The pity is that he could have been ours all these decades, our own unique, lyrical baseball gift. New York City has been blessed for years with a proud battalion of excellence in the broadcast booth.
But there was only one Vin Scully.
And those who have tried nobly to fill his seat behind a microphone in New York’s ballparks since the final day of the 1957 season understand one thing quite well: there was Scully, and there was everyone else. That was true in 1957, and 1987, and 2007. He stood alone.
Scully broadcast Dodgers games for 67 years. The first eight of those years, he called New York home and Ebbets Field his home office, this son of Washington Heights, who graduated from Fordham Prep in 1944 and Fordham U in 1949. He was 22 when he first slipped behind the mic, paired with Red Barber, and he stayed on the job, to the great delight of just about everyone who loves baseball, until he was 89.
“Mine has been a glorious life,” Scully told me in 2013. “There’s nobody who could ever say they were given more blessings in this life than me.”
Scully died Tuesday night at age 94, and with him goes a manner and a style of broadcasting baseball games we’ll never hear again. He was well-heeled in the game’s nuances yet never came across as sanctimonious. He was an eloquent master of the language yet never got too carried away. It was his job to describe for those who couldn’t be there what it was like for those, like Scully, who were lucky enough to be in what his old partner Barber used to call the catbird seat.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, Scully moved with them and it was there that he became, quite literally, the eyes, ears and auxiliary brains for Southern California fans engaging in a crash-course in baseball. So much did his new audience grow to depend on him, even those who bought tickets to Dodger Stadium in the 1960s would often bring transistor radios because they trusted that Scully could describe what they were seeing better than their own eyes could.
I’ve told this story before, but that conversation I had with Scully in 2013 came when he called me back while I was trying to cross Manhattan on the way to a Nets game. Thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth, I was having a chat with Vin Scully through the speakers of my car radio. It was every bit as surreal, and wonderful, as you’d expect.
“Sure,” he said that day. “I think about what might’ve happened if the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn. It would’ve been a different career for me, that’s for sure. But I suspect I’d have enjoyed the ride every bit as much.”
In New York, then, we never got day-to-day Scully after he turned 30. We got Scully on the NFL, and Scully on golf. One remarkable night in 1986, 31 years after calling the game that finally brought a championship to Brooklyn, he was there as the Mets performed perhaps the grandest baseball miracle in history. To this day, Mets fans can recite it by heart, every syllable Scully:
“Little roller up along first … BEHIND THE BAG! IT GETS THROUGH BUCKNER! HERE COMES KNIGHT, AND THE METS WIN IT …!”
Then, for 103 seconds, Scully didn’t say a word, letting the sights, sounds and emotions exploding at Shea Stadium do the talking for him. When he finally did clear his throat again it was perfect, of course: “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words.”
Even the very best announcers, most of them, wouldn’t have trusted the moment to work on their behalf the way Scully did. But he did that all the time. Later, when MLB made it easier to access out-of-town games, a fresh generation of Scullyphiles tuned in to catch Dodgers games from the coast, just to hear Scully call them. He was in his 80s by then. But the voice was still straight out of 1949, still straight out of WFUV, still straight out of Washington Heights.
We could’ve had so much more of him if not for the wanderlust of Walter O’Malley. What we did get, though? We’ll treasure that, eternally.
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