Before the transistor radio and television made him larger than life and Johnny Carson, before putting his unparalleled stamp on virtually every moment in Los Angeles Dodger history, you could say Vin Scully had an identity crisis.
“I’d been out (in Los Angeles) about a year or two,” the sportscasting legend recalls, “and we were living on the Westside in a small apartment, and all of a sudden in the fall there were placards on all the lampposts all throughout Westwood and Brentwood, and it was Vincent Scully lecturing at UCLA.”
In truth, it was the nationally renowned Yale U. architecture professor and historian giving the talk, leaving the Dodgers’ Scully to convince the uninformed that he hadn’t branched out from baseball. But that didn’t change how much the city would hang on his every word for the next half-century.
Arriving in Los Angeles younger than many of the ballplayers about whom he waxed so eloquently, Scully stands today as arguably the city’s most enduring entertainer. Putting aside his gigs in golf, football and other sports (as well as his work in 1999’s “For Love of the Game” that some felt was the best part of the film), Scully has broadcast nearly 10,000 Dodger games in 59 seasons covering Brooklyn and Los Angeles, invariably serving as the touchstone for fans reliving their memories.
The 2005 Curt Smith book “Voices of Summer” named Scully baseball’s all-time best broadcaster, and the American Sportscasters Assn. voted him the top sportscaster of the 20th century.
“I never thought about becoming great,” Scully insists. “All I wanted to do was do the game as best I could. And to this day, that’s all I think about. I mean, I come here, (and) my whole idea is be prepared, do the game, and if I do it well enough, fine, and if I make a mistake, then I’ll chew myself out all the way home.
“I’ve always felt (that) I haven’t really accomplished anything. What I’ve done is spend a lifetime talking about the accomplishments of others. … It’s a privilege — it really is, and I assume it as a privilege. I really don’t take myself seriously. Because of my faith, I do know that everything I know has been a gift; I also know that I could lose it in two seconds. Bingo, gone, finished. So I don’t take any pride in my gifts. My only feeling is one of great thanksgiving, that God has allowed me to do what I wanted to do, to let me have it at a young age, to keep my health for all these years and still do it. That’s overwhelming.”
Two traits in particular mark a Scully broadcast. One is his clever and poetic description of events both simple and complex, often colored by his lifelong love of plays and musicals. (In telling a story about meeting longtime Dodger fan Danny Kaye, Scully recalls that he used to imitate the song-and-act man in high school). Of his countless gems, perhaps his most memorable call accompanied the shocking home run by a gimpy Kirk Gibson to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
But lest anyone confuse his enthusiasm with hometown favoritism (in a profession that tolerates the latter to the point of distraction), Scully never shies from criticizing the Dodgers. Contrary to expectations, however, Scully says he adopts this posture because he is employed by the team to galvanize the fanbase.
“Absolutely,” he says. “You have to be accurate; you’re not going to lie. You have to be accurate, and the people have to believe in you, have faith in you that when you say, ‘It’s a good play,’ it was a good play, (and) if you say something was wrong, they believe that. And then when you say, ‘You should come out and enjoy the game,’ they’ll come out, too.”
Earlier this year, fans accustomed to taking him at his word gasped when Scully, who has long lamented the time that baseball takes him away from his family, hinted that he might retire when his latest contract with the Dodgers expires at the end of this season. Days later, he backtracked somewhat, and the city allowed itself a sigh of relief, though no one takes anything for granted.
Because even though it has been a 50-year romance between Dodger fans and Vin Scully, that isn’t long enough.