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The man and the voice: An oral history of Scully's career

Written by 
Published in Baseball
Wednesday, 03 August 2022 13:23

The Man

We always describe him as "a broadcaster." But to call Vin Scully just "a broadcaster" doesn't begin to approach what his name represents, especially on his turf in Southern California.

John Lowe (Longtime friend and baseball writer): "I'll never forget something I read (from) H.L. Mencken. He said about Beethoven: 'The artist can be no greater than the man.' And that makes me think of Vinny, because the reason you're hearing so many stories about him, and the reason he is so beloved and so brilliant, is that he's a great man. He's a great artist because he's a great man."

Fred Claire (Former Dodgers PR director and GM): "I can remember I had just started with the Dodgers, and there was this young guy who was just starting with the radio station. He wanted to interview Vin. I'll never forget this. So he came in, and Vin said, 'Sure, I'll do it.' And so the young man hit the recorder and talked to Vinny. Vinny spent at least 40 minutes with him. The young man came back to me, and ... he's shaking. He said, 'Fred, I didn't hit the right button. The recorder didn't work' -- literally in tears. So he said, 'Could I just have a few more minutes?' And so I went to Vinny and explained what happened. It's a young guy interested in announcing. And Vinny said, 'Let's do it again. Let's do it again.' I don't know anyone else who would do that. 'Let's do it again.' Think about that. That has to do with his compassion, his humanity and something that's part of his grace and his memory of a young announcer starting out himself who got a helping hand."

Dennis Gilbert (Longtime friend and agent, current White Sox special assistant): "Vin and his wife are America's greatest love story. ... It's the respect they have for each other, the caring they have for each other, the courtesy. I mean, he's still opening her car door, he's still -- they hold hands."

Ned Colletti (Former Dodgers GM, current Dodgers senior advisor): "Now, as the world gets different and it gets faster and more impersonal and all those things are changing, when I think about Vin and I talk to Vin, even as of today, he's like the comforting soul that reminds me of what it was. It's still in present tense for him -- how he is and how he treats people and his tremendous respect and passion for the game of baseball.

Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully talks to sportswriter Rick Reilly during a March 1985 spring training game in Vero Beach, Florida. Bernstein Associates/Getty Images

Dennis Gilbert: "There was a gentleman who was 90 years old who wanted to meet Vin. ... So we go into the press box, and Vin sits there, and they're chatting for about 10 minutes, and then he had to excuse himself to get ready for the game. Well, the next day I hear from the gentleman's son, just saying how his father says his life is now complete. It was one of the greatest moments of his life to meet Vin. And I called Vin to tell him. ... Vin said, 'Thank ME? I want to thank HIM because of what a great experience it was for me just to meet the gentleman.' How about that?"

A.J. Ellis (Former Dodgers catcher): "You can catch him (in the clubhouse) on Sunday mornings on the way to Mass. He comes in and gets coffee. (One Sunday,) Brandon (McCarthy) and I are the only two guys in the clubhouse. And Vin comes in and starts chatting. ... And all of a sudden his phone rings, and he says, 'Sorry, boys, excuse me.' He's always so polite. So he says, 'Yes, dear. Oh thank you for reminding me. Yes, dear.' (Then he says,) 'Gentlemen, if you would excuse me, today is one of my grandchildren's birthdays. We have a tradition in our family that I have to sing to her.' And he steps into the players' bathroom and you can hear him singing 'Happy Birthday' over the phone to his grandchild. Me and Brandon are looking at each other like, OK, this is unbelievable. Here's Vin Scully in his great baritone voice, singing 'Happy Birthday' as it echoes through the bathroom of the clubhouse."


The Reluctant Megastar

He lives and works in the town where more Americans chase stardom than anywhere else. But somehow, Hollywood's only 88-year-old rock star is a man who spends every day of his life aiming the spotlight away from himself.

Charley Steiner: "L.A. is the city of stars. Name any star you want, from Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, on and on and on and on. My contention is Vin is THE star. In the city of stars, he is the biggest star of them all. Because everybody listens to him, everybody loves him, and he has been the soundtrack of their stars since 1958."

