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Dodgers’ Vin Scully ‘One on One’ From the Booth

October 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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After 60 years in the broadcast booth for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Vin Scully says he still gets goose bumps. In an interview with Jeffrey Brown, the hall of famer discusses his first big break, the thrill of baseball, and his "one on one" approach with the fans.

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, a very special baseball story. This weekend, the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West Championship. Jeffrey Brown profiles the man who has called the Dodgers’ games for 60 years.

VIN SCULLY, sports broadcaster: It’s time for Dodger baseball.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a voice that generations of Dodger fans have grown up with, savored, loved…

VIN SCULLY: Ground ball to third, backhanded by Blake. He straightens up to throw him out. Easy inning for Randy Wolf…

JEFFREY BROWN: In Los Angeles, but also incredibly going all the way back to Brooklyn in the 1950s.

VIN SCULLY: The pitch at the right ankle of Andres Torres, ball one.

JEFFREY BROWN: And at age 81, in his 60th year as a radio and TV broadcaster, Vincent “Vin” Scully still feels the thrill of it all, most of the time.

VIN SCULLY: Oh, sure. Now, admittedly, there are days where you think, “You know, I’d rather sit under a tree and read a book than go to the ballpark.”

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, everybody has those days, right?

VIN SCULLY: But what’s great is, you come to the park, you do the routine stuff, and then the crowd comes in, and the team takes the field, and the crowd roars. And all of a sudden, you’re delighted as a kid in a candy shop.

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s exactly where you want to be.

VIN SCULLY: Exactly.

JEFFREY BROWN: In an age when the sports broadcast booth is crammed with two or even three announcers, Scully still prefers to work alone…

VIN SCULLY: Sanchez a strike, and the count 0-1.

JEFFREY BROWN: … giving the play-by-play, describing every moment of the action, and providing the color…

VIN SCULLY: One ball and one strike to Freddy.

JEFFREY BROWN: … the stories and details that entertain and enlighten his audience. His style, mastery of language, and, yes, longevity have made him a legend in sports circles.

It all began, he says, with lessons in attitude from his mentor, Red Barber, another broadcasting great, who gave Scully his first big break and brought him into the booth in Brooklyn in 1950.

VIN SCULLY: One of my many jobs as the junior partner of the broadcasting firm would be to get the lineups every day. And let’s say that one day I brought up a lineup where Smith was hitting in front of Brown. The next day I brought a lineup up and Brown was hitting in front of Smith. Red would ask me, why? And the first time he asked me why, I didn’t know. However, after that, I knew. And that was part of Red: Be there early, be very well-prepared, and then you’re ready to go on the air.

JEFFREY BROWN: Who are you talking to when you’re doing the game? I mean, you’re one of the few who still does it alone for the most part. So who are you talking to?

VIN SCULLY: Well, first of all, I have to make people understand, it’s not an ego thing. It’s not that I just want to be on all by myself. This goes back to Brooklyn, where Red’s philosophy was simply this. If I want to sell you a car, is it better for me to talk to you about the merits of the car or talk to so-and-so and have you listen to our discussion about the merits of the car? Red always felt that it was better to talk one on one.

So what I’m doing, I’m talking to the listener. And I will talk. I’ll say, “Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you,” or…

JEFFREY BROWN: “I forgot to tell you.”

VIN SCULLY: Exactly, talking — because I don’t want the microphone to be in the way. I want them to know I’m sitting next to them in the ballpark talking.

DODGERS FAN: You’ve got the best job in the world.

A guide to baseball history

JEFFREY BROWN: That level of intimacy grown into a sense of reverence comes through clearly at the ballpark. Through the years, Scully has brought Dodgers' fans and in nationally televised games the rest of us some of the sport's greatest moments.

VIN SCULLY: Yankee Stadium shivering in its concrete foundation right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: He called the only perfect game pitched in a World Series: Don Larsen's gem for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.

VIN SCULLY: Got him! The greatest game ever pitched by Don Larsen.

JEFFREY BROWN: Nine years later, Scully was there for Sandy Koufax's perfect game.

VIN SCULLY: Sandy into his wind-up. Here's the pitch. Swung on and missed, a perfect game!

High fly ball into right field, she is gone! In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.

JEFFREY BROWN: And then there was the famous 1988 World Series walk-off home run by a hobbled Kurt Gibson. That crowd noise and the silence from the broadcast booth is another Scully trademark.

VIN SCULLY: When I was very small, maybe 8 years old, we had a big radio that stood on four legs, and it had a cross piece underneath it, and I used to take a pillow and crawl under the radio. And I would listen to a game that meant nothing to a kid growing up in New York. I mean, it might be Tennessee-Alabama. But when someone scored a touchdown and the crowd roared, that crowd noise would come out of the speaker like water out of a shower head, and it would just cover me with goose bumps.

And I used to think, "Oh, I'd like to be there to feel that roar of the crowd." And it's never left me to this day, so that when something happens, I love it to shut up and hear the crowd.

Three-two, Wolf goes...

JEFFREY BROWN: The big moments are one thing, but baseball more than other sports is about the small details and, of course, the stories that fill in the gaps of a long afternoon or night game.

VIN SCULLY: Well, Riley is the fellow who worked for the Metropolitan Opera House, not singing, as a stagehand from midnight until dawn, tear down the previous night's opera, and put up the scenery for the next night.

You have to just talk about each player individually. If I can get a story about a player, I would give you a ship load of numbers, batting averages and all just for that one precious story. That's the kind of thing that I love to do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Joe Torre, now the Dodgers' manager, enjoyed Scully's stories as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, but not so much when he came to Los Angeles as a visiting player in the days when fans would bring their transistors to the ballpark and the sound of Scully was everywhere.

JOE TORRE, manager, Los Angeles Dodgers: Jeff, as a player, I used to stand in that batter's box in the '60s and probably early '70s, and it was eerie, because you could hear Vin Scully's voice.

JEFFREY BROWN: You mean, people listening to him in the stands?

JOE TORRE: On the transistor radio. I'd be in there trying to concentrate on hitting Koufax or Drysdale, which was no easy task, and I could be hearing Vin's voice in my ear, and it was pretty unusual.

VIN SCULLY: And a towering drive. Wow, Manny just turns to see where it's going.

JEFFREY BROWN: By this point, Vin Scully has received every accolade there is. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame way back in 1982, so what more is there?

There were some stories about the possibility of retirement. Have you made any decision? Or how will you know when it's time?

VIN SCULLY: I've told several writers this, and, again, I get back to it, but if you want to make God smile, tell him your plans. And I've always been very, very respectful of that sentence. All I know is, I'm working this year, and God willing, I plan to work next year. Somewhere over that year, my next step will come about. And that's about as all I can determine right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you're still enjoying what you're doing?

VIN SCULLY: I love it. And you know how I know I love it? Because when there's a great play on the field and the crowd roars, I still get goose bumps. I'm just like that little kid under the radio.

Bases loaded, sixth inning, one out. And a drive to left field, down the line. It is gone, a grand slam home run!