Commentary

Scully’s 1965 Koufax call was perfect; yet his most graphic was in 1959, describing a rhubarb at the Coliseum

The gripping audio proves that Scully, 91 today, would also have been a great play-by-play announcer of rapid-fire sports

In 1959, some three years before television replay was introduced, there was a wild argument in a Dodgers-Giants game. It was unforgettable to those who witnessed it.

After moving west from Brooklyn following the 1957 season, the Dodgers’ ballpark was the Los Angeles Coliseum, essentially a football stadium. They played there on an improvised baseball field, one configured of distorted dimensions and remedied somewhat by improvised ground-rules. The Coliseum was the Dodgers’ home until their new stadium at Chavez Ravine opened in 1962.

The Coliseum was a baseball eyesore; terribly unsymmetrical. Down the lines it was 250 feet to left field and 300 feet to right. In some ways, think Fenway Park, but much more pronounced. In fact, then commissioner, Ford Frick ordered the Dodgers to put up a second screen in left, somewhere in the stands, 333 feet from the plate; where a ball carrying past both screens was a home run, but if it passed only the shorter first screen, it was a double. But the state’s earthquake safety laws prevented a second screen from going up.  So one 42 foot screen was put in place and balls hitting girders, wires, towers and cables were in play.

The Dodgers-Giants rivalry was as heated at it gets. The teams had a long contentious history beginning way back when the Dodgers were pelted with beer as they crossed in their tops-down, horse-drawn carriages over the Brooklyn Bridge. It continued for half a century in New York and didn’t wane when both teams headed to California in 1958.

In 1959, both teams were made up of future Hall of Famers; the Giants were led by  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda and the Dodgers by Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Duke Snyder. Until the National League expanded from eight to ten teams in 1962, the two teams played one another 22 times a season.

In their second seasons in California, on June 30th 1959, the rivals met at the Coliseum for the second game of a mini two game series. With two outs in the  sixth and the Giants up 2-0, Willie Mays stepped to the plate. What ensued was utterly baffling, exacerbated by an indecisive umpiring crew, notably the third base umpire; a Texan, Dusty Boggess. If you wouldn’t know any better, you would think that the umpiring crew of Boggess, Ed Sudol, Tom Gorman and Stan Landes were the Keystone Cops.

Willie Mays hit a drive off Don Drysdale that did or didn’t hit the foul pole. It was first ruled foul, then a home run and finally a ground-rule double. Both teams argued vehemently, the Giants after the first ruling and the Dodgers when the call was reversed. As the inexplicable compromise was finally reached, both teams were irate.

On radio, home games weren’t then televised, the Dodgers’ Vin Scully  called it a ‘blow-by-blow verbal battle.’ Players, managers, coaches and umpires were all engaged in what turned into a vocal free for all; a peripatetic infield war of harsh words and angry gestures. They each bellowed separate impromptu sermons on what did and didn’t happen and the ground rules implications therein.

For any announcer to make some sense of it would be to simultaneously describe a three-ring circus. It was impossible. Most baseball announcers are accustomed to describing a ploddingly slow sport. They’re not often challenged to paint a picture of multiple and concurrent frenzied arguments. In the Coliseum which hosted track and field too, it would be tantamount to calling both the field competition and the races overlappingly.

It required an announcer to do more than just turn words poetically, a Scully gift. To give the wild argument its true justice on radio, it took an ability of a rapid fire play-by-play announcer accustomed to hockey, boxing or basketball. Yet, Scully brilliantly extemporized for a good ten minutes, quickly drawing magnificent and instantaneous pictures for the listeners at home or on in their cars.

From the moment Mays swung until some calm prevailed, a span of approximately ten minutes, Scully spoke rapidly and graphically; describing the girders, the foul pole and the screen in left field. He captured the rhubarb; the emotions, the anger and the gestures; “Drysdale is appealing to the gods; The veins on each side of (Don Zimmer’s) neck are bulging out like the cable that actually holds up the left field screen; (Walter) Alston has walked away like a Philadelphia lawyer who has just won his case;  Rigney kicks at the dirt, walks away with a hopeless gesture of both hands; (Don) Drysdale is so mad, he almost kicked 20 feet of the Coliseum out of the park.”

I found the audio embedded in a highlight record of the Dodgers’ 1959 championship season. When I heard it for the first time, I would have bet even money that it was a reenactment. It was that good. It could not have possibly be done live and on the spot.

I was wrong. It was done live and in real-time. Amazingly, Scully was all of 31 at the time and while he had done some football and basketball at the very start of his career, he was developing a reputation as a marvelous baseball announcer.

Hearing it, I concluded that Scully could have done any sport unequally; fast or slow, whether it’s one that’s completely fluid like hockey, mostly fluid like basketball, cadenced like football or painstakingly paced like baseball. Yes, one of his great strengths was storytelling and true, sports other than baseball don’t give Vin the necessary palette to weave in his anecdotes. Still, his rich description alone would have been sufficiently spellbinding.

The audio is a treat for anyone who appreciates an unparalleled artist like Scully. It’s linked below. Listen to it in its entirety; certainly don’t miss the last three or so minutes. It’s an old recording of almost sixty years. So the voice quality is a bit compromised. Yet, it’s still riveting.

I scoured the web and found a post by Rich Lederer, also linked below. He includes a text transcript of Scully’s audio  and writes a very nice introduction to it.

Scully’s call of Sandy Koufax’ perfect game was indeed perfect; poetic, gripping and historic. It goes down as such.

Not all of Vin’s work is available of course. Yet, from what I have found through the years, this is his best description. It demonstrates a master craftsman’s ability to breakdown a complicated story, tell it beautifully and as simply as possible without missing a beat.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, VIN. MANY HAPPY RETURNS!

 

Link to text Rich Lederer’s transcript of Scully’s call on June 30, 1959:

Vin Scully’s Greatest Call Ever

Catching up with Vin Scully; The great master shares tips and encourages reading

The Master at Work: A list of Vin Scully’s memorable expressions


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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
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Michael Green

I have this record, and it’s an incredible argument and an incredible description. As for Vin’s ability to talk fast, I thought he was excellent on pro football on CBS, but Terry O’Neil, the executive producer who chose Pat Summerall over him to work with John Madden, said that he loved Scully on baseball but that he talked too much for football. Well, over the years, analysts have been getting more and more air time to the point that it’s impossible for a play to happen without commentary, because the networks keep hoping for another Madden (and Tony Romo is… Read more »

Barry Kipnis
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Absolutely fantastic! Vin’s voice range and pitch when he was describing the pointing and gestures conjured up maybe the greatest blow by blow boxing announcer Don Dunphy. Clearly, Vin could have done boxing with ease. No one today could do what he did then.

Ted Sobel
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That album is narrated by long-time KMPC Sports director and part of the original Angels radio broadcast team Steve Bailey. He was an extremely important mentor to me and many others in Los Angeles and will be fondly remembered in my upcoming book called Touching Greatness to be released next year. And it’s always great to hear the very young sounding Scully who I listened to almost daily during those years with a transistor radio ear plug usually stuck in my head. Thanks for sharing this.