“Are you comfortably sitting? Then I’ll begin,” said British broadcaster Julia Lang, introducing a story. The story of baseball’s Artful Dodger shows why Winston Churchill termed English “bullets that become ammunition.” Since mid-century, Vin Scully has used words to scale a hill of syntax and vocabulary, a peak of place and mood.
In 1950, the Bronx-born 22-year-old debuted at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. In 1957, his Dodgers left the Borough of Churches for the City of the Angels. I was born too late to hear Scully knit New York: raised too Eastern to hear him in Los Angeles. For a long time I absorbed Vin from a distance: a World Series here, All-Star Game there. Necessity can become a virtue.
Like most of America, I truly met Scully in the 1970s: CBS Radio; then, NBC TV; today, Sirius XM Satellite. Distance can breed perspective. It also spurs mystique. A new book of mine explores the Roy Hobbs of language: Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story – the first biography of the American Sportscasters Association’s “Top Sportscaster of All-Time.”
Stephen Ambrose said, “The act of writing is the act of learning.” Several conclusions color Scully. First, artistry can be nebulous, like throwing darts in a fog. Vin ties work, skill, and elegance. Next, he is a family man, grounded and self-aware. Third, most Voices fall to meet an audience: Scully asks his to rise. “He is day-to-day,” he etched an injured player. Pause. “Aren’t we all?” Vin, 81, will one day retire. His Scully School can live.
Its curricula is old-school: description, meet story-telling. Lincoln loved anecdote. Franklin Roosevelt invented a piano teacher to illustrate a point. Scully’s poetry, realism, grasp of history, and voice less Pavarotti than Perry Como have wed25 World Series, 18 no-hitters, NBC’s 1983-89 Game of the Week, Hollywood Walk of Fame, lifetime Emmy Achievement Award, and every major radio/TV Hall of Fame. Bill Stern turned heads. Scully woos them.
Take 1955: “Ladies and gentlemen,” Vin said on NBC, “the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world.” 1959: Baseball’s then-largest crowd (93,103) feted crippled Roy Campanella before an exhibition. “The lights are going out in this final tribute to Roy Campanella, and everyone at the ballpark … are asked in silent tribute [on signal] to light a match. The lights are now starting to come out, like thousands and thousands of fireflies” – then, magically, “a sea of lights at the [Memorial] Coliseum.”
1974: On a rainy night in Georgia, Henry Aaron’s 715th homer crossed a most Ruthian line. “A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.” 1986: Bill Buckner’s error froze time: “Here comes Knight! And the Mets win it!” Scully’s usually singsong voice rocked, throbbed, alight with feel. 1988: Kirk Gibson heroically went deep. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” said Vin. It is how millions will always remember him.
The radio/TV laymen draws dots. Linking them, the artist navigates dead air by using language as an oar. Freeze “twilight’s little footsteps of sunshine.” Recall “he catches the ball gingerly, like a baby chick falling from the tree.” Relive a weak hit prompting Eugene O’Neill’s “a humble thing, but thine own.” Once a hirsute player entered the game. “What, ho! What, ho!” Vin hymned. “What men are these, who wear their sideburns like parentheses?
In an inning, Scully might move from phrase (“It was so hot today the moon got sun-burned”) via simile (pitching “like a tailor: a little off here, a little off there and you’re done”) to humor (“There’s something redundant about giving noisemakers to youngsters under 14 years of age.”) A game-starting walk became “a sour note to begin any concert.” Vin’s register sings subtlety, telling fact, attention to detail, and standing in the player’ shoes,” daily inviting us to “pull up a chair.”
In the 1991 World Series, a Minnesota runner reached second base. A moment later CBS Radio’s Voice referenced Broadway’s Death of a Salesman’s “tiny ship” (runner) seeking “safe harbor” (home plate). Driving, I almost ditched the car. Only Scully could fuse baseball and Arthur Miller: literature in a highlight age, refusing to deviance- or dumb-down.
Fast-forward to 2020. A grandchild savors a favorite broadcaster. Smiling, you recall Scully: in memory, safe harbor. “The Fordham Thrush with a .400 larynx,” wrote Jim Murray. From language, Vin seldom lets us wander far away.
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