Connie Mack and Vin Scully
At an inconsequential Spring Training game in Florida in 1950 the torch was passed. In the broadcast booth for the Brooklyn Dodgers was a nervous youngster who at the ripe old age of 22 was about to begin his big league broadcasting career. On the field below him was a very old man who was about to begin his final year in major league baseball. The old man stepped down as manager of the Philadelphia A's after that season. Sixty years later, the young man in the broadcast booth is still the broadcaster for the Dodgers.
The major league careers of Connie Mack and Vin Scully intersected at the midpoint of the 20th century. Connie Mack was born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, at a time when Abraham Lincoln was President and America was engaged in the Civil War. Today, Vin Scully is broadcasting for the Los Angeles Dodgers at a time when a black man is President.
Connie Mack began his major league career in 1886 as a catcher for the Washington Senators of the National League. He played with the Senators for four seasons. In 1890, Connie, along with many of his fellow players, bolted the National League to form the Players League. Unfortunately for Connie and his fellow players, the Players League folded after just one season.
In 1891, after the demise of the Players League, National League owners assigned Connie's contract to Pittsburgh. During the 1894 season Connie took over as playing manager for the Pirates. After a poor finish in 1896, Connie was fired by the Pittsburgh owner.
Connie's dismissal proved to be a blessing. In 1897, Connie left the National League to join Ban Johnson's Western League as a manager, part-time player, and part owner of the Milwaukee franchise. When Johnson transformed his Western League into the American League at the turn of the century, Connie Mack was poised to resume his major league career, this time as a manager and an owner.
In 1901, Ban Johnson sent Connie to Philadelphia to establish an American League franchise in that city. Connie built a strong team and in 1905 his Philadelphia Athletics played and lost in the World Series to John McGraw's New York Giants. Connie's teams remained powerful through the 1914 season. When the A's lost the 1914 World Series to Boston's "Miracle Braves," Connie jettisoned the team he had developed, much like the Florida Marlins would do after the 1997 World Series. Like the Marlins, the Philadelphia A's sank to the bottom of the standings.
In the mid-1920s, Connie began building a team to rival the accomplishments of his earlier championship A's teams. In the latter part of the roaring 20s and the early years of the Great Depression, Connie's A's defeated powerful New York Yankee teams that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The Great Depression led Connie to dismantle his team. Once more, the Philadelphia A's went to the bottom of the American League standings.
Connie was unable to build another championship team; the A's did not win another World Series title until the franchise shifted to Oakland. Connie Mack remained as manager of the Philadelphia A's throughout all the last place finishes the franchise endured. No doubt Connie's ownership of the team saved him from the fate that inevitably befalls managers of losing franchises.
Age and infirmity caused Connie to step down as manager after the 1950 season. Shortly thereafter, amid rising debt, the Mack family lost control of the franchise. The team relocated to Kansas City after the 1954 season.
As Connie Mack's career was coming to a close, Vin Scully began an amazing broadcasting career that is still in progress today. Vin attended college at Fordham and worked on the campus FM radio station. After graduation, in search of a broadcasting job, Vin sent his resume to radio stations both near and far from his New York home. Vin's letter writing bore fruit; he was hired as a temporary summer replacement announcer at WTOP in Washington, DC, the same city where Connie Mack made his big league debut in 1886.
Vin has said that going from a college FM station to an on-air job with the CBS affiliate in the Nation's Capitol was like going from the campus to the big leagues. Vin's stay in the big league atmosphere of WTOP was short lived; the management at WTOP told him that though they liked his work, they had no permanent job for him. Vin left Washington with vague promises of possible future employment at WTOP, but when he returned to his New York home he had no broadcasting job.
Vin's career took off after a meeting with Red Barber, who would become his mentor. Red hired Vin for a radio broadcast of a college football game in Boston for the CBS football roundup show. In a 1982 radio interview, Barber told Larry King about the circumstances that led to Vin being hired by the Dodgers (thanks to Jon Weisman for permission to quote from his transcription):
I was out at the end of the football season, doing a California-Stanford football game. And at halftime, the engineer handed me a note and said, "Ernie Harwell has joined Russ Hodges at the Polo Grounds. So flying back to New York, I kept thinking, "Who are we gonna get? Who are we gonna get for the third man?" Then I said, "That red-headed fellow that went up to Boston did a good job." So I sent for him, and talked to him for a bit. And then I said, "Would you be interested?"
Well, his eyes got as big as teacups. So I said, "You'll have to talk to Mr. Rickey." Well, in about an hour Mr. Rickey called back, and he said, "Walter"—he always called me Walter—"Walter, you've found the right man."
I cannot imagine any baseball fan who would dispute Mr. Rickey's assessment. Red Barber and Branch Rickey provided Vin with his initial opportunity, but the youngster had to make the most of it. Vin reported to Spring Training in 1950 with as much pressure to make good as any big league player looking to earn a job.
A few years ago in a 2006 interview on a Seattle Mariners pregame radio show, Vin was asked by Mariner broadcaster Rick Rizzs to recall his first broadcast for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Vin responded:
Well, I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A's in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there in the black suit, and the celluloid collar, and the straw hat. So, I remember in that game I think Ferris Fain was the first baseman and it seems to me there was a triple play which Red Barber called and I remember sitting there thinking, "He made it sound so easy," and I was scared to death.
Vin's career after that Spring Training game has made him an eye witness to some of the most memorable moments in baseball history. Vin was in the same radio booth as Red Barber when Red had the unfortunate duty to describe Bobby Thompson's home run in the third game of the 1951 National League playoffs. Vin was on the air for a much more joyous occasion, the final out of the 1955 World Series that brought Brooklyn its only world championship. A year later, Vin, along with Mel Allen, broadcast Don Larsen's World Series perfect game. On September 29, 1957, Vin was at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium to broadcast the last game in the franchise history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1958, he broadcast the first game played by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Vin also brilliantly called the last inning of Sandy Koufax' perfect game in 1965, a call that can be heard here thanks to Rob McMillin. He was in Atlanta in 1974 for the radio call of Hank Aaron's historic 715th career home run. In 1986, he was on national television at the World Series to call a little ground ball that went through Bill Buckner's legs. In 1988, he was at Dodger Stadium to make a memorable call ("In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened") of Kirk Gibson's dramatic pinch hit World Series home run.
On the radio show where he reminisced about his first big league broadcast, Vin was asked, "Vinnie, how long do you want to do this?" Vin's answer was, "I don't know, but I can tell you a favorite expression of mine: If you want to see God smile, tell Him your plans."
After 60 years in the broadcast booth, Vin is nearing the end of his extraordinary broadcasting career. When Vin is in his final year, whenever that may be, I hope that some youngster will be in the first year of a six-decade long baseball career. If that happens, and if that person is a worthy successor to Connie Mack and Vin Scully, more than 60 years from now a postscript to this story can be written.
Stan Opdyke was a Dodgers fan as a kid during the Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Maury Wills era. His biggest baseball thrill was watching Koufax pitch the Dodgers to the National League pennant on the last day of the season at Connie Mack Stadium in 1966. He also got Vin Scully's autograph at Connie Mack Stadium in the mid-1960s. Vin was standing in the dugout before the game, and he called out his name and asked him to sign his autograph book. Scully graciously did. Meanwhile, the other kids looked at him like he was nuts. Why would he want an autograph of someone who looked and dressed like their father?