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In memoriam: Vin Scully

Vin Scully

Vin Scully, the voice of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball and the voice of America for decades, passed away yesterday evening at his Los Angeles home. He was 94.

No matter what else was going on in the world, you could count on a sunny, Southern California greeting at the start of every Dodgers broadcast:

“Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good afternoon to you wherever you may be. Pull up a chair and spend part of the day with us.” 

Scully was pure Americana, representing the game’s rise and maturation during the Baby Boom era, intertwined from the beginning with America’s Pastime.  He was born on Nov. 29, 1927, near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx—a short distance from Yankee Stadium—the son of Irish immigrants. When he was seven his father died of pneumonia and his family moved to Brooklyn. There he spent a childhood as a New York Giants and Mel Ott fan, attending games at the Polo Grounds. After high school, he spent two years at Fordham and playing center field for the college team, a stint interrupted by two years in the US Navy, where his broadcasting career began after admission to the Navy radio communications program, calling football, basketball and baseball games on radio station WFUV.

After graduation, he accepted an internship with Washington, D.C.’s WTOP and soon caught the attention of Red Barber, then sports director of CBS Radio, during a substitute gig calling a 1949 college football match on CBS Radio Football Roundup. Barber eventually hired Scully to replace Ernie Harwell on the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcast team, joining Red and Connie Desmond while calling the third and seventh innings. His big breakthrough came when he called the television broadcast of the 1953 Dodgers-Yankees World Series with Mel Allen after Barber passed on the gig. When Barber left the Dodgers for the Yankees following the 1953 season, Scully rose to the lead announcing role for the 1954 season.

Vin Scully, Schaefer Beer

From there the history of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers is intertwined with Scully. When the Golden Age of New York Baseball ended with the moves of the Dodgers and Giants to California after the 1957 season, Scully also made the move, and was instantly a hit on the local airwaves. This was before the explosion of television as a cultural force, and fans turned to the radio airwaves to follow the new Los Angeles Dodgers. Fans brought transistor radios to the Coliseum while sitting in terrible seats never designed to provide a good view of a baseball games. But with Scully sharing stories of their new heroes, the baseball on a far-off field was just one thread in a memorable game-day experience narrated by Scully.

As California grew and became the rising sun on the American cultural horizon, Scully was there to provide commentary and a reassuring tone. The ascendency of national TV gave him a chance to break beyond the Dodger Stadium press box and regularly enter the homes of America in all sorts of situations. He was the voice of Major League Baseball’s “Game of the Week,” calling All-Star Game and World Series. He branched out briefly as a game-show and variety-show host while adding play-by-play calls for CBS for tennis, golf and pro-football games. When Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home-run record, Scully was there.

He retired following the 2016 season but didn’t totally leave the game and ending up posting on Facebook and Twitter accounts. In the end, his passing is the end of an era, both in baseball and in America. Baseball doesn’t provide the soundtrack to America any longer, its role in everyday life diminishing by the minute. Yes, fans still attend games and will pay attention during big moments like the playoffs and World Series, but we tend to talk more about work stoppages and luxury taxes in a time when baseball decisions are fueled by payroll considerations, not fan considerations. Most fans don’t follow the game on a daily basis, preferring to peruse 15-second TikTok to analyzing the agate type, missing out on those little moments that make baseball so unique. Vin Scully was last of a kind, a wondrous link from a glorious past to an uncertain future. 

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Two more essential reads on Scully: Los Angeles Times obituary and SABR biography.

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