Vin Scully, who invited generations of baseball fans to pull up a chair and listen to him tell tales, the great announcer who ever lived, died at his home Tuesday.
He was 94 years old.
Scully called Dodgers games for 67 years, record longevity in the history of baseball. He saw just about everything in the game, personally calling three perfect games, 21 no-hitters, 25 World Series and 12 All-Star Games.
When Scully started with the Dodgers, in 1950, Major League Baseball had 16 teams, none of them west of St. Louis. By the time Scully retired, in 2016, there were 30 teams.
Storytelling was Scully’s forte, which was necessary since he mostly called games by himself. No analyst was necessary when Scully’s breadth of knowledge provided a unique perspective that several decades in the game allowed. When Scully compared Clayton Kershaw to Sandy Koufax, it came with the experience of calling the majority of both legendary left-handers’ games. What better way to remember Jackie Robinson than to have Scully tell a story of one of their interactions, like the time the two raced on ice skates?
Those stories benefitted from Scully’s impeccable sense of timing. He was constantly able to weave his tales in between game action, never missing a play.
Whether it was coming up with an amazing story, a compelling phrase — “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” — or raising his voice to match the intensity — “Behind the bag!” — Scully seemed to always know exactly what to say. Or, more importantly, what not to say.
During his call of Kirk Gibson’s home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Scully was silent for 67 seconds, allowing the moment to speak for itself. Ditto for the Mets’ miracle comeback in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when Scully didn’t say a word for 1:47.
“When I got into broadcasting, I was again captivated by the roar of the crowd. So what I’ve tried to do ever since the beginning was to call the play as accurately and quickly as possible, then sit back, and revel in the roar of the crowd,” Scully said. “And for that brief few seconds, I was 8 years old again, I guess.”
Scully’s longevity might be expressed in one of his greatest honors. Joining the Hall of Fame in 1982 as recipient of the Ford Frick Award, Scully announced baseball games for more years after his induction to Cooperstown (34) than before (33).
Put another way, the Dodgers’ Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda are two of only six major leaguers to manage at least 20 seasons with one team. Their combined 43 years at the helm of the Dodgers doesn’t even account for two-thirds of Scully’s tenure calling games for the team.
The voice of Los Angeles
The Dodgers were an excellent team when they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, going to four World Series trips and winning three championships in their first nine seasons out west. But it was Scully who connected those great players to the fans in this brand new major league market.
It started at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, an Olympic stadium with odd dimensions ill-suited for baseball but yet was the Dodgers’ home for their first four years in LA. The seats were so far away from the action, not at all like the cozy Ebbets Field, that listening to Scully’s call on transistor radios throughout the stadium provided a soundtrack to the action.
Robert Creamer of Sports Illustrated captured Scully’s influence on Los Angeles in 1964:
When a game is on the air the physical presence of his voice is overwhelming. His pleasantly nasal baritone comes out of radios on the back counters of orange juice stands, from transistors held by people sitting under trees, in barber shops and bars, and from cars everywhere—parked cars, cars waiting for red lights to turn green, cars passing you at 65 on the freeways, cars edging along next to you in rush-hour traffic jams.
Scully was so prevalent that it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers without him. Generations of Dodgers fans grew up listening to him, whether it was on their own transistor radio, or a television broadcast. In later years, Scully was available to those outside Los Angeles thanks to MLBtv streaming.
By then, Scully was already a legendary household name, though not as available nationally as in his prime. Scully was the lead national baseball announcer for NBC from 1983-89, and called the World Series for CBS radio from 1990-97. Scully called NFL games at PGA Tour events for CBS from 1975-82. He was on the call for “The Catch,” wide receiver Dwight Clark’s famous leaping touchdown grab to win the NFC Championship Game for the 49ers in 1982.
Scully even hosted a game show called ‘It Takes Two’ in 1969-70, and had his own variety talk program ‘The Vin Scully Show’ in 1973.
He had a varied and storied career, and though Scully will forever be synonymous with the Dodgers, he grew up in New York as a fan of the rival Giants. His elementary school was 20 blocks from the Polo Grounds, and Scully’s first cognizant memory of baseball fandom was as an eight-year old.
“I went by a Chinese laundry, and in the window was the line score of the World Series game, that would be October 2nd, 1936, and the Yankees beat up the Giants 18‑4,” Scully recalled. ”As a little boy, my first reaction was, oh, the poor Giants.”
As fate would have it, Scully’s final broadcast was a Dodgers road game in San Francisco against the Giants on Oct. 2, 2016, exactly 80 years later.
He died on a night when the Dodgers were playing in that very same park, where there’s a plaque in the press box marking Scully’s final broadcast.
On this day we can look back at that final broadcast, during which Scully used a modified Dr. Seuss quote he was particularly fond of. “Don’t be sad that it’s over,” he said. “Smile because it happened.”
Scully gave generations of baseball fans so very many reasons to smile. He may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten.