Vin Scully is heading into his 67th (and, he says, final) season with the Dodgers. In the Jan. 25, 1950 issue of Variety, Bill Coleman at Fordham U. predicted a great future for Scully, who had just been hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers to be their third broadcaster.
In Variety in 1950, Bill Coleman called you “one of the Ted Husings of tomorrow.”
Oh, wow. I honestly don’t remember reading that, so it’s just as well that I didn’t; it would have been overwhelming. Ted Husing not only was a very good broadcaster, he had a marvelous voice and an incredible, incredible vocabulary. And he did all the sports. He did some famous fights. Instead of a bloody nose, it would be a “sanguinary flow.” He was really quite a guy.
How did college prepare you to become a sportscaster?
I was thinking I would probably be a writer, maybe a sportswriter. And then I went into the Navy, and when I came back, there was an FM station just about ready to go on the air. So I thought, “Wow, I could do that and write.” That was a big break, that they had not a campus station, but a true FM station, which to this day is doing very, very well in the New York area. That was probably one of the biggest breaks I could have gotten.
What did you do at that station?
Everything imaginable. We did sports. I did football, and when the team was on the road, we did football by ticker. We did basketball live. And we did everything else; we did symphony hours. And I had a sports show where I gave my opinion about certain things.
But you wouldn’t be able to broadcast baseball games, because you were on the team?
Right. I couldn’t do it; (but) a lot of times, I played center field, and I would stand out there and actually call pitches and anything that took place in front of me. I couldn’t say, “I’m going back on a fly ball,” but I could talk about, “There’s a ground ball to shortstop, and a throw to first in time for the out.” I could do that kind of stuff, while I was standing in center field. I would do it out loud. There was an elderly priest who used to sit in the bleachers, and he used to always tease me about doing the ballgame out loud.
When you graduated, you went to work for CBS in D.C. How did you get there?
My senior year in college, they published a book that listed every radio station in the United States, the wattage, and the station manager or the general manager. There was a girl on campus, Marguerite, who was a friend of mine — not a girlfriend, but a friend — she would type letters. We sent out 150 letters, to radio stations all the way from Maine to Florida, and in the course of doing them, we came to WTOP in Washington. I said, “Well, we better skip that one.” Marguerite said, “Why?” I said, “It’s 50,000 watts — that’s the big leagues.” She said — and this dates the story — she said, “Heck, it’s only gonna cost you another 3-cent stamp.” So we sent the letter out. Of all the letters, the 150, I got a return from WTOP saying, “We liked your audition disk, but we do not sign anyone just blindly – you would have to come down here and audition again.” And I said, “Fine.” So I went to Washington, and I had no thought of being employed there, but I went there and I did my audition and I went home. A couple of days later, I got the call, and they said, “We have a job for you. You would be the summer replacement announcer — as each announcer on staff went on vacation, you would assume all of those duties.” That was a golden opportunity, and again just because the girl said, “Oh, it’s only a 3-cent stamp.” That was the miraculous job that I wound up getting.
What was it like?
It was incredible for experience. The station could not have been nicer to this young kid. And when all the vacations had been used up, I was ready to leave. They gave me some letters, and one of the letters they gave me was to a man in charge of news at CBS in New York. And he couldn’t have been nicer, but he didn’t have a job for me, but I had mentioned sports. He said, “You should go over and see Red Barber.” I went over to see Red Barber, and he was putting his hat and coat on and ready to leave, and literally he said, “Leave your name, etc. with the fellow at the desk.” And that was that.
That was CBS Radio?
Exactly. They had a wonderful football show called “Football Roundup.” They would broadcast four games and then of course, they had hundreds of college scores. So if you were interested in college football, you got your fill on that show on Saturday. Anyway, I had left my name and all that. One of the (broadcasters) fell ill. This is like Thursday, and Red Barber was trying to figure out who could do the job. The phone rang, and it was Red and he said (doing Red Barber accent), “Young Scully, where will you be tomorrow morning?” And I said, “In your office.” He said, “Good answer. See you at –” whatever. I went to his office, and he said, “I’m making an appointment for you. You’re going to do the football game, Boston University-Maryland.” I said, “Holy mackerel.” I went up to Boston.When I got to the hotel room on Friday, I did whatever little preparation I could, and I thought, “I’m with the network. I’ll be in a beautiful booth, and I’ll be fine.” So I left my coat, my hat, gloves, in the hotel room. Typical dumb maneuver.
Got to the ballpark, Fenway Park, and I go upstairs and I’m looking for the radio booth — and I don’t have a radio booth. There’s a man sitting on the roof, out in the open, in the elements, with a card table and all of his little equipment on top of the table, a microphone and 50 yards of cable, and we’re on the 50-yard line. And that was it. And luckily for me, I didn’t ever say anything about the difficult working conditions. I just did the best I could. And all the other games that day kind of fell apart. All of a sudden, I’ve got the hot game. It wound up, I believe, Maryland won 14-12 or 14-13, and BU was driving until they ran out of time. Maryland the next year was national champion. So it was a pretty exciting game. But I was frozen, because I was so exposed. The lights came on in the third quarter, the wind was howling off the Charles River. It was brutal. So when it was all over, I felt really discouraged; I thought, “Stupid, you leave all your clothes in the hotel room,” and now I’m on the train going back to New York. And I’m depressed. Meantime, over let’s say Sunday or Monday, Red got a call from the people at Fenway Park, apologizing for putting the young kid through that, (because) they didn’t have a booth for him. Well, not having mentioned anything, suddenly — Let’s say I did a very ordinary job, but Red was very impressed by the fact that I never mentioned that I didn’t have a booth, I was freezing. I never mentioned any of that, which turned out to be the luckiest thing that ever happened. He said to me, “Well, you’ll have a booth next weekend: You’re gonna do Harvard-Yale,” which was the biggest deal on the East Coast.
How did you wind up with the Dodgers?
Weeks later, I was getting ready to go back to Washington in February for a permanent job, but Ernie Harwell upped and left (the Dodgers) to go with the Giants. Next thing I know, I came home to our apartment, and my red-haired Irish mother, highly excitable, said, “Oh, Vinny, you’ll never guess who called — Red Skelton.” I said, “Who? No, not Red Skelton, Could it have been Red Barber?” “Oh yes,” she says, “that’s who it was, Red Barber.” So I called him, and again he said to me, “Where are you going to be tomorrow?” And I said, “In your office?” He said, “No. You’re going to Brooklyn, and you’re going to meet with Branch Rickey.” Well, you can just imagine. I was totally scared, totally overwhelmed. Went over, met with Mr. Rickey, and it led to my job with the Dodgers. So it has been just one miraculous moment after another, all going back to that 3-cent stamp, and the letter to WTOP.