In the booth, Scully doesn’t judge, just delivers the calls
Broadcaster is one of the best play-by-play announcers
LOS ANGELES— The tribute was composed in the 28 seconds it took Henry Aaron to round the bases and the roar to finally subside. Listen to it today, and it will still make the hair on your arms stand up straight.
Vin Scully wasn’t working from notes. He had nothing prepared because, well, that might ruin the magic of the moment.
He let the crowd in Atlanta tell part of the story. Then he spoke from his heart about the magnitude of it all.
“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,” Scully told Dodger fans back home in Los Angeles. “A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it’s a great moment for all of us and particularly for Henry Aaron, who is met at home plate not only by every member of the Braves but by his father and mother.”
Until now, Scully thought most people had forgotten about it. At the age of 79, he still lives in the day-to-day world of play-by-play, where what you say in the first inning is history by the first pitch of the second.
He’s had other magical calls. Dodger fans would argue that it’s magic everytime he sits in front of a microphone and welcomes them to a beautiful night at Dodger Stadium.
Scully was doing just that Wednesday night, in his openair booth two levels above home plate. Cup of coffee in hand, tie carefully knotted and not a hair out of place, he settled comfortably into a seat he has occupied for almost every home game since the stadium opened 45 years ago.
The hated Giants were in town, usually a series that Scully relishes for both the rivalry and the history that goes back to when he was broadcasting for the Dodgers in Brooklyn and the Giants were playing across town at the Polo Grounds.
But this night was different. This series was different.
Barry Bonds came to town with a chance to tie or break Aaron’s home run mark. If he did, Scully would be making the call, 33 years after he did the same for Hammerin’ Hank.
He wasn’t looking forward to it, but not for the reasons you might think.
“It’s nothing personal but I’d just as soon have the Aaron one and not a second one,” Scully said. “The Aaron moment was so precious that if I got to do another call it wouldn’t be the same. It would just be the second one.”
The night before, 56,000 fans jammed the stadium to watch the spectacle, many with portable radios to listen to Scully’s broadcast. It’s a tradition at Dodger Stadium, where most nights you hear snippets of Scully’s smooth voice as you walk through the park.
He is as much Dodger baseball as Sandy Koufax, even more a part of the fabric of the team than Tommy Lasorda. He’s the reason Dodger fans can arrive late and leave early, confident he will paint the picture for them while they listen to their car radios.
He’s a modest man who still seems surprised when people tell him that, as kids, they’d fall asleep listening to him on the transistors they would sneak under the covers. In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of those kids, thrilling to his calls of Sandy Koufax pitching a nohitter and Don Drysdale setting the scoreless inning record.
My kids listen to Vinny now, and someday their kids might do the same. He shows no real signs of slowing down, even though he’s the only announcer in baseball who works solo and has twice the airtime to fill.
He won’t fill it with talk about performance-enhancing drugs or speculation about players who might be out partying all night and chasing Hollywood starlets. That’s left to others. His job is to entertain you for a few hours with what is unfolding before him, and he is a believer in someone being innocent until proven guilty.
“I am not a judge or a jury. It’s none of my business,” Scully said. “I just do foul lines.”
The game was now just a couple hours away, and the first fans were coming into the park. Bonds was battling cleanup, and Scully had some work to do to make sure he had the right facts and stories for this night.
He had nothing prepared for Bonds, though, just as he didn’t rehearse Aaron’s historic home run or Kirk Gibson’s ninth-inning homer in the 1988 World Series. It just wouldn’t seem right if it was in the can and, besides, the crowd would help out.
“To me the story is how the crowd reacts and it will be very interesting to see how the crowd will react here,” he said. “There’s nothing I can say that will be penetrating and incisive.”
Dodger fans would disagree. They know better because they’ve listened to the Aaron call, the Gibson call and thousands of calls in between. They’ve heard magic on air. They know that no matter what happens on the field, they have a treasure in the booth.