Ned Colletti: "I don't know that I know anybody else like him -- with the reverence of the people, with the adoring public that he has and how many people speak so kindly of this man every day. And yet he is the most humble man I've ever known."

Fred Claire: "I think the last time I saw Vin earlier this year, he was being honored by the L.A. Sports Council at a significant dinner in Los Angeles. And ... he said, 'Fred, let's go over here. There's a reception area, and we can visit.' ... We were talking and having a glass of wine, and I think both of us were kind of locked into the conversation. But what was happening was I could see over my shoulder there was a crowd of people forming. ... It was incredible because everyone wants to tell him how much they think of him. How much they love him. How much he means to them and to their families. And Vinny is so gracious that he can't refuse anybody. ... It would be overwhelming if it wasn't for Vinny being on the receiving end."

Rick Monday (Current Dodgers broadcaster): "I grew up in Southern California, Santa Monica. ... My mother was a single parent, and we had Vinny and Jerry Doggett in my mom's car when the Dodgers played, and they were in our homes. They were already our friends. ... (Later in life, when I got to the big leagues) my mother knew that I obviously was in the major leagues, but I really truly believe that the first time it really struck home for her was when her son was playing in a major league game against the Dodgers, and my mother heard Vin Scully mention her son's name."

Ned Colletti: "My daughter, Jenna, interned for the Dodgers a few years ago. ... So she got to know Vin, and he became her favorite Dodger. And when she got married ... Vin read the bridal party introductions on tape. So he surprised everybody at the ceremony. This was in Chicago. When the people heard his voice, the whole place erupted. ... It's hard to steal the show from a bride and groom at a wedding, but for a couple of minutes, a guy who surely didn't want to steal the show from anybody at any point, stole the show. ... We'll forever be grateful for the humility and the love that he showed."

Bob Costas: "Somewhere around 1994, '95, I was interviewing Ray Charles for an NBC news magazine and probably spent a couple of hours talking with him. ... Then, when we're done and the cameras had been turned off, he says to me, 'You know who I would really like to meet?' And I'm thinking, 'He's Ray Charles. He could have met just about anybody he'd wanted to have met throughout the course of his life. Who might it be?' ... 'Vin Scully.' And I say, 'Why?' And he says, 'Well, because I love baseball. But you have to understand, to me the picture means nothing. It's all the sound. And Vin Scully's broadcasts are almost musical, so I enjoy baseball so much more listening to him.' ... So I set it up with Vin and took Ray to Dodger Stadium. I was sitting across from Ray, and there was an empty seat awaiting Vin's arrival, and Vin came walking through the door wearing -- as I remember -- a royal blue jacket, the way he is always turned out for a baseball broadcast. And as he walked toward Charles, he said, 'Ray, my name is Vin Scully, and it's a pleasure to meet you.' He might as well have said, 'A pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be,' because that's how it struck Ray. And then they sat down, and we had a combination baseball and music discussion. Vin had a nice experience. And Ray Charles -- and I mean this sincerely -- he's Ray freaking Charles -- I believe he had one of the great experiences of his life."


The Style

He has been the Dodgers' television voice for decades, but if you listen closely to Vin Scully on the airwaves, you can still hear a man who was raised on radio. And even he admits that all those years filling in the "blank canvas" on radio have helped him carve out a style unlike anyone else in the booth.

Jon Miller (San Francisco Giants broadcaster): "I think that he has a great grasp of how to do the television, (but) it's all firmly grounded in his ability to do radio and how he was brought up in the business as a radio guy. ... There are plenty of guys who are on TV ... where they just sit and chit-chat, the two guys chit-chatting back and forth as pitches are being made. And, you know, Vinny, that's not his style. He likes to give you the next pitch, to digress for a moment from this story, and then the pitch, and then back to the story. ... You know, in radio, you have to describe every pitch to people. It didn't happen until you described it to people on radio. That's just a total, basic fundamental of radio."

