By John Gruber
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Vin Scully, who was celebrated for his mastery of the graceful phrase and his gift for storytelling during the 67 summers he served as the announcer for Dodgers baseball games, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94. [...]
For all the Dodgers’ marquee players since World War II, Mr. Scully was the enduring face of the franchise. He was a national sports treasure as well, broadcasting for CBS and NBC. He called baseball’s Game of the Week, All-Star Games, the playoffs and more than two dozen World Series. In 2009, the American Sportscasters Association voted him No. 1 on its list of the “Top 50 Sportscasters of All Time.” [...]
“I regard him, all things considered, as the master of radio and TV,” the sports broadcaster Bob Costas once told The Arizona Republic, recalling listening to Mr. Scully with a transistor radio under his pillow as a youngster in Los Angeles in the early 1960s. “I regard him as the best baseball announcer ever.”
Costas, of course, knows that of which he speaks.
“Who was the best ____ ever?” is always a fun question. And for most things you might fill in that blank with, it generally makes for a debate. There is no serious debate that Scully was not, hands-down, the best baseball announcer ever. I don’t think there’s any debate that he was the best sports announcer ever. He was the broadcaster’s broadcaster. The more one knows about how difficult sportscasting is, the more one stands in awe of Vin Scully.
I grew up when Scully was in his prime, calling national broadcasts for baseball (of course), but also football and even golf. Scully was behind the mic for the first sports game that ever broke my heart (and, truth be told, resulted in a hysterical tantrum and a lesson from my dad that I remember to this day about learning how to lose) — the 1981 NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and my beloved Dallas Cowboys. It was Vin Scully who called “The Catch”. Watch that clip to the end. Scully calls the play, lets the moment sink in, and then: “It’s a madhouse at Candlestick, with 51 seconds left. Dwight Clark is six-four; he stands about ten feet tall in this crowd’s estimation.”
My god. Goosebumps, still, 40 years later.
Scully called Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run: “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 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, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
He called Mookie Wilson’s epic at-bat with two outs in the bottom of the 10th in game 6 of the 1986 Mets-Red Sox World Series. (“55,078 here at Shea, and they have really been put through the wringer.” Indeed.)
Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. (“A lot of people in the ballpark now are starting to see the pitches with their hearts.”) Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. (“Got him! The greatest game ever pitched in baseball history, by Don Larsen!”) The list goes on.
Most fittingly, it was Vin Scully at the mic for Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run in game 1 of the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers against the A’s. I was 15, watching it live with my friends. Who else to call such a moment in Dodger history? The whole at-bat epitomizes Scully’s gift. He let the drama build. Gibson was unable to start the game because he had not one, but two injured legs. The man could barely walk, let alone run. A mere hit could tie the game. Dennis Eckersley, the best relief pitcher in all of baseball, on the mound. Two outs. The count full. Then: “High fly ball into right field, she is ... gone!” And then, for 70 seconds, as Gibson hobbled triumphantly around the bases, as his teammates celebrated at home plate, as the full house at Dodger Stadium erupted in ecstatic pandemonium, Scully said not a word. 70 seconds. The moment belonged to Gibson, the Dodgers, and their fans. And then, this: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
You could sit with pen and paper for a year and not come up with better words. Scully came up with them on the spot, every time. Transcripts of his calls read like literary essays. His joy for the game was as palpable as it was contagious. Even in retirement, at age 90, he was the best.
Vin Scully called Dodger games for 67 years, from 1950 through 2016. This is how he said goodbye.