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Vin Scully’s Incomparable Legacy
Vin Scully’s popularity in Los Angeles soon reached heights rarely achieved by anyone, let alone a sportscaster. While he protests that he is relatively unimportant and that the players are who matters, Dodger fans disagree. By 1976, Dodger fans selected him as the most memorable personality in the history of the franchise, choosing him over star players like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills. And he still had another 40 years ahead of him to grow his legendary status.
I remember watching games when I was three and four years old, but I only have the faintest memory of Vin Scully at that time, even though he was already the Brooklyn Dodgers number one announcer at the tender age of 28. Then the Dodgers departed for the West Coast and I had to be content to hear him when the Dodgers were in the World Series in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1974. Then, when the World Series used network announcers rather than home team announcers from 1977 to 1989 and alternated between NBC and ABC, I got to hear him in the even number years 1984, 1986 and 1988 when Vin was also NBC’s primary announcer for their Saturday Game of the Week. As luck would have it, the Dodgers returned to the World Series in 1988 and Scully was at the mic when Kirk Gibson gimped into the batter’s box and hit the game-winning home run off of the A’s Dennis Eckersley to spark the Dodgers to a World Series victory in 5 games.
I also would have listened to Vin many times on a Saturday afternoon NBC Game of the Week from 1983 to 1989. And I would have heard him announce the NL Championship Series in the odd numbered years during that time, as well as the All-Star Game in those same seasons. But it was fitting that his final World Series broadcast on national television was a Dodger World Championship. And I’m sure I put on the radio some of the time for the World Series from 1990-1997 (except for 1994 when the baseball strike cancelled the Series) when Vin moved over to CBS radio to call the games.
In recent years, I had one more series of opportunities to listen to Vin on the Internet. I discovered that MLB.com broadcast highlights of the games, taking the feed from the local broadcasts unless the game was on national television. As Vin’s retirement drew near, I listened more and more to get every last bit of him I could. I’d also watch the interviews, the pre-game visits by representatives of opposing teams making their last visit to Los Angeles while he was still the Dodgers broadcaster and even the plethora of tapes of Vin from prior years, whether it was an historic call or just one of his best stories.
Over the years, Vin became known as a first rate story teller as well as the ability to coin a phrase or make an historic moment even more memorable. Los Angeles fans learned this early on. East coast fans, particularly those in New York, mocked L.A. fans lack of baseball knowledge when they started bringing transistor radios to Dodger games to listen to Vin describe the action on the field. Nothing could be further from the truth as far as the fans baseball knowledge was concerned. They had two franchises in the Pacific Coast League, a AAA level league that was given an “Open” classification from 1952-57, meaning that they were considered somewhere between AAA and the major leagues. At one time, especially before airplane travel made teams on the west coast realistic, there was talk of making the entire PCL a third major league. In fact, the league voted to become that in 1945, but met resistance from the two established major leagues.
In addition, due to the more moderate weather on the Pacific Coast, the PCL routinely had seasons of 170 to 200 games until the late 1950’s when the Dodgers and Giants arrived on the West Coast. In 1905, the San Francisco Seals set a record of 230 games played. Usually the season began in late February and ended as late as the beginning of December. And some of the greatest players in baseball history were stars in the PCL. Future members of the Hall of Fame who starred in the PCL include Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Tony Lazzeri, Paul Waner, Bobby Doerr, Earl Averill, Joe Gordon and Ernie Lombardi. So L.A. fans were quite familiar with the ins and outs of baseball.
The reason for the radios was the temporary home of the Dodgers from 1958-61, the Los Angeles Coliseum. A huge stadium built for the 1932 Summer Olympics and suited for football and track and field, most of the seats were far from the action, nothing like the cozy setting of Gilmore Field (home of the Hollywood Stars from 1939-57 with seats 24 feet from first and third base and 34 feet from home plate), and L.A.’s Wrigley Field (home of the minor league Los Angeles Angels from 1925-57 and the major league Angels in their inaugural 1961 season and as cozy as its namesake in Chicago).
Dodger fans became so used to Scully’s voice while they watched home games, they continued the practice long after their team moved to spacious Dodger Stadium in 1962. Soon after, I got my first transistor radio. Many nights I would have that radio under my pillow, listening to Dodger games (preferably with an ear plug before it invariably broke). Unfortunately, this meant listening to the announcers of the Dodger’s opponents as AM radio signals do not carry from Los Angeles to New York. Of course, I easily picked up the games when the Mets played the Dodgers, but I also listened to the Pirates on KDKA, the Reds on WLW, the Cubs on WGN, the Cardinals on KMOX, the Braves (after they moved to Atlanta) on WSB and the Astros on WWL (their broadcast network station in New Orleans, the furthest I was able to DX a radio station). At some point when the Phillies switched radio stations to one that wasn’t blocked by bleed from a NYC AM station, I listened to those games as well. But occasionally, when the home announcer paused in his commentary, I could hear Vin’s voice from all the radios in the stands. It created quite a challenge for the broadcast engineers to pick up the crowd noise without getting play by play to compete with the description of their own broadcast team.
