There was no nicer man than Vin Scully, who died Tuesday at home in Hidden Hills, Calif., not far from his broadcast perch at Dodger Stadium. He was 94, and during the course of much of his 67 years broadcasting Dodgers games, I was able to see him in action, developing a treasured personal friendship.
Scully follows such major sports figures as Bill Russell, who passed this weekend, Dodgers greats Tommy Lasorda, and Don Sutton. The latter pair were among 10 National Baseball Hall of Famers who died within one year, from 2020 to 2021.
Scully called most of the Dodgers games pitched by Sutton and managed by Lasorda.
“We have lost an icon,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said in a statement. “The Dodgers’ Vin Scully was one of the greatest voices in all of sports. He was a giant of a man, not only as a broadcaster, but as a humanitarian.”
Scully was a New Yorker and broadcast the Dodgers from 1950 in Brooklyn to 2016 in Los Angeles. A Ford C. Frick Award winner for excellence in broadcasting in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Scully’s august career spanned famous homers hit by Bobby Thomson, Kirk Gibson and beyond.
He was cramped behind Red Barber and Connie Desmond in the low-roofed, horseshoe shaped press box of the Polo Grounds as Barber called Thomson’s famous homer that gave the New York Giants a celebrated pennant victory over the Dodgers in the 1951 three-game playoffs.
In retrospect, he said he was glad he didn’t make that call.
“After Bobby hit the home run, the one close player I was with on the Dodgers was Ralph Branca, who let it up,” Scully recalled in a long-ago personal interview from 2013. “I was in shock at the home run, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m glad I’m not on the air.’ It might have been a little too much.”
Kirk Gibson was a different story.
He was there in 1988 on national television when Gibson hobbled out of the Dodgers’ dugout in Los Angeles to pinch-hit a game-winning, Game 1 World Series homer off Oakland A’s dynamic closer Dennis Eckersley, himself a future Hall of Famer.
Those were walk-off homers before there was such a thing as a walk-off homer. It would be the last of six Dodgers’ World Series wins he’d witness and call.
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” Scully said as Gibson pumped his fist and rounded the bases, Lasorda running out of the dugout to literally assault the field.
The line was iconic, and as mentioned, so was Vin. His voice was like silk as he called thousands of baseball games. His last was another Giants-Dodgers game in what is now called San Francisco’s Oracle Park to end the 2016 regular season. How apropos.
“I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon,” he ended his final broadcast that day.
Understated. Typical, Vin, who knew how to turn a phrase.
When the scoreboard that hovers over the outfield pavilion at Dodger Stadium showed two balls, two strikes and two outs, Vin would say, “Deuces are wild.”
He broadcast 19 no-hitters, including the perfect game thrown by Sandy Koufax. He was also in the broadcast booth sharing the game with Yanks great Mel Allen when Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series at the original Yankee Stadium.
A year earlier, when the Dodgers finally won the World Series for the first time in the same stadium, Scully was there at the end to punctuate the rare victory after five previous losses to the Yankees. He marked that as perhaps his favorite all-time moment.
“And I was able to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world,’” Scully told me. “And people said to me all that winter, ‘How could you have been so calm?’ Well, the answer was I couldn’t have said another word without breaking down and crying.”
But Scully was never obtrusive. He seemed to have no ego. He loved to broadcast a game alone in his famous one-man booth, not because he didn’t want to share the glory. He did that plenty of times doing national network broadcasts. He just liked to work alone. The Dodgers mostly let him do it. After all, he was Vin Scully.
The practice began with Barber, who basically hired Scully out of Fordham University in the Bronx to join his Dodgers broadcast crew.
“Here’s my point,” Scully said. “If I want to sell you a car, is it better for me to talk directly to you about the merits of the car or is it better to talk to me and another guy? I feel in my heart the best way is to talk directly to you. When you’re broadcasting day after day for a local team, the key is to sell tickets. And to me, there’s no better way of doing it. No distractions. One man, one voice, as Red would have it.”
Prior to the Dodgers, Scully was hired by Barber to do a series of Saturday college football games. One of them was Harvard-Yale at Fenway Park in 1949. It was cold and icy, and because the broadcast booth was so cramped, he ran to the roof at the Fens to call the game, he said.
Barber was impressed. He hired him to fill in on the Dodgers, but first Scully had to meet with the patrician Branch Rickey in his office on Brooklyn’s Montague Street at Ebbets Field. It was similar to the meeting the general manager had only a few years earlier with Jackie Robinson, when Rickey asked him if he had the stamina to be the first black player in Major League Baseball during the 20th century.
There was some fire and brimstone, Scully recalled, and a demand that the young prospective announcer find a girl and get married. That didn’t happen for a while, but it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Rickey ultimately left for Pittsburgh, Robinson retired after a glorious ground-breaking 10-year career, and Scully fled Brooklyn for good in 1957 when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.
For 67 years that chain would remain unbroken. Scully said he figured he’d have a long life. His mother lived until she was 97. He was right. Scully’s death came only days after another of his Brooklyn favorites, Gil Hodges, was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Scully said he favored those early Dodgers teams because “I was young and enjoyed every minute of it.”
“God has been very kind to me,” he said. “I should be on my knees most hours of any day giving thanks. I got what I wanted to do ever since I was 8 years old. It came early. My health and the job itself have lasted all these years. You are looking at the most grateful person who walks the planet.”