There are some people you meet, and some voices you hear in person, and you simply can’t help but stop to look or to listen. They are real. Their voices sound just like they do on the radio, the big screen or on the TV. And every so often the people you grew up watching and listening to are what you would want them to be.
On a recent Sunday afternoon at Dodgers Stadium in L.A., Mr. Vin Scully was gracious enough to give me 15 minutes for an interview in his broadcast booth. It’s akin to talking to Monet in his studio in Giverny.
“Mr. Scully,” I said and he immediately interrupted me.
“No, – it’s Vin,” he said and he pointed me to a chair in his booth. “Have a seat.”
For lack of a better phrase, this was pretty cool. I was genuinely star-struck to talk to the voice of sports for my, and so many other generations. He is 87, and he looks great. He dresses impeccably. He is gracious. His eye contact is exceptional. We should all be so lucky to live as long as Mr. Scully, and to be so adored by so many.
Mr. Scully has been doing Dodgers games since the team was in Brooklyn, and he remains the single most important voice of any sports franchise. He is truly bigger than the team. Along with Cincinnati Reds voice Marty Brennaman, there is no member of the media for a team that carries as much clout as Vin Scully. He can do whatever he wants and the Dodgers will only be to to glad to accommodate his desires.
He has earned our respect and our admiration through a his talent to call a game, and ability to recognize that as a broadcaster it’s not about him, even though in this case it is. Mr. Scully is one the last broadcasters that people will stop to watch and listen because it’s him. He truly is the voice of sports, and he provided the play by play to some of our fondest sports memories.
Like so many, I can still hear his calls verbatim.
“Little roller up along first … behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!”
“But the game right now is at the plate. … High fly ball into right field she is goooone!”
“Montana, looking, looking … throwing in the end zone – Clark caught it!”
In person, Vin Scully sounds the same. In person, Vin Scully is what you want him to be. He was nice enough to give me 15 minutes.
Mac Engel: You are familiar with Fort Worth?
Vin Scully: Oh sure. I did Colonial several years. I did golf for CBS, NBC, yeah. One of our owners, Bobby Patton, is the chairman at Colonial. I was familiar with the Fort Worth Cats. In the old days, a lot of our guys came up through there. And we would play exhibitions there.
ME: When did you become aware that you were the face of the Dodgers?
Scully: I think the biggest break was the introduction of the transistor radio. We were in the (Los Angeles) Coliseum. In the Coliseum, you could be 79 rows up – far away from the field. And the people in Los Angeles knew the superstars. The knew about Willie Mays, they knew about Stan Musial, and some of the other big players. But they didn’t know the rank and file players because they never got the media coverage when they were in Brooklyn playing. The transistor radio was a great aid for the fan, especially for the one far away from the field to learn about the players.
The transistor radio is the greatest single break that my partner Jerry Doggett and I ever could possibly have given. After a while we would talk directly to the people; we had the crowd at the coliseum sing happy birthday to one of the umpire. That was historic. I would tell jokes or puns to get the crowd to react.
ME: Could you see in real time fans were reacting to what you were saying?
Scully: Oh yeah. The roar would come up. The biggest pun that I ever pulled - Joe Torre was a catcher with Milwaukee. He took a foul ball off the hand, so the next day he was playing third base. That was a good position for him. Just talking out of nowhere I said, ‘By the way if Joe Torre never goes behind the plate again having been fouled off on the hand, he will forever be known as Chicken Catcher Torre’ – the groan was wonderful. We had a lot of fun and that is what really got me close to the people.
ME: When the team announced it would relocate to go to Los Angeles, did you hesitate about going?
Scully: Oh no. I needed the job. It wasn’t like people were knocking on my doors. It was bittersweet. I was relieved and happy that I had a job but I was sad that I was leaving my roots and everything that I knew back in New York but it turned out well. I did have mixed emotions but I didn’t have a doubt that I was going to go with the team.
ME: Why did you adopt to keep quiet in big moments?
Scully: I always do. I probably shuttup on the roar of a crowd probably longer than anybody in the business. When Henry Aaron broke the record in Atlanta I believe it was a minute and 30 seconds I never said a word.
The reason I got started in the direction of broadcasting, I was 8 years old and I wrote a composition that I wanted to be a sports announcer. When I was eight, the only thing you had in those days was college football on Saturday afternoon on the network. All three networks had a football game. We had this big old radio with four legs and I used to crawl under it with a pillow and my head would be directly under the speaker. IT could be Mississippi/Alabama, Texas/Oklahoma, it didn’t mean anything to a little kid in New York except I would crawl under and when someone did something well and the crowd would roar. The roar would come out of the speaker like water out of a shower head. I would just go so excited over the roar of the crowd and I would think – I would just love to be there. And then the evolution began – I’d love to be there; I’d love to be the guy there; I’d like to be broadcasting. That’s how it went. So when something happens, when I shutup, I’m still that 8-year-old kid under the radio.
