Legendary sports broadcaster Vin Scully passed away last night at the age of 94. I was lucky enough to interact with him when he came to New York with the Dodgers.
Six years ago, when Scully stepped down as the Dodgers’ broadcaster, I wrote this tribute for nysportsday.com. It’s one of the best columns that I ever wrote. I think it’s appropriate to re-post it today. The headline read:
“Good is not good when better is expected.” Vin Scully practiced what he preached.
Someone once said to me, “you know what’s the best part of having the ‘baseball TV package,’ you get to hear Vin Scully.”
When it comes to summing up his glorious career, one of Scully’s famous quotes fits him to a “tee”. “Good is not good when better is expected.”
He’s been doing it “better” for 67 years. He won’t be doing it for a 68th season.
After the Dodgers’ final regular season game in San Francisco, Scully will end his Hall of Fame broadcasting career.
Scully has not gone on road trips in recent years but he’s making an exception for his final game.
Along the way, there have been the classic calls, made all the more special because of his eminent skill with the English Language.
“In a year (1988) that has been so improbable, the impossible (Kirk Gibson’s ninth inning homerun in game one of the World Series) has happened.”
Scully was as perfect as Don Larsen when he set the scene for the final inning of game five of the 1956 World Series. “Let’s all take a deep breath as we go to the most dramatic ninth inning in the history of baseball.”
When Fernando Valenzuela threw a no-hitter in 1981, Scully made the final call with a reference to the pitcher’s Mexican heritage. “If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky.”
In 1986, Scully called the World Series for NBC-TV and you couldn’t have written a better script for him to showcase his entire repertoire with the ending of game six.
“Little roller up along first….behind the bag! It gets through (Bill) Buckner! Here comes (Ray) Knight and the Mets win it!”
If there were a big moment, Scully would let the crowd noise carry the broadcast.
Approximately three and a half minutes after Scully let the crowd noise carry the broadcast at a raucous Shea Stadium, he put the scene in its proper perspective.
“If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words, but more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to game six of the 1986 World Series.”
With those thirty-four words, Scully’s uncanny ability to verbally improvise and provide the audience with an accurate description of the action while adding an oral insight into the emotion of the moment was on full display.
Scully did a lot of television work but when he was on his “native radio,” he was even better because he didn’t need the video to bail him out.
During a recent conference call, the 88-year old described the differences between calling a game on TV as opposed to radio.
“I could take Sandy Koufax’s perfect game which I did on radio,” Scully said, “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.”
The Bronx born, Fordham University graduate was groomed to be a broadcaster. Growing up in the 1940’s, he was fascinated by listening to some of the all time greats like Mel Allen and Red Barber, who later became his mentor and taught him not to be a “homer.”
“They (Allen and Barber) were part of my family,” said Scully. “Just listening every day.”
When he made the move to California in 1958, Scully didn’t know what to expect.
“The thought of leaving New York was somewhat overwhelming,” he said, but a simple device called the “transistor radio” helped the transition go smoothly.
“That was the single biggest break for any broadcaster coming to a new community, to be able to talk directly to the fans,” Scully said.
During a broadcast, Scully would engage an audience with interesting historical facts or anecdotes about baseball but his range of knowledge would not end there.
Scully could “spin a tale” about the entertainment world, or United States history or even Twitter.
His ability to transcend generations of baseball fans was what enabled him to remain relevant behind the microphone for all these years.
Like that much-needed cold drink on a hot summer day, the eloquent Scully was refreshing and he put a smile on your face.
He was an artiste who never gave you a “song and dance” but, instead, he gave you valid information with a touch of “vaudeville.”
I never got a chance to “pull up a chair” with Vin, but I feel like he’s been a close friend.