Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My tribute to Vin Scully Part Two

Here's Part Two of my two-part personal tribute to Vin Scully, who is retiring after Sunday's game in San Francisco.  Part One was yesterday.   To give you a better profile of the man I'm sharing some stories dealing with my interactions with him.  

When major league teams travel they take charter flights.  Buses bring the club right to the plane on the tarmac.  So we're never in terminals.   As such, the TSA screening is very minimal.   It's essentially what TSA Pre-Check is now.  You throw your keys and phone in a bowl and go through.  One time we were flying from LA to Denver and for whatever reason Vinny was singled out.  He had to take off his shoes and belt and hold his arms out while they ran the wand up and down his body.  Seriously?  They suspected Vin Scully of being a terrorist? 

All announcer score games. By that, I mean we keep track of what each player does throughout the game, inning by inning. We have little symbols to denote outcomes. A “K” for a strikeout. “W” for a walk, etc.

SIDEBAR: Phil Rizzuto for many years was one of the Yankees announcers. One day his broadcast partner Bill White came back into the booth after being away for an inning. He looked at Phil’s scorecard to catch himself up. He noted that for one player Phil had written “WW.” White had never seen that desingnation. He asked what “WW” meant? Rizzuto said, “Wasn’t watching.”

Every announcer has a somewhat different method of scoring. And usually over time you modify it to suit your needs. No one has to know what you mean except you. I’ve always been fascinated by how people score. And usually I can quickly figure out the gist of their system.

Except Vin's.

He has lines going in different directions and dots. His scorecard looks like a player piano roll. I have no idea what anything means. He also does his scorecard in ink, which is braver than doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink.

Here’s something that will make you groan. I asked if he kept all of his scorebooks down through the years and he said no. At the end of each season he just chucked them. To me that’s like throwing away the Ten Commandments. (Happily, other longtime announcers have kept their scorebooks. Ernie Harwell had every one, God bless him.)

In 2009 the Dodgers got into the National League Championship Series. I got to travel with the club. The games were televised nationally but Scully would do the local radio. My broadcast partner, Josh Suchon and I would do our pre-game show from the visiting radio booth in Philadelphia. So that meant I had to sit in Scully’s seat. We were doing the show and Vin was in the second row continuing his preparation. I said something funny on the air and could hear Vinny laugh. And my reaction was: “OHMYGOD! I MADE VIN SCULLY LAUGH!"  I'm sure jokes of mine in MASH and CHEERS have made 30,000,000 people laugh, but this was VIN SCULLY! 

One of the (many) amazing things Vin could do is recall plays and moments from games he saw 60 years ago. He then recounts them naming the specific players and game situations. He’s a walking baseball Google. And of course, no one else has that link with the past. No one else can tell Jackie Robinson anecdotes. I once asked him how he remembered all that stuff. He said he couldn’t just recall it at random, but something will occur in a game that triggers a memory. I said, “It’s very impressive. But how do we know you’re right?” He laughed and said, “You don’t.” I told him it didn’t matter. Just hearing those forgotten names of ballplayers from the past was a real treat.

There was some guy on the internet selling full game broadcasts from the ‘50s-‘60s. He had some Dodger games so I bought them. I’m driving to the stadium one night listening to Vin call a game at Wrigley Field from 1966. I get so caught up in the drama of his description that when Ron Fairly hit a long fly ball down the rightfield line that just missed being a home run by inches I slammed my hand down on the dashboard in disgust. Then I thought, “This is insane. This game has been over for decades.” I told the story to Scully later that day and he said with mock urgency: “Oh, I hope we won.”

At home he always ate in a private dining room with the rest of the Dodger announcers, but on the road he chowed down in the press dining room with everyone else. On numerous occasions I had bad enchiladas and dry turkey with Vin. And of course he would tell great stories. One of my favorites was the day he co-hosted the Rose Parade with Elizabeth Montgomery for ABC. She was apparently afraid of heights and they were to broadcast from a tower that was erected for the occasion.  The only way to get to the broadcast position was to climb up a ladder.  She was freaked.  So Vin had Liz wrap her arms and legs around him tightly and he climbed them both up the ladder.  I said, "Whoa!  That's a greater thrill than calling the only perfect game in the history of the World Series!"

Another time he mentioned he was having computer troubles and spent an hour on the phone with some IT guy (probably in India). The techie didn’t know who he was talking to. Imagine getting to spend an hour on the phone with Vin Scully.

I could make this a five-parter because I just keep thinking of other Scully tales. But at the risk of wearing out my welcome I’ll start wrapping it up.

Two last stories. Both about spring training in Arizona. A few years ago Scully and I both flew home together from Phoenix one Sunday night. He had called the game that day and by the time we arrived at LAX he was pretty tired. We entered the terminal area where people wait for passengers, and of course the crowd spotted Vinny and their eyes lit up. They mobbed him for autographs and pictures. Like I said, he was exhausted. But he stayed and honored everyone’s request. No one would have blamed him had he said he was tired, he was sorry but he had to get home. Still, he took the time to accommodate the fans.

