Why Vin Scully is the greatest announcer in baseball history
There are many ways to measure the incredible longevity of Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. Given my background, I will go with the sportswriter perspective.
When Scully made his debut in 1950, Grantland Rice, the most influential sportswriter of all time, was writing columns about Jackie Robinson for a Dodgers teams located in Brooklyn.
Now that is some longevity.
Well, it turns out old Vin couldn’t go on forever. After 67 years in the booth, he finally is hanging up the microphone at the end of the Dodgers season.
It truly has been an epic run for Scully, and the fanfare will be unprecedented for his final game broadcasts. In the vast pantheon of great announcers in baseball history, there is no debate about No. 1.
"He's so much greater than anyone who has ever done this," Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes told me for a Chicago Tribune column on Scully. "It's not even close. It's an embarrassment of riches. He's the best, he's done it the longest and he's been with one franchise. It's amazing all of this can be said about one man."
Scully will leave behind numerous lessons for current and prospective members of the media. First and foremost is his emphasis on preparation. Hughes and Cubs TV announcer Len Kasper each made a point of marveling at how much research Scully does for a broadcast. He still is grinding at 88.
Yet something Kasper said really gets to the essence of what makes Scully so great.
"It's so striking that what he says, and the words he uses, plays as well on paper as it does on a broadcast," Kasper said. "He's like a great author. His pen is his voice."
The perfect example is Scully’s call of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965. How fitting that Koufax and Scully both had the signature moments on their great careers on the same night.
You can listen to Scully’s radio call on YouTube.
However, also take a few minutes to read the entire transcribed version below. As Kasper says, it does play incredibly well on paper.
Let’s break down what students of sports media can learn from Scully’s use of language and storytelling in his call:
Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked out to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth where he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, September the ninth, nineteen hundred and sixty-five, he made the toughest walk of his career, I’m sure, because through eight innings he has pitched a perfect game.
Scully quickly and simply sets the mood by calling it “a fateful ninth” and saying it is “the toughest walk of his career.” Also, note that he uttered “no-hitter” and “perfect game,” eschewing the baseball superstition that using those terms could doom a pitcher’s bid for history.
Here’s the strike one pitch to Krug: fastball, swung on and missed, strike two. And you can almost taste the pressure now. Koufax lifted his cap, ran his fingers through his black hair, then pulled the cap back down, fussing at the bill. Krug must feel it too as he backs out, heaves a sigh, took off his helmet, put it back on and steps back up to the plate.
Scully begins to build the suspense talking about tasting “the pressure.” Remember this was a radio broadcast. So Scully had to paint a picture for listeners. He shows he is the master by talking about Koufax running his fingers through his hair. “Fussing at the bill.” What a great image for someone listening in a car.
Scully also notes Krug “heaves a sigh.” He didn’t say, “let out a sigh.” Heaves is another wonderful descriptive verb. You almost could feel Krug’s exhale.
In the Dodger dugout Al Ferrara gets up and walks down near the runway, and it begins to get tough to be a teammate and sit in the dugout and have to watch.
I love this one. Scully displays the power of observation. He wasn’t just watching Koufax and the batter. He also described how the tension was building with his teammates in the dugout. It is a terrific example of the many ways to tell a story.
I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world.
I mean, how perfect is this description? As a listener, you can picture Koufax standing alone on the mound, feeling the burden of being so close to perfection.
So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date, September the ninth, nineteen-sixty-five, and Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn.
Scully famously decided to detail the exact time several times during the ninth inning. Referring to the time added weight to what loomed to be a historic moment in baseball. In a GQ interview in 2011, he explained that he did it for Koufax’s use when he replayed the tape for his grandchildren.
"When the game was over, the biggest impact in the city was that they thought it was the most dramatic, theatrical calling of a game they’d ever heard because I’d put the time on it,” Scully said. “And it was purely for him, not for anybody else! Because as we all know time doesn’t mean anything (in baseball)."
Two and two to Harvey Kuenn one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch: Swung on and missed, a perfect game.
(Thirty-eight seconds of cheering by the crowd.)
Keep in mind, Scully was doing a radio broadcast. Yet he went silent for 38 seconds. He felt the roar of the crowd captured the immediate moment much better than words.
In a 2014 interview with Dan Patrick, Scully explained the use of silence in a broadcast:
“I love it," he said. "It’s probably selfish on my part. When I was about 8 years old, the reason I went in this direction … we have a big old four-legged radio. I would get a pillow and a glass of milk and some saltine crackers and I would crawl under the radio to listen to a football game. I knew nothing about [the teams]. But the roar of the crowd absolutely intoxicated me. That’s what drew me to get into sports. Now I try to shut up so I can enjoy the roar of the crowd.”
And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flurry. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that “K” stands out even more than the O-U-F-A-X.
