The best there ever was: Living with Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers
- Across four generations of family and from one coast to the other, the legendary Vin Scully has been a welcome and wonderful constant in my life as a baseball fan.
On Aug. 10, 1979, the Jaffe family of Salt Lake City piled into our maroon-and-faux-wood-panel Chevy Caprice station wagon for a road trip to California. As dusk hit somewhere near the western Nevada border, my father tuned the radio dial and magically summoned a Dodgers game, called by a friendly-sounding voice: Vin Scully, who in those days alternated innings with partner Jerry Doggett.
I was nine at the time, nestled in the back of the station wagon. The previous summer, I'd become absorbed in baseball's day-to-day flow for the first time, learning to read box scores, batting averages and division standings. My team, handed down from my father—who supplied a felt souvenir pennant for the bedroom I shared with my younger brother—was the Dodgers, and thanks to my collection of baseball cards, I could recite their batting order from memory: Lopes-Russell-Smith-Garvey-Cey-Baker-Monday-Yeager-pitcher.
My father’s own allegiance had been inherited from his father Bernard Jaffe, born in Brooklyn in 1908. Though he had greater access to Giants games at the Polo Grounds through a season ticket-holding friend, Bernie—a good enough ballplayer in his own right to (allegedly) have been offered a professional contract—fell for “Dem Bums” sometime in the late 1920s or early '30s after seeing good-hit/no-field rightfielder Babe Herman get bonked on the head by a fly ball. Even after departing Brooklyn—first for the University of Maryland, then overseas to earn his medical degree (and to witness Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, foreshadowing his support of Jackie Robinson) and finally to Walla Walla, Wash., more than a decade ahead of the Dodgers’ migration—he passed on his love to his sons and grandsons.
The first memory of Scully that my father (Richard Jaffe, born in 1941) has dates to the 1953 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees, the first of a record 28 called by Scully. In those days, the World Series was generally called by the announcers of the participating teams; Red Barber, the senior Dodgers broadcaster, had shared play-by-play duties with Yankees voice Mel Allen the year before. As the story goes, to do the 1953 Series, Barber wanted a higher fee from sponsor Gillette; Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley refused to support him and put forth Scully, who had joined the Dodgers booth in 1950, instead. The Dodgers lost that series in seven games but beat the Yankees in seven in 1955, as the Jaffes gathered around the radio to hear Scully and Allen call Brooklyn’s 2–0 win behind Johnny Podres's eight-hit shutout.
That night in the station wagon, Scully and Doggett painted a vivid portrait of the players and the action on the field, which included a parade of Dodgers runs against their hated rivals, the Giants, including six in the second inning, keyed by centerfielder Derrell Thomas's grand slam. In the fifth, rookie Mickey Hatcher hit his first big league homer. In the ninth, staked to a 9–0 lead, Don Sutton wrapped up a five-hit shutout, the 50th of his major league career. By that point, I was under a quilt in near-total darkness, but I imagined I could see the frizzy haired Sutton smiling as he was congratulated by his familiar-faced teammates—my 1979 Topps Dodgers set ($3 via an address in the back of The Sporting News) come to life.
Thus began my 37-year relationship with the golden voice of Scully. As he approaches the final weekend of a remarkable 67-year career as a broadcaster, it’s only fitting that on behalf of the four generations of Jaffes who have pulled up a chair to hear him call a game, I add my own tribute.
Growing up in Salt Lake City meant that Dodgers games on TV were limited to national broadcasts via NBC's Game of the Week, ABC's Monday Night Baseball and the postseason, but occasionally I'd commandeer the family’s old Panasonic radio and replicate my father’s signature touch, finding Scully’s voice cutting through the static at the left end of the AM dial. So it was on Friday night, Oct. 1, 1982, as Rick Monday's grand slam backed Jerry Reuss’s three-hit shutout in a 4–0 victory over the Giants (again) as the Dodgers stayed alive in a three-team NL West race, one game behind the Braves. The next day, the Dodgers eliminated the Giants via a 15–2 rout; the day after, a three-run homer by the Giants' Joe Morgan provided the coup de gràce to the Dodgers. So it goes.
