October is a time for celebration. A world champion is crowned, postseason heroes emerge and communities rally in support of their teams. But for many baseball fans, especially those in Los Angeles, the autumn of 2016 brings a tinge of sadness regardless of the outcome on the field. That's because,
October is a time for celebration. A world champion is crowned, postseason heroes emerge and communities rally in support of their teams. But for many baseball fans, especially those in Los Angeles, the autumn of 2016 brings a tinge of sadness regardless of the outcome on the field. That's because, barring a guest appearance, October marks the last time they will ever hear Vin Scully's voice in the booth.
After a record 67 years behind the mic, the game's most legendary broadcaster has chosen to retire, and an entire era will retire with him. Never again will a game be broadcast by a man who can tell you firsthand what it was like to see Babe Ruth play.
:: Farewell, Vin Scully ::
"There will never be anyone like him again," said Jon Weisman, the Dodgers' director of digital and print content, who grew up in Los Angeles listening to Scully. "I can't remember Dodgers broadcasts without him; he just was born … as part of the Dodgers."
Scully's 67 seasons with the Dodgers rank by far as the longest any broadcaster has ever worked for one team. To put things in perspective, when Scully started out, the record was Bob Elson's 18 years with the White Sox. His career spans from the days of Connie Mack, who retired in Vin's debut season of 1950, to Corey Seager, who might still be playing in 2035. In fact, Scully has almost certainly attended more Major League Baseball games than any person who ever lived, Mack included. Doing some quick math, the figure is probably just shy of 10,000 games, and that's before counting Scully's frequent childhood visits to the Polo Grounds.
"I would get out of school at 2:30, walk a mile, get in free and watch the Giants play," he told USA Today. "My idol was Mel Ott."
Although he's a matinee idol of his own right throughout baseball, Scully's star burns brightest in the City of Angels, where he is the city's most beloved institution. "He's an unparalleled unifying force in Los Angeles," Weisman said. "He's a force that transcends demographics, generations, geography. It's something that unites 99.9 percent of this area. The entire population has lived their lives through Vin Scully, and relished it. Even people who aren't baseball fans value him."
And virtually everyone agrees that he's the best at his craft. Some announcers are technical perfectionists, carefully choosing every word and honing their inflection. Others broadcast more from the gut, communicating with emotion rather than precision of language. A Scully broadcast, though, is a miraculous hybrid of the two styles, possessing deep emotional resonance while also displaying the technical perfectionism he learned from his mentor, legendary Brooklyn announcer Red Barber.
Scully's style is uniquely his own. Although he's worked with partners such as Joe Garagiola on national TV, Scully has always insisted on doing Dodgers broadcasts solo. In today's two- and three-person booths, broadcasters try to develop a rapport with each other. Scully, on the other hand, seeks to develop a rapport with his audience. He has often said that he approaches the broadcast "like I'm talking to a friend."
And don't forget the Jolly Rancher hard candies. He keeps a stash of them in the booth during each broadcast to make sure his voice is ready for each and every call.
Vincent Edward Scully grew up during the Great Depression in Washington Heights, an immigrant neighborhood in Manhattan which, half a century later, would also produce Manny Ramírez. His father died when he was four, and his widowed mother ran a boardinghouse. In 1935, an 8-year-old Vin decided he would become a sportscaster, which is remarkable, considering the profession had existed for just a few years.
Scully attended Fordham University in the Bronx, where he called various sporting events and also played center field on the baseball team. In 1950, Barber hired the 22-year-old for the Dodgers after being impressed by his broadcast of a college football game. Known as the Ol' Redhead, Barber became a mentor and father figure to the younger redhead. Barber left the Dodgers in 1954, but four years at the master's feet had given Scully all the broadcasting knowledge he needed. The rest came from natural talent.
Although he makes a point not to root for the Dodgers on-air, Scully admits that as a young broadcaster he got emotionally invested, particularly since he was similar in age to, and friends with, many of the players. For that reason, he remembers the 1955 World Series fondly. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are champions of the world," he said, and then he went silent, letting the roar of the crowd tell the story, a move that would become his trademark.
"The truth is," he later admitted, "I was so overwhelmed by it all that if I had said another word, I think I would have cried."
