Scully, Vin(cent) Edward

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SCULLY, Vin(cent) Edward

(b. 29 November 1927 in New York City), literate baseball announcer who, in more than fifty years with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, used evocative descriptions and an eye for detail to establish himself as perhaps the most outstanding and influential broadcaster in the game's history.

The son of Irish immigrants, Scully grew up in the Washington Heights area of northern Manhattan, just across the Harlem River from the Bronx. His family was poor but not destitute. Scully's father, Vincent Aloysius, was a traveling silk salesman who died when Scully was five. The boy was raised by his mother, Bridget Freehill, and her second husband, a man Scully liked. Scully frequently attended baseball games at the nearby Polo Grounds, and by the time the redhead was eight, he had formally declared his intention to become a sports broadcaster. He attended Fordham Prep School, graduating in 1945, and entered Fordham University on a partial scholarship that autumn. He earned spending money during his summers by delivering mail and milk, and by polishing silverware in the kitchen of an upscale hotel.

After his freshman year at Fordham, Scully joined the U.S. Navy, in which he served a year before returning to the Bronx campus. Scully was active on campus, where his activities included singing in a barbershop quartet, writing a sports column in the school newspaper, and covering Fordham football games for the New York Times. He also played center field on Fordham's baseball team. After graduating in 1949, Scully found work as a broadcaster with WTOP, a CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. He was soon introduced to Red Barber, the famed Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster and the sports director at CBS, who agreed to give Scully a tryout broadcasting a college football game. Barber was impressed by Scully's performance, and in 1950 he offered the twenty-two-year-old a $5,000 salary to join the Dodgers as an assistant broadcaster. Barber, known as the "Ol' Redhead," quickly took the young redhead under his wing. "Red was my teacher … and my father," Scully recalled. "I don't know—I might have been the son he never had. It wasn't so much that he taught me how to broadcast. It was an attitude. Get to the park early. Do your homework. Be prepared. Be accurate. He was a stickler for that."

The new position afforded Scully the opportunity to witness baseball's integration drama firsthand, as Brooklyn won four pennants during the 1950s behind the baserunning exploits of Jackie Robinson. In 1955 Scully broadcast the clinching game in Brooklyn's only World Series triumph, a moment he always spoke of as his most cherished. In 1957 Barber, Scully's mentor, left for the New York Yankees, leaving the twenty-nine-year-old Scully as the Dodgers' head broadcaster. By then Scully had blended Barber's folksy style with his own talent for detailed description, creating the unique broadcasting style for which he became famous. The most intellectual of baseball announcers, Scully's broadcasts were marked by frequent literary references, as he aptly applied the words of William Shakespeare, Cole Porter, and Eugene O'Neill to explain different aspects of baseball. ("A humble thing, but thine own," he would say of a weak infield hit.)

Scully accompanied the Dodgers in 1958 when they left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. The team spent its first four seasons there playing in the Los Angeles Coliseum, a colossal football stadium ill-suited for baseball, which left many of its 90,000 occupants straining to see the distant action. To remedy this, fans soon began bringing transistor radios to games, and Scully's vivid descriptions of the action made him a cult figure of sorts. Even after the team moved into the more intimate Dodger Stadium in 1962, the practice of bringing radios to the ballpark continued, and it later spread to other major league stadiums. The Dodgers, meanwhile, won three pennants in the mid-1960s, with Scully artfully describing the exploits of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Maury Wills. The most famous broadcast of his career came on 9 September 1965, when Koufax pitched a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. "There are 29,000 people in the ballpark, and a million butterflies," Scully announced as the ninth inning began. "I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world." Scully's work during that game was considered by many to be the best radio broadcast in baseball history.

By 1969 Scully was so popular that some mentioned him as a possible candidate to succeed the embattled William Eckert as the baseball commissioner. That never happened, but Scully's increasing fame enabled him to dabble in other areas of television broadcasting while simultaneously working for the Dodgers. He hosted the NBC game show It Takes Two (1969–1970), and the CBS variety program The Vin Scully Show (1973), which lasted only thirteen weeks. He also broadcast occasional football, golf, and tennis events on CBS from 1975 to 1982. In 1983 he left CBS to become the top baseball announcer for NBC, where for seven years he broadcast showcase events like the World Series and the All-Star game to a national audience.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as the baseball broadcasting industry changed to cater to viewers' shortening attention spans, Scully refused to budge. While most broadcasts featured teams of two or three announcers, Scully usually insisted on working alone, arguing that it made for better communication with the audience. "My approach to broadcasting has always been like I'm talking to a friend," he said. And although he was a loyal company man off the field, while on the air Scully steadfastly refrained from the home-team rooting engaged in by most broadcasters. "The fan is seeing things with his heart," he said, "but my responsibility is to see things with my eyes." In 2001 Scully broadcast his fifty-second season of Dodgers baseball and earned a reported $2 million annual salary.

Scully married Joan Crawford, a model, in 1958. They had three children before she died on 26 January 1972, at age thirty-five, from an apparently accidental overdose of prescription medication. The next year Scully married Sandra Schaefer, a secretary with the Los Angeles Rams, with whom he had one daughter and two stepchildren. Although he frequently complained of the loneliness of baseball road trips, Scully enjoyed filling his off-seasons with exotic vacations, including trips to Europe, China, Australia, and Egypt.

Scully received virtually every award presented to sports-casters. The most prestigious came in 1982, when he was given the Ford C. Frick Award, a lifetime achievement award for broadcasters presented annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Scully's other honors included four citations as the National Sportscaster of the Year, a Peabody Award, an Emmy Award for lifetime achievement, and an honorary doctoral degree from Fordham, where he delivered the commencement address in 2000. He won the California Sportscaster of the Year Award twenty-one times. In 1982 Scully earned the ultimate sign of acceptance in Los Angeles, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Scully's fifty-two years with the Dodgers have established the longest term of service by any announcer with one team. Through 2001 Scully had broadcast twenty-five World Series, including twelve on network television, and twelve All-Star games. He also had called nineteen no-hitters, believed to be a record. On 3 and 4 June 1989 he set a record of another sort. To fulfill his dual duties with the Dodgers and NBC, Scully broadcast three extra-inning games, a total of forty-five innings, in a span of just twenty-seven hours. In addition, he was behind the microphone for many of the most significant moments in baseball history, including the first major league game played on the West Coast on 15 April 1958, Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run in 1974, Bill Buckner's infamous error in the 1986 World Series, Kirk Gibson's dramatic World Series homer in 1988, and Barry Bonds's record-breaking 71st home run in 2001.

Scully's name has been revered by sportscasters nationwide, many of whom have imitated his style of broadcasting. Millions of baseball fans, although they have never met him, think of him as a treasured friend. In his half-century in baseball he has reported on many significant changes in the game, including the designated hitter, free agency, and corporate ownership, all while maintaining an impeccable sense of balance and perspective. His dual talents for observation and oratory, and his respect for his audience's intelligence, have won him nearly universal acclaim as the greatest broadcaster in baseball history.

The archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York, contain an impressive collection of news clippings about Scully's career. Significant articles appear in TV Guide (28 Feb. 1970), LA Weekly (7 Aug. 1992), the Newark Star-Ledger (27 July 1995), and Inside Sports (Apr. 1998). In addition, the media guide published annually by the Los Angeles Dodgers contains a wealth of factual information.

Eric Enders