Monday, August 31, 2015

66 Years and Counting

In a day and age where people change jobs about as frequently as their underwear, it's refreshing to hear about a man who has been doing what he's been doing for 66 years, and plans on doing it for at least one more year. That man is Vin Scully who has been the on-air voice of a major league baseball team known as the Dodgers since 1950. I didn't call them the Los Angeles Dodgers because for the first eight years of his career, Scully worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Those Dodgers are one of the most storied and beloved teams in the history of the game. Jackie Robinson played for that team as did fellow Hall of Famers Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcombe and Duke Snyder,

Scully was on hand, but not on the air during one of the most famous moments in baseball history when New York Giant Bobby Thompson hit his playoff "walk-off" home run against Ralph Branca and the Dodgers. That blast into the short left field porch of the old Polo Grounds, capped off one of the most thrilling, or most disheartening depending upon your point of view, come-from-behind victories in the game. Four years later, Scully was on the air when New York Yankee catcher Elston Howard hit a ground ball to short off a Johnny Podres change up. Pee Wee Reese fielded the easy grounder and tossed the ball to Gil Hodges to end the game and the 1955 season. After that final out, Vin Scully typically downplaying the histrionics, told his listeners simply this: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world." It would be the last thing he'd say on the air that day and the first and last time anyone could ever truthfully utter those words.

Two years later the Dodgers played their last game in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and with their fellow New York team the Giants, moved westward to California. From the intimacy of Ebbets Field the Dodgers found themselves in the mammoth LA Coliseum. As the story goes, that stadium was so unsuited for baseball that fans of the new LA club brought their transistor radios to the games so they could listen to Vin Scully describe the action on the field that they were unable to see for themselves. That tradition carried on even after the baseball friendly Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

Scully was a national figure as well, broadcasting football, golf and other sporting events on NBC and later CBS. But baseball was the game for which he was best suited. He broadcasting style is conversational and genial, so much so, you almost get the feeling that he's speaking directly to you,  His less-is-more approach to broadcasting, tends to skip the technical details in favor of simply describing the game for the benefit of those who weren't able to make it to the ballpark. He has a remarkable capacity to bring significance to games, even meaningless ones. Unlike so many of his peers, Scully doesn't resort to cliches or trademark catch phrases drawing attention to himself. Never reverting to mindless babble to fill dead air, Scully uses his intellect and almost unheard of experience to bring in everything from obscure sports facts to literary references to sustain the flow of his broadcasts.

He was at the mic for some of the greatest moments of sport in his era, but if you look up those calls online, you won't find anything remarkable in his description of the big event. That's by design as he knows exactly when to talk and when to let what's going on on the field speak for itself.

Perhaps the most thrilling moment that Scully had the opportunity to call took place in Dodger Stadium on October 15, 1988. This clip is from the last half inning of game one of the '88 World Series. In the clip, Scully is doing play-by-play while Joe Garagiola (making his second appearance in this blog in less than one week) does color. Note what Scully has to say following the climactic event:

Did you catch that? Right after he said, "she is gone", Scully kept his mouth shut for well over a minute as the partisan crowd went wild while Kirk Gibson circled the bases and was greeted at home plate by his teammates. That pause was something he didn't learn in broadcasting school.

When Vin Scully finally did say something, it was absolutely perfect. It always is.

Why not, he's the best in the business.

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