Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vin Scully is a National Treasure

Vin Scully is in his 63rd season of calling Dodger baseball. The probation period is almost up.

But seriously, he is the Mozart of baseball broadcasters and I can’t imagine another announcer ever being as good.

And he’s always been there. Night after night, summer after summer.

Well, Scully is now 84, and Dodger fans are keenly aware that he won’t always be there. It’s hard to even contemplate Dodger baseball without Vin Scully. So we’re all savoring these precious opportunities to still have him in our lives and living rooms.

The Dodgers were in San Francisco earlier this week and one night I decided to “pull up a chair” and watch the entire game. I’m not even sure he could find the words to describe what a pleasure it was.

For the first three innings he does a simulcast on radio and television. Radio is really where Scully is the absolute master. He described the blue sky and the “smudges” of clouds. You can picture them, can’t you? 

Scully works without an analyst. No former ballplayer to jump in and tell us that the pitcher needs to rely more on his four-seamer and not his cutter. Zzzzzzzzzz.  When analysis was called-for Scully was on top of it. A runner was at first base thinking of stealing and Scully talked about how he was trying to read the pitcher. He said the runner was watching the pitcher’s left shoulder and the back of his right knee for tell-tale signs of whether he was going to throw to first base or the plate. Good stuff (I will be stealing).

But best of all was how Scully effortlessly and endlessly found interesting things to talk about.

They showed a shot of the San Francisco Bay and Scully recalled how Roy Campanella used to drive his boat to the ballpark. He had a small boat that he steered up the river and hitched it at the Polo Grounds when the (Brooklyn) Dodgers were playing the (New York) Giants.

A batter hit a screaming line drive just past Dodger pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. Scully remarked that a pitcher didn’t have to actually get hit to be shaken-up. He recalled an incident in the early ‘60s when Dodger slugger, Frank Howard hit a rocket that went right through the legs of Mets’ pitcher Alvin Jackson. Jackson needed a good five minutes of walking around, conferring with teammates, buying time before he was composed enough to pitch again.

In the 7th inning the ballpark was visited by a flock of seagulls. Scully told us that this was a nightly occurrence. When the fans all stood for the 7th inning stretch and sang that alerted the birds that the game was soon over. The crowd would disperse leaving popcorn, peanuts, and basically – dinner.

Obviously, these birds flying around can be a distraction. To get rid of them, once the fans left, the Giants began playing the sound of a hawk over the P.A. They heard the hawk, were freaked, and scattered. But after a few nights Scully said the bird figured it out. They stopped leaving. And the hawk ploy was discontinued.

If there’s anything I’ve taken from Vin Scully when I’m calling games it’s that a broadcaster has to be a storyteller. There is so much down-time in baseball. How can I fill the time in an informative but also entertaining way?

It’s been several days since I watched that game. I couldn’t tell you the score. I forget who did what. But I sure remember those seagulls and Alvin Jackson and Roy Campanella pulling up to the Polo Grounds in his boat.

And that was just one game.

Vin Scully has called over 10,000 of them. I for one, am going to listen to and treasure every remaining one I can.  You should too.  At one time you could only hear him if you were in Southern California.  But now with the MLB Network, Sirius-XM, and MLB.COM there are ways to pull in his broadcasts wherever you are in the world.   So "pull up a chair" in Altoona and Sydney.  You'll be glad you did. 

44 comments:

Robbie said...

Agreed on all counts. Thinking that there might be a time when I can't listen to and watch Vin Scully call Dodger games literally brings tears to my eyes. We who've grown up with him know how very lucky we've been to have the best in the business calling our Dodger games, telling us stories, explaining baseball's nuances, and doing it all with grace and class, day in and day out.

DyHrdMET said...

I'm a Mets fan on the east coast. The Mets were playing the Dodgers the last 2 nights. I took the opportunity to dial up my MLB.TV subscription to hear Vin call the first 3 innings of these Mets games on the radio. I think that says it all.

I need to watch/listen to him more on this subscription while he's there.

And aside from the Mets, I want to root for the Dodgers to make the World Series this year to hear the legendary Vin Scully call one more Fall Classic.

Can you get him to narrate the book on tape for your books?

Breadbaker said...

We caught one of Vin's broadcasts on MLB network a couple weeks ago. During one fifty second period, he said exactly the following and nothing else: "low and outside." Nothing more needed to be said and so nothing else was said.

al in portland said...

What amazes me when I listen to Vin is the sense that I'm hearing someone read a well-written novel or play, when he's actually improvising on the spot. It all just flows so smoothly.

