Baseball writers these days seem to be hung up on historic developments, often calling events historic when they are in no way historic. But here’s one event I can label historic without fear of contradiction.
This week Vin Scully, the long-time Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster, and I had a telephone conversation that was the oldest telephone conversation in age and baseball coverage between two baseball old-timers who had never previously spoken to each other.
That’s not a record that will make next year’s edition of “The Elias Book of Baseball Records,” but I believe it is noteworthy if for no other reason than asking the question how can a baseball broadcaster and a baseball writer cover the game for a combined 120 years or so and never have met or talked.
The easy answer, I suppose, is as the broadcaster of Dodgers’ games, Scully has spent all of his time in the National League while I covered the Yankees for many years and therefore spent most of my time in the American League.
I was prompted to contact Scully when I saw that he had signed up for his 65th year with the Dodgers. Sixty-five years! That is a remarkable feat, and how Scully does his job is remarkable in its own right.
“I do it alone,” the 85-year-old Scully said. “Why do I do it? It goes back to Red Barber in Brooklyn. Red felt one man at a time was enough”
Offering an analogy, Scully said, “If you want to sell a car, I can talk to you directly or talk to someone else about the car. I feel one on one is going to get him to come to the ball park. There’s a difference between the network and local. The local announcer is trying to get fannies in the seats so one on one I feel is more effective.”
By contrast, the Yankees have a roster of seven television announcers with three working in the booth at any one time.
As an additional difference, Scully does the first three innings of each game by himself in a television-radio simulcast, then “after we come back it just becomes TV with me, and our radio guys do radio.”
Scully, however, isn’t different. That’s why the fans like him, and that’s why the Dodgers keep bringing him back.
“He’s the same Vin Scully,” said a friend of mine who grew up in Brooklyn and listened to Scully describe Dodgers’ games before they left Brooklyn after the 1957 season. Scully went west with the Dodgers, and my friend hears him occasionally on the MLB network and sometimes late at night when he is driving home to New Jersey.
I welcome the opportunity to hear Scully when the MLB network carries a Dodgers’ game or part of it. As the Red Smith of broadcasters, he is a welcome relief from the Yankees’ announcers, who often describe games in future tense.
I could be wrong, but I think Bobby Murcer started it and his colleagues for some reason followed, announcing a play as if it has yet to be completed when it already has been.
“I’m amazed; I didn’t know that,” Scully said about the future-tense broadcasting. “I didn’t think that a professional ball player can influence professional announcers.”
Here are some examples of baseball broadcasting, Yankees’ style, from the past week:
- “He’ll take a pitch down low” (when Matt Joyce already has taken the pitch)
- “Gardner is there, will make the catch” (when Brett Gardner has already caught the outfield fly)
- “He’s going to throw to first” (he already has thrown to first)
- “He’ll take a pitch over the corner for a strike” (he already took the pitch)
- “Here comes DeJesus rounding third, he’s going to score” (he has already scored)
- “Lobaton is going to stop at second” (he has already stopped at second)
- “The ball hits Nunez and he will be safe” (he is already safe)
- “And he will slide in safely” (his hand is already on third base)
- “And that’s how the top of the 10th is going to end” (the out has already ended the inning)
- “There goes Gardner and he’ll be in there safely” (he has already slid in safely)
- “Jeter grounder to shortstop, Gardner to third. Good hustling by Gardner. He’s going to make it to third.” (he is already there)
Dodgers’ fans have never heard such descriptions from Scully. They never will. Nor will they hear about pitchers “dealing.” In Yankees’ games, pitchers are always dealing; they’re not pitching. “He’s really dealing tonight,” Yankees’ announcers often say when a pitcher is having a good game.
I’ve long said that baseball announcers have greater influence on kids’ speech and grammar than teachers, parents, and that’s a frightening thought, unless those kids are in Los Angeles listening to Scully.
“When I first started,” the redheaded Scully related, “Red Barber instructed me not to listen to other announcers. He said, ‘You bring something into the booth that no one else brings.’ I said what. He said ‘Yourself. There is no one else like you. If you listen to others you might pick up things.’”
Scully said he had never heard of games being described in future tense but recalled the opposite.
“Waite Hoyt was a broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds,” Scully said of the Hall of Fame pitcher. “I’d listen to Waite. I might have the radio on. Waite broadcast the entire game in the past tense.”
Scully, a Bronx native, settles for the present tense, and the strength of his broadcasting style is his simplistic, straightforward delivery, eschewing the shtick that many announcers adopt.
Impressionable kids and their teachers and parents are lucky to have had Scully all these years and will have him for at least another year.
“It’s not just the game but I love the roar of the crowd,” Scully said. “I enjoy going to the ball park and seeing and hearing the people. I say hello to the women who run the elevator and the guards outside the press box. I respect and admire the new management. It’s difficult walking away from it.”
In something of a compromise Scully will work all 81 home games next season but do only the team’s road games in California and Arizona.
“Basically, it keeps me almost in the same time zone,” he said. “There are bigger audiences and ratings. It’s all western division games.”
No other broadcaster has lasted as long as Scully so no one has seen the changes in the business he has experienced.
“When Major League Baseball began its TV network, its first telecast was going to be Don Larsen’s perfect game,” said Scully, who shared that 1956 game with Mel Allen. “It was on a Sunday. I was watching a football game, and when I switched over Mel Allen had just finished the fifth inning.
“I took over the second half of the perfect game. It was so boring. so dull. In those days writers said broadcasters talked too much. I followed Mel’s lead. He referred to consecutive outs – 10th in a row, 15th in a row. So when I took over that’s what I did. We never mentioned a perfect game. It was so dull. I switched back to the football game.
“Today I’d be telling people to call their friends. Don’t miss out on it.
Today, given the perfect game, we would have had magnificent shots, what teammates were doing, what was going on in the dugout. In looking at what we do today, compared with what we’ve done, it’s so different.”
Scully has lasted long enough in the business, as I have, to encounter other changes, such as the new era of what some people call sabermetric statistics but what I see as the new age of younger fans who resent their late arrival to the game and are trying to reinvent it.
I asked Scully if he uses or pays attention to the new-fangled statistics.
“No,” he said. “It’s beyond me. I try to be as old-fashioned as possible – batting average, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases. I don’t disapprove of those who use them, but it’s beyond me. It’s too much for me.”