In the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ 4-3 win over the Indians this past Sunday, Juan Pierre stole his 29th base of the season. Although the throw from catcher Kelly Shoppach beat Pierre to the base, the savvy baserunner pulled out one of his tricks and drew his left arm away from the glove angling down for the tag, then shifted his weight toward his right side and finally, neatly touched the far edge of the base with his right hand. High above the field, in the booth he has occupied since 1962, Vin Scully described the action, and in a move as smooth and adept as Pierre’s, immediately connected the present with the past. Before Pierre could conclude his dusting off, catching-his-breath routine, Scully was back in the early sixties, reminiscing, reminding his viewers of another base-stealer who could confound and frustrate his opponents with his own brand of aggressiveness, speed, and boldness. In an instant, Juan Pierre and Maury Wills found a home together: tied into a package known as Dodger baseball, they were intertwined by a man and voice whose experiences and memories reach back across more than a half-century of our national pastime.
Listening to a ballgame described by Vin Scully is like sitting down with a thousand baseball yearbooks. Over the course of the two or three hours of any contest, interspersed within the balls, strikes, swings, putouts and hits, in coordination with the hundreds of slight pauses in between the action, Vin Scully travels the baseball universe. The early season struggles of James Loney in 2008 may be juxtaposed with Duke Snider’s difficulties in 1947. A full-bore, all-out dive by Ryan Freel can evoke the name and attendant story of Pepper Martin. A heavy sinker from the right arm of Derek Lowe might instigate a rumination on Clem Labine. Eras and ballplayers mesh in a Vin Scully broadcast; the present – the game’s moments and actors always elevated by the narration of the broadcaster – plays out before us and offers myriad opportunities to reflect and relate. With the past sitting patiently on the stoop, waiting to be offered an opportunity to join in on the fun, Vin Scully sews together the elements, creating a colorful and vibrantly resonant quilt we know as “baseball.”
Vin Scully came to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. From Carl Erskine’s first no-hitter in 1952 to Hideo Nomo’s first in 1996, from Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951 to Kirk Gibson’s improbable blast in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, from Don Drysdale’s 58.2 scoreless innings in 1968 to Orel Hershiser’s streak of 59 consecutive shutout innings in 1988, from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to the Los Angeles Coliseum to Dodger Stadium, from Roy Campanella to Mike Piazza, from Duke Snider to Shawn Green, from Maury Wills to Davey Lopes to Juan Pierre, from Johnny Podres to Fernando Valenzuela, Vin Scully has watched and described the game, and has conducted a symphonic version of the events which simplifies and expands their place in baseball’s timeline. Vin Scully serves as baseball’s great connector, in which his woven threads tie him and his audience to the game and its rich history and produce a cohesive vision and understanding many layers deep: illuminating, organizing, deciphering, and instilling affection.
In the middle of every Scully-called Dodger game, the Hall of Fame broadcaster takes a moment before the sixth inning to share a particular memory or thought with his audience. He might speak about Tommy Davis and the year in which the 23-year-old outfielder drove in 153 runs. He may talk about the 100th Anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Perhaps he’ll share a memory of Jackie Robinson in his last game with the Dodgers on October 10, 1956, when #42 swung, missed, and was thrown out at first for the final out of the 1956 World Series. These 20-second essays offer a distillation of Scully’s sensibility and character, and reveal the breadth of a man who, when it comes to the ballfield, has seemingly seen it all. On the same afternoon when Pierre collected his 29th steal of the 2008 season and Scully harmoniously connected the past with the present, Sandy Koufax stood in the center of Scully’s reminiscence. Scully spoke in reverential tones – 49 years after the fact – of a night on June 22, 1959 when Koufax struck out 16 Philadelphia Phillies during a 6-2 complete game win. “Later on in August of that year,” Vin Scully added, “He would strike out 18 Giants, leading the Dodgers to the pennant and the World Series.” And then, as he always does, Scully concluded with his warm invitation, “Let’s go back to this one.”
Vin Scully and Sandy Koufax. For me, they will forever be connected.
On a late summer night in the second week of September in 1965, at 9:46 pm, Sandy Koufax threw his final pitch in the eighth perfect game in history. Koufax’s performance on September 9 stands at the apex of an extraordinary run of excellence which found its home in the distance between mound and home plate, and flashes upon our baseball world like the brightest star in a galaxy littered with sparkles and flickers. On September 9, 1965, over the course of one hour and 43 minutes on a ballfield in Los Angeles, Sandy Koufax achieved perfection. Appropriately, this achievement was brought to life and given its due by Vin Scully’s unique voice and acute perceptions. The announcer’s description of the action on the field, his attention to the small ancillary details like the time, the attendance, and the date, his empathy for Koufax’s isolation amidst the expectation and hopefulness, and his ability to see and describe the unseen and indescribable painted a vibrant picture that elevated the action and laid magic upon the field. On September 9, 1965, at Dodger Stadium, perfection was achieved in two places: on the mound and in the broadcast booth.
The images of the present. The tones of the past. The timelessness of the game truly arises when the twin features of old and new meld their particular components and fashion a world where it all fits together. Since 1950, Vin Scully has arranged these elements in a beautiful, evolving work that invites us to remember, look ahead, and always, return to the game on the field.
For a transcript of Vin Scully’s ninth-inning call of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, visit: http://www.salon.com/people/feature/1999/10/12/scully_koufax/
Thanks to baseball-reference.com, retrosheet.org, and mlb.com for information that helped with this piece.