Vin Scully is a wordsmith and storyteller by trade, and after 67 years on the job, it is no surprise that he has a bit of a knack for it.
Just kidding. That was a joke by way of understatement. Actually, no one has more of a knack for it than Scully, who could make catcher’s interference poetic.
So it was that on a not-quite-hour-long call with reporters to discuss the coming end of his career on Oct. 2, the Dodgers play-by-play man casually weaved in stories and observations to fit every question and every occasion, just as he does on the air.
Here are some highlights:
Candlestick, AT&T and the beer hecklers at Seals
Vin Scully first began following baseball as a fan of the New York Giants, who played their home games at the Polo Grounds, not far from his childhood home in upper Manhattan.
Later he worked there many times as a Dodgers announcer, then followed both teams west in 1958, where he would call Giants games at Seals Stadium, Candlestick Park and eventually AT&T Park.
On Oct. 2, he will call it a career with one last Dodgers-Giants game in San Francisco, at AT&T.
(The last time the Giants played their home games in a stadium in which Scully never worked was 1911, when they temporarily used the Highlanders’ Hilltop Park in Manhattan after a fire at the Polo Grounds.)
On a conference call with reporters in advance of his finale, Scully was asked to recall the Giants’ three West Coast stadiums and what it was like working at them.
“First of all, when we arrived at Seals Stadium [in 1958], they did not really have any kind of a radio booth,” he said. “We didn’t televise. So we actually were one row behind the regular fans, and once they realized that we were doing, for instance, a beer commercial live, why, they’d start hollering, just good-naturedly.
“But they’d start hollering the names of all the other brands of beer that they could possibly think of. So that taught us to record all the commercials rather than be heckled by the fans.
“And in all honesty, I’d be doing the game at Seals Stadium, and a fellow would turn around and just say to me, ‘Do you have a match?’ It was that informal and that close. So that was an experience. But it was new, it was exciting, and the fans were fun.
“At Candlestick, the wind was a nightmare, but I also thought that the surroundings affected the personality of the audience. I could be completely wrong, but it was cold and raw, windy, and I think the people in the stands were unhappy and sometimes would take their unhappiness out. I mean, we actually had one or two players, if I remember correctly, go up into the stands over somebody making some terrible remark.
“But once they moved to AT&T Park [in 2000], it’s completely different. The fans are good-natured, they’re happy, they’re fair, they’re wonderful. And although I certainly know nothing about mass psychology and all that stuff, I think the weather at Candlestick kind of embittered the fan, and the weather at AT&T has made it a wonderful party atmosphere.
“No meanness at all.”
80 years to the day
Scully’s first exposure to baseball came 80 years to the day before his finale, thanks to the Giants.
“I was not quite 9 years old,” he said. “I was walking home from grammar school. I went by a Chinese laundry, and in the window was the line score of the World Series game, that would be Oct. 2, 1936, and the Yankees beat up the Giants 18-4.
“As a little boy, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, the poor Giants.’ Then my grammar school was 20 blocks from the old Polo Grounds, so I could walk after school at 2:30, catch the game at 3:15 for nothing, because I was a member of the Police Athletic League and the Catholic Youth Organization.
“So that’s when I fell in love with baseball and became a true fan. My last game with the Giants will be Oct. 2, 2016. That will be exactly 80 years to the minute from when I first fell in love with the game.
“So it seems like the plan was laid out for me, and all I had to do was follow the instructions.”
Baseball on radio vs. television
Vin Scully has had numerous iconic moments calling games on both radio and television – a medium that did not become a significant part of the sport until he already was a young adult.
Naturally, the former provided a broader canvas for his poetic gifts than the latter.
“Well, first of all, the best way to describe the difference between radio and television,” he said, “I could take Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, which I did on radio, and by doing it on radio I could describe him running his fingers through his hair, drying his hand off on his pants leg, heaving a big sigh, describing in minute detail, if I could, to add to the drama.
“Then let’s take Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter two years ago. That was done on television. Well, I couldn’t describe anything that I did on radio because you were looking at it, and while I had a whole big deal on Sandy, all I could say for Clayton Kershaw when his no-hitter took place was, ‘Well, he’s done it.’ So there’s a big difference.
