baseball

Vin Scully helped California baseball take root

At the end of the 1957 baseball season, Brooklyn Dodgers management packed up for a long-threatened move across the continent.

Imaginary moving trunks with home uniforms said “Dodgers” on the front, Flatbush’s creaky old heroes and most of the front office, along with manager Walter Alston and his promising young players. (He wasn’t sure if Sandy Koufax, a young lefty from Brooklyn, would ever use his speed.)

Baseball was moving to the Promised Land. The historic New York Giants were also moving to San Francisco, taking Willie Mays with them. (The pushed Among them.)

But no one, or no one, transported and moved baseball in latter-day covered wagons better than a young man not long removed from the Fordham campus in the Bronx and a broadcasting booth in Brooklyn named Vin Scully.

Vin Scully sent the baseball floating into the ozone — first from the ill-shaped Coliseum, and then, starting in 1962, from the pastel oasis nestled in Chavez Ravine, a former Mexican camp.

Scully was a warm voice for a warm climate, instructing locals in the finer points of big-league baseball. (We disillusioned, abandoned Dodgers and Giants fans back East liked to think that Californians knew nothing about baseball, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.)

On balmy evenings at Chavez Ravine, the common denominator is not crowd noise or public address announcements, but play-by-play narration by Scully and his sidekicks, discussing strategy and past heroics by Messrs. Hodges and Reese and Snyder and Erskine and Furillo, most of them operating in fading batteries.

Scully’s dulcet voice floated over stereophonic waves from new gadgets called “transistor radios” that were easy to carry to the ballpark.

He wasn’t the usual homer baseball announcer who shouted, “Let’s score some runs in this inning!” Vincent Edward Scully, who died Tuesday at age 94, never yelled, never rooted, never encouraged, never preached — just called plays and added personal notes about the players. His melodious, pull-up-a-chair approach was like a beloved elder describing a game unfolding on the field. In 1958, just 30, Vin Scully was a repository of beloved franchise history in another world.

“It wasn’t the first baseman, or the manager, or the team — certainly not with the won-lost record, because he had a tough year,” Peter O’Malley, son of former owner Walter O’Malley, billed The Los Angeles Times about Scully’s immediate impact in Los Angeles. Shaykin said in his mid-July essay.

“Vinny was the one who introduced the team,” he said. “There was no one who did it better. When you pause to understand the impact he had then and now, it’s extraordinary.

One consolation for heartbroken Brooklyn fans left by the Dodgers is that Scully stayed as long as he could. He called enough World Series games that we can remember what we missed. Gil Hodges and Duke Snyder came to the Mets as faded icons, but Scully came into action on the airwaves at the peak of his game.

Scully had a great teacher in Red Barber, who used to broadcast Brooklyn games when Scully was a young (Giants) fan. Barber had his usual Southern patter. (“Tearing up the pea-patch,” “two teams have a laxative,” the Dodgers are “sitting on the catbird seat”—we know exactly what each one means.) But behind the jokes and charming regionalisms, Barber was a complex religious man who once thought about becoming a teacher.

Scully was a little vague on the air about why a player wasn’t on the team one day; Tell him why the barber should find out in the pregame entrance to the manager.

Another time, the author explains, Scully was drinking a beer in the press lounge before a game, a common practice in Scully’s experience. Barber, no stranger to alcohol, told Scully that if he had a slip-up on the microphone he could hold it against him because he couldn’t see he had a beer.

The author notes that Scully may have been quick to discipline closely, but he always considered Barber his mentor, both in his public statements and in his letters to “The Old Redhead.”

While Barber was known for his southern style, Scully was known for his silence. He realized that a momentous play deserves the roar of the audience rather than the roar of the broadcaster. He would sit at the microphone and let the roars drift out.

In 1986, Scully returned to New York, watching the Red Sox inch into the dugout steps, awaiting the franchise’s first World Series championship since 1918. Instead, Mookie Wilson’s little dribbler slid past first baseman Bill’s aching legs. Buckner and the World Series were suddenly extended to a seventh game.

“First lift the little roller … behind the bag!” Scully started, but then added: “It’ll get through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!

Shea Stadium went wild as Scully sat at the microphone for three full minutes. He then added, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, you’ve seen about a million words, but more than that, you’ve seen the absolutely freakish finish to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets aren’t alive, they’re fine and they play the Red Sox tomorrow in Game 7.

Here, once in his magnificent career, Scully lost something. He mentioned that he never thought he would hear the normally neutral New York sportswriters claim a win by the Mets. I later noted in print that we weren’t cheering, we were gasping at the horror of suddenly having to rewrite our stories in the middle of the night as the Mets inexplicably survived to play a seventh game (and win the series after a rainout. On Sunday.)

When an injured Kirk Gibson pinch-hit with the Dodgers chasing the Oakland A’s, Scully’s impeccable reliance on screen action served him well two World Series later. He desperately called the game-changing homer, but went silent for 65 seconds as Dodger Stadium erupted, then made a brief comment and was silent for 29 seconds. He was Vin Scully and he knew fans back home in front of the Tube could feed their eyes and ears on their own emotions.

Major League Baseball has come a long way since Walter O’Malley ran away with our bums. Baseball has grown from essentially the eastern half of the United States to a worldwide sport. In Canada, in Latin America, in Japan, all over the world, fans knew the score.

Vin Scully knew his audience. He carried himself with a confident but low-key star aura. They knew they were part of the show; He didn’t have to babble.

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