100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
[Editor's note: In conjunction with Stan Opdyke's guest column on Connie Mack and Vin Scully, author Jon Weisman has granted us permission to publish "Vin," the number two item in 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. As a lifelong Dodgers fan, Jon has listened to Scully broadcast games for four decades. In his wonderful book, he covers (among other topics) Vin, Jackie, 32, Fernandomania, Ebbets Field, The Move, Coliseum Carnival, Chavez Ravine, 'The Worst Club Ever to Win a World Series,' Walter Alston, Campy, Piazza, Dodger Dogs, Roseboro & Marichal, Arrive Late/Leave Early, Branch Rickey, Dodgertown, Nightline, The First High Five, and a section on Maury Wills that Weisman aptly named 'Go. Go. Go. Go. Go' after the chant that I can remember echoing throughout Dodger Stadium in 1962 when I was seven years old. This book is not only a must own for Dodgers fans but an entertaining and enjoyable read for baseball fans in general.]
But saying he’s an artist is not meant as a cliché or as a convenient way to sum him up. It’s meant to stress that spoken words at a baseball game are themselves an art form, and, sure, sometimes they’re the equivalent of dogs playing poker, but when Vin Scully strings words together (and he’s done so at Dodger games — extemporaneously, mind you — for 25,000 hours or more), they’ll carry you away on wings.
If it weren’t so satisfying, it could make you weep.
But it’s not as if Scully – and at this point, it’s hard to resist referring to him by his first name, so vital and personal is the Dodger fan’s relationship with him – sets out to construct pieces for the Smithsonian. His principal goal has always only to simply tell you what’s going on. He’ll never miss a pitch. He will make a mistake here and there, and in that respect he’s like everyone else on the planet. But he never, ever loses sight of his task.
He is prepared with background on the players and the teams he covers. He has a knack for sifting out what’s interesting about the men on the field, and an infectious childlike enthusiasm for what he discovers. Reflecting his desire not to leave any listeners or viewers in the dark, he’ll repeat stories on different nights of the same series, but as long as you know that’s part of the deal, there’s no issue.
“One of the biggest reasons that I prepare is because I don’t want to seem like a horse’s fanny, as if I’m talking about something I don’t know,” Scully said in an interview. “So in a sense you could say I prepare out of fear. That’s really what you do. I think I’ve always done that since grammar school.”
That may be equal parts humility and truth. Scully’s utter genius, however, is the way he reacts when the moment takes him beyond preparation, the way he offers the lyrical when other broadcasters remain stuck in the trite. He offers bon mots covering pedestrian occurrences: Who else could deliver baseball play-by-play’s timeless philosophical comment: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. … Aren’t we all?” His work during Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Bill Buckner’s error and everything in between are all unforced majesty.
As far as rising to the occasion, Scully’s landmark call of Kirk Gibson’s showstopping, history-making homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was practically its equivalent from a broadcasting perspective, minus the gimpiness. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened” ranks with Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” among the most memorable lines in sportscasting history for spontaneously summing up a moment. And yet, could anyone have been less surprised that Scully came up with such a wonderful remark? His broadcasts have been dotted with them ever since he joined the Brooklyn Dodger broadcast team in 1950 as a recent Fordham college graduate who had been singularly dreaming of such a job since boyhood.
“When I was 8 years old, I wrote a composition for the nuns saying I wanted to be a sports announcer,” Scully said. “That would mean nothing today – everybody watches TV and radio – but in those days, back in New York the only thing we really had was college football on Saturday afternoons on the radio. Where the boys in grammar school wanted to be policemen and firemen and the girls wanted to be ballet dancers and nurses, here’s this kid saying, ‘I want to be a sports announcer.’ I mean it was really out of the blue.
“The big reason was that I was intoxicated by the roar of the crowd coming out of the radio. And after that one thing led to another, and I eventually got the job as third announcer in Brooklyn. And I never thought about anything except the first year or two not making some terrible mistake is all. I worked alongside two wonderful men in Red Barber and Connie Desmond, but I never thought about becoming great. … All I wanted to do was do the game as best I could. And to this day that’s all I think about.”
Lots of people try to do their best, and for that they all deserve praise. But the best of some is better than the best of others, and even though he can’t bring himself to say it, we know into which of those categories Scully fits. Regardless of how intense or carefree one’s love for the game might be, Scully measures up to it and redoubles it. The Dodgers’ play-by-play man is an American Master.