Vin Scully: The Soundtrack of My Life, Since at Least 1988

On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers had Vin Scully Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium. In a pregame ceremony, Scully and his wife were surprised by a representative from Guinness World Records, who presented him with a certificate recognizing him for the longest career as a sports broadcaster for a single team. The record currently stands at 65 years, 5 months, and 22 days, and the plan is for Scully to continue to extend his record through the end of next season.

Vin Scully Bobblehead

Vin Scully Bobblehead

In honor of Scully’s official recognition as the greatest person in the history of the world (I’m paraphrasing, of course), let me tell you a long, hopefully interesting, personal anecdote.

On Wednesday, October 6, 2010, Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies in his first career postseason game. The game started at 5:07 ET, which is 3:07 where I live, so by the time I got home from work here and turned it on, the game was in the sixth inning. When I saw that the Cincinnati Reds hadn’t scored yet, my first thought was, “I wonder if Halladay has given up any hits.” With Roy Halladay in 2010, that was a logical thing to wonder.

It turned out that he hadn’t, and I knew immediately that he wouldn’t. (Of course, I have “known” a lot of things in my years as a baseball fan that ended up being untrue, but I got lucky this time.) My wife and kids sat and watched with me because I told them it was something special. I explained to them that the last time someone threw a no-hitter in the postseason, my parents were only three years old — the same age my son was that night. We watched the end of the game and celebrated when Carlos Ruiz threw to Ryan Howard to retire Brandon Phillips for the final out of the game. All in all, it was a pretty awesome thing for a baseball fan to do with his wife and kids.

My daughter was almost six years old at the time, the age where she loved to hear stories about when Mommy and Daddy were kids. A while after the game was over, she asked me for a story. Still in a postseason-baseball-history sort of mood, I told her about when I was 11 years old, when the Los Angeles Dodgers (she knew about the Dodgers, of course) were losing by one run in the last inning in the World Series (she didn’t know what the World Series was, but she had a knack for context, so she was appropriately enthralled), and a man named Kirk Gibson came up to bat even though both of his legs hurt so bad that he could barely walk. I reminded her from her T-ball days that you need your legs to do a good baseball swing, and Gibson’s legs hurt so bad that he didn’t know how he was going to swing. I told her how my whole family was watching the game together, and how much we wanted Gibson to hit a home run.

And then I asked her to guess what happened next. Even at age five, this girl knew how to tell a story, and she knew that it would be a pretty lousy story if the last line was, “and then Kirk Gibson struck out.” She said, “He hit a home run!” And I said, “He sure did!” And then I told her how her grandma started hyperventilating, screaming “He did it! He did it! He did it!” I did an awesome impression of Grandma Snider, and both kids got an enormous kick out of it.

A young (and slender) Mike Scioscia.

A young (and slender) Mike Scioscia.

Then my wife had a great idea: “You should show them the video.” I got the 1988 World Series on DVD for Christmas a year or two ago, but I hadn’t yet had occasion to pop it into the DVD player. So I pulled out Game 1 and queued it up to the bottom of the ninth inning. Mike Scioscia popped up, and Beth and I marveled at how young (and slender) he looked compared to when we met him a few months earlier. Jeff Hamilton struck out looking, and we felt bad seeing how overmatched he was against future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and his mullet.

With an 0-2 count on Hamilton, the camera showed Gibson in the dugout with a helmet on. Gibson had been declared out of commission before the game — “He was so banged up, he was not introduced; he did not come onto the field before the game,” said Vin Scully — and the camera had looked unsuccessfully for him in the eighth inning. Joe Garagiola noted Gibson’s presence, and Scully said:

“Seeing him with a helmet on, you have a former Oakland A out on deck, Mike Davis. So we’ll see what all that means. I doubt if he’d be up there to hit for Davis. I think it will be up to Davis to extend the inning to allow Gibson one last shot.”

Gibson appears in the dugout.

Gibson appears in the dugout.

Davis had batted .196 during the regular season, with just two home runs. Sure enough, after Hamilton struck out looking, Davis came up and worked the count to 3-1 against Eckersley, who had walked only 11 hitters all season.

