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Vin Scully! Catching up with the best sports voice ever; An inspiration for all; He still sounds terrific at 94

 

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Halberstam

Early Thursday evening, the phone rang at my desk and the screen read Vin Scully.

I took a deep breath, picked up the call, and the gentleman on the other end had the Voice of God. He greeted me as he typically does, enthusiastically and unhurriedly. “Hi David, it’s Vin.”

Absorbing his warm greeting is always stimulating. We usually talk at some point around his birthday. There’s never a shortage of topics with which to engage Vin. He’s the broadcaster of the century. This time it was a few weeks afterward, yet equally as rewarding.

I asked him how he’s doing. “Oh,” he said, with a bit of a drawl and pause, “I’m looking out the window and it’s raining, it’s overcast, and a little foggy.”

By now you know Vin’s famous line about making plans, rain or no rain. On occasion on-air, when he ran down the status of injured players labeled day-to-day, he’d pause for a moment and add, “Aren’t we all?” Scully turned 94 on November 29th and his timbre is still so reassuring. It’s uplifting. It grabs you and takes you through a lifetime.

My conversation with Vin swerved to the Polo Grounds. I told him that I attended my first National League game in 1962 when the first-year Mets hosted the Dodgers in a doubleheader on Memorial Day. A reserved seat at Coogan’s Bluff then was only $2.50.

For Vin and the Bums, it was their first trip back to New York after leaving Brooklyn in 1957. The cheers were mixed between old and new. One thing for sure, the interregnum was over. The Dodgers and Giants were out and the Mets were christened NY’s new NL franchise. Scully is a New Yorker through and through, born and bred. He has vivid memories of the old Giants and the grand old park with its hollow center field. The 1962 game was played on a Wednesday afternoon and the grass was lush. It was before Congress moved most holidays to Mondays to develop more three day weekends.

Sandy Koufax pitched the Dodgers to a Memorial Day win in game one. Vin and the team were starting a 19 game road trip. The Dodgers had their own plane, a prop I believe. Still, just the thought of a six city trip can be daunting and draining, even before it starts.

Growing up in Washington Heights, down the street from the Polo Grounds, the Giants were Scully’s favorite team. For Vin, the old Polo Grounds of the Giants, always produced joyous thoughts. Memories stuck to his ribs as he himself might say.

The world is uneven. The next night, May 31st 1962, tabloids around the globe ran headlines about the execution of Adolf Eichmann, one of the key organizers of Germany’s Final Solution. I’m sure that my father, took note. A survivor of the concentration camps, he was the only member of his family of five, not gassed in the Holocaust. The juxtaposition told the harsh truth of two worlds on two different sides of the Atlantic. For my father and me, it inspired a special appreciation for America.

Nineteen years later in 1981, Vin presided over the Yankees-Dodgers World Series on CBS Radio. I always thought that’s where Scully did his best work, radio. And that’s saying something because he was the best no matter the medium. He might agree with me about radio. In fact, he hinted to me in an earlier conversation that if it weren’t for the larger paycheck, he’d have stayed with radio exclusively.

On radio, Scully was given a canvas and asked to punch, not counterpunch, as he would do on television. The redhead did all nine innings during those CBS Radio Fall Classics. Quite a few budding announcers would listen assiduously to Vin then, a yellow pad by their sides to keep notes on Scully’s uses of phrases.

In either 2013 or 2014, when the Dodgers were bounced by the Cards in post-season, a buddy, Barry Kipnis, sent me an email after listening to Vin. His note read something like this: “Vin: ‘The Dodgers are about to tiptoe their way out of St. Louis.‘” So simple, so Vin!

On another broadcast, Vin wandered back thirty or forty years to reference street-corners and spirited arguments. Who’s New York’s best centerfielder, the Yanks’ Mickey Mantle, the Giants’ Willie Mays or the Dodgers’ Duke Snider?  Scully then paralleled the centerfield debate to other famed and friendly arguments like who’s the best clarinetist, Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw?

This year 2021, has been a rough one for Vin. It started in January when he lost his wife Sandy to a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Yet talking with him Thursday, I got the sense that his spirits are back. He told me his three daughters come over regularly to spend some time with dad, that he gets help in the house and uses a cane to prevent him from falling.

Tom's Old Days on Twitter: "#OTD 1950, Vin Scully announced his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers,He didn't say Goodbye until his final season in 2016. One of the All Time Greats.#Dodgers #I flashed back again to 1949 when Vin launched his career in Washington DC on WTOP, a 50,000 watt signal.

When the staff typist began stuffing envelopes with Vin’s resume in them, he asked her why she’s sending one to WTOP, thinking it would be a longshot. The assistant told young Scully, it’s only a three cents stamp. You never know. And that’s how Vin’s career began, 71 years ago during the Harry Truman administration. There have been 13 U. S. presidents since Vin began talking into a microphone.

Back to the Polo Grounds, Scully said, “I think that the first game I ever attended at the Polo Grounds was Memorial Day, 1939.”

I actually checked the record books. He was spot-on. Indeed, on May 30, 1939, Brooklyn was at the Polo Grounds and the two teams split a doubleheader. Vin was 11 then. The Dodgers had just started broadcasting games that very season. Brooklyn boss Larry McPhail brought Red Barber from Cincinnati to Ebbets Field where he was the first Dodgers’ voice. Between Barber and Scully, the two were the team’s game callers from 1939-2016, 77 uninterrupted seasons.

“I had an inexpensive seat in the bleachers at the Polo Grounds,” Vin Scully told me, adding, “From the outfield I can look directly onto press row, upstairs behind the plate. I kept thinking to myself, one day I hope to be up there. I longed for it.”

Vin then added a nuanced message perfect for Christmas. “When I was at the Polo Grounds that Memorial Day in ’39, looking onto press row from the outfield bleachers, the good Lord gave me a book of directions.”

Here’s to many more years on earth. Vin Scully, The “Sports’ voice of the Century!”

 

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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 and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
Michael Green(@michaelgreen)
30 days ago

What better way to celebrate the holidays than to hear from Vin! I also get a kick out of the fact that he identifies himself. I think it was Bill Plaschke who said that when he calls, he’ll say, “This is Vin Scully,” and Plaschke thinks, doesn’t he realize we know that the second we hear his voice? And what a voice to hear. Always. It also occurs to me that to Red Barber, he’d STILL be “Young Scully.” Some silly trivia. The Dodgers are the only one of the original 16 teams that has always had a Frick winner… Read more »