Scully in vintage form entering 64th season
Broadcasting icon shares some memories of Brooklyn, Jackie and playing college ball
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Vin Scully had just pulled up a chair for some Dodgers baseball on a cool, bright afternoon at Camelback Ranch when a woman, at a distance of about 50 yards, caught his attention.
Seated outside the Dodgers' offices on a roof behind the left-field wall at the team's springtime ballpark, Scully consented when she asked if she could photograph him.
"Sure," Scully said. "If your camera can reach this far."
She snapped her pictures and thanked him. As she walked away, Scully noticed that she was wearing a jersey -- SCULLY imprinted on the back -- bearing No. 17.
When his companion questioned why she'd chosen that number, Scully said, "When I was at Fordham [University], way back when, I wore number 17. How she would know that is beyond me."
The man who has been called the Babe Ruth of broadcasters is embarking on his 64th season behind a microphone, bringing poetry, humor and never-ending insight to fans such as the woman in the Scully jersey. To Dodgers Nation, Vinny is simply larger than life.
Through it all, this remarkable life of achievement, Scully has retained his humility. It comes shining through in self-effacing anecdotes and, in particular, one of his wonderful tales. It is framed around the perfect game thrown by the Yankees' Don Larsen against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
"I was working that game with the great Mel Allen," Scully, who was 28 at the time, recalled. "The way it was set up, I had the last half of the game after Mel took the first half.
"When the MLB Network started up, it replayed that game on a Saturday or Sunday. I was watching a football game and got engrossed in it. When I switched over to the Larsen game, it was the bottom of the fifth, and I was making the call.
"At the time, television was relatively new and nothing like what we see now. The one thing the critics hammered home was that broadcasters talked too much during the telecast. Maybe it was a reaction to that, but there was a lot of dead air on that telecast.
"I remember Mel was saying, 'He's retired six in a row, nine in a row ...' so when I took over, that's what I did. 'It's now 16, 17, 19 in a row.' I didn't have a lot to say. All of this made for what I found to be a very dull telecast.
"So I went back to the football game. I had heard me before. There was no reason to watch any more of it."
So, Vin Scully, to this day, never has heard his call when Larsen struck out pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell for the 27th out of arguably the most famous game in baseball history?
"I've never seen it," Scully said.
What he did see, with astonishment, was the borough of Brooklyn's reaction in 1955 after the Dodgers vanquished the Yankees in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium for their first World Series championship.
"After the third out, Johnny Podres having shut them out, I was taken in a car to the Lexington Hotel with some other Dodgers people," Scully said. "I had a date, and I left the group to get my car and go pick her up. We drove over to Brooklyn for the party at the Bossert Hotel.
"It was like V-J Day and V-E Day rolled into one when we came out of the tunnel. There were thousands of people on the sidewalks leading to the hotel. There were policemen, and parking attendants who took your car about a block from the hotel. Walking down that street to the hotel, that was an unforgettable scene."
Young Vin really knew how to impress a date.
"Her name was Joan Ganz," Scully said. "She was from Arizona. I'm pretty sure she later became the creator of 'Sesame Street.' You can check on that. We liked each other and stayed in touch, but it never got serious. I haven't told this story, but what the heck. That was a long time ago."
An internet check confirmed Scully's recollection of the future of Ms. Ganz, a publicist in New York City when they met. In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney oversaw and directed the creation of "Sesame Street," which premiered in 1969. As the first executive director for Children's Television Workshop, she was among the groundbreaking female executives in American television.
A Presidential Medal of Freedom award winner in 1995, Ganz Cooney was elected in 1989 to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, and three years later was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her date that memorable October night in 1955 also is a Hall of Famer, of the Cooperstown variety.
Scully's career with the Dodgers began in September 1949, when he was brought into the organization to get acquainted with the team.
The following spring, he began to get to know legendary figures such as Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Pee Wee Reese.
Robinson's historic shattering of the color barrier had occurred in 1947, but Scully saw how he continued to carry his trailblazing responsibilities with pride and dignity.
"I went to Spring Training in '50, and we traveled in the South," Scully said. "There were overflow crowds in small Minor League ballparks. A lot of the black fans would be on the field, behind ropes. Jack would go out and run around during batting practice, meeting the people.
"I was told that if he saw someone drinking, or showing the effects of drinking, he would say, 'Don't do that. We want to show we're like everyone else.' He was counseling the fans.
"On the field, Jack was a firebrand, a great competitor. He struck me as one of the rare people who could be better when he was angry. Most of us lose something when we have a temper, but not Jack. Leo Durocher, when he was managing the Giants, always said, 'Don't wake him up.'"
|"[Jackie Robinson] struck me as one of the rare people who could be better when he was angry. Most of us lose something when we have a temper, but not Jack. Leo Durocher, when he was managing the Giants, always said, 'Don't wake him up.'"|
|-- Vin Scully|
An offseason junket to a resort in New York's Catskills with Jackie and Rachel Robinson gave Scully insight into what made the great man tick.
"It was probably 1951," Scully said. "He and Rachel and I went up to Grossinger's for a symposium. It was the dead of winter, and I brought ice skates with me. Jackie said, 'I'll get some skates,' and Rachel -- she was about eight months pregnant -- said, 'I'll go too.'
"So, we get out there on the ice, and Jackie says, 'I'll race you.' I said, 'Come on, Jack; I know you're from Southern California.' He said, 'I've never been on skates.' I told him, 'Look, I'm not a great skater, but you can't beat me, never having skated before.' He said, 'I know, but that's how I'll learn.'"
There was no race, as it turned out. "Jack was on his ankles," Scully recalled, grinning. There is a wonderful photo in Rachel's book, "Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait" of Vin and Jackie on skates, poised to start a race, with Rachel watching.
The stories this spring afternoon kept flowing courtesy of Scully, who readily acknowledged the "wonderful life" he has led. Now, back to those Fordham days when the youthful redhead played the game.
"I was an outfielder, a center fielder," he said. "I could run, throw and catch, but I wasn't much of a hitter. One of my most memorable games was when we played Yale at Yale. It was a great game. We lost, 2-1. Their first baseman was George Herbert Walker Bush. Wonderful, lovely man, politics aside. Terribly bright.
"Years later, we were playing golf up at Cypress [in Monterey, Calif.]. We talked a lot about that game. Yale had a pitcher named Frank Quinn, who signed a $100,000 bonus but hurt his arm. He pitched against us that day and had great stuff; we got one run. I said, 'Mr. President, as long as you're in the White House, we both know we went 0-for-3 that day.'
"He later sent an autographed picture of us standing on the tee and wrote, 'To Vin Scully, the Fordham Flash ... well, er, umm.' Like it was in doubt."
There are more stories to be told, more games to be called. Scully will continue to prepare for hours, like a rookie trying to make an impression, honoring the game and being true to an adoring audience for whom he can do no wrong.
"Sometimes," he said, wistfully, "I feel like I'm on a grassy knoll on a golf course, watching all the people I've known in baseball, football, all the sports I've covered, walking by. I've been lucky to know so many wonderful people."
The Fordham Flash, No. 17, is the grand marshal of a colorful parade that gracefully, artfully continues.