For everything he’s seen, for everywhere he’s been and for everyone he’s met, Vin Scully is, without question, baseball’s version of Forrest Gump.
A self-described ordinary man who’s seen and done extraordinary things and often finds himself at an intersection with history. That’s Vincent Edward Scully.
Think of a big moment in baseball history since 1950 and chances are good that he was there. Now think of another. And another. The checklist is mind-boggling.
Scully, 87, announced Friday he plans to return in 2016 for his 67th and likely final season with the Dodgers, but never mind what the future may hold. His career has already had such longevity, such omnipresence, that the things he’s witnessed might comprise a time-traveler’s baseball bucket list.
He’s seen the beginning and end of Hall of Fame careers from Aaron and Mays to Biggio and Smoltz. He’s worked through 12 presidents and the addition of two U.S. states. When he first broke in, Connie Mack was still active as a manager. Let that sink in: Connie. Mack.
If Scully’s yarn of a career was a movie, like “Forrest Gump,” it would require suspension of disbelief.
Yet, Scully answers questions about his fantastical baseball journey with matter-of-fact Gumption.
“I just happened to be there,” Scully told reporters during a news conference Saturday. “It’s not something that I can take any pride in. … I’m really overwhelmed by the fact that I‘ve been so fortunate. God has blessed me beyond an imagination.”
Indeed, it would take a big imagination to drum up some of the details.
Consider: Like Gump, Scully has not only made it big in the sports world but also has hobnobbed with presidents (including the time he went 3 for 4 against a future president), chatted with rock stars, acted as brand pitchman and done other outlandish things, such as race Jackie Robinson on ice skates. He also narrated a sitcom and had his own talk show.
But all that’s just dramatic filler — it’s Scully’s witness to on-field history that’s most impressive.
There’s just so much of it, more than you probably realize.
There are the all-time great moments, such as …
Oct. 8, 1956: Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game
Working for NBC, Scully was paired with another announcing legend, Mel Allen, for Don Larsen’s perfecto in the 1956 World Series. Allen called the first half, so Scully got the second half — and the final out.
Sept. 9, 1965: Sandy Koufax’s perfect game
Sandy Koufax became the first pitcher to toss four career no-hitters, and with his fourth and final he reached the pinnacle with a perfect game. Scully famously called the game with great detail on radio, relaying the time to listeners as Koufax approached history.
April 8, 1974: Hank Aaron’s 715th home run
The Dodgers were the Braves’ opponent for The Hammer’s record-breaker, so Scully was there to describe the shot in his typical enthusiastic yet understated way. When the ball landed, Scully stayed silent and let the crowd tell the story.
Oct. 25, 1986: ‘Game 6’
“Can you believe this ballgame at Shea?” Scully asked, just seconds before Mookie Wilson hits the infamous grounder up the first base line and through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, scoring Ray Knight from second base. After proclaiming “The Mets win it!”, Scully remained silent for nearly 3 ½ minutes as the crowd roared.
Oct. 15, 1988: Kirk Gibson becomes Roy Hobbs
Scully had an up-close seat for the Dodgers’ entire 1988, so we understand why he sounded genuinely excited as Kirk Gibson’s improbable, one-handed walkoff homer sailed out of Dodger Stadium and shocked the heavily-favored A’s.
… and some that are just cool, such as …
July 6, 1983: Fred Lynn’s All-Star Game grand slam
The 1983 All-Star Game was, at the time, a rare win for the American League. The standout moment of the AL’s 13-run outburst was undoubtedly Fred Lynn’s grand slam off the Giants’ Atlee Hammaker, the first — and still only — slam in All-Star history, as Scully pointed out with his call.
Oct. 14, 1984: Tigers win the World Series
By 1984, Scully had called so enough World Series moments that he apparently didn’t feel the need to contribute anything when the Tigers clinched in Game 5 against the Padres, telling the NBC audience to enjoy the crowd noise “until your heart’s content.” Here’s Scully’s no-call as the Tigers claimed the title:
Oct. 14, 1985: Ozzie Smith’s NLCS walkoff homer
The Wizard came to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 2 and having never hit a homer left-handed. He connected on Tom Niedenfuer’s fourth pitch for a homer off the façade of the lower deck at Busch Stadium. Jack Buck’s famous “Go crazy, folks!” call is by far the best known, but Scully was there, too, calling the game for NBC.
Oct. 5, 2001: Barry Bonds sets single-season home run record
Less than a month after 9/11, Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record — one that stood for all of three years — with his 71st homer off the Dodgers’ Chan Ho Park. Scully narrated the shot with his usual professionalism, telling the audience — on both radio and TV — exactly what it needed to know. Nothing more, nothing less.
… And then there are the calls you didn’t know existed. More on that in a bit.
An ongoing appeal
Part of Scully’s allure with fans is that association with history and nostalgia, which, as he points out, is mostly a product of circumstance: His decades with the storied Dodgers coincided for many years with prominent networks gigs that put him in a position to witness a lot of big games and big moments.