Phillip B said...

I'm an American League fan, so do not listen to Vin Scully on a regular basis - but inter league play brings him in view. Watched a Dodgers broadcast of a game with the White Sox, and Vinnie summarized the career of Jake Peavy in a little less than 3 minutes to open the broadcast.

Concise, respectful and moving. It must be thrilling to have Scully talk about you....

Michael said...

Ken, you wrote in your fine book on broadcasting baseball that you learned a lot from Vin about how to tell a story. When I was a kid, I wanted to be his broadcasting partner; now I'm 47 and I still do. I'm a history professor, and the most important part of my job is my students--and keeping them interested. I think of growing up in a household with adults who told stories. I think of listening to Vin and--one other person who is among the greatest broadcast communicators you will ever hear--Garry Moore on "To Tell the Truth." Whatever I know about telling a story and guiding an audience, I learned from those experiences.

No one ever has done it better than The Vin. My mother, raised a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, said if I think he's good, I should hear the one he learned from, Red Barber. Well, Red was great. But Vin? Never another like him.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I was 8 years old when the Dodgers came to Los Angeles so I can honestly say that Vin Scully has truly been the voice of my life! When the first transistor radios came out, Vin was the voice I heard. Today, at 62, I try and catch every game he calls ... not because I am enamored of the Dodgers, but because of that "voice." I dread the day he "hangs 'em up", but for as long as I live I was always have that "voice!"

Mike Barer said...

Queen Elizabeth and Vin Scully are two figures who have been around my entire life and are doing what they have always been doing. Grat article.

Steve said...

Great idea!

Anonymous said...

well said, Ken
forget baseball, the case can be made that Vin's the best broadcaster of anything, ever

Dana King said...

I live on the east coats and subscribe to mlb.tv for Pirates games. When the Pirates game is done, I often switch to the Dodger broadcast until it's time for bed. Few things are more soothing, relaxing, and entertaining than listening to Vin Scully call a baseball game.

Uncle Jack said...

Good stuff, boss. I too listened to Vin last week, vs. SF, and I do recall the final Dodgers' scores: zero! Every night. Some times I disagree with so much talk on the TV side...my god, there's a picture, let us watch w/out the babble. But with Vin, no matter what he says, it plays like a symphony.

He does have The Voice. Not many broadcasters have it. Ken Wilson still has it. (Rick is close, but not quite.) When I was a little tyke, I could listen to a young Harry Caray and his partner, Jack Buck doing the Cards. Great tandem, but Harry did lose The Voice eventually, thru every fault of his own!

But Vin, yes, he's still the best, the kind every announcer must aspire to, but none will equal.

(Fellow) Vin said...

Although a Yankee fan, I'm a second-generation Vin Scully fan. My dad (a Brooklyn Dodger/NY Mets fan) often told me of a rain delay on TV in which Scully had the camera turned into the broadcast booth and he proceeded to show the viewers what went on in there. My dad said it was very interesting. I will take your advice and go right ton MLB.com to listen to this grand master!

LouOCNY said...

Dana - same thing here. I subscribed to MLB.tv, because I WANTED to be able to hear/see Vin.

I have just finished watching the Dodger broadcast of the Met/LA game last night, and you can immediately discern the difference between innings 1-3, and the rest of the game.

Just like your book Ken, worth every penny!

chris mcdermott said...

I am fortunate enough to be friends with Tony Ronstadt here in Tucson, whom I have discerned is the World's Greatest Dodger Fan. He's our age, can quote Vinnie AT GREAT LENGTH word for word from several notorious games. I think the best is the Fernando build up one summer's day that ended with "and a child shall lead them..." I have heard him go over 10 minutes, not kidding, word for word. His team stories are amazing and his scrapbook even amazing-er. He grew up with a transistor next to his head when an AZ station carried LA games prior to the D'backs arrival. Bruce and I have had the pleasure of joining he and his wife for games up in Phoenix at Chase when the Dodgers come to town. Our best conversations revolve around Vin Scully. He turned me on to "Forever Blue" which I'm sure you've read. I didn't like Tucson til I met Tony and we open and close every conversation with "Is this the year?" and "Go Blue!"

Anonymous said...

Loved his "play by play" in the movie For The Love Of The Game. I know he was reading ascript, but I have always wondered if they just gave him the basics of the game and let him fly.

He is a national treasure. Savor each and every game while you can. As we here in St. Louis found out 10 years ago, when they are gone it leaves a big hole.

Pam aka SisterZip

Rich said...

The best description of Vin Scully I ever heard -- "He's better than the game."

I was 7 years old when the Dodgers moved to L.A. Yes, I remember a time when baseball really was the National Pastime and Walter Cronkite would lead the CBS Evening News with the winner of the (afternoon, of course) World Series game.

My #1 memory of summer nights in Downey is pretending to go to sleep -- only I had my $8 Zenith transistor radio under my pillow, so I could catch the last 2-3 innings of the Dodger game. Vin announces like Fred Astaire danced and Johnny Carson hosted -- complete mastery, effortless, infinitely pleasurable.

He is the last link to my childhood love of baseball and the Dodgers. He is the one thing even the McCourts couldn't kill.

He is still better than the game.

willieb said...

I am truly spoiled. Grew up in L.A. listening to Vin call the Dodgers and Dick Enberg calling Angel games. Moved back east and settled in Philly where I was treated to Harry Callas calling the Phillies every night -- for a while with Richie Ashburn, the best color man ever. Anonymous from St. Louis is right -- treasure Vin while he's still calling them; there's a big hole in Philly now where Harry used to be.

The Mutt said...

What is it about baseball announcing (and show biz in general) that makes guys not want to retire? Ever?

I've known lots of guys who loved their jobs and co-workers who were happy to retire and kick back.

Then there are guys like Vin and Jeannot Szwarc and Don Rickles who absolutely will not stop.

I'm not complaining. I'd miss them terrible if they did, but it is just weird.

Roger Owen Green said...

I don't even like the Dodgers, but LOVE Vin Scully.

Chris said...

Quick question: Do you (or anyone else here) know anything about Richard DiLello? He wrote some of my favorite stuff (Bad Boys, the Sean Penn movie, Popeye Doyle, Midnight Caller) and I really can't find anything about him, no interviews, nothing. He just vanished in the 90s.

I also know he used to work at The Beatles' Apple Records in the late 60s and mid 70s and wrote a book about his time there but other than that, not much.

Thanks.

DJ said...

Keith Olbermann told the story once about how, almost as an aside, Scully mentioned that in the mid-60s, Scully was offered the Yankees job.

He said that had the offer come earlier, he probably would have taken it. But over time, he and his family had gotten used to living in Los Angeles, the kids had made new friends, everyone loved the climate. So by the time the Yankees finally did call, he was able to turn it down to stay at what had become home.

Imagine if Vin had left LA in, say, 1960 to come back to New York..,

The Mutt said...

Scully is great, but Jack Buck was better.

Cue internet rage in 3... 2... 1...

(C'mon. I grew up listening to Buck and Carey.)

Anonymous said...

Every game Vin Scully calls is like a painted masterpiece. Twice Frank McCourt forced his way in the booth during a game (to boast of the return of Manny Ramirez) and ruined the picture. It was like scribbling on at Van Gogh or Renoir.

Wallis Lane said...

For me, Vin = The Dodgers. He is so bound up in my concept of the Dodgers and my fandom that I can't imagine one without the other. He is as essential as Dodger blue. What's more, his voice actually has restorative powers, as whatever mood I'm in when I turn on a broadcast is instantly improved.

"All year long they looked to him [Kirk Gibson] to light the fire and all year long he answered the demands.

"High fly ball into right field. She i-i-i-i-i-s gone!"

[long perfectly timed pause to absorb the delerious fan reaction]

"In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened."

Poetry.

The Milner Coupe said...

Thank you. It would be impossible for you to remind us too often to appreciate this man. I love baseball and I looooove Vin Scully. He's probably why I love baseball having listened to him every night during Dodger season since I was a boy.

Your post brings to mind the day a couple weeks before Carson retired when it suddenly hit me that he was leaving... forever.

My heart aches a bit thinking of not hearing his voice, as familiar to me as any family member's. I don't mind getting old but I don't want Vin Scully to get old. Beyond reason I pray that he stays healthy and that I go first. I don't think I could bear it.

Damn I'm getting sappy. But it's all true. Aloha

Johnny Walker said...

A Friday question: I'm currently working my way through CHEERS and a couple of questions have sprung to mind. I'd love to know their answers.

But first: Wow. Shelley Long was SUPERB as Diane Chambers. I've just reached the show were she left and, even though I grew up watching (and loving) the Rebecca years, I'm a little afraid of how the show is about to change.

The behind-the-scenes of Cheers always seemed a little contradictory: According to some there was friction between Long and other members of the cast (and crew?). Yet, there were other reports that the cast felt "betrayed" by her departure. That kind of puts Long in a position where she was damned if she did, and damned if she didn't, which doesn't seem fair.