When the Dodgers moved west in 1958, Scully moved with them, and it was in the '60s that he became a cultural touchstone. Never before had baseball been played in a city as geographically spread out as Los Angeles or in a stadium as large as the 93,000-seat L.A. Coliseum. Thousands brought transistor radios to the ballpark to hear him describe the faraway action, and millions more in cars made him a staple of their commute home.
In the 1970s and '80s, Scully branched out into national TV for jewel events like the World Series and The Masters. In 1982, he called one of the most famous NFL plays of all time: "The Catch" by Dwight Clark, which sent the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. Four years later, back in New York, he described one of baseball's timeless moments -- Game 6 of the World Series -- exclaiming, "It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!"
Most of America also heard Scully's voice during the most memorable sports moment in L.A. history: Kirk Gibson's home run off Dennis Eckersley in the '88 World Series. In fact, it was Scully who indirectly motivated the injured Gibson to get off the trainer's table and pinch-hit in the ninth inning of Game 1.
"In the eighth, he said something like, 'It appears Kirk Gibson won't be available tonight,' Gibson recalled, "And I just said, 'My ass.'"
As the Dodgers' hobbled hero limped around the bases, Scully crystallized the moment. "Of course, the last thing in the world I'm thinking of is that a one-legged hitter, against a Hall-of-Fame closer, would hit a home run," Scully said. "And as I always do, I let the crowd roar, and after a minute, all of a sudden I said, 'In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.'
"That's the thing everybody remembers. … Where it came from, I have no idea. You can't prepare for that kind of a thing."
Many broadcasters compose key phrases before the game and save them for the right time. Scully has never done this, yet remarkably, he is able to craft spontaneous sentences that would make even Mark Twain jealous.
Like Miles Davis or Bill Murray, Scully is one of history's great improvisers. Take Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965, when Scully turned in perhaps the finest performance ever by an announcer. During the tense ninth inning, he crafted several impromptu gems, including the poignant observation, "I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world."
It's pure poetry, although Scully insists it's mostly accidental: "The last thought I would have is that whatever I say is going to last forever. All I'm trying to do is make sure I call it correctly."
Scully also tells great stories, and not in the rambling way your Uncle Harry might, but concisely and with purpose. He's like everyone's grandpa, if everyone's grandpa was friends with Jackie Robinson. Crucially, Scully's tales always relate somehow to the action taking place on the field. An exciting play by Mike Trout might remind him of something Mickey Mantle once did. "You wait for it, and yearn for it," Weisman said.
The 1982 Ford Frick Award winner is bursting with evocative metaphors, like the one he once applied to fast-working Bob Gibson: "He pitches like he's double-parked." He will point out players who make mistakes, but, drawing on his college playing experience, he's quick to remind the listener just how difficult the game is. He'll cite modern stats like OPS, but his broadcasts are also full of the jargon of yesteryear. A big RBI guy like Adrián González is a "butter and egg man," because he delivers. A nasty curveball from Clayton Kershaw is "public enemy No. 1." Fans of Corey Seager belong to "the Corey Seager marching and chowder society."
Scully's influence on other broadcasters can hardly be overstated. Al Michaels, a legend himself, has openly admitted to emulating his style. Mets play-by-play man Howie Rose once said, "Vin is the best friend the game of baseball has ever had." During a broadcast earlier this year, Brewers announcer Brian Anderson broke down in tears describing how much Scully has meant to him. And then, of course, there's Jaime Jarrin, who has been calling Dodgers games in Spanish for 58 years, the second-longest broadcast tenure in baseball history. But back in 1959, when he was new to baseball, Scully showed him the ropes and began a lifelong friendship. "He has been my inspiration, my mentor, my teacher, my friend," Jarrin said. "He has meant so much."
Over the last two decades, Scully has retreated from national broadcasts, but has also found a huge new audience through the reach of MLB.TV. When superstars like Bryce Harper visit Dodger Stadium, the first thing they often do is go to the press box to meet the living legend.
Even at 88, Scully is far from a complacent senior citizen resting on his laurels; he's still the best announcer in the business. He'll make a mistake every once in a while, but it's usually a charming one, like mistakenly calling Kershaw "Koufax."
As his career enters its final chapter, Scully likes to quote a Dylan Thomas poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," which exhorts the reader to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."
"I'm raging against the dying of my career," Scully told The Associated Press. "For the God-given time that I have left, I'll be raging."
This article appears in the MLB Official LCS Program. To purchase a copy, visit shop.mlb.com.
Eric Enders is a freelance writer and baseball historian based in Texas.