“The Voice of the Dodgers” – The Vin Scully Series: Part 1
Dodgertown – It’s a community that isn’t limited to a single city. Dodgertown is so much more. It is a culture. It’s this feeling of belonging that spreads across Dodgers fans from coast to coast. Vin Scully, the mayor of the town if you will, is the inspiration behind it all. He is the voice that is so well known in baseball, it can send chills down the spine of anyone listening.
“It’s tiiime for Dodger Baseball.” The five most famous words for any Dodgers fan. Recognition of, and fan connection to the phrase goes far beyond the words themselves – it goes to the man behind the words. Vin Scully is considered the “Voice of the Dodgers.” After being a part of the organization for 63 years, Vin is, to say the least, a huge reason for people to come to the ballpark. He is reason enough to turn on the television to watch the Boys In Blue, and to be perfectly honest, reason enough to be a Dodgers fan. Vin Scully embodies all that is great about the Dodgers. From broken barriers in Brooklyn with Jackie Robinson, to perfection on the mound with Koufax, to Gibson limping to greatness…Vin has been behind it all, amidst the shadows, one of the kindest, most humble and poetic men we know. In Vin’s own words, he’s stated that, “no one is bigger than the game.” In this case, we may be able to make an exception.
Born in the Bronx on November 29, 1927, Vin grew up mainly in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. His father was a silksalesman, and his mother was an Irish, Catholic homemaker, giving Vin Scully the famous red hair that we know him for. As a kid, Vin worked for his family by delivering beer and mail, pushing garment racks, and cleaning silver in the basement of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. He played many sports in high school including baseball, football and even a little tennis. He later attended Fordham Prepatory School, and went on to help found their FM radio station WFUV. He also became the assistant sports editor for Volume 28 of The Fordham Ram, and played center field for the Rams’ baseball team, where he played George Bush Sr. in a game against Yale.
“He was the captain and first baseman of Yale,” Vin theatrically told about George Bush. “And I was trying to play the outfield for Fordham. And we played against each other; it was a terrific game. I think it was either 2-1 or 3-1; Yale won. But it was a heck of a game. Years later, I had the pleasure of playing golf with him. Politics aside, he is a terrific guy. We talked about the game, and I said to him, ‘Mr. President, if you don’t mind me saying this, as long as you’re in the White House, you can say anything you want about your baseball career, but remember the day you step out of the White House, both of us went 0-3 in that game (laughing). Which he loved, he just howled”
Shortly after graduation from Fordham Prep, Vin Scully impressed Red Barber, the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time. Red ended up giving Vin a shot at broadcasting by letting him make his professional debut at a Maryland-Boston University football game after the main broadcaster got sick. The date was November 12, 1949…in Chicago…and it was cold. Vin Scully has shown up unprepared for one broadcast his entire life, and this was it. Now, I don’t mean that he came unprepared with regards to the game. No, see, if that was the case he probably could have made some stories up, stuck with the play by play, and made some funny remarks to get by like Vin always seems to do. This was different. Assuming that he would be doing the broadcast in the comfort of a heated booth, he left his hat and gloves in the hotel room he was staying at. “It was cold,” Scully said. “But I thought, naively, dumbly – ‘I’m going to be working for a network; I’ll have a big booth.”
When he arrived at the stadium however, he learned that he would not be doing it from a comfortable booth, but instead, he’d be calling the game from the roof of Fenway. Yeah…the roof. “I’m looking for a booth, and there is no booth,” he went on to say. “There’s an engineer with a card table and his little dials for volume, a microphone and about 50 yards of cable…that’s it.” That day, the temperature was recorded to never reach above 45 degrees, and Vin called the entire game without once mentioning his discomfort. He would merely walk, back and forth, cord dragging behind him, following the action along the roof of Fenway, and he did his job.
“I really felt like I’d blown it,” he said. “So I go to the dance, meet some pals of mine, but I’m really down. And I’m down on the train going back to New York. I thought, ‘here I was giving this golden opportunity, but I was frozen, blah, blah, blah.’“ Fortunately for us all, that wasn’t exactly how everyone saw it. A few days later, Red Barber was phoned by a BU official commenting on how sorry he was for the treatment of the broadcaster. If that official hadn’t called Red, he would never have known what Vin did was so incredible because Vin never complained about what had happened.
“That turned out to be a big break, because let’s say I did a very ordinary job. In Red’s mind, ‘This kid never mentioned anything about no booth, the cold, nothing.’ That made a very ordinary job a little more than that in Red’s mind.” And that’s exactly what it did. Vin said, “He called me – I’ll never forget it – and said something to the effect of, ‘Pretty tough day up there on the roof?’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir, it was cold.’ And he said, ‘You’ll have a booth this week; You’re doing Harvard-Yale.’ “Vin just smiled…and a legend was born.
At the time all this was going on, if you turned on a Dodgers broadcast, you would hear the voices of Red Barber and Ernie Harwell. They were the broadcast team for quite some time before Harwell would eventually leave the Dodgers to go work for the New York Giants. Two months after the Fenway incident, Barber once again remembered the redhead who never complained.
“I always had the dream of taking an untutored kid who showed some promise and of putting him on the air for what he was, a neophyte learning the trade,” said Barber in his autobiography, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat. “Scully was a perfect choice. He was a green pea, but he was a very appealing young green pea. It was obvious he had something on the ball; you didn’t know precisely what it was, but he had it.”
Red wasn’t the only one who noticed there was something different about this kid. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, also told Red after meeting Vin, “You have found the right young man.” To be continued…