Scully: “So the Dodgers are down to their last out. Three balls and one strike to Mike Davis, bottom of the ninth, A’s four, Dodgers three.”

Garagiola: “If he gets on, we’re gonna hear some roar.”

And then I started saying every word along with Vinny.

“And he walked him! And look who’s coming up. [Thirty-six seconds of silence, other than the sound of the roaring crowd.] All year long they looked to him to light the fire, and all year long he answered the demand. Until he was physically unable to start tonight, with two bad legs! The bad left hamstring, and the swollen right knee. And with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it.”

I could write a book about how much I love Vin Scully. (And really, after the way Curt Smith botched an unbotchable topic, maybe I should.) Everything about Vinny is magical. I watched — and loved — “For Love of the Game” with Kevin Costner just because Vin was the announcer throughout the movie. I pay every year for an account just so I can watch Dodger games and listen to him.

It’s interesting to remember that Scully wasn’t doing Game 1 of the 1988 World Series as the Dodgers’ announcer. He was doing the game for NBC, and it was just coincidence that the team he worked for happened to be playing. I think it is perfect that he was there. Garagiola was in the booth with him, and he was good as always, but Vinny was magical.

The NBC production team tempted fate.

The NBC production team tempted fate.

One thing I often forget about the Gibson at-bat is how long it was. There were eight pitches, including two foul balls with two strikes. (After one of the foul balls, Scully described Gibson as “shaking his left leg, making it quiver like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.”) There were four pickoff throws to first by Eckersley. There was a throw to first by catcher Ron Hassey, whose curly mullet was a perfect complement to Eck’s feathery straight mullet. There was a stolen base by Davis on the 2-2 pitch. And there was the time when Gibson asked for time and stepped out of the box when the count was full. His thoughts:

I remembered what our scouting report said. It said that at 3-and-2, Eckersley throws a backdoor slider. Mel Didier had told me going into the Series, “Podnuh, as sure as I’m standing here breathing, he’s going to throw you a backdoor slider if he gets you to 3-and-2.” So when I called time and stepped out of the box, I looked at Eckersley and said, “Podnuh, as sure as I’m standing here breathing, you’re going to throw me that 3-and-2 backdoor slider.”

Add it all up, and it was five minutes and twenty-six seconds from the time Gibson stepped into the batter’s box to the time his bat famously connected with Eckersley’s backdoor slider.

And it almost didn’t happen. There were a couple close calls. There was a weak ground ball down the first base line that went foul just before Mark McGwire could pick it up. When Davis stole second, umpire Doug Harvey very easily could have called Gibson out for interference as he stumbled into Hassey’s throwing line. In retrospect, everything seems so inevitable. But when you re-watch the video, you hear Scully and Garagiola talking about how important it was that Davis stole second base, because now they didn’t need a huge hit from Gibson because Davis could score the tying run on a bloop single. It was anything but inevitable.

As we watched the DVD, my wife looked at me and giggled about how into it I was. I had seen it dozens of times, but I never get tired of it. My son kept asking me, “Is this where you’re gonna scream?” I kept telling him he’d know it when he saw it.

"Sax waiting on deck, but the game right now is at the plate."

“Sax waiting on deck, but the game right now is at the plate.”

Then the camera shows Steve Sax in the on-deck circle, and Vinny says, “Sax waiting on deck, but the game right now is at the plate.”

Finally, I told my son, “It’s this next pitch!”

Scully: “High fly ball into right field, she is … GONE!”

Me, imitating my mom: “He did it! He did it! He did it!”

The kids were jumping around, half in excitement that Kirk Gibson hit the home run, and half in excitement about how excited Grandma Snider had been. They watched Gibby pump his fist twice as he rounded second.

And we listened as Vin Scully said … nothing. And that’s what makes him so great.

