If baseball can be characterized by a voice, the turn of a phrase, and the simplicity of just calling the game without coloring it, then baseball is surely spoken best by Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully…the best their ever was, and still is!
(Ed. Note: As the legendary Vin Scully closes out his 67-year career as Dodgers’ broadcaster this week, we share an encore presentation of one of Greg Hoard’s best, and most popular columns on iconic figures in baseball, originally published in September of 2012. Enjoy.)
CINCINNATI — There are voices you never forget, voices so unique, so impressive that they are immediately recognized: Pavarotti, Aretha Franklin, Hank Williams and John F. Kennedy, to name but a few.
The other night I was cruising through channels and caught a game on cable. Before I recognized who was playing, I recognized another of those unmistakable voices. It was Vin Scully. I was making supper, but before I turned from the stove I knew. This was a Dodger game. I turned down the fire on dinner, stopped everything I was doing and sat down to listen and watch.
Then, it occurred to me. I didn’t have to watch. I only had to listen. I turned up the sound. Vin would carry me through the game and like no other. I went back to the pork chops, the fried potatoes and simmering greens. All I had to do was listen. It was the Dodgers and the Giants, locked in a pennant race.
This was Scully, telling me all about it. This was the master, the man who describes baseball like no other, now, or before him. I turned up the sound, stirred the greens, flipped the chops and threw a little water on the potatoes. The iron skillet sizzled and Scully’s voice filled the room. I turned it up louder.
Scully has been doing Dodger games since 1950. He is 84 years old, and there is no one like him. He is an artist, never too excited, never too critical – a poetic and rhythmic voice of reason just calling the game, telling his listeners precisely what is going on without coloring it.
All broadcasters should be required to take a course in Scully before sitting down behind the microphone. He’s a master, an artist and a gentleman, as well. With his words, he paints vivid pictures. He once said of Roberto Clemente: “He could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.”
Standing there, seasoning the greens, turning the chops and stirring the potatoes, I thought about a night long ago. I remembered sitting with Scully in the dining room at Riverfront Stadium years ago, maybe 1981, maybe 1985. It doesn’t matter. We talked about Pee Wee Reese. We talked about Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe and Gil Hodges. Other names traveled through our conversation. But, he brightened with the mention of Hodges.
“Greg,” he said, “I will tell you he was the most graceful, the most athletic first basemen I have ever seen, never fully appreciated. The only person who came close was Vic Power. Of course, today there is Keith Hernandez. He is a talent.”
With Scully, there has never been, or will there be, categorical statements, or absolutes. No one is the best. No one is the worst. They just are. He is, above all else, a man of perspective and reason. He is one who sees the game at it is, a constant evolution, and that’s the way he portrays it, nudging us just once in a while, to remember what it was. He is one who leads some of us to remember what the game means, and what it is and remains to so many.
That night, long ago, we ate fried chicken and mashed potatoes. We talked. Vin Scully, a legend, took the time to indulge a kid reporter. We drank iced-tea, and eventually, it was time for both of us to go to work.
“Mr. Scully,” I said.
“Please call me Vin,” he said.
“Yes, sir, Vin. I have never heard you shout.”
He smiled and chuckled. “Baseball has no room for shouting. Shouting is for the fans.”
He smiled then, wiping his hands on a napkin, adjusting his blue suit. “When I was just starting, Red Barber told me: ‘Never be a homer, never listen to other announcers and keep your opinions to yourself.’ He was a marvelous teacher. There is no need to shout. There is only the need to tell the story.”
After the game, I walked back to the office at 8th and Broadway and wrote a quiet column. My bosses deemed it good enough to run the next day.
Weeks later, a letter arrived at the office addressed to me. My editor smiled and said, “What the hell? It’s from Vin Scully.”
It was a hand-written note on Dodger stationary. In neat and trim cursive writing, Scully said that a friend in Cincinnati had sent him the column. “You were very kind,” he wrote. “I enjoyed our conversation very much. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
He signed it, “Best Wishes, Vin.”
For the longest time, I treasured that note, but somewhere along the way – through marriage and kids and a changing, fast world of work – I lost that note, but I will never fail to appreciate the man behind it, what he stands for and that unmistakable, distinguished voice, that voice that’s baseball, pure baseball.