Bob Costas: "You know, (Red) Barber, when he first started doing games on television, he very tersely put it: 'On radio, a broadcaster's No. 1. On television, he is a distant No. 2. Your job on radio is to paint the picture. Your job on television is to put a caption beneath a picture that already exists.' When he first said that, that sounded like, yes, that's right, and for the most part, it is right -- except Vin, who obviously had great regard for Barber and owes him a debt as his mentor, Vin didn't just put a caption beneath a picture. He put a frame around it, and he added shadings to it. So, yes, for Vin there is a difference between radio and television, but my impression is that he didn't see it as much of an either/or as Red did. Red saw them as distinctly different. Vin saw a way to meld them."

John Lowe: "The year that Ichiro was going to break the George Sisler hit record, of course Sisler played a 154-game schedule and Ichiro was playing a 162-game schedule. So Vinny wants to bring this up without, I think, making it sound like he's criticizing Ichiro. Ichiro did have a tremendous year. But to bring up this issue of the 154 versus the 162, he tells the TV audience, 'Just between us.' "

Bob Costas: "If you watch any other game, no matter how good the announcer is, no matter how good they are, there is always some obstacle or some maze that they have got to make their way through if they are going to tell even one or two of the dozen or so stories like that Vin tells during a game. So he's a uniquely talented announcer, but if a 30-year-old Vin Scully came along today, the circumstances could never be duplicated. The business might not know what to do with him. The importance of radio would be much less. You would never have anything that would match the odyssey of the Dodgers (or) the importance of Jackie Robinson. The transplant from Brooklyn to the West Coast, the broken hearts in Brooklyn, the whole new vistas of baseball on the West Coast. And then the metabolism of the society of the game changing. But he is grandfathered in, and I mean that in the nicest way. So the very things that appeal to people about him are the opposite of most sports TV does. It's like we can't get enough of this, and we can't stop doing the exact opposite."


The Calls

He was there for Sandy Koufax's perfect game 51 Septembers ago. He was there when Hank Aaron launched No. 715 and changed the world. And of course Vin Scully was there when Kirk Gibson hit a World Series home run off Dennis Eckersley that belonged in a Hollywood script. It's a reminder that a funny thing happens when a man spends 67 years of his life describing baseball games. His voice, his words, can become almost as big a part of history's biggest moments as the moments themselves.

Charley Steiner: "You know, we're running down now, during each game, his top 20 calls of all time. It's very cool. And for me, there have been so many. But the one call to me that kind of sticks out more than the others is the Gibson home run: 'She. Is. Gone.' Lays out. He's not screaming, but you could hear the excitement in his voice. Then there is that moment, as Gibson is running around the bases ... he comes up with this line: 'In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.' And I'm thinking to myself, no mortal can do that."

Kirk Gibson (On how Scully inspired him to bat that night): "What happened was, I had several injections in each leg. I was in the training room. He kind of kept painting the game initially as no Kirk Gibson because I wasn't available. I wasn't going to play. So they kind of painted that as the game went on. I'd listen to it and I'd put ice on my legs on and off, on and off. I had no inclination I'd be able to play. ... Then, when they got to the eighth inning, before they cut out (for a commercial), they cut to the dugout again. We were trailing by one run now, and they said, 'Kirk Gibson will not be playing tonight.' And I just got up and said, 'My ass.' ... I said, 'Go get Tommy [Lasorda].' We hear Tommy [swearing]. Tommy says, 'Leave me alone,' basically. ... I said, 'Hit Davis eighth. I'll hit for the pitcher.' He goes, 'OK.' ... As I was sitting there watching the game, I kinda started dreaming a moment in my mind. I'd get up there and I'd have a special moment and I started to feel what it would feel like. ... And it just took place. And you hear the calls after it ... 'She. Is. Gone.' "

