Ted Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Russell, Leonardo Da Vinci, Jim Brown, Winston Churchill, Bobby Orr, Yo-Yo Ma, Muhammad Ali . . .
And Vin Scully.
The best who ever lived.
On Friday, the Dodgers announced that Scully will be back as team broadcaster for his 65th year in 2014. A humbled Scully, now 85, gracefully participated in a press conference, telling the assembled media that he wished the Dodgers had simply released the news with a single line in the evening’s game notes.
In all of sports, there is nothing like the Scully-Dodgers relationship. Ernie Harwell was the sweet honey voice of the Tigers for a million years and Marv Albert has been the signature caller of the Knicks forever. We came to associate Keith Jackson with college football and Al Michaels with believing in miracles. Boston has been graced with the iconic Curt Gowdy, the mellow Ned Martin, Drano-gargling Johnny Most, steady Gil Santos, puckish Fred Cusick, and pom-pom Joe Castiglione, who moved thousands of “can you believe it?” bottle openers after the Red Sox finally won in 2004.
All of these guys are/were great, but none can be Vin Scully. Only one man can be the greatest sports broadcaster who ever lived.
Here in Los Angeles, Scully narrates “the soundtrack of summer” (wish I wrote that, but it’s an official part of Scully’s bio). He works alone, completely schtickless, broadcasting all Dodgers home games and road games in California and Arizona.
Most of you have heard Scully’s call of Kirk Gibson’s World Series homer off Dennis Eckersley (the genesis of “walkoff”) in 1988. He also called Don Larsen’s perfect game, all of Sandy Koufax’s no-hitters, Hank Aaron’s 715th homer, and the infamous Mookie Wilson grounder that rolled between the legs of Bill Buckner.
I still break out in hives when I hear Scully exhorting, “behind the bag . . . the Mets win!’’
“I don’t remember that very well,’’ Scully said Friday. “I just remember a slow-hit ball going through Buckner’s legs. I was shocked. I felt so badly for the Red Sox. There was a picture of several of the players slumped over and I remember saying, ‘Don’t hang your heads, Boston,’ and a couple of the writers killed me in the papers.’’
Everyone in baseball has a Scully story. ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes remembers acquiring a recording of Scully’s call of a Ramon Martinez no-hitter in 1995 and replaying the tape to a carfull of sportswriters as they were driving to the ballpark the next day.
This was Scully’s call: “And now it has arrived. The sweet, precious moment in a ballgame that has seen one man almost against the world. And that man is Ramon Martinez. He is one out away from a no-hitter.”
In 2007, when infielder Chin-lung Hu came up with the Dodgers, Scully waited patiently until the kid reached safely on a single, then said the words he’d been waiting to say his whole life.
“OK, everybody. All together . . . Hu’s on first.’’
He made the call when Jackie Robinson stole home against the Yankees in Brooklyn’s only World Series victory in 1955. Fifty-eight years later, Scully went to see “42” with former Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe.
“I thought it was pretty good,’’ said Scully. “There were some moments that made me very uncomfortable. I didn’t think they had to use the N-word nearly as much. I didn’t like the idea of having Ben Chapman standing on the field in front of the dugout. That was wrong. And the constant use of the word I think was wrong. Newcombe remembered better than I. He said that several of the players who were lefty might have been righty, but who cares?’’
Scully has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. When the Los Angeles Times polled fans to list the top 20 sports figures in city history, Scully finished third, trailing only Koufax and Magic Johnson. That put him ahead of John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Fernando Valenzuela, Wayne Gretzky, O.J. Simpson, and Wilt Chamberlain.
“In a city of big stars, Vin might be the biggest star of them all,’’ said broadcaster Charley Steiner. “Rick Monday and I get to have dinner with him 110 times a year. The game ends up getting in the way for us. I feel like I get to play pepper with Babe Ruth every day.’’
Scully grew up not far from where Manny Ramirez was raised.
“We were both from the Washington Heights neighborhood,’’ recalled Scully. “I lived near the bridge and I went to church at Incarnation Church, which was at 175th Street. Manny was from the Hispanic area, but he did go to the high school in our neighborhood, George Washington High School. I talked to Manny about it once, but we had no connection whatsoever.’’
Scully went to Fordham, played center field for the Rams, and remembers a loss to Yale when both Scully and the Yale first baseman, George H.W. Bush, went 0 for 3.
“I realized how hard it is to play baseball well,’’ said Scully. “These major leaguers are so good. I’m not sure if people realize it unless you tried to do what they are doing. That, to me, is the key to my love for the game.’’
He got his big break on the roof of Fenway Park covering a football game between Maryland and Harry Agganis’s BU squad in 1949.
“I had graduated from Fordham and took a job at CBS in Washington. I was a summer replacement announcer,” said Scully. “In the fall, there was a show called ‘Football roundup.’ Ernie Harwell was sent to the Notre Dame-North Carolina game. I got home and my red-haired, excitable Irish mother said, ‘Vinnie, you’ll never guess who called — Red Skelton!’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. Was it Red Barber?’ Yes. That was it. He wanted me to go to the Boston University-Maryland game.
“I thought I would have a beautiful booth and didn’t bring a hat or coat or gloves. It was November. I got there and there was no booth. We were on the roof of Fenway with a card table and a microphone and 50 yards of cable. I did the game going up and down the roof with the microphone as the teams went up and down. I never mentioned anything about it during the broadcast. It became a terrific game. When it was over, I was so cold and so unhappy and I thought I had blown it.
“On Monday, Red got a call apologizing for putting his announcer under those conditions. Red thought, ‘OK, that kid never complained.’ He called me and said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have a booth next week. You’re going to Harvard-Yale.’
“Later, Ernie Harwell left the Dodgers and Red thought, ‘Instead of hiring a professional, I’m going to take that kid and see if I can make him a reasonably successful broadcaster.’ I went to spring training with the Dodgers, and 64 years later here I am.’’
Here he is. Vin Scully. The best there ever was.