"Parrish, needless to say, is not superstitious. He wears No. 13. We have a reason for bringing that up, because we're in the business of telling you what's going on here, and not getting cute and superstitious. So the big story, really, with Detroit leading 4–0, is the fact that Jack Morris has not allowed a hit, and it's going to start to build." — Vin Scully, April 7, 1984
From 1975 to '82, Scully not only did Dodgers games, but he also did golf, tennis and NFL games for CBS Sports—most famously calling the ’82 NFC Championship game in which the 49ers' Dwight Clark hauled in “The Catch” to defeat the Cowboys. After that, Scully left CBS for NBC, where he joined the nationally televised Game of the Week broadcasts, paired with Joe Garagiola, who shifted to color commentary after doing play-by-play with Tony Kubek for so many years.
On the first Saturday of the 1984 season, I watched the pair call a game from Chicago’s Comiskey Park, pitting the reigning AL West champions, the White Sox, against the hot-starting Tigers, who would win 35 of their first 40 games and breeze first to the AL East flag and eventually a World Series victory over the Padres. Nobody knew any of that yet, but that day, Tigers starter Jack Morris dominated the Sox, holding them hitless despite six walks. In the sixth inning, Scully famously laid down the law regarding the custom of not mentioning the no-hitter—one that every broadcaster who tiptoes around the subject would do well to remember, as they’ll never work as many as he did (21). Morris's gem was the only one Scully called for a national audience besides Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game.
"High drive into deep left field, McReynolds watching, would you believe? A grand slam for Tim Raines! That has to be one of the most incredible stories of the year in any sport, the first day back." — May 2, 1987
From the time he burst on the major league scene during the strike-shortened 1981 season—where he and the Expos ultimately ran into Fernando Valenzuela and the Dodgers, who had a date with the Yankees to avenge their '77 and '78 World Series losses—Tim Raines stood out as one of my favorite ballplayers thanks to his dazzling speed, and I gained a fuller appreciation of his skills via the Bill James Baseball Abstract annuals. Raines became a free agent after the 1986 season, but even at the height of his game, he got nothing but low-ball contract offers amid baseball's collusion scandal. The rules allowed Raines to re-sign with the Expos, but he was ineligible to play until May.
Without benefit of spring training or a minor league stint, Raines stepped into the lineup on May 2, turning a Game of the Week against the Mets at Shea Stadium into the greatest comeback special since Elvis Presley's. And of course, Scully had the call as Raines went 4-for-5, bookended by a first-inning triple off David Cone and a 10th-inning–game-winning grand slam off Jesse Orosco. Over the course of covering Raines’s Hall of Fame case nine times, watching Scully’s call of that homer never gets old.
"In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened!" — Oct. 15, 1988
In the fall of 1988, I left Salt Lake City for Brown University in Providence, R.I., and the overwhelming nature of college life soon made baseball a secondary concern. From the East Coast, West Coast scores were hard to come by—particularly if you no longer had a newspaper delivered to your door daily. I missed all but a few notices of Orel Hershiser’s 59-inning scoreless streak, and once the playoffs began, my first attempt to watch the NLCS went amiss as the Mets fan with one of the few TVs in our freshman unit couldn’t cope with the threat of her team being toppled by the upstart Dodgers. Fortunately, I struck up an unlikely bond with a pair of oversized football players who owned the largest color TV on our floor, and they made no complaint when Game 4—the one for which Hershiser came out of the bullpen for a 12th-inning save—pushed toward 1 AM.
The NLCS was on ABC, and the ALCS between the A’s and Red Sox (which I had to forgo, lest I risk flunking my first wave of tests) was on CBS, but the World Series was on NBC, with Scully at the mic. My hosts didn’t have a strong rooting interest in the series,so I'm grateful they withstood the bro-tastic barrage of whoops, hollers and high-fives that followed from me in the wake of the gimpy Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch-homer off Dennis Eckersley, which set the stage for the Dodgers' five-game upset victory over Oakland. By now, Scully's call is the stuff of legend, considered not just the pinnacle of his career—more famous than his calls of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and Bill Buckner’s 1986 World Series error—but one of the greatest home run calls of all time.
