love baseball,” he said almost a decade ago. “The guys and the game, and I love the challenge of describing things. The only thing I hate—and I know you have to be realistic and pay the bills in this life—is the loneliness on the road.”
Scully has been around long enough to have witnessed and relayed some of the greatest moments in Major League Baseball history. In the early 1950s, he was an apprentice in the broadcast booth and saw the Dodgers ultimately blow a 13-and-one-half-game late-season lead to the New York Giants:
Oct. 3, 1951, Dodgers-Giants game playoff
“I wasn’t on the air for that game,” Scully recalled. “I was only 23 at the time and was behind Red Barber and Connie Desmond. I recall after [Bobby] Thompson hit the home run off Ralph Branca, I eventually made it to the Dodger clubhouse. I remember Pee Wee Reese sitting on a rubbing table—Jackie Robinson was on another—and they were both quiet. You could hear a pin drop. I came in and I sat over in the corner. All of a sudden Pee Wee said, ‘You know, Jackie, what’s always amazed me? And Jackie said ‘What Pee Wee?’ And he said, ‘After all these years that this game hasn’t driven me crazy.’ I’ll always remember that. The Dodgers were up 13 and one-half games in August and they wind up losing.”
Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956 World Series
“When we got to the air during that perfect game, Mel (Yankees broadcaster Allen) did during that first half— and part of it must’ve been baseball superstitions—he would say: ‘That’s the ninth man he’s retired. That’s the 10th man he’s retired,’” Scully said. “Today, I would say, ‘He’s pitching a no-hitter.’ But not back then. By the time he got to the top of the fifth, you’d say ‘And that’s the 15th man he’s retired.’ Whoa, I’m thinking, the great Mel Allen has laid it out for me. So I picked right up. ‘That’s the 16th man, that’s the 18th, that’s the 20th. Today I would say ‘Call your friends, this fella is pitching a perfect game.’ I don’t watch those old clips, it was just so dull professionally, so different from what I would’ve done under the same circumstances today.”
Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game against the Chicago Cubs
The hard-throwing southpaw already had three no-hitters under his belt, and this time at Dodger Stadium both superstars may have outdone themselves with their poise and professionalism:
“One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready; fastball, high, ball two. You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his pants leg. All the while, Kuenn just waiting. Now Sandy looks in. Into his windup and the two-one pitch to Kuenn. Swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch: Swung on and missed, a perfect game!”
Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, April 8, 1974
After permitting the crowd’s cheers at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium to burst over the airwaves for several minutes, Scully returned to the microphone with a glorious sentiment: “What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
“With Sandy, I’d already done that (a no hitter) three times,” Scully told GQ Magazine in 2010. “And I’m thinking as the game is going on, ‘cause Sandy was a good pal,’ and I’m thinking, ‘What can I do to just make it a little special for Sandy?’ I came up with the idea—which was the worst idea in the whole world, because it doesn’t mean anything in baseball—I started putting the time on the tape. Well, I put it on just for Sandy, figuring he’d be sitting there with his grandchildren and he’d hear the exact time: ‘Strike two, and it’s 9:38.’”
A reluctant celebrity
Years ago Koufax was asked to assess Scully’s play-by-play prowess. He, like many teammates, fans and peers, said the broadcasting legend is ‘one of a kind.’
“It may sound corny, but I enjoy listening to Vin call a game almost more than playing in them,” Koufax said. “He’s been a special broadcaster for a lot of years and he’s been wonderful to listen to for a lot of years. He definitely is the all-century broadcaster as far as I’m concerned.”
Scully is probably the least egotistical celebrity in Hollywood. When the city of Los Angeles decided last spring to rename Elysian Park Avenue (at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard leading up the hill to the ballpark) as Vin Scully Avenue, he suggested it be called Walter O’Malley Avenue, after the former team owner. In a town where names like Spielberg, Magic, Hanks and Streisand seem to embody the “A list” at swanky parties, Scully has amassed a following and litany of awards and commendations that would rival anyone from Louis B. Mayer to Eli Broad.
“Hollywood is a town of stars, and nobody is bigger than Vin Scully,” said Charlie Steiner, Dodgers broadcaster. “Here’s why. You can pick any movie star and someone will inevitably have a reason to dislike them. Nobody doesn’t like Vin Scully.” Here’s a brief list of some of the Scully’s awards for broadcasting:
Numerous awards and honors
—Named the Most Memorable Personality in L.A. Dodger history by Dodgers fans, 1976;
— Inducted into the broadcasting wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1982;
— Star placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1982;
— American Sportscaster’s Association Sportscaster of the Year, 1985;
— United States Sports Academy Ronald Reagan Media Award, 1987;
— Governor’s Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Board of Governors, 1992;
— American Sportscaster Association Hall of Fame, 1992;
— Southern California Sports Broadcaster Association Sportscaster of the Year (1991, 1992, 1994); Broadcaster of the Year (1984); Radio Play by Play Award (1991) and Baseball Play by Play Award (1993);
— Selected as America’s Outstanding Sportscaster four times and California Sportscaster of the Year 27 times by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, including 2005 California Sportscaster of the Year;
— Lifetime Achievement Sports Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1996.
A final ‘good-bye’
Because many Dodgers fans have been aggrieved since 2014 by their inability to watch Scully on SportsNet LA (now Charter Communications) which has been blacked out in a majority of the Dodgers’ in-home viewing market because of a pricing dispute with Time Warner Cable, KTLA will broadcast Scully’s final six games (Sept. 23-25 and Sept. 30-Oct. 2) at home against the Colorado Rockies and on the road against the San Francisco Giants respectively. This week, Scully said he will not be calling any (potential) Dodger playoff games. He said he will bid farewell twice: at the final home game at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 25, then the final game of the regular season on Oct. 2.
“I’m, going to say good-bye at Dodger Stadium the last game with Colorado,” he said, “and say good-bye in San Francisco. And then that will be it. As things turn out, the last game of the season—and my last broadcast—will be against the Giants. It’ll be exactly 80 years to the day (Oct. 2) I saw that Giant-Yankee scorecard. That’s a fitting conclusion, I think, to my career.”