Baseball broadcasting legend Vincent Edward ‘Vin’ Scully passed away last week at the age of 94. He was the voice of the Dodgers for an incredible 67 seasons, from 1950 to 2016. The awards and accolades that Scully received during his career are too numerous to mention. As one example, he received the Ford Frick Award for lifetime achievement in broadcasting excellence from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and then went on to work for 34 more years!
Scully’s longevity stands as a testimony to our concept of focusing on a core capability and not swaying with every fad and passing trend – the Amphora theme of ‘strategies that endure.’ And it is difficult to comprehend the amount of change that Scully witnessed. He followed the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles (in 1958), and transitioned from radio to television, though his style changed very little. He started at a time when baseball was still struggling with integration – he did not actually broadcast Jackie Robinson’s first game (as implied in the recent movie), but he did call hundreds of Jackie’s games and watched as other teams gradually followed the Dodgers lead and broke the color barrier.
Beyond that, in 1950, there were only 16 major league teams with none farther west than St. Louis. By 2016 only 9 of these were still in their original hometowns, and through four waves of expansion, an additional 14 teams had been added. In 1950, there was no free agency, no designated hitter, no jumbotrons and no players from Latin America, not to mention Japan or Korea. Further, for most of his early years, Scully worked alone in the booth – not flanked by ‘color commentators’ as is common today and not supported by an analyst feeding him statistics to bolster his narration. Amidst all this change, Scully was the constant, for nearly everyone alive, the only ‘voice of the Dodgers’ they can remember.
In addition to his job with the Dodgers, for nearly twenty years Scully worked for NBC Sports, covering golf and football, but baseball remained his true calling. Scully covered an amazing 25 worlds series; his first was in 1953, and he remains the youngest ever to do so. And while he can’t take credit for the famous call of Bobby Thompson’s home run for the Giants in 1951 play-off game (it was Russ Hodges who said, “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant”), he was in the next booth, calling the game for the losing Dodgers. It is Scully’s voice you hear in the replay of Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit home run in game one of the 1988 World Series – “in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
In a profession where others were known for hyperbole, histrionics and off the field antics (or in the case of the Cubs’ Harry Caray, all three), Scully was simply a master of his craft. Despite living in a city where celebrity sightings are a daily occurrence, he kept a relatively low profile.
Perhaps the call that best exemplifies Scully’s enduring talent is his play by play of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965.
As the game nears its dramatic ending, we see Scully’s gifts in their fullest. The differentiators that kept him at the top of his craft for over more than six decades:
- Like Hemmingway, he describes details in precise yet uncomplicated words that create a vivid picture of the scene – “Koufax wipes the sweat from his brow with his index finger, then wipes it on his left pant leg.”
- He puts the game situation in context, stepping back to remind us why it matters. In the Koufax call, he repeats the time and date, as if to say “remember where you are right now so you can tell your grandchildren about this historic moment.”
- Lastly, he did not need to fill every second with his own voice. In the Koufax call, after the final strike, he is silent for 37 seconds, letting the crowd noise tell the story and making you feel like you were there. This is perhaps why, while the official attendance that night was just over 29,000 people, decades later hundreds of thousands of Angelenos ‘remember’ being at that game.
Sadly for baseball fans, the sport no longer means what it did in the Norman Rockwell America where Scully got his start. With its long season and slow pace, baseball rewards patience and perspective and has struggled to keep its audience in the Tik Tok era. Baseball may need to continue changing to stay relevant, but it will never have a better soundtrack than the golden tones of Vin Scully.
We cannot summarize the difference he made any better than Stan Kasten, the President of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “Vin Scully was one of the greatest voices in all of sports. He was a giant of a man, not only as a broadcaster, but as a humanitarian. He loved people. He loved life. He loved baseball and the Dodgers. And he loved his family. His voice will always be heard and etched in all of our minds forever.” Rest in Peace, Vin Scully, there will never be another one like you.