"Sure, I’ll wait a minute." — March 1989
On the heels of the Dodgers’ championship, my parents hatched a plan for my spring break, flying me down to meet them and my younger brother in Orlando, where after a couple of days at Epcot and Universal Studios, we would attend four straight games at Holman Stadium, the Dodgers’ spring training stadium in Vero Beach, Fla.
En route to the concession stand before one ballgame, I crossed paths with Scully himself, decked out in a cream-colored golf sweater. I asked for an autograph, then realized I had just a scrap of paper and no pen. Seeing how flustered I was, he agreed to wait while I fetched one from my mother, who was on her way to the restroom. Somehow, I not only got the pen, but Vin waited in place, and signed what might have been a golf scorecard or a ticket stub. I’ve long since lost that piece of paper—inevitable while moving half a dozen times in four years—and I’ve never gotten to meet Scully again despite being now being armed with a credential. But I’ve never forgotten the man’s small gesture of patience and humanity toward a star-struck 19-year-old.
"And another drive into high right-center, at the wall … believe it or not, four consecutive home runs and the Dodgers have tied it up again!... They’re coming back in, the people in the parking lot have decided they better come back." — Sept. 18, 2006
Three years after moving to New York City in 1995, I became part of a partial season ticket group for Yankees games, getting my fill of championship-caliber baseball on the local front while the Dodgers’ postseason dreams sputtered on the opposite coast. But starting in 2003, I began buying the MLB Extra Innings cable package (and later MLB.tv), checking in on Scully and company with increasing frequency. One of the greatest regular-season games I’ve ever watched, and my favorite of those called by him, was the epic finale of a four-game series that had seen the Dodgers slip from 1 1/2 games ahead of the Padres in the NL West race to half a game back following three straight losses. The Padres jumped all over starter Brad Penny for four first-inning runs, but by the third inning, the Dodgers clawed back to a tie against Jake Peavy, who unraveled after a first-inning confrontation with Dodgers first base coach Mariano Duncan.
The Padres pulled ahead late, carrying a 9–5 lead into the bottom of the ninth. In the non-save situation, manager Bruce Bochy called upon not Trevor Hoffman but Jon Adkins, who immediately served up back-to-back solo homers to Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew. As Adkins departed, Scully dropped a Dylan Thomas reference after Drew’s homer: “What is that line? Do not go gentle into that good night. Well, the Dodgers have decided they are not gonna go into that good night without howling and kicking.”
On came Hoffman, at that point three saves shy of Lee Smith’s all-time record of 478. Russell Martin launched his first pitch into left-center for another homer, and the camera cut to Martin’s jazz musician father, high fiving everyone within reach in the stands. “The Dodgers are still a buck short,” lamented Scully, moments before Marlon Anderson connected with Hoffman’s next offering—the first time a team had hit four consecutive homers since the Twins did it in 1964, and Anderson's second homer and fifth hit of the game.
After the Padres scored a run in the top of the 10th, Kenny Lofton worked a walk off Rudy Seanez to begin the bottom of the frame. “Ball four! And the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run,” said Scully. Up came a banged-up Nomar Garciaparra, back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a minor quad strain. It wasn’t quite Gibson caliber, but on a 3–1 pitch, Nomar connected. "And a high fly ball to leftfield, it is away, out and gone! The Dodgers win it 11 to 10. Oh-ho-ho, unbelievable!"
Showing the signature restraint that had first impressed me with his Buckner call, Scully let video of the jubilant Dodgers tell the story for nearly a minute and a half, as Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” began to play to the ecstatic crowd. Finally, he cut back in. “I forgot to tell you: The Dodgers are in first place!” Another minute of crowd shots and stadium noise passed, un-Scullyed, before he finally signed off: “I think we’ve said enough from up here. Once again, the final score in 10 innings—believe it or not—Dodgers 11, Padres 10.”
