By Tom Edwards
One of my favorite singers is Tina Turner. You haven’t heard the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” until you have heard Tina trading lead vocals with Mick Jagger. What a night.I’m not sure but when she sings, “You’re simply the best. Better than all the rest,” she may, easily, be singing about Vin Scully, the best baseball announcer ever.
Scully was born on Nov. 29, 1927 in the home of Yankee Stadium, the Bronx. What a great year for that part of New York City; Vin Scully arrived and the New York Yankees won the World Series.
In 1950, Vin joined Red Barber and Connie Desmond in the Brooklyn Dodgers radio and TV booths. Quick side note: When Ebbets Field opened, it didn’t have radio and TV or press sections, but some seats were eliminated and a space was eventually made available.
During the 1953 season at the age of 25, Scully became the youngest announcer to broadcast a World Series game. To this day, that record stands. The Yankees won the series to complete a 5-year run of championships. Eleven years after that classic Brooklyn Dodgers versus New York Yankees clash, the Yankees gave Scully the opportunity to replace Mel Allen as their lead announcer. As history has shown and to the eternal gratitude of Dodgers fans, Scully opted to stay with the team named after what some fans had to do to access Ebbets Field. Given the trolley lines near the ballpark and the number of cars on them, you frequently had to be a Trolley Dodger to get to the game. The fans, and, eventually, the team, became the Brooklyn Dodgers.
When announcing his retirement at a press conference in 2016, Scully said, “I mean, how long can you go on fooling people?”
Scully had an encyclopedic knowledge of and passion for the game, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. He is simply the best. I have thought for years that announcers of any sport should listen to see and hear how it should be done. I’m not sure, but I believe some current announcers are paid by the word. Whoa, take a breath.
I have followed baseball since I saw Jackie Robinson running out of the dugout in Brooklyn. I have enjoyed the game for decades. That said, I’m still waiting to see my first perfect game or no-hitter, preferably while I’m at a ballpark. Scully has broadcast three perfect games: Don Larsen’s in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s in 1965 and the 1991 gem by Dennis Martinez. To that list, we can add 18 no-hitters.
He has been covering the Dodgers for two-thirds of a century and the list of Hall of Famers alone he has seen play is amazing. Of the entire history of the team, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, only one person, Tommy Lasorda at 68 years, has more time with the Dodgers. Think of all the great players, managers and coaches who have worn the L.A. Dodgers uniform.
In a 1976 survey of Dodgers fans, Scully was selected as the most memorable personality in Los Angeles Dodgers history. That’s impressive and accurate. Many of the great Brooklyn players made the transition to the West Coast. Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and the players that came into the organization until the nation’s bicentennial is a list that will draw your attention. To be considered the most memorable is quite a statement.
The number of awards he has earned over the years is as long as it is justified. In 1982, he was presented the Ford C. Frick Award and Scully joined the game’s immortals at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the picturesque village of Cooperstown, New York. Among players, Willie Mays is always the first name that comes to my mind if the topic is Cooperstown enshrinement. I agree with what Mickey Mantle said about Willie: “He should be in the league that’s after this one.” Same thing can be said about announcers; only one name is needed if you’re looking for the best in announcing a baseball game.
Like my favorite player, Yogi (do we really need a last name here?), Vin also has a long list of memorable quotes. I have about a thousand favorites but here are a few that stand out for me: “He (Bob Gibson) pitches as though he is double parked.” Here’s the thing, that’s exactly how he pitched but no one else had ever described it so perfectly. Vin used words the way DaVinci used paint.
“How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.” No doubt. The fans at Ebbets Field knew all about the Cardinals great. When he left the on-deck circle and headed to home plate, it was, “Oh no, there’s the man again.”
Hence one of the great nicknames in baseball history, Stan “The Man” Musial. One of my most enjoyable memories of The Man took place at a Padres game in San Diego. For the seventh-inning stretch, Musial broke out a harmonica and played a note-perfect “Take me out to the Ball Game.” “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life from the All Star game to the old-timers game.” No doubt.