My brother and I have often wondered what happened in the booth. Did Vinny put a muzzle on Garagiola, or did they both know to shut up? It is sixty-eight seconds of perfection from “she is gone” until Vinny says another word. In those sixty-eight seconds, we see all these things, any one of which a lesser announcer would have felt the need to narrate:

  • The crowd in the right-field bleachers celebrating the home run.
  • Gibson rounding first base, with just a glimpse of first-base coach Manny Mota slapping him on the back.
  • Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda running out of the dugout, kind of jumping in the air but never leaving the ground, surrounded by Mike Sharperson and winning pitcher Alejandro Peña.
  • Gibson approaching second base with first-base umpire Durwood Merrill in the background. As Gibson rounds second, he does his two famous fist pumps, gives a yell, and adjusts his helmet.
  • The camera follows Gibson to third base, where third-base coach Joey Amalfitano gives his patented right-hand-low-five, left-hand-butt-slap with even more gusto than usual. In the background, you can see the entire Dodgers team gathered around home plate in celebration.
  • Mickey Hatcher, who started in Gibson’s place and hit a two-run home run of his own in the bottom of the first inning, meets Gibson halfway between third and home to cheer him on. Ace pitcher Orel Hershiser is just behind Hatcher.
  • Rick Dempsey, Tim Crews, Mike Marshall, John Shelby, Franklin Stubbs, Ron Perranoski, Dave Anderson, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Jose Gonzalez, Mike Davis, and many more greet Gibson as he reaches home plate.
  • Tracy Woodson, wearing a Dodgers windbreaker with his number 21 on the back, bear hugs Gibson from behind just as he steps on home for the winning run.
  • We switch cameras to a view of the crowd, from the press box behind home plate looking down the left-field line. Of the 55,983 people in attendance that night, you can probably see about 13,000 of them going crazy.
  • The camera cuts back to the mob scene around home plate, where Gibson’s teammates are still smothering him and he looks to be having a hard time standing. Lasorda congratulates him and Sax smacks him on top of his helmet.
  • Then we see the Oakland dugout. The A’s players are filing into the clubhouse, each sneaking a peek at the celebration on the field. Tony Phillips is front and center, followed by Dave Henderson and Don Baylor. Jose Canseco, Glenn Hubbard, and Curt Young all look unhappy as they leave.
  • Back to the Dodgers, where Scioscia, Hershiser, and Hatcher are embracing Gibson and probably keeping him upright.
  • More hugs from Lasorda, Bill Russell, Crews, and Sax, then another hug from Hershiser and a big double hand-grasp with Sharperson. Then one more hug from Woodson and a group hug with Marshall and Anderson.
  • Lasorda embraces his coaches, and then we switch back to the A’s dugout, where Greg Cadaret and Todd Burns are walking away.
  • Finally, as McGwire grabs his belongings to leave the dugout, Scully breaks his silence and says:

“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”

Then he is silent again for twenty-nine seconds, as we see Gibson head into the Dodgers’ clubhouse as the PR guy tries in vain to get him to come do an on-field interview.

Joe Posnanski once wrote about Scully for Sports Illustrated, and he said Vin believes that line was a gift from God. I think it was just an extension of the gift from God that is Vin Scully. (By the way, that article by Posnanski is 100 times better than Curt Smith’s biography.)

It’s strange to see some of the people on the screen. You have our star, Kirk Gibson, who is now battling Parkinson’s disease. Mike Sharperson played seven more seasons before dying tragically in a car accident in 1996. Tim Crews played four more seasons before dying, along with Cleveland Indians teammate Steve Olin, in a boating accident during spring training in 1993. Bob Welch passed away last year in a shower accident. Jose Canseco was at his peak. Mark McGwire was ten years away from his peak and fifteen years away from his fall from grace. Tony La Russa had just won his first pennant as a manager, but he was a year away from winning the first of three World Series titles that would turn him into a Hall of Famer. Walt Weiss, Baylor, Scioscia, and Gibson all went on to be major-league managers. More than a dozen players in the game ended up on big league coaching staffs, plus current Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart.

And then there’s Vin Scully, who was nearly 61 years old at the time. Now, 27 years later, he is still doing his job, and he’s still doing it better than anyone else.

Look, I know it’s just baseball. I know it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But family is important, and I am closer to my parents and siblings because we grew up watching baseball together, and I grew closer to my kids through baseball that night, too.

And as long as I associate the sound of Vin Scully’s voice with the joy of being with my family, his voice will remain the soundtrack of my life.

(Video of the entire bottom of the ninth inning:)

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