Legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully called his last game Sunday, and his last day in the broadcast booth is October 2. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say he’s the greatest announcer in the history of baseball, and it’s simply a fact to say he’s been around the longest.
He started calling games for the Dodgers in 1950, when the team was still in Brooklyn. He’s been broadcasting for 66 years and turns 89 this November. After all that time, any baseball fans who’ve had the privilege to hear Vin’s soothing voice may be rooting for the Dodgers to go all the way this year, just so they can hear that incredible voice a few more times. I know I am.
My Special Evening with Vin Scully
I don’t recall the first time I heard Vin Scully call a game, but I do remember one special evening traveling with my family across the desert outside of Los Angeles towards our home in Colorado. Why we were visiting California during the school year, I’ve long since forgotten.
We were in our Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham, the only car my dad ever bought new. There were surprisingly few cars on I-15 between L.A. and Las Vegas. The early autumn air was that perfect temperature you cannot feel. I shared the backseat with my sisters, and the Cutlass lacked some much-needed leg room, but the radio worked just fine.
The Dodgers were in the 1988 pennant race. Vin was calling the game. As few announcers have done, and no other announcer has done as well, Vin was doing the play-by-play and providing the color commentary. He was doing it masterfully. The radio signal was as clear as the desert air. The moon was full. The excitement was tangible. Something in the way Vin called the game not only made it unnecessary to talk among ourselves, but criminal to open our mouths. For hundreds of miles, we didn’t say a word. We let Vin do the talking for us.
Of course, the Dodgers went on to win more than the pennant that year. Here is Vin’s call during that famous World Series: October 15, 1988 (the entire clip is wonderful, but jump to the 4:57-13:30 mark for the highlight). Kirk Gibson’s epic six-minute at bat in game one of the series that year is also notable for being a perfect showcase for Scully.
There’s his incomparable gift for metaphor. He describes the injured Gibson’s struggle at the plate, “Gibson shaking his left leg making it quiver like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.” Then when Gibson hits arguably the greatest walk-off homerun in baseball history, Scully sums it up with the now immortal line, “In a year that has been improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Creating Great Moments in Baseball
Whether you bleed Dodger blue or root for the Giants, all fans who have heard Scully speak know something major will be lost after this season. Vin Scully is like a cool grandfather—knowledgeable, patient, soothing, and clever. He is dramatic without being sensational. Just listen: Scully calls Kershaw no-hitter. He’s traded handshakes with great ballplayers, celebrities, presidents. You know it because he’s shared wonderful stories about them during the lull in action that the pastime of baseball often lends itself to.
Where other baseball announcers chronicled great moments in baseball, Scully sat in the press box and created them, night after night, with nothing but a keen sense of observation and few well-chosen words. In any other ballpark, the downtime in action could be a liability. Some so-called fans in parks outside of L.A. complain about the duration of the game, the pace, or the lull.
In Los Angeles, the pace of the game is a gift, because whether Corey Seager or Hyun Jin-Ryu is at the plate, Vin is calling the game, sharing an unexpected insight about a player (Mike Matheny and bird poop), or relating an unexpected vignette that happened after last night’s game, or making an unexpected corollary between baseball and a world event. And it’s never a stretch. Never strained. Never forced. Like an easy Steve Garvey looper into center field. Like this story about beards.
Not unlike Johnny Carson, another famous Southern Californian who departed the airwaves too soon, Scully will be leaving us before he really leaves us. No longer hearing that comforting voice will leave us with a tinge of sadness and nostalgia. The emotion will be complex, because it’s a death of sorts without a body. But what a body of work. Here is Vin calling Hank Aaron’s historic homerun: 715.
Vin has not only been the voice of the Dodgers. For most of the 1980s, he was also NBC’s lead baseball broadcaster, which allowed him to broadcast numerous great games the Dodgers didn’t play in. Scully is the voice you hear during the infamous game six of the 1986 World Series (jump to 5:45). He’s even called great football moments as well, including The Catch (jump to 1:30).
The voice of Vin Scully is the voice you want on the end of a megaphone if you ever find yourself in a hostage negotiation situation, simultaneously calm and omniscient. His is a voice you want to find inside a confession booth, reassuring and non-judgmental. It’s the voice you want reading you a story before you go to bed at night.
In a way, he has done all these things and more, for so many generations of baseball fans. Maybe after 66 years, Scully’s earned his retirement—after all, this is a guy who once broadcast 23 innings of baseball in two different cities 800 miles apart in the same day. But when he’s gone, what I wouldn’t give for one more night driving through the desert, with the radio on and Vin doing all the talking.