And finally, people ask me my greatest thrill in broadcasting. I’ve been very fortunate. I broadcast baseball around the world on the CBS radio network. I’ve been a disc jockey on major market stations like WLS. But all of that pales in comparison to one spring training game in 2009. I filled in and did the radio play-by-play. It was a TV game and Vin Scully did the first three innings simulcasting on both radio and TV and then did the remaining six on television while I did those six innings on the radio. So think of it – as an eight-year-old kid who wanted to be a baseball announcer, for one shining day Dodger baseball on the Los Angeles Dodgers Radio Network was broadcast by Vin Scully and me. I even saved the tape of him introducing me. I get Goosebumps every time I hear it.  I've it included it below. 

At the end of every season I would go into his booth and thank him for another year. I now thank him for a lifetime. And hope he has a long and enjoyable retirement. Maybe 67 years worth.


Mike Barer said...

I remember when I met Dave Niehaus for the first and only time. He spoke to me like he knew me all of his life and introduced me to people he knew. This was at the Fred Hutchinson luncheon in 2010. I asked how he could do Mariner games during the team's dark era, he said it was because every baseball game brought something unique. Dave died that fall.
Thankfully, Vin will be able to read his tributes. Have a great and long retirement, Vin!

Neal said...

Please Ken, post more stories!!

DrBOP said...

(FINALLY) On-Topic Kid thinks you have a good chance at getting all of these right:


Also thinking you should record as many Scully anecdotes as you can.....maybe one a night until the well runs dry.....in order to justify (ESPECIALLY to your family;^) why your tombstone reads "It NEVER Got Better Than Scully On The Radio".

Michael said...

Ken, if you ever lose that toss from Vin, you will be exiled to Elba.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I think it would be completely appropriate to do a five parter.

I was lucky growing up in Michigan (don't hear that too often) and getting to listen to Ernie Harwell on WJR AM. I painted my house one summer, listening to Ernie. The Tigers were idiots and fired him for a couple of years, but new management brought him back.

And I've been lucky to live in the digital age, where I've been able to listen to Vin through MLB Gameday. I recommend that to anyone who wants to hear Vin Scully; it's $20/year, and radio broadcasts are archived back through February 2014. You only get three innings of Vin that way, but it's good. (It looks like there's currently a sizable discount on video for military/veterans and students.) I'm thinking of signing up for the video, just to get some more Vin before he retires.

I love that he works solo; he takes care of it all, with joy, art, grace, and, when needed, a critical eye.

There are other broadcasters that I like, but only two that hold me in awe -- Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully. It's a delight to have had them.

(BTW, one other thing about the digital age -- I was able to download Dodger Talk from iTunes when you were on it.)

cd1515 said...

great stuff Ken.
An argument can be made that Vin is the greatest broadcaster of anything, ever.
I don't care about the Dodgers at all and I've watched a thousand Dodger games over the years....only because of Vin.

Bryan in Seattle said...

I hope someone with some foresight makes Sunday's game available to everyone.

Otto said...

Ken: Personally, I'd love to hear all 5 parts!! I could happily listen to you relating stories about Vin Scully relating baseball stories all day!! I have lived all my life in Western New York. Were it not for the national broadcasts Vin did for MLB in the 1970s or 1980s, I might not have really known who Vin was. Now, 40 years later I make whatever paltry living I do as a writer and I host a weekly radio program on a local public radio station. In recent years with MLB TV, I have stayed up on many nights just to LISTEN to a Dodger game. I wasn't nearly as interested in the game as I was in hearing Vin Scully call the game. The times and our culture constantly change, and rarely for the best, but this is a particularly difficult goodbye to face. There is simply no better baseball play-by-play man than Vin Scully and I can't possibly imagine anyone ever reaching his level of skill again. Thanks for sharing your memories of this baseball icon. I am both grateful and jealous. Hahaha.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Wow, that is so neat. He is a fine man

I wonder what it was about the mid-twentieth century that produced men like Vin Scully, John Wooden and others who seemed to be built of integrity and kindness?

Role models for me, always.

benson said...

Here's another vote for a five-parter this week.

Also, Charles H Bryan, something many forget, one of the "geniuses" who exiled Ernie Harwell was Bo Schembechler.

Pete Grossman said...

To meet a childhood hero, then work with him and he turns out to live up your expectations? Mt. Freakin' Everest, man.

Eric J said...

I'm one of your regular readers who doesn't care one bit about baseball or baseball stories. Never seen or heard a game since my ill-fated Little League days.

But even I recognize something special here. If it were up to me, I'd say continue putting them down here or somewhere.

VP81955 said...

To Charles H. Bryan: Ernie and Vin are two of my "holy trinity" of baseball announcers; the third is Harry Kalas. When it was announced Harry would receive the Ford Frick award in 2002, I called Tom McCarthy, who's broadcast Phillies games for some years and at the time was doing sports talk radio in Trenton, and suggested that since the Phils were scheduled for an interleague series in Detroit, Harry and Ernie should do an inning together. And they did. (I believe Harry and Vin, who were longtime friends, did likewise in 2002.)

