The Legacy of Vin Scully: Every Baseball Game Tells a Story
Vin Scully was born with a great announcing voice. It was what he did with this voice that made him maybe the best baseball announcer ever.
Scully died Tuesday at the age of 94. His death was announced during a close game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, who were the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants when Vin Scully began calling baseball games for a living in 1950.
For 67 years he worked for the Dodgers, calling four Sandy Koufax no-hitters and multiple World Series championships, including the 1988 win defined by Kirk Gibson’s home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1.
Scully’s call of that apocalyptic shot neatly illustrated why he was so good at it.
“High fly ball to right field,” he said, his voice rising with the ball. “She i-i-is gone.”
Then, as the explosion of the Dodger Stadium crowd swept into the announcer’s booth, Scully went silent.
For almost a minute he said nothing. Where other announcers would be tripping over their tongues trying to find a memorable tagline, Scully let crowd euphoria — a sound cherished by anyone who has ever heard a baseball game on the radio — tell the story.
When he finally spoke, he used exactly a dozen words, which were exactly the right dozen words: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
He was right. There is no way Gibson should have hit that home run. Scully, however, was showing the same touch he had been perfecting for decades, whether it was the World Series or the sixth inning of a 9–2 loss to the Cubs on an August afternoon in Chicago.
After Koufax wrapped up a perfect game on Sept. 9, 1965, Scully left the microphone open for 38 seconds. The crowd was his voice.
The man simply knew baseball. When he called a game, it was all about baseball. His own rhythm was in precise harmony with the rhythm of the game. He narrated a baseball game as a fan sees it, the larger drama and the countless subplots unfolding from batter to batter, pitch to pitch. Some baseball games may be more exciting than others, but none are without a storyline, and Vin Scully was the master storyteller.
His first professional job, at WTOP radio in Washington in 1949, was calling football games for the University of Maryland. Within a year he had met Dodgers announcer Red Barber, who was impressed enough to introduce him to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who hired Scully to be Barber’s broadcast partner.
If that sounds sudden, Scully said in a 2012 interview that it was really the culmination of a 14-year plan that he first formulated in 1936.
“When I was 8 years old,” he said, “I wrote a composition for the nuns [at Catholic School] saying I wanted to be a sports announcer.”
Specifically, that meant baseball, which not by coincidence Scully also discovered at the age of 8. Growing up near the Polo Grounds, he became a Giants fan, often racing from school to catch home games, then played in the afternoon.
He attended Fordham University, playing centerfield for the varsity. When they played Yale, the Yale first baseman was future President George H.W. Bush. Scully also recalled that when he was standing in centerfield for that game, and all other games, “I’d call the play-by-play for myself.”
Now that’s career prep.
Working with Barber, who was folksy but all business behind the microphone, Scully picked up that less was often more and that a good announcer lets a broadcast breathe.
Scully also picked up the value of preparation. While he came before the era of endless arcane statistics, and was glad of it, he knew the storyline for all the players on the field, supplemented with just enough anecdotes so it felt like Scully was the guy you wanted in the seat next to you.
Not surprisingly, Scully soon came into demand for more than Dodgers games. He called football games and golf matches on national television for years. He called the World Series on radio.
But it was the Dodgers with whom he left his indelible mark. When the team broke Brooklyn’s heart and moved west in 1958, he decided to go along — which also made him one of the final links, alongside Koufax, between the split lives of a beloved franchise.
Out of the broadcast booth, Scully was a modest man who led by all accounts your basic good life — punctuated by the extensive travel he often said was the one part of sportscasting that he didn’t like. His first wife and his son both died in tragic accidents, and he often said it was his strong Catholic faith that helped him through.
Philosophically, he was conservative. After some NFL players knelt during the National Anthem in 2017, he said he would not watch another NFL game.
But baseball and other sports fans could have listened to every one of his broadcasts for 67 years and never gotten more than a very occasional hint about his beliefs on matters like that, which he felt were not what fans tuned in to hear.
No, what baseball fans got from Vin Scully was the joy and tension of baseball, conveyed in precisely the number of words necessary.
When he called the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, which the Mets won over the Red Sox on a Bill Buckner error, this was all he needed to say: “Little roller up along first. Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!”
His asides were as economical as his play-by-play.
Bob Gibson pitches “as if he’s double-parked.”
Tom Glavine pitches “like a tailor; a little off here, a little off there and you’re done, take a seat.”
He could get philosophical: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination.”
Or cosmic: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?”
Vin Scully knew his value. He left CBS in 1983 after the network took him off the Super Bowl. When NBC split the play-by-play of the 1966 World Series, asking Scully to call the first four and a half innings and then have Curt Gowdy take over, Scully was so annoyed he didn’t speak for the rest of the game.
Over 67 years in any business, there will be moments like that. His real takeaway from those years, he said in 2012, was that he was a lucky boy who became a lucky man.
Back when he was racing from school to sit in the 55-cent seats at the Polo Grounds, he mused, “I lived there. And I still feel the same way when I see a baseball field today.”