Baseball's pleasures include not only the mild motion between the chalk lines, but also the deliciously crummy food, the still summer air and, when television is the only ticket, a good play-by-play announcer. And of all the game's barkers, Vin Scully is the class act.
Scully is square. He has little of ABC and Howard Cosell's hunger for controversy. He proved his conservatism on NBC's All-Star Game broadcast Wednesday night. Turn a camera on Ernie Banks and Scully fails to mention that the Great Cub had just been fired by the very team he had carried for so many years. Turn a camera on Bowie Kuhn and Scully seems uninterested in the issues pursuing the commissioner. "I'm not particularly happy with controversy," says Scully by phone from Detroit. He "swears" he has never watched Cosell.
Scully is corny. He has a seeming passion for the commonplace. Deals are "blockbuster trades." Emotions are ever "bittersweet." Without embarrassment he will announce, "We have jewels and stars scattered all over the stadium tonight," as Monte Irvin, Joe DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese wear wan expressions sitting in their seats at Comiskey.
Yes, Scully is square, not about to blow open a scandal. Scully is corny, steeped in baseball's older lexicon.
But these are not points of contention, not with this listener anyway. Indeed, they are components of Scully's charm, "Old World Charm" some middlebrow hotel ad might proclaim. Scully is a link with the past that is comforting and delightful even if Sandy Koufax is as ancient to you as Napoleon Lajoie.
Scully has certainly benefited from the verities of the present. His contract with NBC to broadcast baseball with Joe Garagiola is said to be worth $1 million a year, and his duties as the Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play man fetches him a farthing or more as well. Only Cosell's pact with ABC is as lucrative.
Money aside, Scully shares the best qualities of Red Barber, Mel Allen and all those who were blessed with a resonant voice and possessed of an unironic affection for baseball. While a game glides along, Scully is attuned to its pace, never injecting hysteria or hype. "No one tunes in to hear me," Scully says. "I don't take myself that seriously. People tune in for the ball game. I just happen to be sitting there chatting with Joe."
Sometimes, as on the All-Star broadcast, the team feels compelled by a misplaced sense of occasion to recite a few too many provided, gratuitous facts, but on his Game of the Week stints, Scully is both knowledgeable and relaxed. And while Tony Kubek would have been a better choice as Scully's color man, Garagiola seems less inclined to indulge himself this season in goofball rambles.
Scully describes his craft and his aim: "I'm not a hollerer or a screamer. That kind of thing would drive me nuts. I try to write almost, and with television you're doing captions and sidebars because the picture is already there."
Vincent Scully (he shares the name with one of country's most prominent architectural theorists) attended Fordham, where he pitched against a Yalie named George Bush. After graduation he began his career as a staff announcer with WTOP in Washington.
In 1950, he joined Red Barber in the booth, broadcasting the Brooklyn Dodgers on radio. Scully was "The Young Redhead" and Barber "The Old Redhead" and together they described the lows (Bobby Thomson's 1951 home run to win the pennant for the crosstown Giants) and the highs (the Dodger's World Series victory in 1955 over the despised Yankees) of "Da Bums."
When the Dodgers moved to Chavez Ravine, Barber remained in his New York catbird seat to broadcast Yankees games. Scully went West. That was 25 years ago. Scully was just 32. He brought with him to the California wastes a sense of baseball and the Dodgers' richness that might otherwise have remained in grieving Brooklyn.
"I tried to follow what I learned from Red," Scully says. "I'm relaxed. That's the way I am. Red also taught me never to listen to anyone else and I've stuck by that. But I didn't write the book. There are other ways."
Unfortunately, most of the other ways are less modest and less fun than Scully's. He is so good you can almost excuse him for praising George Burns' tuneless, pointless version of "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" at the All-Star Game.
Vin Scully is a tonic for the ear-weary fan. And for the hardy sons and daughters of radio in Canarsie and Flatbush and Park Slope, he is the voice of the good past, the years of Bums and few roses.