Jon Miller (On Aaron's 715th): "Henry Aaron hits one of the all-time epic historic home runs in the history of the sport, and Vinny gives a vivid description of it ... and (then) Vinny did not say anything for, I don't know, almost a full minute after that. There was just the roar of the crowd in Atlanta and the fireworks going off. And even though it was just a radio broadcast -- he was only on the radio that night -- there it all was, as if you were right there in the ballpark. You could hear it. You could almost feel it. Then he came back in and he painted the picture not just of what was going on, but of the actual significance of the moment. Of who Henry Aaron was and what he had just done. And then the largest significance, of Henry Aaron being a black man in the deep South in the United States, having broken this cherished record by one of the most popular figures in the history of baseball, a record that a lot of people did not want to see broken. And 50,000 people are on their feet in the Deep South, cheering for this black man. ... And I just remember thinking, 'That's the greatest bit of extemporaneous live play-by-play sports broadcasting in maybe the history of the medium.' "

Bob Costas (On Koufax's perfect game): "You know, people who were at that game and had transistor radios were still listening to Scully. They could watch it, but they were still listening to Scully and his eye for detail -- 'Sandy removes his cap ... wipes his index finger across his left brow, dries it off on his left pant leg, readjusts the bill of his cap. I imagine that the mound at Dodger Stadium must be the loneliest place in the world. There are 29,000 people here ... and about a million butterflies.' He described all the little things, like the people in the bullpen who were pressing towards the fence to get a better look, and what the butterflies that the infielders must be feeling, like, 'God, please don't let one get through me and mess up a perfect game.' And you have to also remember that, although (Jim) Bunning has pitched one the year before, Don Larsen and Bunning's perfect games were the only perfect games that had been pitched since 1922. So a perfect game was a tremendous rarity. It seems to have come more frequently since. So not only was it a rarity, but it was at Dodger Stadium, and it was Sandy Koufax. ... When Koufax comes along, Vin is not that much older than Sandy. Sandy throws a perfect game (at age) 29. And Vin is, what? 35? 36? They are both kind of at the peak of their respective lives. ... Just as Koufax was an elegant pitcher, Scully is the most elegant of baseball broadcasters."

Jerry Reuss (Former Dodgers pitcher on the thrill of having Scully describe his no-hitter): "Oh, did he ever set the stage. ... I posted it on my Flickr site, and it's about two and a half minutes long, and you get to see the final inning about how he did it. For me, it's the most memorable highlight that he ever did. You know, I still can (hear the way he called it), and because of the way that it was done and watching the whole ball game, I still remember the excitement. Hell, I saw the game. I pitched the game. But by the way Vin describes it, it's the closest I can get to reliving it."

Rick Monday (On how he treasures the tape of Scully describing how he rescued the American flag from a protestor in 1976): "For years and years, all I had was that audio. And then (in) '84 ... I met a gentleman ... in Tom Lasorda's office who was with one of the movie studios. He said, 'Hey, I was at a buddy of mine's house who's with a different studio, and he showed me the video tape of the flag.' And I said ... 'I've never seen that; nobody knows it exists.' And he messaged it over to me that night. So I've been hanging on the words of Vinny to recreate that for years, and then all of a sudden, here's this video. When you look at the video and you match it with Vinny's talk, it's like Vinny was standing not just up in the booth sitting there. It's like he was right by my side as I was going over. To this day, when I hear Vinny make the call -- and I've heard it maybe a few hundred times ... I get goosebumps."

Bob Costas: "Many of the all-time great announcers have truly great and still resonant calls of great moments. Some are every bit as good as Vin's best calls. But what generally sets Vin apart is all the stuff leading up to it. To really appreciate Vin, you don't listen to just Harvey Kuenn, the last out of the (Koufax) perfect game. You listen to the whole inning. And you listen to (Kirk) Gibson's or watch Gibson's whole at-bat, which was an exceptionally long at-bat because it went to 3-2, and there were foul balls, and he was limping around and gathering himself, and he had to come out of the dugout, and it was very dramatic. You had to note that he put his uniform on, and now he was present in the dugout -- all those things. It's when you listen to all of it ... that is where Vin separates. Not necessarily the call of the home run, or of the strikeout, or of the great catch, but of all the atmospherics, everything that led up to it."


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