Scully wraps it up, by labeling Koufax’s dominance as “a flurry.” The word depicts the pitcher completely overwhelming the Cubs hitters. With “K” being the scorecard symbol for a strikeout, Scully naturally used it in emphasizing the spelling of Koufax’s last name.
Surely, there was much more to this broadcast. Scully did a postgame report and interviewed Koufax on his feat. He likely had more pearls in describing what just happened on the field.
However, the passage below more than shows his greatness. Like Koufax, on September the ninth, nineteen, sixty-five, Scully also was perfect.
Here's Scully's unabridged ninth-inning call:
Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked out to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth where he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, September the 9th, nineteen hundred and 65, he made the toughest walk of his career, I’m sure, because through eight innings he has pitched a perfect game. He has struck out 11, he has retired 24 consecutive batters, and the first man he will look at is catcher Chris Krug, big right-hand hitter, flied to second, grounded to short. Dick Tracewski is now at second base and Koufax ready and delivers: curveball for a strike.
0 and 1 the count to Chris Krug. Out on deck to pinch-hit is one of the men we mentioned earlier as a possible, Joey Amalfitano. Here’s the strike 1 pitch to Krug: fastball, swung on and missed, strike 2. And you can almost taste the pressure now. Koufax lifted his cap, ran his fingers through his black hair, then pulled the cap back down, fussing at the bill. Krug must feel it too as he backs out, heaves a sigh, took off his helmet, put it back on and steps back up to the plate.
Tracewski is over to his right to fill up the middle, Kennedy is deep to guard the line. The strike 2 pitch on the way: fastball, outside, ball 1. Krug started to go after it and held up and Torborg held the ball high in the air trying to convince Vargo but Eddie said nossir. One and 2 the count to Chris Krug. It is 9:41 p.m. on September the 9th. The 1-2 pitch on the way: curveball, tapped foul off to the left of the plate.
The Dodgers defensively in this spine-tingling moment: Sandy Koufax and Jeff Torborg. The boys who will try and stop anything hit their way: Wes Parker, Dick Tracewski, Maury Wills and John Kennedy; the outfield of Lou Johnson, Willie Davis and Ron Fairly. And there’s 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies. Twenty nine thousand, one hundred and thirty-nine paid.
Koufax into his windup and the 1-2 pitch: fastball, fouled back out of play. In the Dodger dugout Al Ferrara gets up and walks down near the runway, and it begins to get tough to be a teammate and sit in the dugout and have to watch. Sandy back of the rubber, now toes it. All the boys in the bullpen straining to get a better look as they look through the wire fence in left field. One and 2 the count to Chris Krug. Koufax, feet together, now to his windup and the 1-2 pitch: fastball outside, ball 2.
A lot of people in the ballpark now are starting to see the pitches with their hearts. The pitch was outside, Torborg tried to pull it over the plate but Vargo, an experienced umpire, wouldn’t go for it. Two and 2 the count to Chris Krug. Sandy reading signs, into his windup, 2-2 pitch: fastball, got him swingin’!
Sandy Koufax has struck out 12. He is two outs away from a perfect game.
Here is Joe Amalfitano to pinch-hit for Don Kessinger. Amalfitano is from Southern California, from San Pedro. He was an original bonus boy with the Giants. Joey’s been around, and as we mentioned earlier, he has helped to beat the Dodgers twice, and on deck is Harvey Kuenn. Kennedy is tight to the bag at third, the fastball, a strike. 0 and 1 with one out in the ninth inning, 1 to nothing, Dodgers. Sandy reading, into his windup and the strike 1 pitch: curveball, tapped foul, 0 and 2. And Amalfitano walks away and shakes himself a little bit, and swings the bat. And Koufax with a new ball, takes a hitch at his belt and walks behind the mound.
I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world.
Sandy fussing, looks in to get his sign, 0 and 2 to Amalfitano. The strike 2 pitch to Joe: fastball, swung on and missed, strike 3!
He is one out away from the promised land, and Harvey Kuenn is comin’ up.
So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date, September the 9th, 1965, and Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn. Sandy into his windup and the pitch, a fastball for a strike! He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and that’s gone unnoticed. Sandy ready and the strike 1 pitch: very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That’s only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off — he took an extremely long stride to the plate — and Torborg had to go up to get it.
One and 1 to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready: fastball, high, ball 2. You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while Kuenn just waiting. Now Sandy looks in. Into his windup and the 2-1 pitch to Kuenn: swung on and missed, strike 2!
It is 9:46 p.m.
Two and 2 to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch: Swung on and missed, a perfect game!
(38 seconds of cheering.)
On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games. He has done it four straight years, and now he caps it: On his fourth no-hitter he made it a perfect game. And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flurry. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that “K” stands out even more than the O-U-F-A-X.