I noticed that Diane's departure was actually left open for her to return... Was that ever seriously considered? Were the writers hoping that she would?

It gets even more confusing when it comes to Kirstie Alley. She's the one member of the cast who never appears at reunions. She also never found herself on Frasier, despite there being 11 years of opportunity. You can't help but wonder if there was friction behind-the-scenes.

If the former reports about Long were true, then you'd think that finding a cast member who fitted in with the existing cast and crew would be a hugely important thing. The show was already a hit, after all, so why not find that perfect actor?

I guess there may have been some anxiety over losing a major character like Diane, so maybe there were other considerations at the time? Were the producers concerned that they should would sink without Diane?

Alley's casting is confusing for other reasons, too: If there WAS friction (or at least, little love) behind-the-scenes, and she WAS hired completely because she was the best for the ROLE, then why did her character change so drastically?

Was it because Alley wasn't funny enough at being a martinet, or was it because having a martinet wasn't creating enough good stories?

You can see the apparent contradictions if it's the former.

Finally, have you got any tips for writing questions that don't meander and takes ages to get to their point?

Michael said...

DJ, the interesting thing about the Yankee offer is that he would have succeeded Mel Allen and worked with Red Barber, who was his mentor. I give thanks every day that he liked southern California.

Mutt, no internet rage here, even from someone who thinks Buck was the second best. The point is, what we're raised on often influences us. If you grew up in Chicago, you probably loved Jack Brickhouse or Harry Caray; the first time I heard Harry, I thought an alien had parachuted into the booth. On the Game of the Week, Curt Gowdy seemed boring but in Boston, where he did the Red Sox for 15 years, he was a god, and his funeral was a state occasion. It's only when someone pops up and says John Sterling or Hawk Harrelson is a great broadcaster that I am tempted to reach through the computer and throttle somebody.

cadavra said...

Mike B: Yeah, but Queen Elizabeth never hit over .200 in her life.

Dennis Hartin said...

After my son first heard Vin Scully on the air, he said, "It's like Joseph Conrad calling a baseball game."

I'm inclined to agree.

benson said...

Mike B. I loved your line too, and cadavra's response.

Cue more internet rage. Michael you had me til you dissed The Hawkeroo. Yes, he's a homer, but he's fair and he played the game. And as one who's heard him for 30 years, he and Drysdale were magic together. He and Wimpy (Tom Paciorek)and DJ were good, and Steve Stone now. It's like sitting in on two ballplayers sitting at a bar talking over a ballgame.

But yes, Scully (and Buck) were at another level. And go ahead and appreciate them now. Folks here in Michigan miss Ernie Harwell a lot.

roger said...

I'm a San Francisco native so, by law, I'm supposed to hate the Dodgers. As such I've never had much chance to hear Vin Scully.

Lately, however, MLB Network and ESPN have been running KCAL's feeds of Dodger games, and I am just blown away by the seeming effortlessness of Vin's calling. Steady, always interesting, never too much and never over the top. It took me a long while to realize he's the only one in the booth - no co-announcer needed.

One minor disappointment though - I never once heard a reference to Farmer John sausages.

tb said...

It ain't a barbecue without VInny on the radio
I've mentioned this before, but I once enjoyed a 90 minute rain delay listening to Vin tell stories

Michael said...

Benson, you proved my point perfectly: everybody has different attitudes about announcers. And I got to hear Ernie Harwell out here in Las Vegas when he did games for CBS Radio, and of course assorted clips. He was wonderful. And you may know this trivia, as might Ken, but Vin replaced him on Dodger broadcasts: Brooklyn brought up Harwell in 1948 when Red Barber's ulcer blew out, and Connie Desmond needed help. To get him, Branch Rickey had to trade a catcher, Cliff Dapper, for him, making Ernie the only announcer traded for a player.

Roger, Farmer John doesn't sponsor the telecasts, but if you pick up the radio, yes, he's still talking about it. Now, Ken and I could have a great debate. Jon Miller is a wonderful broadcaster, does a great Scully impression, and clearly shows his influence--and he does a great routine about Farmer John. But my impression of The Vin is better than Miller's. I'm convinced. So there.

Don K. said...

I'm 54 and a life long Cub fan. Born in Inglewood, CA but moved to Chicago when I was 7. I grew up listening to Jack Brickhouse on TV with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau on the radio. What with all the day games, the Cubs knew their marketing strategy perfectly. Get home from school, the last few innings are on WGN. Every kid in Chicagoland was watching WGN in the afternoons April through September if they hadn't hopped on the El to go to the game. Brickhouse was the perfect announcer for a young kid to listen to and for kid sof all ages as well.

