At the end of the 1957 baseball season, Brooklyn Dodgers management packed up for a long-threatened move across the continent.
Inside the hypothetical moving trunks went the home uniforms that said “Dodgers” on the front, the crazy old heroes of Flatbush and much of the front office, as well as manager Walter Alston and his promising young players. (They weren’t sure if young lefty from Brooklyn, Sandy Koufax, would ever take advantage of his speed.)
Baseball moved to the Promised Land. The historic New York Giants were also moving to San Francisco, taking Willie Mays with them. (THE girlfriend from them.)
But nothing or no one in latter-day covered wagons would transport and transplant baseball to the Left Coast better than a young man who had drifted from Fordham’s Bronx campus and Brooklyn broadcast booth named Vin Scully.
More than anyone and anything else, Vin Scully sent baseball floating into the ozone — first from the misshapen Coliseum and then, starting in 1962, from the pastel oasis in a former Mexican camp nestled in Chavez Ravine.
Scully was the warm voice in a warm climate, guiding locals to the finer points of major league baseball. (We sullen, forlorn Dodgers and Giants fans back east liked to think that Californians knew nothing about baseball, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams notwithstanding.)
On quiet evenings at Chavez Ravine, the common denominator was not crowd noise or public announcements, but the play-by-play narrative of Scully and his cronies, discussing strategy as well as the past heroics of Messrs. Hodges and Reese and Snider and Erskine and Furillo, most of whom run on fading batteries.
Scully’s calm voice floated in stereo waves from new gadgets called “transistor radios,” which are easily carried around the field.
He wasn’t the regular homer baseball announcer prone to saying things like, “Let’s get some runs in this inning!” Vincent Edward Scully, who died Tuesday at 94, never yelled, never rooted, never advocated, never preached — he just called plays and added personal notes for the players. His soft-spoken approach, pulling up a chair, was like having a beloved elder explain the game unfolding on the field. In 1958, just 30 years old, Vin Scully was the repository for the history of a franchise beloved in another world.
“He wasn’t the first baseman, he wasn’t the manager, he wasn’t the team — certainly not with the win-loss record, because they had a tough year,” said Peter O’Malley, the son of former owner Walter O’Malley. he said in the middle-July essay by Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times about Scully’s immediate impact on Los Angeles.
“It was Vinny who introduced the team,” he added. “There was no one who could have done it better. When you stop to realize the impact it had then, as it does today, it’s amazing.”
One consolation for the devastated Brooklyn fans left behind by the Dodgers was that Scully remained within arm’s reach. He called World Series games often enough for us to remember what we had missed. Gil Hodges and Duke Snider came to the Mets as faded icons, but Scully would materialize on the airwaves at the height of his game.
Scully had a good teacher in Red Barber, who broadcast Brooklyn games when Scully was a young (Giants) fan. Barber had the practice of the south. (“Tearing the pea ball,” “both teams have a rhubarb,” the Dodgers “sitting on the cat seat” — we understood exactly what each one meant.) But behind the funny and charming platitudes, Barber was a complex religious man who had once considered becoming a teacher.
One day Scully was a little vague on air about why a player wasn’t in the lineup. Barber told him he should have learned why in the pregame access to the manager.
Another time, the authors report, Scully was drinking a beer in the press room before a game, a common practice in Scully’s experience. Barber, no stranger to alcohol, told Scully he couldn’t afford to be seen drinking a beer because it could be held against him if he slipped on the mic.
The authors note that Scully may have been clever in close discipline, but that he always looked to Barber as his mentor, in his public statements and in his letters to “The Old Redhead”.
If Barber was known for his Southern style, Scully became known for his silence. He realized that an important game deserved the roar of the crowd rather than the roar of the broadcaster. He would sit next to the microphone and let the roars come out.
In 1986, Scully returned to New York, watching the Red Sox climb the dugout steps, awaiting the final out for the franchise’s first World Series championship since 1918. Instead, Mookie Wilson’s little dribbler slipped past sore feet of first baseman Bill Buckner, and the World Series was suddenly extended to a seventh game.
“Little roll up first… behind the bag!” Scully started, but then added, “He’s passing Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!’
Shea Stadium went wild as Scully sat next to the microphone for three full minutes. He then added, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, you’ve seen about a million words, but more than that, you’ve seen an absolutely freakin’ finish in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they’re well. they play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow.”
Here, for once in his wonderful career, Scully missed something. He is quoted as saying that he never thought he would normally hear neutral New York sportswriters cheering a Mets win. I later noted in print that we weren’t cheering, we were gasping in horror as we suddenly had to rewrite our stories, at midnight, to note that the Mets had inexplicably survived to play the seventh game (and win the series, after a rainout on Sunday.)
Scully’s impeccable reliance on screen action served him well two World Series later when an injured Kirk Gibson pinch hit with the Dodgers trailing the Oakland A’s. He honestly called the game-changing homer, but then fell silent for 65 seconds as Dodger Stadium erupted, then made a brief comment and fell silent again for 29 seconds. He was Vin Scully and he knew that the fans back home in front of the tube could provide their own eyes and ears, their own emotions.
Major League Baseball had come a long way since Walter O’Malley ran off with our bums. Baseball had essentially evolved from the eastern half of the United States into a global sport. In Canada, in Latin America, in Japan, all over the world, fans knew the score.
Vin Scully knew his audience. He carried himself with the aura of a confident yet understated star. He knew it was part of the show. he didn’t have to babble.