Vin and Elizabeth Montgomery, who was an avid baseball fan (did she inherit that from her father Bob?) were good friends, and Vin even did a cameo on "Bewitched."

Jahn Ghalt said...

Here's a Friday Question:

What would you regard as a baseball announcer Dream Team?

Scully all by himself is obvious - but who else?

Niehaus? Carrey?

I think Costas is pretty good but since his promotion many years ago, he doesn't work much baseball.

Here's another baseball question:

List some favorite old-time baseball terms and 'splain 'em.

Since Niehaus died I never hear some that he used:

Can of Corn (easy pop fly - thought to come from the days when a grocer would nudge a can off a high shelf with a stick)
Texas Leaguer (weak fly that falls between infielder and outfielder - aka "flare", "bloop", and what term did Blauers use the other night??)

The M's are still alive - barely. With "help" they can still kick the cover off the coffin.

Looks like the Dodgers are in for sure. Giants are hanging on.

Whoever gets in I look forward to TBS announcing baseball - they are currently my favorites of all "national" announcers.

the team:

Ernie Johnson - whom I "discovered" doing their self-described yakity-yakk on Inside the NBA with Sir Charles, "Jet" (Kenny Smith), and (lately) the inimitable clown - Shaquille O'Neil.

Johnson played college ball, is the son of a veteran sport announcer, and seems to be a reader - interjecting in small doses various literary references. Very Smart and occasionally rides herd on (when he talks too much):

Ron Darling - a pitcher who always "takes the side" of whoever is pitching - this is no problem because his comrade in the booth is none other than:

Cal Ripken - Cal, at first, was almost awkwardly silent - but soon came out of his shell. He still doesn't talk much, but when he does, he gives the everyday player and batter's perspective and is well worth listening to.

Andy Rose said...

The thing I miss most about the old NBC Saturday game broadcasts was getting the opportunity to hear Vin doing national games.

H Johnson said...

It was an honor for me and my kids just to have been among the fans at Dodger Stadium Sunday when we tipped our hats to Vin Scully and he saluted us back. I thank you for sharing your eloquent tribute. You are truly a blessed individual.

I won't bore you with my own remembrances of listening to Dodger games because you and some of your commentors have captured my emotions to a tee.

Other than losing my mother a few years back, I'm having a hard time coming up with something that has affected me so. He has been such a constant in life that until recently one didn't really consider the possibility that he would ever not be there. Costner said it well when he referred to our broken baseball hearts.

Thanks again and Aloha.

Unknown said...

In Re Vin Scully; three words.




(Assuming somebody doesn't beat you to it.)

( ...and even then ...)

sanford said...

Can never have enough Vin stories

Charles H. Bryan said...

Oh, I remember. Mr. Domino's Pizza bought the team and brought in Bo, who also led the "We could move to St. Pete" if the Tigers didn't get a new stadium (which they did get). It seems like it was the Illich family who brought Ernie back.

Breadbaker said...

First, thanks for this. I agree that a five-parter would be fine. Any time you're just hunting for a column, "how about some more Vin Scully stories" would be a fine way to handle it.

I loved what you said about making Vin Scully laugh. The closest thing like that that ever happened to me is when our office had a private reception for Salman Rushdie when he was still in need of some pretty heavy security. A small number of us were there to greet him (he's very tall and stoops) and for some reason I soon found myself alone with him. I had brought a copy of one of my favorite books, "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", and mentioned that I had read the book out loud to my son and that doing all the voices was part of what made the book fun. And he replied, "that's just how the book is meant to be read. I read it out loud to my own son."

Roger R. said...

The audio? Way cool.

James said...

Most interesting Vin Scully story I heard came from Bob Costas. He said when you're broadcasting a ball game, there's a video monitor in the booth and you have an eye on that, and usually you react to whatever the director has picked to shoot (e.g. a little kid in the bleachers). But with Vin Scully, the tv director would follow Vin; so if Vin saw something and started talking about the 3rd base umpire, the director would get a shot of the 3rd base umpire, and so on.

I'm not savvy enough to know if that's true, but it stuck with me.

Unknown said...

In lieu of parts 3, 4, and 5, how about replacing any future pictures of Natalie Wood with a Vin Scully story?

Stu R said...

Please continue with parts 3,4 & 5.

mickey said...

Because of my age and where I was living, my first awareness of Vin Scully was as host of the game show "It Takes Two." Later when he turned up on NBC national baseball broadcasts (and NFL, too), I learned about his true calling. But I felt like the person who was surprised to learn that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings.

Unknown said...

The only living baseball guy who can do 9 innings (plus) by himself.
My hatred of the Dodgers is only "slightly" less than that for the Cards and Brewers.....YUK.
But Vin is the best ever.....EVER.
When watching Pirate-Dodger games on cable.....I will go to the Dodger
audio feed just to listen to him.
AMAZING!! the best ever.....sorry Gunner.
You are a solid #2.
But Vin is the best.