Remembering a Legend: Vin Scully

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  • 08/19/2022

What makes a man revered? Excellence in his craft? Conscientious integrity? Genuine humility? Unbridled warmth? All of the above?

When applying those questions to Vin Scully, each answer would be an unqualified "yes."

Scully, who died Aug. 2 at 94, made such an impact announcing professional sports that he became a cultural touchstone, even receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016. That was the year Scully completed 67 seasons as a play-by-play announcer for the Dodgers, in both their Brooklyn and Los Angeles incarnations.

Reaction to Scully's death poignantly describes that impact.

Upon news of his death, fans overwhelmed the sign at the entrance to Dodger Stadium -- located at 1000 Vin Scully Ave. -- with votive candles, floral bouquets, baseball caps, balloons, and personal messages among the assorted paraphernalia. When the Dodgers played their first home game after his death, fans took photos of Scully's framed pictures and assorted memorabilia that face the entrance to the press box named in his honor. After a pre-game moment of silence, an 11-minute video commemorating his life and career played. Another bouquet occupied the place where Scully sat to call the action.

"His voice was soothing to me," Marla Mossberg told CNN. "I'm going to miss him."

Scully also worked for CBS and NBC, covering baseball, NFL football and golf. Yet longevity and versatility alone cannot define a career that was so unique, it likely will never be equaled.

Unmatched eloquence made Scully's career singular. He provided the most well-known example during the first game of the 1988 World Series, when Kirk Gibson hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

That home run appeared miraculous. Gibson, the Dodgers' leader, was not expected to play because of two severely injured legs. Yet he limped to the plate as a pinch hitter, hit closer Dennis Eckersley's slider into the right-field stands and struggled mightily to trot around the bases.

Scully, working for NBC and alluding to the Dodgers' status as underdogs, excitedly declared as Gibson received hugs from his teammates:

"In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened."

More than two decades earlier, fans in Los Angeles experienced the delight of listening to Scully call the top of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on radio. Scully began by setting the scene:

"Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth when he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, Sept. 9, 1965, he made the toughest walk of his career, I'm sure."

Scully proceeded to combine his sense for dramatic timing with an exquisite eye for detail. He described the specifics of the players' movements -- even those in the dugout and the bullpen -- interspersed the time of night at pivotal moments and contributed such insightful, imaginative comments as these:

"There are 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies."

"You can almost taste the pressure now."

"I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world."

But Scully offered perhaps the best example of his eloquence as the conclusion of his 1982 acceptance speech for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"There is a legend in the West of an Indian chief who longed to test the manhood of his young braves by making them climb up the side of a mountain as far as they could in a single day," he began. "At daybreak on the appointed day, four braves left the village. The first one came back in the late afternoon with a sprig of spruce to show how high he had climbed. Later that afternoon, another came with a branch of pine. Much later in the day, the third came with an alpine shrub. But it wasn't until late that night, by a full moon with the stars dancing in the heavens, that the fourth brave arrived.

" 'What did you bring back? How high did you climb?' asked the chief. The brave said, 'Where I was, there was no spruce nor pine to shield me from the sun. There was no flower to cheer my path. There was only snow and ice and barren rocks and cold, hard ground. My feet are torn and bloodied. I'm worn out and exhausted. I'm bare-handed and I have come home late. But' -- and then a wondrous look came into his eye and he said -- 'I saw the sea.'

"For 33 years, the good Lord has allowed me to do what I have always wanted to do: broadcast my favorite game. He has allowed me to climb my mountain, and today ... believe me, I saw the sea."

Dick Enberg -- who also worked in Los Angeles, broadcast for CBS and NBC and made the Baseball Hall of Fame -- gave Scully's rhetorical elegance the ultimate compliment.

"He paints the picture more beautifully than anyone who’s ever called a baseball game," Enberg said. "At times, I’ll be listening to him and I’ll think, 'Oh, I wish I could call upon that expression the way he does,' "

Accompanying that elegance was meticulous fairness, a contrast to many announcers who root on the air for the teams they cover.

"When Scully did World Series games for NBC, he did not have to adjust to neutrality," wrote veteran sports columnist Mark Whicker. "During Dodger games he was scrupulously charitable to the opposing team, celebrated their accomplishments as he would those of the Dodgers, and allowed the umpires to umpire."

Scully developed that approach during his early days in Brooklyn under the tutelage of "Red" Barber, who was so known for journalistic integrity that, as a broadcaster for the New York Yankees in 1966, he was fired after demanding that cameras show the vast array of Yankee Stadium's empty seats during a televised late-season game. The Yankees finished last that year.

"It wasn't so much that he taught me how to broadcast," Scully said. "It was an attitude. Get to the park early. Do your homework. Be prepared. Be accurate. He was a stickler for that. He cared. He was very much a taskmaster, or I might have developed bad habits."

Scully thus earned profound respect from other teams. During his last season, before they began the first game of their final series at Dodger Stadium, those teams sent delegations to the press box to pay their respects. In late September 2016, the Colorado Rockies sent about a handful of players and coaches to present Scully with a wooden sign from Coors Field's manual scoreboard. The sign read "L.A.D." and featured autographs from the entire team.

The Rockies' delegation included then-manager Walt Weiss -- the Oakland Athletics' starting shortstop during the 1988 World Series.

"Vin Scully is my Freddy Krueger," Weiss told the Denver Post before referencing Gibson's home run. "I’d hear, 'She is gone' and wake up in cold fits."

But Scully generated more than professional respect. He engendered genuine affection, which was on display during his last broadcast at Dodger Stadium, during that same series against the Rockies.

Before the Dodgers' last home game, fans chanted one of Scully’s signature phrases, “It’s time for Dodger baseball,” to a recording of his voice and gave him a standing ovation. Scully responded by waving and putting his right hand over his heart while a banner draped over the edge of his booth proclaimed, “I’ll miss you! — Vin.”

During the game, each of the Dodgers' first eight batters tipped his helmet in Scully’s direction before stepping into the batter’s box. Fans chanted “Vin, Vin” during a pitching change in the sixth inning and after singing along with his recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch.

Once the game ended, Scully addressed the fans from his broadcasting perch.

“Believe me, I’ve needed you far more than you needed me,” he said. “You have kept me young at heart. You’re the wind beneath the team’s wings and you’re the team beneath my wings.”

Then a recording of Scully singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” played over the public-address system as Scully put his arm around his wife, Sandra. Some fans cried.

“Vin may be the kindest person I’ve ever known,” said Ross Porter, who broadcast with Scully from 1977-2004. “In all the years we were together, not once did I see him rude to another human being. And there were plenty of opportunities for him to be upset by pushy fans who wanted an autograph, a photo, or a lengthy, dull conversation, sometimes within a few minutes of going on the air.”

During an interview in 1982, Barber provided what would become the perfect epitaph for his former protege's career.

"Scully brought intelligence into the assignment," Barber said. "He brought industry to the assignment. He brought integrity to the assignment. He brought imagination and initiative to the assignment -- and he has never ceased using these talents.”

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