Hall of Fame Dodgers announcer Vin Scully is retiring after 67 years of broadcasting. Bob Costas of NBC Sports, a devoted fan of all things Scully, shared some thoughts.
"I think of the one guy, perhaps, in baseball history, who is connected, either directly or indirectly, to virtually every important personage in the history of the game. Branch Rickey broke into the majors leagues in 1905. He was born before the turn of the century. Vin, some of the baseball he knows, it came from Branch Rickey.
"There's a game in entertainment circles, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where in six moves or fewer, you can connect everyone who has ever appeared on TV or in film to Kevin Bacon. You can probably connect Vin to Abner Doubleday in three moves.
"Here's the thing. A rookie breaking in this year might have a 15-year career. Or a 20-year career. So someone playing in 2036 will be connected in some way to Vin Scully. How about this: Vin broke in in 1950. I guarantee you there were people playing in the major leagues who'd broken in in the 1930s. So Vin will have called players separated by a century. Think about that.
"Vin's broadcasts are simultaneously past and present. It's tonight's game, but it's also every game you ever listened to, or every game you ever watched, even if he didn't call it, because in some sense his voice transports you to whatever time in your life you wanted to go. Vin has been around all of our baseball lives. His broadcasts are flashback and news bulletin at the same time, the present and nostalgic.
"It speaks to the importance of continuity, especially in baseball. Now All-Stars are traded at midseason. Hall of Famers play for multiple teams. There used to be continuity. Now, often the greatest source of continuity is the local announcer. Ernie Harwell with the Tigers, Jack Buck for a long time with the Cardinals. … But who personifies that more than Vin does, where he's been doing it for 67 consecutive seasons, well more than half the modern history of baseball? It might be three quarters of the whole history of the broadcasting of baseball.
"The longevity and continuity alone are remarkable. Then couple it with the circumstances that can never be duplicated, even if another Vin Scully were to come along. That person couldn't have the impact. For one thing, for much of Vin's career, baseball was the unquestioned national pastime. Radio was more important than television. And the Dodgers were one of the most important franchises in the history of baseball, be it in Brooklyn or Los Angeles. All the circumstances are unique, but they intersect with a unique, distinctive talent.
"There's another point of incredible circumstance. Yes, he's been the voice of the Dodgers for 67 years, but in the middle of that, he had a run of being the national voice for NBC, when World Series games would get ratings in the 30s, more than double of what they get today. And two of the most memorable World Series and World Series moments came when Vin was calling them, the ball going through Buckner's legs, the Gibson home run. So he's introduced to a national audience. He's well known on both coasts. And then in the sunset, along comes XM radio and the TV packages, that allow a guy who lives in Tacoma, Washington or in Portland, Maine, to watch the game. And a lot of people watching Dodgers-Padres are doing it to listen to Scully more than to watch the game.
"The distinctive voice is very important. You can have someone who is technically an excellent singer. That doesn't mean they sound like Sinatra or Tony Bennett. They hit all the notes flawlessly, but there was something that separated an excellent signer from a completely unique and distinctive signer. So the voice is very important. His command of the language is second to none. But the voice and the delivery made whatever he sang more appealing. Then the other thing is yes, he is a terrific storyteller, but when he goes, so, too does that way of producing and directing a baseball game.
"You don't see any baseball game produced or directed anywhere as Dodgers games are, because they're centered around Vin's storytelling ability. It would be hard to tell the kind of stories he tells. Some of us try to weave a story in … but you can't do it as often where there are drop-ins, constant replays, pitch sequences and stat casts, and you're working with someone else in the booth. All of those things, Vin does not have to maneuver around. The canvas is basically clean for him and he knows how to fill it. None of those advantages would matter much without someone with the talent and the style and the trust of the audience to know what to do with it.
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"I first made that observation jokingly 30 years. He's obviously not going to start a story with the cleanup hitter at the plate, bases loaded, two outs. Even he could get caught in that situation. But it does seem that Vin has a sense, an internal sense, of the pace and rhythm of the game. If something occurs with two outs, he has a shorter version of the story. If there's one out, pitcher traipsing around the mound, it never does seem that Vin's story is truncated by the game. The game does not have the audacity to intrude on Vin.
"The best call? I think it's the entire ninth inning of Koufax's perfect game. There are many, many great announcers whose calls of plays, of home runs, or great catches or the last out of a no-hitter are right up there. What Vin does extraordinarily well is frame things over a long period of time. To appreciate the Gibson home run, it isn't just 'High fly ball, deep right field, she … is … gone!' Then he waits. … 'In the year that's been improbable, the impossible has happened.'
"But it's the whole narrative. First Gibson shows up in the dugout; he hadn't even been in uniform. Now he's coming up, and it's a long at-bat, because the counts goes to 3-2 and there are foul balls. It's all that build-up. Even if he struck out, it's still a framing of the drama.
"Even if Harvey Kuenn had gotten a hit and broken up the Koufax perfect game, the build-up still would have been there, so that the payoff was all the more dramatic and resonant. If I had to pick one, that would be it, because it was radio. There's that whole theater of the mind, engaging the audience. It was also a meeting of two extraordinary talents. There have been guys who've been pretty good pitchers who've somehow thrown perfect games. This was Sandy Koufax. This was a meeting of Sandy Koufax and Vin Scully, each delivering their most perfect performance. Again, the intersection of the two."