This column, by Bob Verdi, first appeared in the July 21, 1986, issue of The Sporting News.
CHICAGO — It is the Fourth of July evening and the mood down below, on the streets or the Windy City, exudes celebration frolic, fresh air, fireworks The dress code is strictly short pants
Upstairs, in a hotel room where the room service waiter has delivered a cheese and fruit platter, sits Vin Scully, his white shirt crisp, his necktie knotted explicitly, his notes and scorebooks nearby. Clearly, no holiday is being observed in Suite 938.
You wonder why? Here is a man of 57 who has done it all — and done it so magnificently that his voice already has been inducted into Cooperstown. He is at the very top of his profession, with enough awards and zeroes on his paychecks to boggle even the minds of those many broadcasters whose imitations of him constitute daily on-air flattery
Why? Why wouldn't he just kick it back with his wife, Sandi, and the children at home outside Los Angeles? Joe Garagiola is great company and a wonderful boothmate, but wouldn't a family barbecue beat dinner with him, beat an hour's interview before that, beat having to prepare for the next sweltering afternoon's "Game of the Week" assignment for NBC at Comiskey Park?
"Because after all these years, when I hear the roar of the crowd, I still get goosebumps," Scully said.
It was, alas, a terribly naive question, to be rescued only by the perfect answer. We're talking after all about a craftsman who fell in love with this profession before he knew it would be his profession. As a kid in New York, he'd smother himself beneath that big old radio at his parents' fifth-floor walkup apartment and fill his ears with sports. As a student at Fordham University, be would patrol center field and do play-by-play to himself, a closed-circuit hookup to be interrupted only when the ball was hit his way.
Chances are, when he landed the plum that was the Brooklyn Dodgers job at age 22, Scully was no more enthusiastic than he is now still doing the Dodgers. Saturday games for NBC and golf when his schedule permits. There isn't a whiff of battle fatigue in his tonsils or an ounce of tedium in his demeanor, which is not to say that hopping to and from planes and working when others are relaxing — a staple in this business of sports — don't crawl up and bite him on the neck once in a while.
"Being Irish, being Catholic, from the first day I can remember, I was told about death," said Scully, a moral man. "Death is a constant companion in our religion You live with it easily; it is not a morbid thought. That has given me the perspective that whatever I have can disappear in 30 seconds. And being out on the road as much as I am, I realize I am killing the most precious thing! have — time. You never know how much of it you have left."
That point was underscored all too tragically with the death in 1972 of Scully's first wife, Joan. But his faith, the children and eventually. Sandi gave him reasons to live "when I felt like jumping off a building." Rather than go crazy listening to a clock tick, as he says, Scully saw through the confusion to reorganize. He is extremely happy now, even on holidays.
"I can't ever imagine retiring, and neither can Sandi see that happening," he said. "I went through a period when I explored a venues other than sports — a game show, an interview show. There was a time when I was in Cincinnati, on a weekend, when I talked to my son, Michael, back home. He was being taken to a fireworks display with a friend, a bank manager. I thought to myself, 'What am I doing here?' I've missed a lot of graduations and what have you, but if this is God's gift, my ability to broadcast, then I feel I should use that gift."
And what a gift it is. Scully's lucid descriptions and storytelling genius need no introduction to anyone who has ever flipped the dials, but you get the idea that this man with this affection for words is proudest of those occasions when he lets the event do the talking. While some contemporaries feel compelled to over-describe, Scully is content to edit himself and allow the listener or viewer to work up a case of intoxication on his own.
"It's gone," he'll say of Hank Aaron's 715th home run in 1974 or of Kirk Gibson's grand slam in the 1984 World Series. And then Scully will back off the microphone, leaving you with the roar of the crowd. When those crowds happen to accumulate in Dodger Stadium, inevitably there are thousands of transistor radios in attendance, too, because as Tom Lasorda notes, until Scully confirms what you just saw, you don't know it quite for sure.
Scully once choreographed a happy birthday wish for umpire Frank Secory. Then, during a balk controversy relating to a pitcher's pause while in the stretch position, Scully played off his live audience to determine what really constituted one second's time. There was even a brief fling 20 or so years ago when Walter Alston, then the Dodgers manager, telephoned upstairs and appointed Scully as manager.
"The Dodgers had clinched the night before and were full of champagne," Scully recalled. "I let the fans in on the news, that I was managing. Ron Fairly was on first base — a dear friend, probably a little drowsy — when from the booth I gave the word for him to steal second. When he saw the sign from the dugout, he did the all-time double take, and the crowd went crazy. He didn't know what was going on, but the fans did."
With customary respect for his profession and for baseball, however, Scully relinquished his task quickly, fearful that he was overstepping. He did not want to play God or seem bigger than the game itself. Fairly trundled into second safely, perspiring profusely, and Scully went back to what he does best, reporting on America's peerless summer diversion. He downplays his role and his impact, but one wonders how many of us kids with receding hairlines cherish the moments when we can turn on the radio and see a ball game.
Vin Scully, after all these years, not only still gets goosebumps, he still gives them.