A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
“IT’S TIME FOR DODGER BASEBALL,” VIN SCULLY PART II
“IT’S TIME FOR DODGER BASEBALL,” THE SUNSET OF VIN SCULLY PART II
Art George-Special to BASN
FROM APPRENTICE TO MASTER
Vin Scully apprenticed under one of the other great voices of the game, Red Barber. Barber had a folksy delivery, but one based upon preparation, Scully recalled. “The greatest thing about Red’s relationship with me,” Scully told ESPN, “was that he cared… he wanted me to succeed. Now, he was a taskmaster — he was hard — he was like a father.
“One time I came in to give him a lineup and he said, ‘Well, so-and-so hit third yesterday, he’s hitting fifth today. Why?’ The first time I said, ‘I don’t know,’ but that was the last time I said ‘I don’t know,’ and that was great training.”
In his second season, Scully said during a broadcast that Willie Mays was, “maybe the best player I’ve ever seen,” to which Barber chastised him on air, “You’re just starting out. No one cares about what you think.” Sixty-four years later, as Scully closed out his career with a trio of Dodger away games at the San Francisco Giants, Mays visited Scully’s broadcast booth. Humbly, Scully introduced himself to Mays; Mays laughed, “I know who you are.” Scully had more than six decades to reflect upon Barber’s remark, but time and experience reinforced his early opinion.
Scully reiterated to Mays that he had always been Scully’s favorite player, and that he was the greatest player he ever saw, despite the long rivalry between Dodgers and Giants, from Ebbetts Field and Polo Grounds, East Coast to West Coast, through Dodger Stadium and the Giants’ Candlestick and AT&T Parks. Scully said Mays, an outfielder, charged every ball as if he was a shortstop. Mays, now 85, laughed and agreed, still and forever the “Say Hey Kid.
They reminisced about “The Catch,” when Mays made an on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track of a ball hit by Cleveland Indians batter Vic Wertz during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, a legendary moment in early sports television. Mays said it wasn’t so much The Catch that was important, but what he called “The Continuation” of getting the ball back into the infield to hold base runners.
Scully remembered how Bill Veeck, owner of the Indians, sat in the famous New York City bar Toots Shor’s after the game which his team lost, in what would become a sweep of the Series by the Giants, stunned not so much about the catch but Mays’ turnaround and throw back to the infield. It was that kind of inside storytelling, analysis, and history that Scully could recall because he had lived through it.
But Scully told Mays that his favorite play was another one, in a 1952 regular season game between the Dodgers and Giants at Ebbetts Field, when Mays made a catch, “stretched out like an arrow over the outfield grass,” passed the warning track, and then hit his head on the concrete wall, and came to rest on his back, unconscious, holding the ball in his glove on his chest, and another player came over, took the ball from Mays’ glove and held it aloft, establishing the out. Both Mays and Scully recalled the play: the batter (Bobby Morgan), bases loaded, two outs, the other fielder (Henry “Hank” Thompson).
“Nobody ever talks about that,” Mays said. “I do,” Scully replied.
Thompson, incidentally, was the first Black player to play in both the American and National League; with Monte Irvin in 1949, the first Black players to play for the Giants; against Don Newcombe that same year, the first time a Black player faced a Black pitcher in the Major Leagues; and with Irvin and Mays in the 1951 World Series, the first all-Black outfield.
KNOWLEDGE THROUGH PREPARATION
As Scully developed his career he researched media guides, home and away newspapers, and magazines looking for any story that might be of interest relating to the Dodgers and their opponents. He’d try to get copies of papers from the players’ home towns looking for nuggets he could use on the air. He kept note cards, files, and binders of information for each game. Over the years, his own knowledge became encyclopedic. He outlasted 11 managers, nine different owners, saw thousands of players come and go, and spoke to generations of listeners.
Scully’s program of investigation for the sake of conversation was new. Broadcasters had always given basic biographies and statistics while attempting to be colorful, but Scully took the approach to new levels. This turned out to be perfectly suited to the needs of the Dodgers once they left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. His popularity was based in part upon the portability of the transistor radio that people could carry in their pockets, or put under their pillows as they listened late at night, and in car radios as automobiles populated southern California. There was a new immediacy to media in the modern era. Fans brought their radios to games in such numbers that players on the field could hear Scully broadcast their names. Scully was family.
That family expanded to national audiences, who heard Scully on All-Star Games, playoffs, and World Series broadcasts. That a game was broadcast by “Vin Scully” put a brand on it, marking it Grade A Prime, and all fans could share in what magic was in the voice and delivery.
When Willie Mays left Scully’s booth on October 1, Scully said, “God bless you, Willie. I can’t begin to say how much I thank you for coming up here.” In his last broadcast, Scully told listeners “You and I have been friends for a long time, but I knew in my heart I’ve always needed you more than you needed me.”
“I would like to be remembered, No. 1, as a good man,” he told the Los Angeles Times as he stepped away from the game. “And, by being a good man, I mean as honest as possible. I’d like to be remembered as a great husband, a great father and a great grandfather. But I don’t really care about someone saying, ‘You’re the best broadcaster.’ That just happened. The others are far more important.”