For baseball fans who came of age in the 1980s, Vin Scully was their soundtrack. On Saturday afternoons and October nights, Scully was as reliable as Johnny Carson’s monologue, Dick Clark on New Year’s Eve and Casey Kasem counting backward. He was as familiar as a bedtime story.
Scully called the balls and strikes, the home runs and strikeouts, the “high fly ball into right field” and “little roller up along first / behind the bag” and every big play in between.
Vin Scully, the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time — and I don’t mean maybe — died Tuesday. He was 94.
A master of lyrical storytelling, accented by dulcet tones, Scully was the radio and television play-by-play voice for the Los Angeles Dodges — from 1950, when they were still in Brooklyn, until his retirement in 2016. He came to national prominence as NBC’s lead play-by-play man from 1983 to 1989, calling three World Series and four NLCS series with color analyst Joe Garagiola. He also called the World Series for CBS radio from 1979 to 1982 and again from 1990 to 1997.
Along the way, Scully narrated Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965 and Hank Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run in 1974.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world,” he said as Aaron hugged his teammates and family after touching home plate. “A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”
Scully also struck the just-right tone as he called Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and Fernando Valenzuela’s no-hitter in 1990. “If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky,” he said as the Mexican pitcher was congratulated by his teammates.
Scully made memorable calls, but as Miles Davis once said: “It’s not the notes you play. It’s the notes you don’t play.”
As Gibson rounded the bases in 1988, pumping his arm around second base, Scully — whose delivery was always more jazz than pop — showed restraint, going silent for more than a minute, letting the pictures tell the story. Then, after Gibson touched home plate and celebrated, Scully returned: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Scully worked for CBS from 1975 to 1982, calling NFL games, including “The Catch,” and contributing to golf and tennis coverage. In 1981, CBS made John Madden its No. 1 color analyst. Throughout the first half of the season, Scully and Pat Summerall competed for the top play-by-play position.
CBS decided Summerall was a better fit beside Madden. Scully quit, and the rest is baseball (and football) history.
In the 1980s, Scully and Garagiola called baseball, and Summerall and Madden called football. It seemed like that’s the way it had always been and would forever be.