Scully Career Featured Longevity And Descriptive Style
Vin Scully called his last Los Angeles Dodgers game Sunday, ending his iconic 67-year broadcasting career two months shy of turning 89. His time in the booth, 1950-2016, (many forget that he also had gigs with CBS and NBC for other sports between 1975-1989), makes him the broadcaster with the longest tenure in professional sports history.
Thank you Vin Scully for your accurate, descriptive accounts of action during your distinguished career.
Today we have multiple media outlets to enjoy professional games, particularly baseball, the National Past Time (yeah, I for one, still maintain that is accurate).
However, growing up five decades ago, transistor radio was my, and everyone else’s, everyday connection with baseball. It brought the games into our homes, and made us look forward to the one televised Saturday game of the week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese.
Scully was my Dodgers connection, his game calls introduced me to Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee, Don Newcombe, and later Sandy Koufax and others. My dad and I listened intently as Scully brought action from Brooklyn (Los Angles starting in 1958) to our Baton Rouge home. Boy, could he turn a phrase, we could almost envision the pitcher backing off the mound to get some rosen on his hand to rub the baseball; the outfielder crash into the fence to make a catch; and a second baseman making the pivot for an inning-ending double play.
The red-haired Bronx youngster fell in love with baseball when he spotted the results of the second game of the 1936 World Series in a storefront window walking home after school. The New York Yankees had drilled the New York Giants 18-4 that day, October
2, 1936. Scully, then eight, decided he would become a Giants fan because of that score—and the fact he lived closer to the Giants’ Polo Grounds ballpark.
Fourteen years later he joined Red Barber in the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcast booth. And the rest, as they say, is history. Broadcast history.
Scully became the main announcer when Barber tried to wrangle some extra money out of the Dodgers front office brass. Barber failed, joined the Yankees, and Scully took over a spot in 1953 that he would not leave until Sunday (in recent years he did cut down his travel and mainly do home games).
What an impressive career, he covered the Dodgers World Series win in 1955, the Don Larsen World Series perfect game against his Dodgers in 1956, the Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax days of manager Walt Alston after the move to California from Brooklyn in 1958, the Tommy Lasorda era in the ‘70s-‘80s, and the recent exploits of Clayton Kershaw and other Dodgers stars. He called Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in Atlanta to break Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record. Aaron’s homer came off Dodgers lefthander Al Downing.
While working for NBC (’83-’89) he made the great call on the last minute touchdown
pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, among others. He also did NFL football for CBS (’75-’82). He was always prepared, and was always on point when describing a play, or strategy. His style, delivery, and reputation for accuracy are being emulated today by many in the broadcasting industry.
His opening remark for a Dodgers game never wavered. “It’s time for Dodgers baseball. Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good (afternoon/evening) to you wherever you maybe”. Made many listeners feel relaxed, accepted, and as if they were sitting in the box seats in Chavez Ravine, the home of Dodgers Stadium.
My favorite Scully call came when an injured Kirk Gibson pinch-hit in the first game of the 1988 World Series and hit a game winning two-run home run off of all-star pitcher Dennis Eckersley with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The call was outstanding, but when I learned what was behind Gibson’s ability to focus on a certain pitch location, it cemented it as one of my favorite baseball viewing moments.
My high school coach Mel Didier (then living in Texas), a long-time major league scout and executive, was working for the Dodgers in 1988, and was assigned scouting all
American League teams as they came through Texas to play the Rangers. His job, note any tendencies that could be used to the Dodgers’ advantage if the Dodgers made post-season play.
Well, “Coach Didier” noticed that Eckersley invariably threw a backup slider almost every time he got in a jam and had a 3-2 count on the hitter. Gibson, suffering with a pulled left hamstring and a right knee sprain, limped to the plate to face Eckersley. Score, 4-3 Oakland, two outs, Mike Davis on first.
Gibson (left hand hitter) was not able to push off his back leg, nor land on his front leg without pain. He fouled back the first pitch, almost falling down. He fouled off the second pitch, an outside toss. On the third pitch, Gibson hit a slow dribbler down the first base line. The next pitch was a ball and Davis was almost caught off first when A’s catcher Ron Hassey made a snap-throw to first baseman Mark McGuire.
Davis tried to steal second on the next pitch, but Gibson fouled it off. The next pitch was
high and outside, 2 and 2. Davis took off on the next pitch, a high ball, and Hassey bobbled the ball (Gibson almost stumbled into him as he prepared to throw).
Well, enter the Didier scouting report that was given in the Dodgers lockeroom before the game. Three ball, two strikes, runner on second, two outs, bottom of the ninth. Scully is describing it In the booth, and Didier’s words are echoing in Gibson’s head. Gibson gets in the batter’s box, then steps out to focus, visualize a back-up slider coming his way. Eckersley delivered the pitch and Gibson swung where he figured the back-up slider would cross the plate.
Scully’s description said it all, and showing his professionalism, he let sound and picture tell the story for him as Gibson limped around the bases, Dodgers. 5-4 winners, Game one, 1988 World Series.
“High fly ball to right field, she is gone”. Scully did not speak again until Gibson had been mobbed at home plate by his teammates and manager Lasorda, and all were headed back to a celebrating clubhouse.
That pause, and the following, were Scully at his finest. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened”!
Scully had a unique perspective on baseball—-even though it was almost entirely derived from his time in the press box. He did not attend a baseball game as a spectator until 2004 when he went to Boston with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt for a
Red Sox game. He did not attend as a spectator again until 2010 when he made another trip to Boston with McCourt. Guess he felt he would catch himself sitting in the stands describing all of the action!
Some of his famous quotes: “Losing feels worse than winning feels good”. “Good is not good when better is expected”. “The charm about baseball is everyone has played it in some form. Everyone relates to it”. “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination”.
For years he quoted this, “Some people die twice, once when they retire, and again when they actually pass away. Fear of the first one is a big incentive for me to keep working”.
It was good to see him surrounded by his second wife, his four children, two step-children, 16 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren Sunday in San Francisco as he turned off the microphone for the last time.
He became hooked on baseball that October day in 1936. How poetic that his last broadcast came on October 2, 2016, eighty years to the day after spotting that Yankees-Giants score in that storefront window.
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