“You could also make a cliché out of it, that when you come into the radio booth there is a blank canvas, and for about three hours you’re trying to paint whatever you’re looking at. But on television when you walk into the booth, the picture’s already there, so immediately you’re just trying to add a few comments beneath the picture.”
Vin Scully, the sportswriter?
Vin Scully seems to have chosen his career path well, having called Dodgers games – and many other sporting events – over 67 years.
But what else might he have done had he not become a sportscaster? Scully, who grew up in an era when writers were the stars of sports media, said his first thought was to work in newspapers, before broadcasting altered his trajectory.
“The only thing I loved in the beginning at 8 years old was the roar of the crowd,” he said.
“I would crawl under this big old radio we had, and the only sports in those days would be college football on radio, and I would listen to a game that really meant nothing: Alabama-Tennessee, Michigan-Ohio State. But it was the roar of the crowd that poured out of the loudspeaker like water out of a shower head, and I would just be covered in goose bumps.
“And each time, every Saturday, I would listen, and eventually I got into, gee, I love the roar, I’d love to be there. And then later on I projected I’d love to be the announcer. But I figured, the announcer, that was somewhere in never, never land.
“So when I went off to school and went to high school, I thought I’d be a writer. I wrote a column for the high school paper. The column that I wrote at Fordham University was a pretty impressive column because of those who had written ahead of me. John Kieran, who was a genius, Arthur Daley of The New York Times, who won all kinds of awards. So I followed in their footsteps writing the column called ‘Looking Them Over.’
“So that’s what I thought. I worked as a copyboy for The New York Times, and I really thought that I’d wind up writing for a living.
“But then I went into the Navy for a year. Didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything. And when I came back, Fordham had an FM station, and that was the opportunity, and that began going in the opposite direction, although at times I would write my own material, which I would then use on the air.
“So there was a definite change in direction only with the good fortune of having an FM station.”
Over the decades Scully became close with many of the writers around the game.
“I loved the New York writers,” he said. “When I started, they took me in, so to speak. Dick Young, then of the Daily News, called me ‘Schooly.’ Kind of moved my final name, but what it was really for was like Schoolboy, like Schoolboy Rowe, and I was Schooly.
“And all of the writers just helped this kid along in every imaginable way and they gave me a tremendous boost.”
Thank you, Mr. O’Malley
It seems difficult to believe in 2016, but it was far from a foregone conclusion that in 1958, lifelong New Yorker Vin Scully would follow the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Some Californians angled for a local voice. Owner Walter O’Malley stuck by Scully.
“I think the first emotion was it was somewhat bittersweet,” said Scully, who was only 30 at the time of the geographical transition. “Maybe that’s not the proper word. But the thought of leaving New York was somewhat overwhelming. All my friends, my relatives, my high school, my college, everything was back in New York, and it was a little scary.
“But the other side was, oh, thank God, I’ve got the job, because there was a fear, and I was told this for sure, there was considerable pressure on Mr. O’Malley that the people in Southern California wanted him to employ the announcers out here. And I’m sure for good reason.
“But being Mr. O’Malley the way he was, he prided loyalty, and Jerry [Doggett] and I were extremely loyal to him. We would have done anything he wanted. So there was tremendous relief that, wow, at least I’ve got the job.
“Then of course when I came out here, the greatest single break - and my life is just full of breaks - but the greatest single break was the transistor radio, and the fact that people came to the Coliseum, and they were, well, what, 70-some odd rows away from the action.
“They knew the superstars. I mean, they knew Willie Mays, and Stan Musial, and some of the other great stars. But the rank and file, they didn’t. So they brought the radio to find out about all the other players and maybe to help out to see what they’re trying to see down on the field.
“So I think that was the biggest single break for any broadcaster coming to a new community to be able to talk directly to the fans. We had the crowd sing Happy Birthday to an umpire. I had a big deal going one night asking the crowd, ‘How long is a second?’ because the balk rule, you had to hold the ball set for one second before the pitcher would throw. So we got to where they would laugh, they would groan at a bad pun, and it was fun.