We would often go back to L.A. to visit family for summer vacations, and my grandfather would make sure I would listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett. My grandfather called Vin the Voice of God. I still call him that. WHEN the Cubs win the World Series, not IF, in my lifetime, I know I will blubber like a baby. There will be hundreds of thousands of us Ditka reprobates acting like sissies and lovingit. I also know that when Vin Scully finally leaves us, I'll shed more than a few tears then, too.
--------------------------------

Hawk Harreleson? OHHHH PLUHLEEEEZE. No tears will be shed when He Gone from the booth.

Mark said...

One tiny quibble... I know everyone loves Vin, but shouldn't you be *able* to remember the score after the game is over? I don't think the game is designed to be merely the background music for an announcer recital.

Daddy Background said...

Baseball has been dead for me since the Expos became the Nationals, but I've always been and will remain a fan of Vin Scully. Dodger fans are so lucky to have him, the rest of the continent would be better served by hearing him more. I will remember one line from his call of a long-forgotten game, so many years ago. I don't recall the teams that were playing, who was the pitcher, who was the batter, but the pitch came in high and tight and the batter hit the deck. Scully said, "... and he knocked him down onto his haircut." I loved it.

Kevin B said...

It's great to read so many comments here appreciating Vin, even from people that don't live in or root for Los Angeles.

When Vin calls the first 3 innings simulcast, it's an even bigger pleasure. Whether I'm in the car enjoying his detailed calls, or at home watching, I just love how he goes the extra mile those first few innings.

The idea that Vin will one day not be painting the picture for me is hard to grasp. Many years ago my friend and I joked that they should create the VinBot. Where someone collects every word Vin has ever broadcast, or have Vin go to a recording studio and call every potential play, and then after he passes, the games are announced by the VinBot. As the inevitable draws closer, it seems less ridiculous to me. I would seriously much rather hear the VinBot than the comedy stylings of Charlie Steiner, Rick Monday, or any other chucklhead they may bring in.

Long Live Vin.

Bart Anderson said...

Vin is the best. I grew up listening to Jack Buck and I always turn on the Dodger game after the Cardinal game is over. Listening to Vin takes me back to grade school all over again. Not only is he one of the two best announcers of all time but it's amazing to think of all of the great baseball players he has scene live. Ott, Hubbell, Medwick, Mize and many more. When Vin is gone so is a link to the history of baseball.

mike said...

Vin Scully is great, an absolute master. I would, however, like to give a shout to Bob Murphy. I grew up in CT with Murph/Kiner/Nelson, and they were a stellar trio. Gary Cohen is a fine broadcaster and worthy successor but the other Mets announcers--meh. Hasn't been much fun to listen to the radio since Murph passed and Cohen moved to teevee.

Knuckles said...

That's what I miss the most about Dave Niehaus. He, too, was a master.

Anonymous said...

rterriveSteve N. said: Vin Scully is the greatest baseball announcer of all time.....I've listened to him since the Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1959. No one else can even compare to him in the broadcast booth. He is as entertaining as "Chick" Hearn was for the L.A. Lakers. And THAT, says alot!!! We love you Vinny!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Jack Buck was a Prince but can't even compare to Vin Scully...I remember when Bobby Vinton sang the National Anthem at a major league baseball event in Pittsburg. He got the first 5 words right. After that, he made up the words as he went....It was the funniest, comical rendition ever!!!. Jack Buck said "Well, if you're Polish and from Pittsburg, I guess you can sing it any way you want! What a great line!!! SOOOO FUNNY!!!!

Sebastian Peitsch said...

I saw the game on monday against the Phillies... man...

Tons of loud people in the stands, cheering on the Philies for getting in runs... I saw the wave in the 7th inning. Basically not a baseball crowd.

But Scully made this game an event for me. The way he lambasted the Dodgers for botching that rundown, the way he talked about 1941 and the 56 hit streak and how nobody talked about the things that happened over here back then and how that would all change later on after Pearl Harbor. Man... he made it all so _interesting_ He talked about things where HE was THERE and then he talked about the game again that happened RIGHT NOW and he made it as if you were witnessing history in the making - all in front of a crowd that seemed as knowledgeable about baseball as the crowd during the 1994 soccer world cup in the US.

I sat here in front of the TV and was going like DeNiro, pointing at it... "this guy... this guy right here..."