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“If you say, are you different on the air and not on the air, the answer is no," said Vin Scully. "I’m just me.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the playoffs, with their first game Thursday evening against the Atlanta Braves. A line-up full of stars has propelled the team into the postseason for the first time in four years. But arguably the most famous and beloved member of the team won’t take the field.
Vin Scully, 85, will be in the broadcast booth, just as he’s been for six and a half decades. It's a streak unrivaled in broadcasting. He tells people he is the most thankful person you will ever meet; a walking Thanksgiving dinner.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig once said listening to Scully just makes him feel better. And when you meet Scully, he’s just as happy.
“If you say, 'are you different on the air and not on the air,' the answer is no,” Scully said. “I’m just me.”
Scully is speaking in the small dining room of the press box that was named after him in 2001. It’s where he eats with the other broadcasters before the game. Press boxes can be cynical places, even when the team is winning. But then there is Scully.
“I’m so happy to be here,” said Scully. “I know it sounds goofy, but I’m probably a little goofy.”
It’s not as if Scully’s life has been a fairy tale.
His first wife died of an accidental overdose in the early 1970’s. Two decades later, his oldest son was killed in a helicopter crash.
He credits his strong Roman Catholic faith for helping him cope with the grief.
“Little girls with ribbons, they break your heart every time,” he recently said during a broadcast as the camera panned to an elegantly dressed baby girl.
With a playoff berth in hand, the Dodgers were treating the last homestand as a throwaway. But Scully stuck to his routine: he was at the stadium four hours early, pouring over the line-up and the latest team news.
“I get a yellow highlight pen and I highlight the things I want to use on the air,” Scully explained. “The big trick is not to be drawn on the rocks by the siren of the Lorelei. You’re looking at the sheet and you miss the play on the field.”
Scully is known as the Poet Laureate of Baseball. In this case, he was referencing a fairly obscure 19th century German poem, Die Lorelei, about sailors avoiding the temptation of a female siren.
Last year, he recited part of a Dylan Thomas poem to describe the Dodgers' fate in the 9th inning.
“Do not go gentle into that good night," Scully said. "Well, that’s where we are.’’
He loves Broadway musicals (his favorite is The Music Man) and sings them in private. And he can often be seen in the first-class section of the team plane, reading military history or novels.
“I’m not an intellect by any means,” Scully said. “I like shoot ‘em ups. I like thrillers. You name it.”
Scully is the only major broadcaster that works solo. Instead of talking to a color commentator, he talks right to his listeners.
“I’m not trying to get smart,” he told listeners recently, after providing a lengthy history of Friday the 13th. “I just thought you folks would find it a little interesting. Like you, I’d be lost without Google.”
Scully never listens to other broadcasts
The longtime broadcaster doesn't use catchphrases. His style is one-of-a-kind. And a big reason is that – with only rare exceptions – he’s never listened to anyone else call a game. That’s because of a lesson his mentor taught him.
“Red Barber said to me, to this young 22-year-old wide eyed-kid: ‘You bring something into the booth that no one else brings in,’” Scully remembered. “I was shocked; ‘what do I bring in?’
Barber's answer was simple: "He said: 'Yourself. There is no one else in this world quite like you.' And he said, 'If you listen to other broadcasters you’ll begin to adopt to some other intonations.' And I thought, I’d be watering my wine.”
Other broadcasters haven’t followed Barber’s advice. Scully is not only widely imitated in the U.S. but also abroad.
San Francisco Giants announcer Jon Miller said it was one thing for young American broadcasters to try to channel Scully, but he didn’t expect to hear it in Venezuela or Japan.
“I went to Tokyo and I really wanted to hear the legendary voice of the Tokyo Giants. But he put me off a little bit because he was trying to do Vinny,” Miller said, before doing his well-known imitation of a Japanese Vin Scully.
Enberg: Scully still has his fastball
The Dodgers announcer was already so beloved that by 1964 – six years after he and the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn – Sports Illustrated declared he had “become as much a part of the L.A. scene as the freeways and the smog.”
San Diego Padres announcer Dick Enberg – who worked for the Angels starting in 1969 – remembers going to the L.A. Coliseum and then Dodger Stadium when so many fans brought radios, just so they could hear Scully.
“When there were quiet moments you could hear his voice reverberating around the stadium,” Enberg remembered. “We never thought we could be better than Scully. That would be foolishness.”
And the remarkable thing, according to Enberg, is that Scully is as good as ever.
“He still has his fastball,” Enberg said.
Scully: "I haven't accomplished anything"
As one of their most popular stars – and maybe the most popular person in Los Angeles – the Dodgers try to promote Scully as much as he’ll let them, which isn’t very much.
Team historian Mark Langill says it took 12 years to convince him to let the team host a Vin Scully bobblehead night.
“We started to do bobbleheads in the early 2000’s and whenever you have surveys he’s always been at the top of the list,” Langill said.
Scully only agreed when his 16 grandchildren begged him. 15 of them went on the field that night. This year, there were two Vin Scully bobblehead nights.
“We’d love to have him at golf tournaments, at birthday parties, sing the anthem, and throw out the first pitch every night,” Langill said.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s suggestion to name a street after Scully provoked an immediate rejection from the broadcaster. Scully hates the notion he’s more popular than the players.
“My career is one of talking about the careers of others,” Scully told reporters in August. “I haven’t accomplished anything. I do the best I can. Some days I get in the car and say: ‘You stink!’”
For the last few years, Scully has signed only 1-year contracts that limit his travel to West of Arizona. Energized by a summer winning streak he called the most impressive he’d ever seen, Scully decided once again in August he wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet.
“The team was so exciting and the fans we’re so thrilled that I thought: ‘I’m not ready to leave this,’” Scully said. “I don’t say it’s like dying, but it’s really turning off an engine. I guess I’ve been working since I was 11 and I’ve pretty much never stopped. It’ll be difficult, but I will eventually do it for sure. Right now, I’m pretty well sure – and I don’t want to go back and forth with it – but I’m looking to next year and thinking that should be about it.”
For the playoffs that start today, Scully will only be on the radio. He says he prefers it that way, calling the game the same way he has since he started in Brooklyn in 1950.
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