Scully dared not milk his connection to the fans in the ballpark too often. In fact the first time he tried it, he was scared to death that it would flop and leave egg on his face. In 1963, an edict came down to strictly enforce the one second stop a pitcher was required to make in the set position with a runner on base. Less than one second, a balk was to be called. Not surprisingly, the early part of the 1963 season saw a sharp rise in the number of balks. Scully, whose instincts for these things was unerring, procured a stopwatch and while another rhubarb was occurring on the field over a balk call, he instructed the crowd that when he said “one”, they were to wait exactly one second and say “two”. The umpires and players on the field arguing were stunned when suddenly a typical Dodger Stadium crowd shouted out. (They averaged over 31,000 per home game that season, a World Championship season for them.) Another time, Scully delightfully surprised one of the umpires when he had the fans serenade him with “Happy Birthday” on his special day.
Early in his career once he was the Dodgers number one announcer, Scully adopted the practice of instructing his engineer to record the ninth inning of a potential no-hitter so the pitcher, if successful, would have a memento of the event to enjoy for years to come. He would always mention the date of the game. With Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965, he added one more element, punctuating his play by play with the time of day.
Other classic calls by Scully include Gibson’s game winning home run in game one of the 1988 World Series, Hank Aaron’s home run that broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record and Bill Buckner’s error in game six of the 1986 World Series.
In addition to accolades from the fans and winning the Ford Frick Award which gives him a plaque in Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Vin has been honored with a lifetime Emmy award for sports broadcasting and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. He was named National Sportscaster of the Year three times and California Sportscaster of the Year 32 times, being inducted into the latter’s Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame and named by them as Sportscaster of the Century in 2000 and top sportscaster of all time in 2009. He has also been inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame and NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame. The MLB Network named him the number one baseball broadcaster of all time.
Vin also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the press box at Dodger Stadium has been named for him, and streets in front of Dodger Stadium (including the official address of the stadium) and at their former Spring Training complex in Vero Beach have been named for him. He was Grand Marshal for the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade, was the 14th recipient (only the second non-player after Rachel Robinson) of the baseball Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom last November, the highest civilian award bestowed by the President of the United States.
Recently, Scully’s commentary for the last Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants game has been selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. The first major league baseball game that I ever saw was the game the day before. I saw the last game between the two teams in New York that the Dodgers won. The Giants won the final game between the two teams in New York in September 1957.
As good as Red Barber was, it is reasonable to say that the protégé far surpassed his teacher, both in longevity and in tributes from peers and fans. Indeed Barber seemed to get somewhat bitter toward the game in the later years, and also tended to disparage most broadcasters who stepped from the baseball diamond into the broadcast booth. Vin was admired throughout baseball, and his farewell year was a series of tributes from players, managers and broadcasters from the Dodgers’ opponents when they made their last trip to Dodger Stadium or from the Giants when Vin did his last broadcast in San Francisco. And Vin was highly appreciated by the umpires. At some point, they began to salute Vin before the start of games that he worked. Vin never second-guessed the umpires on a call, although he would accurately report when someone on the field took exception to what one of the men in blue ruled. Vin took the position that the umpires wanted to get every call right and did their best to do so.
Vin was the first to acknowledge that fortune smiled on him throughout his career and that only God could have made it possible to do what he loved for 67 years. This is not to say that Vin hasn’t experienced tragedy in his life. Vin married in 1958, a very pretty young woman named Joan. Their first child, Michael, was born a few years later, and two more children followed. Joan died in January 1972 at age 35 of an accidental overdose of medicine that she was taking to get relief from bronchitis and a severe cold. And Michael died in a helicopter crash at age 33 while inspecting oil pipelines for leaks immediately following the Northridge earthquake of January 1994.
No one can replace the people we’ve lost. But Vin would find love again, a mother for his children, plus two stepchildren and one more child with his second wife. And there was a bit of irony to it. The Fordham Rams alumnus was visiting the offices of the Los Angeles Rams one day. While there, he met the executive assistant to Rams owner, Carroll Rosenbloom. She thought it was a chance meeting, that he was there for another purpose. In fact, he was tipped off to her presence in the Rams front office and went specifically to meet her.
(Vin Scully’s Hall of Fame induction speech upon winning the Ford C. Frick Award in 1982: many times the video features a younger Sandi Scully. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3vvbUYj0Zs )
Transplanted to L.A. from North Carolina, Sandra Jean Schaefer (nee Hunt) and Vin started to date following that setup and were married in 1973. A big baseball fan, she is also athletic and they share a love of golf and swimming.
No longer would Koufax or Amoros be the most memorable Sandy in Vin’s life (even if she spells it with an “i”). Sandi Scully has been by his side ever since, including many times while he was working a game and especially on the most memorable days at the end of his career, his final games as a broadcaster and the times he has been feted on and off the field. 44 years later, Sandi Scully is still a stunningly beautiful woman and her love for her husband (and his for her) shone through every moment. Their blended family now boasts six children, sixteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD. – Proverbs 18:22