As someone who is past the age when most old-timers just come out to wave and acknowledge the fans, I can assure you that’s true. I have many fond memories of playing baseball, covering a lot of ground in centerfield, stealing a base and moving a runner up with no outs, but have a hard time believing it has been about half a century.
For their long suffering fans, Scully’s “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are champions of the world” is a quote that will stand throughout time. For the Brooklyn faithful, there was no more “Wait ’til next year,” after the final out at Yankee Stadium in 1955.
If I absolutely had to pick out a favorite Vin Scully quote, I’d go with: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support not illumination.” What a marvelous analogy. I understand a growing number of front office executives are placing a lot of emphasis on the numbers end of a player’s evaluation. I’m more old-school. Numbers can be a valuable asset but I do not believe they are an end-all. You know, support, not illumination.
In 1957, the Dodgers broadcast team of Vin Scully, Al Helfer and Jerry Doggett became the first announcers to travel from game to game in a privately owned plane, a General Dynamics-built Convair 440 aircraft. Years ago, I gave photos of the plane in flight to Brooklyn front office executive Buzzie Bavasi and Hall of Fame centerfielder Duke Snider at a baseball get together. Snider told me there was a bat rack inside the plane. You don’t see that every day.
Buzzie asked me where I got the photos. I told him I worked for General Dynamics, the company that built the plane and received them when the company relocated to Denver. The photographer who took the photos from the chase plane gave them to me. Among my Brooklyn memorabilia, the inflight shots and a black and white photo that was taken during construction, and after the name Brooklyn Dodgers had been applied, are among my favorites.
Speaking of favorites, it wasn’t hard to find a place for a row of three seats from Ebbetts Field in my sports room. I recently sat in them and listened to Scully broadcast a Dodgers game. Much to my delight, I have been able to do that a few times. I do not know the exact number, but I know it will never be enough. After I had finished the final steps of the restoration, I placed the seats in our side yard and took a seat. The outdoor feel was nice but I couldn’t watch a baseball game there, so, like the Dodgers, the seats have relocated. Having them join my seats from Yankee Stadium (the 1923 version) and the Polo Grounds give the sports room a New York feel, for some reason.
With my long-term interest in baseball and photography, I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time frequently. I have taken photos of and spoken briefly with Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mantle, Yogi, Whitey Ford, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Hank Arron, Steve Carlton, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Bunning, Joe Morgan, Rollie Fingers, Tony Gwynn, and on and on. Having done that, and it’s always a hoot, spending time with Scully in an announcer’s booth at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium after a Dodgers/Padres game is either at or near the top of my memorable-moments-in-baseball list.
Before the game, I gave a security guard on the press level the following note for Scully: “Would you have a few moments after the game for a fan since the Brooklyn days?” I saw Scully nod and speak with the guard for a few moments. The guard came out and told me Scully would have a few minutes for my wife and me after he finished the post-game coverage for the L.A. TV station. After the last out, Cathy and I left the suite we were in and went to the broadcast area. We were brought to the booth and, zero surprise here, Scully could not have been more kind and welcoming.
From my Ebbets Field row of seats, I had wood that needed to be replaced. During my engineering career, I was fortunate to be selected for a number of environmental and recycling awards so I knew the Ebbets Field pieces would be recycled. A local store has clear Plexiglas boxes that are a perfect fit if the wood slats from the seats were cut to a 3-inch length. I gave one to Scully, explained what it was and sensed he was quite pleased to have it. My pleasure – trust me.
I asked Vin if I could get some autographs and he was more than willing. I handed him a baseball that has been autographed by Snider, Reese, Koufax and Drysdale. After reading the names, he said, “Are you sure you want me to sign this ball?” I told him I thought adding another Hall of Fame member that began their career in Brooklyn was a good idea. He also autographed an Ebbets Field plate and a Brooklyn Dodgers sheet of stationery. I have worked on that for decades; it has more than 40 signatures, eight of them Hall of Fame members.
What a visit. Memorable. Unforgettable, actually. Thanks, Vin, for all you have brought to the game.
Tom Edwards is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest.