Dodgertown – It’s a community that isn’t limited to a single city. Dodgertown is so much more. It is a culture. It’s this feeling of belonging that spreads across Dodgers fans from coast to coast. Vin Scully, the mayor of the town if you will, is the inspiration behind it all. He is the voice that is so well known in baseball, it can send chills down the spine of anyone listening.
“It’s tiiime for Dodger Baseball.” The five most famous words for any Dodgers fan. Recognition of, and fan connection to the phrase goes far beyond the words themselves – it goes to the man behind the words. Vin Scully is considered the “Voice of the Dodgers.” After being a part of the organization for 63 years, Vin is, to say the least, a huge reason for people to come to the ballpark. He is reason enough to turn on the television to watch the Boys In Blue, and to be perfectly honest, reason enough to be a Dodgers fan. Vin Scully embodies all that is great about the Dodgers. From broken barriers in Brooklyn with Jackie Robinson, to perfection on the mound with Koufax, to Gibson limping to greatness…Vin has been behind it all, amidst the shadows, one of the kindest, most humble and poetic men we know. In Vin’s own words, he’s stated that, “no one is bigger than the game.” In this case, we may be able to make an exception.
Born in the Bronx on November 29, 1927, Vin grew up mainly in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. His father was a silk salesman, and his mother was an Irish, Catholic homemaker, giving Vin Scully the famous red hair that we know him for. As a kid, Vin worked for his family by delivering beer and mail, pushing garment racks, and cleaning silver in the basement of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. He played many sports in high school including baseball, football and even a little tennis. He later attended Fordham Prepatory School, and went on to help found their FM radio station WFUV. He also became the assistant sports editor for Volume 28 of The Fordham Ram, and played center field for the Rams’ baseball team, where he played George Bush Sr. in a game against Yale.
“He was the captain and first baseman of Yale,” Vin theatrically told about George Bush. “And I was trying to play the outfield for Fordham. And we played against each other; it was a terrific game. I think it was either 2-1 or 3-1; Yale won. But it was a heck of a game. Years later, I had the pleasure of playing golf with him. Politics aside, he is a terrific guy. We talked about the game, and I said to him, ‘Mr. President, if you don’t mind me saying this, as long as you’re in the White House, you can say anything you want about your baseball career, but remember the day you step out of the White House, both of us went 0-3 in that game (laughing). Which he loved, he just howled”
Shortly after graduation from Fordham Prep, Vin Scully impressed Red Barber, the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time. Red ended up giving Vin a shot at broadcasting by letting him make his professional debut at a Maryland-Boston University football game after the main broadcaster got sick. The date was November 12, 1949…in Chicago…and it was cold. Vin Scully has shown up unprepared for one broadcast his entire life, and this was it. Now, I don’t mean that he came unprepared with regards to the game. No, see, if that was the case he probably could have made some stories up, stuck with the play by play, and made some funny remarks to get by like Vin always seems to do. This was different. Assuming that he would be doing the broadcast in the comfort of a heated booth, he left his hat and gloves in the hotel room he was staying at. “It was cold,” Scully said. “But I thought, naively, dumbly – ‘I’m going to be working for a network; I’ll have a big booth.”
When he arrived at the stadium however, he learned that he would not be doing it from a comfortable booth, but instead, he’d be calling the game from the roof of Fenway. Yeah…the roof. “I’m looking for a booth, and there is no booth,” he went on to say. “There’s an engineer with a card table and his little dials for volume, a microphone and about 50 yards of cable…that’s it.” That day, the temperature was recorded to never reach above 45 degrees, and Vin called the entire game without once mentioning his discomfort. He would merely walk, back and forth, cord dragging behind him, following the action along the roof of Fenway, and he did his job.
“I really felt like I’d blown it,” he said. “So I go to the dance, meet some pals of mine, but I’m really down. And I’m down on the train going back to New York. I thought, ‘here I was giving this golden opportunity, but I was frozen, blah, blah, blah.’“ Fortunately for us all, that wasn’t exactly how everyone saw it. A few days later, Red Barber was phoned by a BU official commenting on how sorry he was for the treatment of the broadcaster. If that official hadn’t called Red, he would never have known what Vin did was so incredible because Vin never complained about what had happened.
“That turned out to be a big break, because let’s say I did a very ordinary job. In Red’s mind, ‘This kid never mentioned anything about no booth, the cold, nothing.’ That made a very ordinary job a little more than that in Red’s mind.” And that’s exactly what it did. Vin said, “He called me – I’ll never forget it – and said something to the effect of, ‘Pretty tough day up there on the roof?’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir, it was cold.’ And he said, ‘You’ll have a booth this week; You’re doing Harvard-Yale.’ “Vin just smiled…and a legend was born.
At the time all this was going on, if you turned on a Dodgers broadcast, you would hear the voices of Red Barber and Ernie Harwell. They were the broadcast team for quite some time before Harwell would eventually leave the Dodgers to go work for the New York Giants. Two months after the Fenway incident, Barber once again remembered the redhead who never complained.
“I always had the dream of taking an untutored kid who showed some promise and of putting him on the air for what he was, a neophyte learning the trade,” said Barber in his autobiography, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat. “Scully was a perfect choice. He was a green pea, but he was a very appealing young green pea. It was obvious he had something on the ball; you didn’t know precisely what it was, but he had it.”
Red wasn’t the only one who noticed there was something different about this kid. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, also told Red after meeting Vin, “You have found the right young man.”
Scully first joined the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Fla., during Spring Training in 1950 as their number three announcer behind Red and Connie Desmond. In just under four years, he was already calling his first World Series on national television, and by 1955, just five years later, he was the Dodgers primary announcer. Since that day, he has been the only other person to fill that role.
There is an automatic respect among players and individuals that come into contact with Vin Scully (unless of course you commit social suicide like Mike Piazza). He has said that as much as he’d like to, he doesn’t get to interact and become close with current players. “Most of them I nod,” said Vin. “Some of them – have an exchange. And there are some…when you get to September, you don’t even know who they are.” (Talking, of course, about the extended rosters around that time of the season)
“The other thing too,” continuing on about player relationships, “I think age is a factor. When I started, I was the same age as the players, so it was pretty normal to hang out. Now, and they mean well by it, I understand, but now, they’re always saying mister. ‘Hi, Mr. Scully.’ Well that means they’re kind of holding you out here somewhere (as he points out with his arm).”
When asked if he would prefer the players called him Vin instead, he replied, “Oh sure! Ya see…but they don’t. And I say, ya know, ‘Hey! I’m Vin.’ And they say ‘yes sir.’ So I am different now, I have been removed by time, but I do try and keep up with them as much as I can.”
The players may distance themselves due to the age difference, sure. However I don’t think that’s the reason they call him ‘sir.’ I think it’s the incredible amount of respect for the man that has been in the game, and with the Dodgers for almost double the amount of years that they’ve even been alive. Blake DeWitt, after hitting his first homerun as a Dodger, was made a DVD of the game. When asked about it, he said, “I’m so excited because I get to hear Vin talk about me.” He didn’t even care about watching his first homerun. All he cared about was hearing a man merely talk about him.
Everyone loves his stories. They are something that makes watching the game on television, truly something special. They are stories that only a man that has been around for over six decades would know. Matt Kemp once said, “Vin Scully knows things about me that I don’t even know about myself, (laughing) and it’s funny but he’s a great guy and he does his job well.”
During an interview with Andre Ethier, the topic of Vin Scully was brought up. It was almost an instant smile that was brought to his face. “I get a chance to talk to him, ya know, in the clubhouse, on the plane trips sometimes,” Andre said. “And just to hear him talk in person, it gives you chills every once in a while, just to know that it’s not the typical, on TV called game. He’s actually talking to you, and its that same kid, its that same way he talks on TV is the way he carries a conversation so its pretty neat.” Ethier went on to say, “doing this, this long, being a guy who has seen the players play in Brooklyn, and was in Brooklyn for quite a while before coming out to L.A. and then still here, and then someone who is so knowledgeable about the game. I think that’s something where you have to respect that. He would even be a good confidant for some managers, just because of all the things and situations he’s probably seen over the years.”
The one story that I took away from all the interviews, even more so than him doing a broadcast from a roof, him playing ball with George Bush, or any of the reactions from the players, was a story that Charley Steiner (Dodgers Broadcaster) told about a spring training game.
“The one moment that I remember most,” Steiner said, “was the very first exhibition game I did with the Dodgers in 2005. We were at Vero Beach, Fla., and a terrible hurricane had blown through. There was a question as to whether or not we were going to be able to play that game the very first day. And at game time, they were still putting the stadium back together; the scoreboard was dangling with wires. I’m trying to explain in some reportorial style what this place looks like after this horrific hurricane. And I’m huffin’ and puffin’ and I feel as if I did a reasonably good job, and then I had the pleasure to say, ‘And now with the play-by-play, here is Vin Scully.’ Vin sits down…and says, “Ya know, as we look out at the palm trees off in the distance, there are some palm trees that have been knocked down and blown over, there are some palm trees of middle age that are just hanging on, and there are some new palm trees that have just been planted.’ Then Vin said, ‘Isn’t that what spring training is all about anyway?’ And that’s when I got up and left…”
Matt Kemp later said, “There are times when I get home and I watch re-runs and I get to hear some of the stuff he says, and I’m like man, he really knows a lot about the players. He knows so much about the game and he knows so much about people, that its an unbelievable gift.”
“I know I was given a gift.” Vin said. “I’ve been allowed to do it for so long, I don’t like to take bows, because, it’s a gift. It was something that was just given to me, and so I can’t stick my chest out, and say, ya know, this is great. So I’d rather just stay back in the shadows.” Vin is pure humbleness at it’s finest.
I was trying to rack my brain, trying to figure out how to end this article on the man I’ve grown to respect and love so much. There was nothing I could think of that would possibly personify the amount of respect I have. Along the same lines, nothing I could ever say would explain why exactly I even decided to sit down and write this. Then it finally hit me. I’ll do what Vin Scully is known so well for doing. Whenever there is a big moment that he’s covering, he doesn’t talk at all. He lets the crowd, and the sounds and images of the game become his voice. Just for example, when he called Sandy Koufax’s theatrical perfect game, he stayed quiet for 38 seconds, just to let the fans take it in. And for Gibson’s homerun in 1988 – over a minute of silence. So I am going to take Vin’s advice, and stay back in the shadows, and let the man we have all grown to love finish it out.
“I came through transistor radios in Flatbush…and followed the sunset across the country. I passed Babe Ruth with Aaron, and between Buckner’s legs in Boston. I was there for perfection…and the men who limped to greatness. I’ve been there in celebration and defeat. From changing era’s and ages. And the whole time, you’ve always been right there with me.”
We love you Vin. Thank you for 63 incredible years.