The voice of the Dodgers — and the voice of baseball — passed away on Tuesday. Here’s how I will remember the great Vin Scully.
People like to say that baseball was meant to be heard on the radio, and I’ve never agreed. Baseball was meant to be heard on the radio until TV came along. TV has the same benefits as radio and you could see what was going on. Then baseball was meant to be seen on a color TV. Then HD. Eventually, whatever’s next.
But when people say baseball was meant to be heard on the radio, they are almost universally thinking of Vin Scully. The longtime Dodgers broadcaster, who passed away on Tuesday at 94, wasn’t just the voice of the team.
He was the voice of the sport.
Part of it was longevity. Scully got his start with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, followed the team to Los Angeles, and called more memorable moments than anyone under the sun right up until his retirement in 2016. Along the way, he starred in national broadcasts for NBC and called football and golf for CBS. He was the radio voice of 12 different World Series.
All that means he was behind the mic for some truly historic moments: Bill Buckner’s error, Kirk Gibson’s hobbled home run, Hank Aaron’s record-breaking blast. Those are the calls the masses will remember.
The moments Dodgers fans will remember, however, are far more important. All the nights they fell asleep to a ballgame so Vin’s voice drifted its way into a dream of October glory. The times they skipped school because the Dodgers were in the World Series. Eventually, introducing their sons and daughters to the game as they grew to love hearing “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
You don’t stay at your job for 67 seasons unless you’re damn good at it, and no one was better than Vin Scully. Broadcasting any sport is simultaneously difficult and overwhelmingly simple. It takes poise — you’re going to make mistakes, but the game isn’t going to stop for you. It takes preparation — you try winging it on air for a three-hour baseball game. It takes practice — calling what you see, as you see it is much tougher than it sounds.
Ultimately, the job is to describe the game and give the viewer or listener the context they need to understand it.
No one was better than Scully. He could be intense without being hyperbolic. He could be excited without blowing out his mic. He knew when to go into detail and when to let the action on the field speak for itself. He could weave in a funny story so seamlessly that it felt like the teams would wait to put the ball in play until he reached the punchline.
Yes, there was more than that. Stuff that couldn’t be taught. Upon his passing, the Dodgers called him their poet laureate because he had a way with words unlike any in the business. His voice was both strong and soothing. He could read a phone book and keep you hooked from A to Z.
But the single most important thing a broadcaster can do — and Scully did it perfectly — was talk directly to you. Not to the millions watching around the world; to you.
I grew up a Yankees fan, whose play-by-play man, Michael Kay, likes to say that one should call a game like they are on the phone with their mother, describing what’s happening. Scully never tried to do any more than that.
And when he signed off for the final time in 2016, he left us with these words:
“You and I have been friends for a long time. But I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me. And I’ll miss our time together more than I can say.”
It was the perfect way to bow out. He wasn’t talking to the masses. He was talking to you and me specifically. I was friends with Vin Scully for a long time. So were you. So was every Dodger and baseball fan on the planet.
Those final lines did, however, hold the rare factual error from Scully — that he needed us more than we needed him. We needed Vin Scully. Baseball needed Vin Scully.
And baseball was meant to be called by Vin Scully.