"And there is one out to go, one miserable measly out. 0-and-2 … got him! He’s done it!... Clayton Kershaw pitches a no-hitter a career-high 15 strikeouts… Kershaw made six pitches in the ninth inning, you talk about getting it over in a hurry." — June 18, 2014
The final leg of Scully’s remarkable career has become inextricably intertwined with the rise and sustained excellence of the Dodgers’ latest ace. The first time Scully called a Kershaw appearance was likely the first time most of us—Vin included—saw the team’s 2006 first-round pick in action. On March 9, 2008, a 19-year-old Kershaw broke off a hellacious two-strike curveball to the Red Sox’ Sean Casey, and even an 81-year-old announcer who had just about seen it all gasped in wonder: “Ohhh, what a curveball! Holy mackerel! He just broke off Public Enemy No. 1. Look at this thing! It's up there, it's right there and Casey is history."
Kershaw didn’t break camp with the Dodgers that year but debuted in late May. By the next year, when he struck out 185 in 171 innings as a 21-year-old, his starts had become appointment viewing—especially when called by Scully, which increasingly meant at Dodger Stadium as he whittled his schedule. To date, Kershaw has a 71–29 record with a 1.99 ERA in 137 starts at home, virtually all called by Scully save for the occasional absence or a nationally televised game.
Scully has called 14 Dodgers no-hitters: four by Sandy Koufax, two by Carl Erskine and one apiece by Sal Maglie, Bill Singer, Valenzuela, Reuss, Kevin Gross, Ramon Martinez, Hideo Nomo and finally Kershaw, whose trio of Cy Young awards harkens back to those of Koufax, reminding us of Scully’s perfection in calling Koufax’s perfect game in 1965. On Kershaw’s night of near-perfection, he didn’t walk a batter or allow a hit; the only one of the 28 Rockies batters to reach base did so on an error by Hanley Ramirez. Corey Dickerson, the final Colorado batter of the night, was the victim of Kershaw's career-high 15th strikeout.
That game, the lone no-hitter called by Scully in the era of social media and MLB.tv, will live on in the archives available with a few clicks of a button to anybody with a subscription. As Kershaw said later, “I think the coolest thing is thirty, forty, whatever years from now, hopefully I’ll get some grandkids of my own and show them … what it was like to have Vin call a game and what he meant to it. That’s pretty special that I’ll always have that.” Thankfully, we'll all have that game, and so many more, to pull up once again
“It has been such an exciting, enjoyable, wonderful season—the big crowds in the ballpark, everybody is talking about the ballclub and I really respect, admire and love the management—so everything just fell into place…. As a baseball man, and someone who has always loved the game, the situation and the conditions are perfect." — Aug. 23, 2013
For my money, the happiest day of the year would come on some seemingly random day in late summer, when Scully would announce that he had agreed to come back for one more season. Last Aug. 28, the Dodgers made a big show of the announcement, playing a video of ownership partner Magic Johnson introducing late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who silently revealed the news few words at a time via cue cards before Scully took a bow. The next day, however, he clarified by saying that in all likelihood, 2016 would be his final season.
That set the stage for this year’s long goodbye, the tributes from all corners—other broadcasters, media (including Sports Illustrated, which put him on the cover of its May 16 issue), an endless parade of ballplayers visiting his booth to bid him farewell in person—arriving daily. Ever the professional, Scully has gracefully accepted the accolades while attempting to focus on the action on the field, where the Dodgers have overcome a slow start and a slew of injuries to take their fourth consecutive NL West title.
Against that backdrop, I’ve added a title of my own: first-time father. My wife, SI senior baseball editor Emma Span, gave birth to our daughter Robin just before midnight on Aug. 26. Robin wasn’t even an hour old when she heard Scully for the first time; as we caught our breaths in the wee hours following her birth, I pulled up the Dodgers-Cubs game on my iPhone, as much to provide Emma with the soothing familiarity of Scully’s voice as anything, though what could be better for a newborn to hear than the reassuring voice of a kindly grandfather of 16 and great-grandfather of three? Even before Robin’s birth, staying up late to listen to Scully had been an important staple of life with Emma, a ritual for two night owls. We even watched him call a Kershaw start the night before our wedding, April 18, 2015.
