“Would you like to see perhaps the wildest moment in the history of any professional sport? There goes the commissioner!”
–CBS golf announcer Vin Scully, 1982 Players Championship
No voice of legends past will rest in greater peace than Vincent Edward Scully, whose death earlier this week at age 94 etches a generational borderline between the good old days and tomorrow’s uncertainty. Best known for his 67 years as the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Scully also spent seven years anchoring the golf coverage at both CBS and NBC. His partnership in the booth with Lee Trevino remains one of the better duos in the game’s TV history, made memorable by Scully’s knack for unwrapping the Merry Mex’s gift of gab.
Trevino knew greatness when he sat next to it. Scully could call any sport in any environment, although his style was best suited for the slow pace and acres of space provided by golf and baseball. He was a storyteller, and if stories take time to tell, Scully delivered them in an unhurried manner somewhat atypical of an Irishman from the Bronx.
There are people who transcend an era and others who define it. Scully was the definition of a less complicated time when imaginations ran wild, the clock seemed to tick slower and three-quarters of the world didn’t have a cellphone glued to its face.
Thank goodness the Big Fella allowed us to store memories.
In television nowadays, those behind a microphone are strongly urged to avoid “dead air,” or a period of any length during which nobody is talking. It either bores viewers or makes them feel uncomfortable, according to the industry handbook, which doesn’t do much to explain the phrase “peace and quiet.”
Like the brilliant trumpeter Miles Davis, Scully turned dead air into a work of art. He found a number of invaluable purposes for those pauses: reflection, appreciation, a chance to tell your kids to shut up. His most notable verbal void occurred after Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the ninth earned the Dodgers, a heavy underdog to the Oakland Athletics, a victory in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
The bedlam created by 55,983 approving witnesses that evening was all that needed to be heard. Scully was smart enough to know when a broadcaster is talking to nobody but himself, secure enough to say nothing when the situation called for it and tough enough to defy conventional wisdom as decreed by the critical cognoscenti. He was also brave enough to broach the racial irony when Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth as Major League Baseball’s career home-run king in 1974.
“What a marvelous moment for the country and the world,” offered Scully, who handled the telecast for NBC. “A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”
The ease with which the man presided over a golf tournament was nothing short of astonishing. Scully spent at least six months of every year with his attention focused solely on baseball. Never mind attending a PGA Tour event; the voice of the Dodgers barely had time to watch one on TV. Tireless preparation made him every bit as credible as he was listenable, but with Trevino at his side, having fun became a top priority.
Never have the laughs been bigger than at the end of the 1982 Players. When winner Jerry Pate pushed Tour commissioner Deane Beman into the lake alongside the 18th green, then escorted TPC Sawgrass architect Pete Dye into the water before diving in himself, Scully was there to frame the moment in golden perspective, referring to it as a scene “right out of Hellzapoppin’ or Animal House.”
His golf career began at CBS, home of the Masters, where Scully’s gentlemanly demeanor and easy-does-it nuances instantly endeared him to the Augusta National membership. As was the case with Pat Summerall, with whom Scully worked with frequently, high-profile golf assignments were no sweat for a broadcaster who didn’t have anything close to a deep background in the game.
Brent Musburger was constantly maligned for his performances at big events. A lot of it was unjust—CBS overexposed him to harmful extremes in his prime, which is entirely different than being incompetent. Jim Nantz’s limitless polish as a telecast host has allowed him to evade the wrath of media scribes over the years, and the same might be said of Mike Tirico, who doesn’t carry Nantz’s workload, but there aren’t many guys who earned such universal acclaim in another sport, then made an easy transition to talking about the little white ball.
Scully was one of them. His grace with the spoken word and reflective nature as an observer made him a man for all seasons, a celebrated presence at any gathering where professional athletes were competing and somebody was keeping score. Golf was fortunate to benefit from his contributions, and in return, Scully availed himself to a fresh audience with a keener appreciation for his excellence.
For a couple of reasons, a moment of silence seems appropriate.
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