Filmmaker Mike Tollin recalls time spent with Vin Scully and other special friends

·6 min read

Filmmaker Mike Tollin recalls time spent with special friends and baseball legends originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Mike Tollin was on the phone from his Los Angeles office the other day talking about a confluence of events that brought him back in time and made him feel sad and happy and lucky and grateful all at the same time.

It was sort of like hitting for the cycle, emotionally.

Surely, you've heard of Tollin and his work. He's the kid from Havertown who grew up to be a famous Hollywood filmmaker with a big emphasis on sports. As an 8-year-old with a transistor radio under his pillow, he had his heart broken by the 1964 Phillies. He eventually became best buds with Dick Allen, the star rookie on that team. He spent his teenage and early adult years hanging on Harry Kalas' every word and the two eventually became great friends. When Tollin's son, Lucas, was in second grade, he had to write an essay about someone he admired. He picked Harry Kalas.

"Harry was the soundtrack of my life," Mike Tollin said.

Tollin's credits include dozens of home runs, including Summer Catch, a movie about a young pitcher's life in the Cape Cod League that is sprinkled with a lot of very cool Phillies references. He produced The Last Dance, the highly acclaimed documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty. His latest work, The Captain, a documentary about Derek Jeter, is must-see.

It all started for Tollin in an attic above the old San Marco restaurant in Bala Cynwyd, where, fresh out of Stanford, he developed, wrote and produced a show called Greatest Sports Legends. From there, he was hired by MLB Productions and developed a fun show geared toward kids called The Baseball Bunch.

Tollin, the man who would eventually make movies about the stars, was such a young star himself that he landed a dream assignment in the fall of 1980. The Philly kid, just 24 at the time, was asked to write the script for the official MLB Productions World Series highlight video.

And that's where the sad and the happy and the lucky and the grateful all comes in.

"I just really feel blessed," Tollin said over the phone last week.

Vin Scully, the great, gentleman voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, had died a few days earlier. And now, the Phillies were getting set to honor their 1980 World Series championship team at Citizens Bank Park. Tollin could not be in Philadelphia for the event, but in a sense, he was there. Go on YouTube and call up the 1980 World Series highlight film. It's all Tollin, all his words, from the title, Worth the Wait, to the triumphant final stanza: At 11:29 p.m., on October 21, 1980, the ghosts of Phillies past are finally laid to rest ...

The man speaking Tollin's words is Vin Scully.

"It was a different time," Tollin remembered. "We had these clunky, three-quarter-inch tapes. Nothing digital. It was very primitive. We would take these tapes and I would try to match words with the visuals.

"I look back at it now and it's really a time capsule from 42 years ago. Stylistically, it's a little cringe-worthy, a little aggressively corny at times, maybe even a little overwrought. I think back to writing the words, 'The cool, calm and collected countenance of the Phillies placid reliever Tug McGraw,' and I laugh a little bit. But Vin was so great. He made it all work."

Tollin was on site for the World Series, in camera wells next to the dugouts in Royals Stadium and Veterans Stadium. He was five feet away from Bob Boone and Pete Rose for the famous catch in Game 6.

Longhand, on a yellow legal pad, Tollin wrote, "A miraculous grab by Pete Rose that might just stand as the most lasting image of this stirring series."

He wrote the entire script on legal pads and, "it took weeks," he said.

Because the film was an MLB production, it had to be down the middle. A representative from both teams traveled to New York to vet the script. The Phillies representative was a young marketing director named Dave Montgomery. Off to the side, Tollin shook Montgomery's hand for the first time and shared his background.

"Mr. Montgomery, I don't think you're going to have to worry about fairness," Tollin said with a wink. "The other guy might have more concerns."

Once the script was OKed, Tollin learned that MLB had secured Scully to narrate it.

It was a goosebumps moment.

"For a 24-year-old rookie to have Vin Scully read my words," Tollin said. "It was surreal."

Scully arrived in New York for the reading.

"He was so proper, so polite, so good-natured," Tollin said. "But he was no-nonsense.

"I told him I would be happy to make any changes he thought were needed."

Scully perused the script for a few minutes.

"It looks great," he told Tollin. "Let's do it just the way it is."

Twenty minutes later ...

"I spent weeks and weeks crafting every word and Vin comes in and just nails it, one take," Tollin said with a laugh. "He rarely did a line a second time.

"It was a little like slaving over a big Thanksgiving feast and then the family comes to the table and it's gone in 20 minutes."

Over the years, Tollin and Scully became good friends. The two talked about doing a documentary on Scully's life but it never got off the ground.

From that first meeting in New York in the fall of 1980, Tollin also became close friends with Montgomery. They stayed that way until Montgomery's passing in 2019. Though Tollin never worked for the Phillies, he was commissioned by the club to do its season highlight films in the 1980s through 1993.

It was a labor of love because no matter where Tollin was at the time, he remained a Philly guy -- and a Phillie guy.

Tollin was a senior at Stanford in 1977, working on the student newspaper, when he secured a press pass to a game in Oakland. Dick Allen was in the final year of his career with the A's. The young writer entered the clubhouse, introduced himself to Allen and told him he was a rookie Phillies fan when Allen was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1964. The two talked some baseball, some Philadelphia, some life. A great and important friendship blossomed -- important because Tollin, along with people like John Middleton and Mark Carfagno, have kept the candle lit for Allen to one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He has twice come up short -- both times by a single vote -- on the ballots of special committees.

Allen died in 2020. He could come up for a vote again in December 2024.

Tollin has been writing a movie in his head about Allen and the obstacles he overcame for 40 years and it's getting closer to the real thing. In fact, he said, the project has gained some steam and is currently in script development.

Can't wait.

"The next time Dick comes up for a vote, maybe we'll be in production," Mike Tollin said. "Maybe we'll have a Hall of Fame induction as the happy ending."

Subscribe to Phillies Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube