The Most Artful Dodger

August 18, 2002

"When I was a kid of seven or eight," says Vin Scully, in a voice
like drawn butter, "we had a big four-legged radio in our living
room in New York. And I loved to get a pillow and a glass of milk
and a plate of saltine crackers"--on his tongue, "saltine" sounds
sumptuous--"and lay with my head on the pillow directly under the
loudspeaker of that radio. It was probably some meaningless
Alabama football game, but even so: It was as if the speaker was
a showerhead and the roar of the crowd was pouring down on me."

If you are privileged, then, to press a radio to your ear when
Scully is calling a Los Angeles Dodgers game, you will hear the
roar of a distant world, like the sound of the surf in a
seashell. When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run off the Dodgers'
Al Downing in 1974, Scully stepped--while on the air--to the back
of the booth, poured himself a cup of coffee and stood there
silently sipping for several minutes, awash in the ambient sound.
"What am I supposed to say?" he asks. "'He hit a home run'?" But
his insides, as ever, were a delirium.

"I still get goose bumps in dramatic moments," says Scully, who
has been a Dodgers broadcaster for 53 of his 74 years. "I can't
tell you how many times I will stand up in the booth and the
anthem is being played and I'm thinking, 'How lucky can I be? How
can I possibly be doing this? And for so long?' It really is
overwhelming, and my only feeling is this tremendous depth of
gratitude to God." The question he repeatedly returned to in his
Hall of Fame induction speech in 1982 was "Why me?" It is
fitting, in this season when players have threatened to strike,
that in a poll connected to the 40th anniversary of Dodger
Stadium, fans named an announcer as their favorite Los Angeles
Dodger.

Of all time.

Scully was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers at age 22, and Red
Barber himself called to deliver the news, leaving a message with
Scully's mother at their apartment. When Vin came home, she could
hardly contain herself, blurting, "Red Skelton called!"

In the ensuing decades Scully has become--if you believe Ernie
Harwell, the legendary Detroit Tigers announcer, whom Scully
replaced in Brooklyn and who will retire after this season at age
84--the best broadcaster of baseball in history. When Scully and
the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season,
he single-throatedly sold more radios than Philco. In one early
game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Dodgers played
through the '61 season, he mentioned on the air that umpire Frank
Secory was celebrating his birthday that afternoon. Instantly,
the crowd yelled, as one, Happy birthday, Frank, and Secory
blinked back at them in bewilderment. "I happened to arrive here
at the same time as the transistor radio," says Scully, reposing
resplendently in the Vin Scully Press Box at Dodger Stadium. "And
at the Coliseum many of those fans were 70 rows up and couldn't
actually see. They needed a radio."

Scully made those people see. He could make Ray Charles see.
(Indeed, he has: Charles, a longtime listener, has said that
Scully's voice holds him rapt.) His broadcasts are a series of
deft descriptions, apt allusions and joyful noises, seamlessly
strung together like charms on a charm bracelet.

Harwell is going, going. And gone--just this summer--are beloved
St. Louis Cardinals announcer Jack Buck and revered Boston Red
Sox announcer Ned Martin. Just last week the death of Los Angeles
Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn, at age 85, left much of Los
Angeles bereaved.

Scully, then, can scarcely step outside in Southern California
without someone handing him a cell phone and imploring him,
please, to record a voice-mail greeting. Angelenos will play him
like a jukebox, asking him--virtually every day--to say, "In the
year of the improbable, the impossible has happened," the phrase
that flew from Scully's mouth when Kirk Gibson hit his epic home
run in Game 1 of the '88 World Series. "The sweetest thing," says
Scully, "is when people come over to me and say, 'When I hear
your voice, I think of summer evenings in the backyard with my
dad.'"

Scully himself is the father of six. He calls only two innings a
game on radio these days before switching over to television,
where he insists that his producers show pictures, several times
every game, of children in the ballpark. "It can be," he says, "a
child watching the game or a child--and this is just as
fun--totally disregarding the game."

Which reminds him of a story. "One time in San Diego," says
Scully, "we showed two kids, nine or 10 years old, fishing for a
ball that had been forgotten on the warning track after batting
practice. They were trying to retrieve it with a tin can on a
string, and we showed them periodically. 'Are they gonna get it?
Oh, yes! They have it halfway up! Yes! Oh, no-o-o! They dropped
it!' This went on for quite a while. And finally, 'Yes! They did
it!' And when they finally got that ball, you were oh so
relieved. I mean"--and here Scully's eyes actually mist up--"it is
so charming. So charming. Just look around. There is nothing more
charming than the innocence of a child."

PETER GREGOIRE

After the team moved from Brooklyn to L.A., Vin Scully
single-throatedly sold more radios than Philco.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)