“I’ll always remember the worst pun I ever gave was in the Coliseum. Joe Torre was the [Braves’] catcher and he caught a foul tip off his hand. He had to come out of the game. But the next day he played third base, and I was just talking to the fans and somehow this came out.
“I said, ‘Well, there is Joe playing third. If he does not ever put the gear back on behind the plate, he will forever be known as ‘Chicken Catcher Torre.’ The groan from the crowd of 50, 60,000 was something that I’ll still remember to my dying day.”
‘Lou Gehrig was a wimp’
Vin Scully has had some long days and nights at the office, but nothing quite matched the weekend of June 3 and 4, 1989, when he called 45 innings of baseball in St. Louis and Houston.
“I was doing the ‘Game of the Week’ as well as the Dodger games,” he said. “I did a (Cubs-Cardinals) game on Saturday afternoon, then got in an airplane to fly to Houston, and I actually walked into the booth just as they were announcing the national anthem. So I then did that game.
The game in St. Louis went 10 innings.
“Then the game in Houston that night went 23 [actually, 22] and then Sunday another 13 innings,” he said. “And the best part of the story, when the game ended, I came out of the booth admittedly a little tired, and there was a telegram waiting for me, and it was from one of my dearest friends in the world, who was a sportswriter in San Diego by the name of Phil Collier, and it was just perfect.
“The telegram read, ‘Lou Gehrig was a wimp.’”
The power of silence
Vin Scully has influenced many aspects of broadcasting over his 67-year career, among them the use of silence after big moments to let the sounds and pictures tell the story rather than his words.
He said he learned that lesson early on as a fan of the background sounds of events on the radio in his childhood home in Manhattan.
“When I was very small, about 8 years old, the only thing we had was radio, and the only sports on radio would be college football, basically, with an occasional Joe Louis heavyweight championship fight, something like that,” he said.
“And my parents had this big, old four-legged radio with a crosspiece underneath it. And I would get a pillow and maybe a glass of milk and some saltine crackers or whatever, and I would crawl underneath the radio on a Saturday, put the pillow on the crossbar, put my head on the pillow, and I was directly underneath the speaker.
“And I was absolutely carried away by the roar of the crowd. It wasn’t the announcer; it was just the roar of the crowd. And I’ve made it a cliché: It came out of the speaker like water out of a shower head, and I would get goosebumps and think, oh, my gosh, this the greatest sound I’ve ever heard.
“When I got into broadcasting, I was again captivated by the roar of the crowd. So what I’ve tried to do ever since the beginning was to call the play as accurately and quickly as possible, then sit back, and revel in the roar of the crowd. And for that brief few seconds, I was 8 years old again, I guess.”
No more Dodger Stadium either?
Vin Scully has resisted all calls for him to work Dodgers playoff games on the radio after calling it a career in San Francisco on Oct. 2 for the Dodgers’ regular-season finale against the Giants.
But what about simply attending playoff games at Dodger Stadium?
“Probably not,” he said on a conference call with reporters to discuss his final games. “First of all, I’ve certainly had experience with large crowds, so probably not. I’m not sure, because the last time they won was 1988.
“I would probably watch [on television], however, for sure, and maybe if I was invited to the last game or whatever, maybe I would go. But basically once I call it an end, which will be Oct. 2, I’ll try very hard to kind of just stay back and be the very normal guy that I am.”
Vin Scully’s personal relationships span the history of broadcasting. So it is no surprise that he has fond memories of his friendships with former Giants announcers Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, for whom the television booth is named in San Francisco, where Scully will call his final game.
“I knew them both very well,” Scully said. “First of all, with Russ, when I was back in New York, I can actually remember one night in his kitchen harmonizing with Russ and Ernie Harwell, one of the beautiful memories in my entire life.
“Russ was just terrific. He was a wonderful broadcaster, very emotional. I just loved being with him. So we spent a good bit of time together. Then on the West Coast, when I met Lon, every time I went to San Francisco, I think Lon and I played golf. And when he came down here [to Los Angeles], he could play at my place.
“So I remember them both very well. We had a lot of good kidding, of course, about our rivalry and the two teams. But they were dear, wonderful friends, as well as a great team of fine broadcasters.”