It’s a confluence we’re unlikely to see again.
“There’s just so much turnover these days with broadcasters. You rarely see one announcer stick with one team for his whole career,” said Joe Lucia, associate editor at Awful Announcing, which studies sports media.
Further, Lucia said, “You don’t really see those type of legendary announcers get tabbed for these national games anymore. … Everyone is identifiable with their own team and that’s it.”
Part of Scully’s ongoing appeal also stems from how baseball consumption works in the 21st century, Lucia said.
“Anyone can just pull up a Dodger home game at any time and listen to a guy who called games for Jackie Robinson, for Duke Snyder and Willie Mays and all these legends of the game,” he said. “We can’t pull up a live Jack Buck or Harry Caray telecast. There’s just not anything like that anymore.”
Though he may have lost some spunk in his older years, Scully has remained largely the same announcer for six decades. And the appeal of his simple approach to calling a game is as strong with younger fans as older ones — perhaps, Lucia said, a sign that parents have passed down the Joy of Scully to their children, who then passed it down to their children.
“He doesn’t have a color guy in the booth with him. He doesn’t really rely on graphics or shtick or statistics or anything like that. He tells stories about these players,” Lucia said. “And that’s not something you really see at all with broadcasters anymore. And when he retires, that’s not something we’re really ever going to get again.”
‘There’ll never be another Vin Scully’
Even those who work with Scully are in awe of what he’s seen.
“It’s fun when we have a chance to sit down and chat,” said Glenn Diamond, who grew up in Los Angeles listening to Scully on the radio and now is his producer at SportsNet LA. “There are certain things throughout my childhood that I remember. I’ve asked him about some of those iconic moments, and he’s given me a lot of the insight.”
Diamond has picked Scully’s brain about calling Don Drysdale’s 58-inning scoreless streak in 1968, about the particulars of long-gone stadiums such as Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and Crosley Field in Cincinnati, about other moments he remembers hearing on his transistor radio as a child.
The best tale Diamond has heard from Scully is his recollection of the Dodgers’ clubhouse after they lost to the Giants on Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951. (Yes, Scully was there for that, too. Because of course he was.)
The locker rooms at the Polo Grounds were in center field and close together, so the Dodgers could hear the Giants’ euphoric celebration as their clubhouse remained in depressed silence. As one might imagine, Scully paints a vivid picture.
“Everybody has seen the home run a million times, but to hear Vin tell the story about having to be with a very sad clubhouse … was very different,” Diamond said.
More than six decades removed from such moments, Scully, amazingly, recalls them with clarity.
“He’s very retrospective. The man is a storyteller,” Diamond said. “That’s who he is and what he is. … There’ll never be another Vin Scully. ”
The calls you’ve probably never heard
Even if we take away all the top-tier baseball history Scully’s called, he’s still got quite the resume of epic moments. Because, like our friend Mr. Gump, Scully has had a good seat for a lot more history than most people realize.
For example, Scully was there …
Oct. 27, 1991: Smoltz vs. Morris in Game 7
As Jack Morris and John Smoltz locked horns in dueling shutouts, Scully’s soothing voice told the story on CBS national radio amid the tension of 10 incredible innings that ended with Gene Larkin’s pinch-hit single and the Twins pulling out a 1-0 series-clinching win.
Oct. 23, 1993: Joe Carter’s World Series walkoff homer
As Joe Carter took the Phillies’ Mitch Williams deep for the first World Series-clinching walkoff homer in 33 years, Scully’s dulcet tones glistened across the radio waves as the ball cleared the left-field wall.
Oct. 28, 1995: Braves finally win the World Series
On their third World Series trip in four seasons, the Braves finally come out on top, defeating the Indians 1-0. Scully called the action for CBS Radio, painting word pictures of Tom Glavine’s one-hit gem and Atlanta’s only major sports championship.
Oct. 26, 1997: Marlins walk off with World Series championship
The Indians and Marlins gave us one of the most underrated World Series in recent memory, capping it off with the Marlins’ walkoff win in an 11-inning, back-and-forth Game 7 thriller. Scully called the action yet again for CBS radio, to date his final national World Series broadcast.
And if all those baseball moments weren’t enough, Scully also called one of the more iconic plays in NFL history: Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1982 NFC Championship Game — otherwise known as “The Catch.”
Just like Forrest Gump, Scully speaks with humility and matter-of-factness when discussing his life.
“I’m just me. When it all boils down, as I tell you from the heart, I am the most ordinary man you’ve never met,” Scully told reporters Saturday. “I was given an extraordinary opportunity and God has blessed me for doing it all these years. … I’m just a guy who’s a sports announcer.”
There are other sports announcers, and there will be other Dodgers announcers. But only one has set an unreachable bar for his successors. And there’s more to come.
“I’m trying very hard for one more year. And God willing, it’ll come about,” Scully said Saturday, before citing the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”
Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
“For at least the God-given time I have left,” Scully said, “I’ll be raging.”
And we’ll be listening, as a career worthy of a Hollywood tale brings us its final act.