I remember one World Series, I forget which one, somebody did something and I called it and in typical network they are going to show it again. I thought, ‘I’m not going to say it’s a home run again.’ I never said a word. A columnist wrote, ‘Perhaps Vin Scully made his greatest contribution by saying nothing.’ I thought, ‘Yeah – that’s a compliment. That’s right.’ The best thing I could do is shut up and share what I love, which is the roar of the crowd.
Nothing I can say – what am I going to say, ‘Boy this is exciting!’ I just sit there. When Kirk Gibson hit the home run (in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series), I got up out of the chair and walked around. When Henry hit his home run in ’74, the first row (in the broadcast booth) had water and stuff, I went back and poured a little water. Oh sure. There was nothing I could say it better; anybody listening knew what had happened. So all I did was stay out of it.
ME: What was the smallest event you ever did?
Scully: It was my first year doing CBS football roundup, that was my first year working for Red Barber, who was the sports director at CBS. We would do four games on a Saturday, four big games. What Red would do is go to each of the four games. In two of the games would fall by the way side and he would concentrate on the other two. We were doing all of the big games.
One year Red said, ‘I have an idea. I want you to do a big little game, or a little big game.’ It was Amherst/Williams. The first time he went to me I said something to the effect, in a hurry because he wanted it in 30 seconds, ‘Before 60,000 people at Amherst, back to you Red. He said, ‘Vinny, either you made a mistake or you have the biggest story of the year. How many thousand at the game? It was 6,000.
ME: Are the players of yesterday the same as today with the exception of strength and conditioning?
Scully: One thing that is different when you think about it, the National League and the American League each had eight teams. Each team had 25 players, so that’s 200. Now we have 30 teams which tells you you can’t possibly have that many major league players. So there are a quite of few players in the major leagues that aren’t really major league players. And probably could never have made it in the old days.
ME: Even with the expansion of baseball into Latin and Asian countries do you still believe that?
Scully: That’s great but looking at a 25 man roster on 30 teams comparing it to 25 on eight teams you knew it was much tougher. You knew there would be players that today would not be on those teams … it’s just mathematics. There would not have been room.
ME: Has the issue of ‘pace of play’ ever been an issue to you?
Scully: Several things have changed and No. 1 the commercials in television, which are longer now than they were. That adds at least a half hour to a nine inning game. Plus the game has changed fundamentally. In the old days a fella went to the mound and he pitched nine innings.
We go to the bullpen far more than we did in the old days. Now you have the fella who is the hold, and then the fella who gets the the ball to the closer and the closer himself. And in the bad games, it’s a parade of relievers and that adds to it but again that’s all part of the game.
ME: What about batters trying to go to 3-2 and the expansion of analytics?
Scully: I don’t know about that. There are two things that to me changed dramatically and No. 1 is contrary to what you said - there are more base hits and home runs to me on a no ball, two strike count. In the old days that did not happen. In the old days they would fine guys if you gave up a home run on a no ball, two strike count. The other thing the average major leaguer from where I am strikes out without any doubt – so what? It’s only an out.
ME: When did the attitude about strikeouts change?
Scully: There is an old story, I think Ralph Kiner said it – the home run hitter drives a Cadillac and the single hitter drives a Ford or Chevy. It’s true the game has changed there are more guys swinging harder, they don’t choke up on the bat. They are not situational hitters. They are not trying to move a man. They are swinging and they strike out a lot.
ME: Best player you ever saw?
Scully: I saw them in the National League; I didn’t see them in the American League except for the World Series or an All star game. But I’ve always said I guess the best all around player I ever saw with the emphasis on me was Willie Mays. As far as swinging the bat you don’t get any better than Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Roberto Clemente.
Now Mike Trout has all of the abilities to be a great player. I just hope he stays healthy and the stays the good citizen that I understand he is.
ME: Eric Nadel of the Texas Rangers said that you told him it’s important to take time off - when did you adopt that approach?
Scully: The game is not going to stop. Even when I was working I knew it wasn’t important for me to be at all of them. I’ve always felt that way. Every one now takes a vacation; the umpires take time off. Broadcasters take a road trip off, which is very healthy. But in my mind, I can remember, Mel Allen, the great Yankee broadcaster, he left and they kept on playing. Red Barber with the Dodgers, Russ Hodges with the Giants, Jack Buck with the Cardinals, Harry Carry with the Cubs. Milo Hamilton down in Texas. We will all leave and the game will go right on along whether we’re there or not. And I’ve had that thought for a long, long time.
ME: Mr. Scully, thank you so much for your time. This meant a lot to me.
Scully: It’s Vin and it was my pleasure.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760