Legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully has just a few more hours of airtime in a broadcast career that has spanned 67 years. For him, it all ends on Sunday. But A Martinez, who worked closely with the Dodgers for years and who got to know him personally, wanted to explain why he thinks Scully is the greatest broadcaster of all time.
To understand what makes Vince Scully truly one of the greats, we need to go back in time for some historical context.
In the late 1950s, Los Angeles was already the movie-making capital of the world. But it was also changing. Quickly.
Nowhere did the post-war boom, boom more than in the City of Angeles.
There were more cars produced here than anywhere else outside of Detroit. Aerospace companies provided good, high-paying jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers. Real estate development exploded, and people started to migrate here for the nice homes, the beaches, the mountains, the sunshine and a little slice of the American dream.
But there was one thing missing: a big time professional sports team.
In those days, Major League Baseball was king. If you didn’t have a team you pretty much were considered a minor league town.
That irked a lot of folks in Los Angeles. It was a hard right jab to their civic pride.
Happily, the Brooklyn Dodgers wanted a taste of that good West Coast life, too, and in 1958 they decided to make the big move.
Who would be the first point of contact between the Dodgers and their new city?
In 1957, the year before the team moved, Scully was a twenty-something, golden throated, red-head announcer born and raised in New York who, ironically, grew up a die hard Giants fan.
But once he and the team made it out here, they fell in love with the town and the town fell in love with them.
It helped that the Dodgers were a top-flight club. They won the World Series in three of the first eight years they were in Los Angeles.
It helped that they had legendary players such as Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills.
And it also helped that Scully was there to immortalize them.
Scully was a natural at descriptions. You could visualize exactly what was going on without even being at the game.
But to make the argument that he’s the greatest of all time, fast forward to 1988 when no one expected much of the Dodgers.
The team had come off of back-to-back subpar seasons.
But as April turned into May, the Dodgers were leading the division and pretty much stayed in first place the rest of the way. They also had a roster full of players who pretty much no one considered superstars.
The Dodgers were the clear underdogs.
Then they faced the powerful and heavily-favored New York Mets, a team with 100 wins and the 2nd best record in the majors.
A funny thing happened though: the Dodgers wound up beating the Mets to advance to the World Series.
I was an L.A. kid at the time and a Dodgers fan. I remember all of the talk, “Well it was a nice run. They got a little lucky, but now the Cinderella story ends.”
You see, they were going up against the Oakland A’s, the team with the best record in the majors.
The Dodgers had also lost their best player, outfielder Kirk Gibson. He was was all banged up and got pulled from the lineup for the opening game of the World Series.
To no one’s surprise, things didn’t start off well for L.A. The Mets' Jose Canseco hit a grand-slam early to give the A’s the lead.
Then in the bottom of the 9th with a one run lead, the A’s brought in Dennis Eckersley, the best closer in the game, to lock everything up.
For some reason, with two outs and a runner on-base, manager Tommy Lasorda decided to go for a Hail Mary.
He called on the injured Gibson to grab a bat. The outfielder could hardly walk, much less hit a baseball.
But then Gibson hit a home run so glorious that I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
It was in moments like these that Scully showed why he’s one of the greats.
He let the moment breathe for over a minute, allowing the crowd to carry the action and stepping aside when other broadcasters may have felt the need to say something.
Then, in 12 words, Scully summed up an entire season.
"In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,"
The Gibson call was amazing to hear as a broadcaster and as a fan, but there was one other moment that meant the world to me as a young Latino kid in L.A. who was a obsessed with the Dodgers.
It was two years later in 1990 when Fernando Valenzuela was in his last season as a Dodger.
By then, Valenzuela had pretty much done it all: season after season of total Fernando-mania from the fans, two-time World Series champ, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award winner, multiple All-Star Game appearances.
There was still one thing on his baseball bucket list, however: throw a no-hitter.
He was almost there on June 29, 1990. Just two more outs and he’d have it.
Vin captured the moment in typical Scully fashion.
"If anyone has a sombrero, throw it to the sky!" he belted.
It was a simple acknowledgement to what Valenzuela meant to the Spanish-speaking community of Los Angeles, along with a sense of closure for Valenzuela’s Dodger career.
To me, in that moment and hearing him sum up what my hero meant to us, it meant the world.
That relationship with the audience is something that all broadcasters strive for.
There are so many other ways I could illustrate why I’ll miss Vin Scully and why, for me, he’s on the Mount Rushmore of announcers.
When he leaves, the way we hear the game will never be the same.
Scully worked all by himself. The last solo play-by-play man in baseball. The last guy who – all alone – could connect with you on a personal level with well-told stories and stats sprinkled in between, keeping you engaged all the way through.
I’ll always remember what he said when the Dodgers named their press box after him.
He said he was happy to have his name on the room where the reporters worked because he has always seen himself as just that: a reporter telling the story of the game.
Vin Scully – the eyes and ears of Los Angeles – telling a very long story to a city that will be grateful for a very long time.