The essence of Dodgers vs. Giants
Vin Scully is in a unique position to assess the storied Dodgers-Giants rivalry, having grown up a Giants fan in New York, and now having called Dodgers games in Brooklyn and Los Angeles for 67 years.
With his career finale set for Oct. 2 – naturally with the Dodgers playing the Giants – Scully was asked to assess the essence of the rivalry.
“Well, you really have to go back to New York,” he said. “You have to realize that the Dodger fans and the Giants fans were, in a lot of cases, shoulder to shoulder all year long working at their jobs.
“I can remember as a kid working for the post office during the Christmas holidays trying to make some money, and we’d be sliding mail, hundreds of them, standing in front of hundreds of cubbyholes and putting mail in the holes. And we’d spend all the time, slotting and arguing about who was better, Duke Snider or Willie Mays, et cetera, et cetera.
“Also, the borough of Brooklyn had an atmosphere of, it’s us against the world. So the Giants were the lordly team on the Harlem River, and they’d come over to Brooklyn. In the olden days they tell me that [John] McGraw would bring the Giants over to Brooklyn in horse drawn carriages, and the people in Brooklyn, the real fans, would throw things down on top of them. So the rivalry was somewhat bitter because of the fact there was a great deal of friction.
“At least now you have several hundred miles separating the cities. Oh, sure, there are Giants fans down here [in Los Angeles], and there are Dodger fans in San Francisco. There’s not quite the bitter rivalry they had in New York. And I’m delighted for that; I really am.
“And I grew up really in the bleachers in the old Polo Grounds, so my seat would probably be, oh, thinking back, maybe 450 feet from home plate. Or if I was lucky, I’d be in the grandstand, but no matter where you sat you felt the rivalry. Because the people worked together, lived together, and argued all year long. So it’s a little different.”
Scully recalled the rivalry was so intense in the New York days that it required alterations to the locker room at Ebbets Field.
“In Ebbets Field, the home dressing room was separated from the visiting dressing room by a door, a very simple door,” he said. “And there were some bad moments. Really, I think around the time that Carl Furillo was beaned, and Leo [Durocher] was running the Giants and all of that, and they nailed up that door so you couldn’t open it. You couldn’t get into either room. To me that’s silent testimony to the fact that the feelings really ran high.”
The NFL, ‘The Catch’ and Vin Scully
Vin Scully has called many major events other than Dodgers games, including the 1986 World Series, when in Game 6 he observed “a little roller up along first” hit by the Mets’ Mookie Wilson.
He also dabbled in the NFL starting in the mid-1970s, and in 1981, CBS considered both him and Pat Summerall as a play-by-play partner for rising star analyst John Madden.
Summerall ended up with that gig, but Scully left the NFL with a bang, calling the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park that is remembered for Dwight Clark’s winning touchdown catch for the 49ers over the Cowboys.
“The reason I did the NFL was, first of all, I was offered the opportunity and I gave it a thought,” he said. “And I kept thinking, you know, I’ve been doing baseball so long that I could fall into a trap of just doing it by rote and I thought I could use a challenge.
“So I was offered the opportunity to do football and golf [by CBS]. And I thought, you know, that’s the best thing I should get now is a boost. I need to work harder in another sport.
“So I used the NFL as much as I possibly could just trying to wake me up. And I was privileged to work with some wonderful experts, the analysts. And then I wound up with Hank Stram doing a game that will be memorable, I guess, the one called ‘The Catch,’ with Joe Montana and Dwight Clark.
“When that game ended, I got on the airplane and I was emotionally worn out from doing it and making sure I didn’t make some horrific mistake. But when I got on the airplane I thought, OK, I’ve done it. I’ve gotten the boost that I needed for my energy and that was it.
“When the plane landed and I got home, I told my family, that’s a great game on which to call it a football career, and that was it. It served a marvelous purpose to just to reawaken me, I guess.”
MLB Network will air Vin Scully’s final broadcast at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 25, as the Dodgers host the Colorado Rockies.
The network will simulcast SportsNet LA’s production of the game, including Scully’s commentary, to New York and other cities outside the Dodgers’ and Rockies’ home markets.