September 16, 2010
Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully likes to talk, just not necessarily about himself.
So it was with great gratitude on my part that he sat down for an Answer Man session inside his booth at PETCO Park in San Diego before a recent Los Angeles Dodgers game. Scully, who has been calling Dodgers action for 61 seasons, recently announced his intentions to make it 62 — to the delight of fans of his team and those who simply enjoy Vin calling games.
What is Scully like in person? If you've watched a Dodgers game — or any of the countless national events in Scully's storied career — he's a lot like he is on the air: Warm, friendly and full of great stories — a few of which he’s about to share with you.
David Brown: I heard you like Jolly Ranchers candies. Are they the things that really get you through broadcasts?
Vin Scully: No, what it is, working alone, you're talking a lot — especially when you're doing three-inning simulcast [on the radio] and then six more on television. And I often thought, "I can't drink any water" because the inner tide would cause me to have to rush off to the men's room. And that would not be too good.
And I thought, "What I need is something to moisturize my throat without actually drinking any fluid. So I had some hard candy — whatever it was — and what I do is, it sits quietly [in its wrapper] until the third out. I'll put it in my mouth — I don't keep it in there, just a couple of swallows and then I'll take it out — and then maybe three outs later, maybe nine outs later, I might do it again. And I've found that it helps a great deal.
DB: So, you will not use the washroom after the game starts?
VS: No, no.
DB: Even though there's two or three minutes between innings?
VS: No, in fact the one time [I get up] — they all kid me about it — in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium, the crowd all stands for "God Bless America" and "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." And I use that time to walk the length of the hallway, because I sit for a long, long time. I mean, I'm in the car, I get to the ballpark, I sit and prepare, I go in and eat and I sit. I come back and sit. By the seventh inning, I've been sitting a long, long time. So I like to use the time just to walk up and down the hallway. So where it's the "Seventh Inning Stretch" for most, it's the "Seventh Inning Walk" for me [laughs].
VS: No. Anything at all. It doesn't make any difference. As I say, it doesn't stay in my mouth that long anyway. So, any one will do. And it's funny ...
(Scully reaches into his coat pocket, pulls out two open bags of Jolly Ranchers — peach and orange flavors.)
VS: ... I was bringing them over to put them in my briefcase. So there you go. There's proof positive!
DB: When a no-hitter is brewing or a milestone comes up, do you ever work ahead mentally to form a phrase, or part of a phrase, to help you communicate what happens?
VS: Oh, no. I never do that. Ever. A lot of times, I wish I had the brains to do it in advance. No, I like to just do me. Whatever emotion I feel, whatever thought I have, sometimes it comes out, sometimes there's nothing. The only thing I've always done — certainly for the last, oh, 50 years — if someone is pitching a no-hitter, I will say he's pitching a no-hitter. There's none of this, you know, "I'm going to control a game by not saying it" [belief]. A lot of times, what I'll do, I'll say, "Hey, if you have friends who are ball fans, call ‘em, because this guy is pitching a no-hitter."
And then in the ninth inning — and I've done this for-ever — in the ninth inning, whoever is pitching, we tape it on radio. And I put [say] the date on it [the broadcast], just so the guy will have it for the rest of his life. I kept doing this with Koufax and all the others and finally, on Sandy's fourth [a perfect game], I thought, "What else can I do besides putting a date on it?" And [so] I put the time. That's all I meant by it. It was for him, so that when he was playing it years later in his dotage, he could hear the time. And that's all. Well, to the listener and to several writers in Southern California, this was "great theater," this was "great dramatic" ... well, I didn't intend that at all. It was just for Sandy.
DB: It's funny how people will look back at things you've said off the top of your head and go, "That's good baseball writing. That could go in a book."
VS: Well, sometimes [laughs]. I mean, in all honesty, you don't do it [that well] all of the time. I would say I've spent most of my career thinking, "Gee, I wish I hadn't said this." You know? That's the way it goes.
DB: You are not "Vince Scully." Was that a conscious decision for your professional career? Were you always "Vin."
VS: I was always either "Vin" or "Vinnie" to my mother. I was rarely "Vinnie." But when I got into the business I knew that "Vince" and "Scully" are very difficult to say [together]. The "Vin" made it much easier.
DB: I've heard stories about thousands of fans bringing transistor radios to the games to listen to you as they watched in person. Wasn't that disorienting, to hear your voice out there?
VS: No, not really. It always bothered the engineer, who was controlling the broadcast. I never heard it, in all honesty. I was just too busy jabbering. The transistor radio was probably the greatest single break that I had in Southern California. It enabled me to talk more to the fans — and to elicit a response. We sang happy birthday to Frank Secory the umpire; I had a lot of fun asking them ... at one time, the balk rule said you had to come set for "one full second." Well, I had a lot of fun with the crowd, saying "OK, well let's see what you think a second is." Then they would respond. So we had a lot of fun.
But we were in the [cavernous] L.A. Coliseum. The people knew the superstars, but they didn't know the rank and file, and here comes the transistor radio. So it was the greatest good fortune for me to help get closer to the fans.
DB: And you briefly managed a game one time?
VS: Two pitches. It was [then-Dodgers manager] Walter Alston [right] who called. They had won the pennant the night before. It was a Sunday and several [players] had overindulged or had been over-served. All of the sudden the phone rang in the booth and it was the manager [from the dugout]. We were good friends and he was laughing and said, "Look, you've always wanted to manage — it's your team." I said, "Really?!" We were in commercial, and he says, "Yeah. The only thing is, you have to give it to me right away [snaps fingers], you can't wait. Right away!"
Well, I had a good pal, Ron Fairly, who was my mother's favorite player — he was left-handed and red-headed — so he fell right into her category. Anyway, I told the crowd that I was the manager and they got a big kick out of it, that they would know in advance [what the team was going to do]. So I had Ronnie going, stealing second, and the first pitch was fouled off and he was tired, over-served, whatever, and I'd talk to the crowd and say, "Gosh, I hate to do this. But I'm going to run him again." Every time Ron would look at the third base coach, his head would snap and the crowd would roar, because they knew — for the only time in their lives — exactly what was going on. The second time I ran him, the ball was in the dirt and he he slid or collapsed into second base for a stolen base.
At that point, I was looking to [stop] because I didn't want — I think it was the Braves — to think I was making fun of them. I respect the ego of the major league player. So I told Alston over the air, "OK, Walter, I've taken you this far. It's your team now."
DB: Was there anything to Alston saying to you, "You've always wanted to manage..."? Could you have been like Fred Claire, who went from being a sportswriter to general manager?
VS: Nah, it wasn't true. I've known Jerry Coleman, who went from the booth down to manage. Lou Boudreau, who played and went up to the booth and then back to the field to manage. I never, ever entertained one moment [laughs] of managing, no.
DB: Do you have any idea how many frequent-flier miles you've accumulated? How many times you've flown on an airplane?
VS: No, no. I know, with American Airlines, I'm over 3 1/2 million. But all of the others, I have no idea.
DB: Do you get your own plane when you're over 3 1/2 million?
VS: No [laughs]. I think they sent me a plastic paperweight when I got to 3 million.
DB: Do you like that people do impressions of you — like Harry Shearer will do a Vin Scully-like character on "The Simpsons"?
VS: You know, I've never watched "The Simpsons"? In all honestly, when they were creating that show, they asked me to be on it. And I thought, "I don't want to be on a comedy, a cartoon. I'm trying to do a serious job." Well, apparently, what they did was, "OK, let's hire somebody who can imitate him." So, I have no idea.
Jon Miller is a good pal, and he's had a lot of fun with it, but he always does it nicely. But everything is fine with that.
DB: Did they ask you to be in the "Naked Gun" movie scene with all of the broadcasters?
VS: No, they didn't. But I laughed my sides off at it. I was not asked to be in it and I don't feel rejected [laughs] in any way. It was an Angels game at Dodger Stadium, so [laughs].
DB: The 1983 All-Star game at Comiskey Park — when Fred Lynn hit the grand slam — I went to the game with my mom. I was 11 years old. But we also taped it; it was one of the first things we ever taped on the home VCR. And I remember watching the broadcast so many times that I had memorized what you had said. What do you remember about preparing for that game?
VS: I remember that it was my first All-Star game with NBC; I had just signed on. I remember having done a lot of research and I remember saying something to the effect, "In case you've wondered, there's never been a grand slam in an All-Star game." And I had no sooner said that, then Fred hit it out. And then I said, "There it is ..." — or something like it.
DB: One of the things you said in the broadcast was that you "use to cry when Carl Hubbell lost a ballgame." Why did you feel that way?
VS: Growing up in New York, the Polo Grounds was about 20 blocks from my grammar school. In those days, the games were about at 3:15 — no lights — and when I asked one day why it was 3:15, I was told it was "for the Wall Street crowd," so they could come up and see a game. Maybe, I don't know. And I would get out of school about 2:30, and I was a member of the Police Athletic League and the Catholic Youth Organization. Most of the times, I could get into the park based on my credentials with those two clubs. If I couldn't, I would save up deposits on soda pop bottles, and for $0.55, you got into the bleachers. And I became a rabid Giants fan as a little kid.
And, not that he was knocked out very often, but when you were knocked out of a game at the Polo Grounds, you didn't go back and sit in the dugout, you went to the clubhouse — which was 500 feet away [in center field]. And here was this round-shouldered, skinny, with pants bloused down around his ankles — where in those days, everybody else wore them tucked in at the knee — and he would walk off the field and I would just cry. I felt so awful. But it didn't happen very often that I was there to see it, nor did it happen often at all.
DB: Of the many famous moments you've called where something dramatically unexpected has happened — Kirk Gibson's home run in the World Series, the ball going through Bill Buckner's legs — which would say was the most unlikely?
VS: I would say that Gibson's home run. The odds were against that. I mean, we've all seen errors, we've all seen balls go through people's legs. It was a little shocking with Buckner. It was a slow-hit ball. Maybe Billy was distracted by the bag in front of him. I don't know. However it happened, it was pretty electrifying. Gibbie wasn't even in the dugout. The fact that he could come up, using the bat almost like a cane and then going up there and hitting a home run against one of the premier relievers of the game, that was really stretching it a great deal.
DB: I saw an ad on the Internet for the '67 Rose Parade, which you co-hosted with Elizabeth Montgomery from "Bewitched." You got to call her "Liz."
VS: Yes, yes. A sweet, sweet lady.
DB: The commercial was funny. It was almost like you were Darrin Stephens, when she blinked you into the scene. How neat is it that you've gone places in your life and done things that has allowed you to be on a first-name basis with TV stars?
VS: All I can tell you is that she was such a sweet, unaffected superstar. In those days, 40 years ago, my gosh, she was queen of television. I was in awe of her presence. After being with her for a little while, I realized she was so down-to-earth. She was a mother, she was a wife, she was not theatrically inclined at all.
I didn't realize it until the day of the parade and we went to go up the tower — and it wasn't literally a tower, it was a platform of six or seven steps. She couldn't go up it. She was scared to death. She had a phobia about heights. She put her face in my back and put her arms around me and I took her up the six steps and got her seated and she was fine. The most important thing for me about that is to tell anyone, including you, that she was the nicest girl. It was really an honor.
DB: You go to work 80 times a year in the Vin Scully Press Box. What is that like, to work in a place that's named after you?
VS: In all honesty, Dave, I don't even think about it. It was very nice, whenever it happened — and I can't tell you when it happened — but it was very nice and I appreciated that. But everything about me ... I'm a very ordinary guy who has been given an extraordinary opportunity. And I am religious. So my only feeling is one of great thanks to God. To get the job that I wanted. To thank Him for my health. To thank Him for my longevity. But any honor that I get, of any kind, I really don't like to take a bow because it's His gift to me. So, I don't think about the press box — except that it's a press box. I don't stand and look at it and go, "Wow, they misspelled my name [laughs]."
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2009 • Shane Victorino • Carlos Pena • Jay Bruce • Joe Nathan • Joe Maddon • Joakim Soria • Joey Votto • Tom Glavine • Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez • Chris Volstad • Paul Konerko • Edwin Jackson • Mark DeRosa • Tim Lincecum • Dave Righetti • Pedro Martinez • Denard Span • Cal Ripken
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