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Curt Smith: Vin Scully ‘the best there ever was’

September 29, 2016
Curt SmithCurt Smith, senior lecturer in English, is the author of Pull Up A Chair, the only biography on Vin Scully, the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster who is retiring after 67 years. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

It was difficult for Curt Smith to rank the top 101 baseball broadcasters for his 2005 book, Voices of Summer.

Picking No.1 was easy.

“A broadcaster is judged over a period of years by his wearability,” says Smith, a University senior lecturer in the Department of English. “Nobody wears better than Vin Scully. He’s the Roy Hobbs of broadcasters, the best there ever was.”

Scully’s legendary career ends Sunday when he calls the Los Angeles Dodgers’ season finale against the San Francisco Giants at A&T Park in San Francisco. The Bronx native has been the Dodgers’ broadcaster for 67 years—from 1950 to 1957 in Brooklyn and since 1958 in Los Angeles. He called his final game at Dodger Stadium last Sunday but will make a rare road trip this weekend to cap his Hall of Fame career.

Smith’s 2009 book, Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story (University of Nebraska Press), is the only biography written on the modest, iconic broadcaster, who turns 89 in November. Smith, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, has authored numerous books on baseball broadcasting and is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authority on the subject.

Fascinating Scully facts

Scully was an outfielder for the Fordham baseball team, and on April 12, 1947, he played against a Yale squad that included first baseman and future president George H.W. Bush. Both players went 0-for-3.

Scully called one of the most famous football games in history for CBS, a last-minute touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark to give the San Francisco 49ers a stunning 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1982 National Football Conference championship.

If you started a job in 2016 and worked as long as Scully, you’d retire in 2083.

Scully has been on the job so long in Southern California that children who first heard him in 1958 are great-grandparents.

In 1970, ABC sports executives approached Scully about becoming the first play-by-play announcer for Monday Night Football. He turned it down because it would interfere with his Dodgers’ schedule.

In 2001, an umpiring crew led by Bruce Froemming doffed their caps and saluted Scully (up in the press box) before a game. Since then, every crew acknowledges Scully (who has never criticized umpires on the air) at the beginning of a series.

When Scully began his career in 1950, Connie Mack was still managing the Philadelphia Athletics. Mack’s first major-league game (as a player) was in 1886.

Scully has called 34 seasons of Dodgers games since he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Smith had given Scully a perfect score of 100 (based on several categories) in Voices of Summer. But Scully didn’t want a biography written about him and didn’t cooperate with Smith for Pull Up a Chair, which is Scully’s signature phrase.

“He’s a very humble man, and I think he feels his work speaks for itself,” Smith says. “Nobody says a bad word about him. Nobody.”

Scully majored in literature at Fordham University and turned baseball broadcasts into an art form.

“You’re watching a game and up pops a quote from Eugene O’Neill,” Smith says. “You want poetry, you get it. Want a succinct description or anecdotes? It’s like he has 15 stories on each finger and knows exactly which one to use.

Scully has discussed the history of Friday the 13th, the American flag, and beards. He once filled an inning describing how bird poop changed the career and personal life of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and his 1982 reading of a grocery list— “pickles, kosher, that is” —is a hit on YouTube.

Scully has covered some of baseball’s greatest moments, including Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1955 World Series, Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974, Bill Buckner’s infamous error in the 1986 World Series, and Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Gibson hobbled to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning, barely able to walk due to two injured legs, and homered off Oakland star pitcher Dennis Eckersley. Scully let the roaring crowd tell the story for several seconds before delivering his famous line: “In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened!”

“Nobody sets a scene and supplies a kicker like Scully,” Smith says.

Although the Dodgers have qualified for the postseason, Scully will not work any playoff games, telling reporters, “I don’t want it to be like a grand opera, where you say goodbye 25 times.”

Smith believes a deep love of baseball and a fear of boredom are some of the reasons it’s taken so long for Scully to retire.

“He learned something, he told me, from the various strikes baseball has endured over the years,” Smith says. “Baseball was out for a long time in 1981. Scully said, ‘I golfed for a week and I got bored. Then I started playing bridge, and after a while that got boring. By the time the strike ended, even the hardware store was looking pretty good.’”

Several years ago, Scully made the move from radio to television and requested to work alone, reasoning that he would prefer to talk to each listener than someone next to him.

“Why would you need an analyst next to him?” Smith says. “Vin gives you everything. And he hasn’t lost a thing. It just comes naturally.”

Smith ranks Scully’s five best moments

  1. Game 6, 1986 World Series: The New York Mets score three runs with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to stun the Boston Red Sox 6-5. The winning run scored on an error by first baseman Bill Buckner. Scully’s call: “A little roller along first . . . behind the bag . . . it gets through Buckner! Here comes (Ray) Knight, and the Mets win it!”
  2. Game 1, 1988 World Series: Los Angeles’ Kirk Gibson limps to the plate, almost unable to walk due to two injured knees, and hits a pinch-hit, game-winning home run off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth for a shocking Dodgers win. Said Scully: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
  3. Aaron breaks Ruth’s record: On April 8, 1974, Atlanta’s Hank Aaron hit a home run to break the all-time mark of 714 set by Babe Ruth. Scully walked to the back of the press box, drank a glass of water, and waited nearly half a minute before saying, “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. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”
  4. Game 7, 1955 World Series: The Brooklyn Dodgers had lost the World Series to the New York Yankees five times. But on October 4, 1955, they finally beat their rivals to capture their first and only title. Scully said only this: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world. He later said if he had uttered another word, he would have broken down and cried.
  5. Scully’s farewell in Los Angeles: On Sunday, September 25, 2016, Scully called his final game at Dodger Stadium. He then stood with his wife while the public-address system played a song he had recorded for Sandi but now dedicated to Dodger fans: The Wing Beneath My Wings. Said Curt Smith: “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. How do you replace such a man? You don’t, ever.”

 

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