When you think about baseball, who do you think of? Maybe a favorite pitcher or hitter, maybe your favorite team’s all-time greatest manager. For me, it’s Vin Scully. It has been for a long, long time. Growing up I always wanted to be a baseball announcer, and even before I knew what made great play-by-play commentary, I could tell that Scully was a step above everyone else. He passed away Tuesday, just a little over a year after his wife Sandra lost her battle with ALS. He was 94 years old.
“We have lost an icon,” Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten said in a statement. “The Dodgers’ Vin Scully was one of the greatest voices in all of sports. He was a giant of a man, not only as a broadcaster, but as a humanitarian. He loved people. He loved life. He loved baseball and the Dodgers. And he loved his family. His voice will always be heard and etched in all of our minds forever.”
I don’t think I can overstate just how legendary Scully was as a broadcaster. A graduate of Fordham in the Bronx, he started calling Dodgers games in Brooklyn in 1950, with his mentor, the legendary Red Barber, before moving with the team to Los Angeles nearly a decade later. He rattled off colloquialisms and anecdotes with a folksy ease. Stories rolled off his tongue effortlessly, all within arm’s reach. You hear stories about how people in attendance at the ball game back in the 60s would put their transistor radios to their ears just to hear Scully call a game that was right in front of them. He was part of the Dodgers experience, whether at home, or in the cheap seats.
“It’s one thing to achieve excellence... or to achieve greatness... but with Vin, it was utter mastery,” said longtime broadcaster Bob Costas. “It was breathtaking, the command he had of the craft.”
Scully called Dodgers games for radio and TV, did baseball’s Saturday Game of the Week on NBC and countless World Series games for CBS and NBC. He was in the booth one October night in 1986 when the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hit a “little roller up along first. Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!” And after pausing to let fans take in the moment, he came back with this gem: “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words.”
And after an ailing Kirk Gibson limped to the plate in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to hit a game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley, then the game’s best closer, Scully uttered this perfect line, “In a year that has been so improbable... the impossible has happened!”
He called Sandy Kofax’s perfect game in 1965, Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run in 1993, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and he was on the mic when Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king. And he did football, too, calling Dwight Clark’s The Catch that beat the the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC title game, sending Joe Montana and the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.
He was a myth, a legend of the broadcast booth, whose techniques were so simple, you’d think anyone could do them, yet no one could ever replicate his genius. Did you know that Scully had a small sand timer that he kept in front of him during broadcasts? Every time that timer ran out of sand, he had to say the score of the game. He’d flip the timer and the cycle would start anew. Little things like that demonstrate just how well Scully knew the inside of a broadcast booth, because when somebody is listening on the radio, they can’t see the score, or the runners on base, so Scully knew he had to routinely inform viewers who might have just tuned in. It’s a technique that other legendary play-by-play men have picked up over the years as well, and that should demonstrate the impact Scully had on the game of baseball.
“Red Barber instilled in me that you always go down the middle,” Scully once said. “I like to think that if I say that somebody made a good catch, the fans will believe me because I will also say so if he butchered the play.”
Scully retired from broadcasting in 2016, at the ripe old age of 89. He’d spent 67 years behind a microphone, and up until the day he decided to call it quits, he was the pinnacle of baseball broadcasting, the man other broadcasters aspired to be.
Above all else, Scully loved the game of baseball, and he loved to talk with his audience. It didn’t matter what the world was going through or what he was going through personally, every “It’s Time for Dodger Baseball!” was filled with so much enthusiasm, you couldn’t help but feel excited to watch. Scully called his way through countless iconic baseball moments: walk-offs, championships, and heartbreaking defeats, but above all else, was a unifying love of America’s pastime. RIP Vin. No one will ever do it as well as you did.