In her first five weeks of life, Robin has been exposed to several more hours of Scully. Sitting around with a newborn whose primary alternative to nursing, pooping, sleeping and crying is just being adorable while laying there in the arms of loved ones leaves plenty of time to watch baseball, and with the opportunities to listen to Vin dwindling, Emma and I have checked in nearly every night the Dodgers have been at home—no matter how lopsided the score. Take last Saturday’s 14–1 laugher over the Rockies—Kershaw’s final start at Dodger Stadium as called by Scully. It wasn’t nearly as stirring as the night before, with its hour-long pregame tribute, but who in their right mind would forgo a Kershaw call, particularly given the team’s chance to clinch?
“Swung on, a high fly ball to deep leftfield, the Dodger bench empties, can you believe it? A home run? And the Dodgers have clinched the division and will celebrate on schedule!” — Sept. 25, 2016
The Giants' victory on Saturday night over the Padres prevented the Dodgers from clinching, and with plans all over town with family the next day, I couldn’t sit still for Scully’s final call from Dodger Stadium, instead catching bits and pieces throughout the afternoon. As fate would have it, I left our family dinner to head into Manhattan to tape a Fox Sports Extra TV spot; in doing so, I wound up at one of the few wi-fi enabled subway stops in south Brooklyn. The readout above told me that the next 4 train would arrive in eight minutes, which felt like an eternity until I pulled up MLB.tv on my iPhone, and found the Dodgers tied, 3–3, in the bottom of the 10th against the Rockies—the broadcast flowing smoothly despite the fact that I was underground. Between pitches, Scully even relayed the Padres-Giants play-by-play. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if…” I thought to myself as Kiké Hernandez took his hacks against Boone Logan before going down swinging.
Up came light-hitting, seldom-used Charlie Culberson, who hadn’t homered in any of his previous 57 plate appearances this season or at all in the big leagues since Aug. 14, 2014. As he’d already collected two hits that day—basically his monthly allotment—it seemed silly even to contemplate one more, let alone expect it. But somebody forgot to tell Culberson, who launched Logan’s second pitch, an outside fastball, over the leftfield fence to seal the deal.
Pandemonium ensued as Culberson rounded the bases; Scully let the moment breathe. I could barely believe my dumb luck in witnessing the moment under such unlikely circumstances—a positive turn on an emotional day that had begun with the tragic news of Jose Fernandez’s death. My train arrived just as the broadcast cut to a commercial, so it wasn’t until later that I watched the coda: Scully serenading the Dodger Stadium crowd with a recording of him signing “Wind Beneath My Wings,” with shots of him—and many a Dodgers fan—getting teary-eyed.
Since Scully’s announcement of his retirement, I’ve tried to avoid being maudlin when considering the coming void; someone has to. Instead, I’ve considered my luck to enjoy him as a part of my life for more than three decades, watching game after game while feeling as though he were talking just to me, whether describing the action in detail or digressing on Socrates Brito and hemlock, or ice skating with Jackie Robinson, or the defiant significance of every player wearing No. 42. What’s more, I’ve considered how lucky all of us viewers and listeners have been to share the latter stages of his career via social media and MLB.tv, just as Los Angelinos did via newfangled transistor radios when Scully and the Dodgers first arrived in 1958. In our increasingly fragmented and polarized public lives, Vin has brought us together for a few hours to find common ground.
I don’t know if my daughter will ever be a baseball fan. With two parents who are absorbed in the game for their professions, it’s entirely possible that once Robin is old enough, she’ll rebel against what they hold dear in favor of finding her own way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Before she does, however, I’ll at least get the chance to tell her about the remarkable Vin Scully, maestro of the microphone, and how he connected three previous generations of Jaffes to the Dodgers and to baseball. “He’s the best announcer there ever was,” I’ll tell her, “and probably the best that ever will be.”