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IT’S TIME FOR DODGER BASEBALL,” VIN SCULLY PART I
“IT’S TIME FOR DODGER BASEBALL,” THE SUNSET OF VIN SCULLY PART I
Art George-Special to BASN
The love affair between baseball fans and Los Angeles Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, and Scully’s long love affair with the game, have moved into the realms of memory and nostalgia, with Scully’s retirement, at age 89 after 66 years and 67 seasons of broadcasting and still manning the microphone.
Scully was known for mixing personal anecdotes, odd facts, statistics, historical references, amid his play-calling in a continuing warm conversation with his listeners. His somewhat-nasal tenor was a classic baseball voice, for Dodger fans and others the classic baseball voice, the one that accompanied them through the innings of spring, summer, and autumn.
He started in the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcast booth in 1950, three years after Jackie Robinson, with whom he formed a friendship, joined the team. Among his most memorable calls was Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in 1974, when he announced the homer but let the celebration fill one minute and 44 seconds of airtime with cheering and fireworks before he spoke again.
Then he put the moment into context:“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol, and it is a great moment for all of us.”
He painted word pictures. In 1959, the Dodgers honored three-time National League MVP catcher Roy Campanella, whose Hall of Fame career was cut short when he was paralyzed in a January 1958 car accident. The Dodgers scheduled an exhibition game with the New York Yankees to raise funds for Campanella’s medical expenses. When Campanella was wheeled onto the field, the public address announcer asked the 93,108 fans in attendance at the Los Angeles Coliseum, converted for baseball use, to act as if they were “lighting candles for a cake for Roy.” Thousands of lighters and matches were lit.
Campanella had come into the Major Leagues one year after Robinson, after eight seasons in the Negro Leagues, and was the second Black player, after Robinson, to win the Most Valuable Player award, and eventually became the second Black Hall of Famer, again following in Robinson’s footsteps. Campanella was the first Black player to capture the MVP award twice and at the time of his death in June 1993 he was the only Black player to own three MVP trophies.
Scully described what he saw at the tribute for Campanella: “The lights are now starting to come out, like thousands and thousands of fireflies, starting deep in center field, glittering to left, and slowly the entire ballpark. A sea of lights at the Coliseum. Let there be a prayer for every light, and wherever you are, maybe you in silent tribute to Roy Campanella can also say a prayer for his well-being. Campanella, for thousands of times, made the trip to the mound to help somebody out: a tired pitcher, a disgusted youngster, a boy perhaps who had his heart broken in the game of baseball. And tonight, on his last trip to the mound, the city of Los Angeles says hello.”
Television broadcaster Bob Costas recalled an interview session with musician Ray Charles, when Charles said: “You know who I would really like to meet?” Costas recalled thinking, “He’s Ray Charles. He could have met just about anybody he’d wanted to have met throughout the course of his life. Who might it be?”
Ray’s request was for Vin Scully. Costas asked why.
“Well, because I love baseball. But you have to understand, to me the picture means nothing. It’s all the sound. And Vin Scully’s broadcasts are almost musical, so I enjoy baseball so much more listening to him,” Charles replied.
Costas set up a meeting between Charles and Scully at Dodger Stadium. “As he walked toward Charles, he said, ‘Ray, my name is Vin Scully, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.’ He might as well have said, ‘A pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be,’ (Scully’s standard and beloved introduction) because that’s how it struck Ray. And then they sat down, and we had a combination baseball-and-music discussion. Vin had a nice experience. And Ray Charles — and I mean this sincerely — he’s Ray freaking Charles – I believe he had one of the great experiences of his life.”
OBSERVING THE GAME
Scully has said that one of his favorite expressions ever uttered by a player was from Roy Campanella: that it takes a man to be a major-league player, but you have to have a lot of little boy in you.
San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Kruko recalled a Scully story about an argument between Pee Wee Reese, the captain of the Dodgers, and Jackie Robinson, over who would be booed most loudly when they walked onto the field from the clubhouse.
“So this is going back and forth and Scully is a fly on the wall. And he stops. He’s hardly breathing. He’s a rookie broadcaster, and they don’t see him. So he’s up there witnessing the whole thing. So, finally, Reese ties his shoes, picks up his glove and bat, and walks over to the door. He takes a step out and there is this monumental boo, right?
“The door closes. Jackie Robinson stands up, gets his glove and his bat, and he walks right to the door. And he takes his bat and he opens up the door, because the Giants fans knew that there was one guy left in there. And as he opened up the door about 4 inches, the boo just erupted and filled the room.
“As Jackie’s standing there, he gets this big smile on his face. He looks up at the rookie broadcaster, winks at him, opens the door and walks out.”
Scully says Robinson wanted the attention, that in seven years of watching Number 42 he saw a burning in Robinson that he has seen in few others. He refers to Robinson’s early years in the major leagues as an ongoing battle to “face down the fires of the competitive desires of others.”
In other words, he said, Jackie Robinson hated to lose. “I’ve never seen a player quite as incendiary as Jackie.”
Scully recalled a time when he was to go ice skating with Robinson, who had never been on ice before. Robinson challenged Scully to a race. “We’re sitting there putting our skates on, and he said to me, deadly serious, ‘When we get out there, I’ll race you.’ I looked at him and I couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘I’ve never been on skates in my life,’ ” says Scully. “I said, ‘Well Jack, let’s face it. I can skate. There’s no way you’re going to beat me.’ And Jack got very serious and said, ‘No. But that’s how I’ll learn.’ That was the competitive spirit inside of Jack. We went out on the ice and of course he couldn’t skate at all. He was walking on his ankles. We had a good friendship — not close — but a good friendship. He was so exciting and so great … ”
Scully said that Robinson wanted the attention he drew, as burdensome as it also was. “You look at the base stealers of today. They take quiet leads. Jackie never took a quiet lead in his life. When he got on first base, he wanted attention. His leads were taunting dances. He always said that, once he got on first, he was thinking that he might steal second, and then third and even home.”
Robinson’s awareness that he was making history was different from some players who are unaware of their role. That is the element of Robinson that continued to intrigue Scully most. He knew, and he still did it. “Jackie Robinson always knew the consequences. In everything. That’s why, to me, it has always been so amazing that he succeeded, and how he succeeded.”