His might not be the Voice of God -- not deep enough, someone might quibble, not scary enough -- but surely it is the Voice of Heaven. Surely, Vin Scully's is the voice you hear, elegant and neighborly, as you lower yourself into the Great Easy Chair in the Sky and reach for the dial. "Hi, everybody," the voice would say, "and a very pleasant good afternoon to you wherever you might be. It's a beautiful day here in heaven . . ."
Here on earth, we have it nearly as good. The Voice of Heaven is still as alive as a triple in the gap, and more accessible to more people than ever before. As some baseball fans have known for 56 years and others are just learning, heaven on earth is a good car and an open road, or a soft chair and a cold beer, and Vin Scully calling the action, painting word-pictures, soothing souls.
"I don't know how to say it, really . . . but hearing Vin's voice," says Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, an unabashed Scully fan, "just makes me feel better."
Yes, Scully, now 77, is in his sixth decade as the voice of the Dodgers -- first in Brooklyn, then, for the past 48 seasons, in Los Angeles. There is perhaps no more universally beloved and respected figure in the game today. He is a baseball treasure, which means he is also a national treasure. You cannot watch Babe Ruth play the game anymore, but thanks to marvels of technology, anyone can hear Vin Scully call one.
"He's the perfect voice," said author Curt Smith, who ranked Scully No. 1 (with a perfect 100 out of 100 score) in his book, "Voices of Summer: Baseball's Greatest Announcers." "Conservatively, I probably spoke to five dozen broadcasters around the country [for the book], and not one quarrels with Scully [being ranked] number one. It was a fait accompli. . . . And you know, I hear him now, and if he's lost anything, I can't tell it."
Baseball was first broadcast over the radio in 1921, which means Scully, whose tenure with the Dodgers began in 1950, has been calling games for nearly two-thirds of baseball's entire over-the-air lifespan.
Kids who grew up listening to Scully on transistor radios at their bedsides have grown into ballplayers or broadcasters themselves -- or sometimes both -- and had kids of their own, or even grandkids, who still listen to Scully.
"I listened to him every night, fell asleep to that voice," said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who spent much of his youth in Beverly Hills, Calif., and who is now a television analyst for the Baltimore Orioles. "There was nobody better, and there still isn't."
"There's Vin Scully, then there's the rest of them," said former Dodgers second baseman and current San Diego Padres coach Davey Lopes. "I once heard him say that the responsibility of an announcer on the radio is to paint a picture, so the listener has a sense of what it all looks like. And he does that better than anyone else."
Until recently, for those not fortunate enough to have grown up within signal range of a Dodgers radio affiliate, Scully was only available on special occasions, and even then primarily on television -- where his poetry is muted in deference to the power of the visual image. He was a mainstay on NBC's Game of the Week in the 1980s and a regular presence on postseason games.
Otherwise, to hear Scully, one had to be exceedingly creative.
"To this day," Selig says, "whenever I call the Dodgers, I ask to be put on hold. And when they ask why, I say, 'Because I want to hear Scully for a few minutes.' "
A Chance to Listen In
Thanks to the Internet and the advent of satellite radio, Scully's daily artistry is now available nationwide. On MLB.com's "Gameday Audio" package (subscription required), listeners can tune in live over the Internet, and even go back and listen to archived broadcasts -- an endless trove of Scully.
Pick a date (let's say, April 10), move the media player's seek button until you find the top of the broadcast, and prepare to be delighted:
"Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good afternoon to you wherever you may be." Scully always starts with that line.
Fast forward to a random spot:
"Dodgers leading 1-0," Scully says as he comes back from commercial break, which he obviously had spent gazing into the stands. "A little boy sitting in his dad's lap. Another youngster, maybe six years old with a glove. And another one, a restless two-and-a-half to three, a little tow-head. [Chuckle.] So you look around the stands and you see kids of all ages, sizes and shapes. And we're ready to go for another baseball afternoon, and pizza and other things go right along with it."
Additionally, XM Satellite Radio this season began carrying the home team's broadcast of every big league game, nationwide, meaning there are 81 opportunities per season to carve out your own little slice of baseball heaven.
"One of the things we hear from our listeners is how much they love being able to hear Vin Scully," said David Butler, director of corporate affairs for XM Radio. "Many of them are people who may have seen him on TV or who are baseball fans who have heard about the legend of Vin Scully but had never had the luxury to hear him call a game on the radio."
But listen early and listen soon. Although he insists he has no timetable for retirement, Scully has made concessions to age in recent years. His contract (always year-to-year, never long term) stipulates he is not required to travel east of Denver, and he only does three innings per night on radio -- always solo. Those three innings are simulcast on radio and TV, and beginning with the fourth, he is only on TV -- and it is a poor substitute, as even Scully admits.
"With radio -- and I've almost made this a cliche -- you come into the booth, and there's an empty canvas," Scully says, describing the difference between the media outlets. "And you get all your paint and brushes, and you mix your paints. And then you have a broad swath here and fine line there. And at the end of three hours, you say, 'Well, that's the best I can do today.' On television, you walk in and the picture's already there. So what you're doing is shading, subtle things."
In a typical three-hour baseball game, the ball is only in play for perhaps six minutes, and Scully is a master at interspersing biographical material and anecdotes about the batter or the pitcher between pitches -- information he keeps on notebook pages in front of him.
Here is what his page on Vincent Edward Scully might include:
* Born in the Bronx on Nov. 29, 1927, to Irish immigrant parents. Played baseball at Fordham University. Served a year in the Navy.
* Began his professional radio career in 1949 at WTOP-AM in Washington. Was hesitant to apply to such a large station, but figured he had nothing to lose except another three cents for the stamp.
* Lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sandra.
* Attributes the "musical" quality of his voice to the fact he is a prolific singer -- but only in private. Only public singing appearance: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at Wrigley Field.
* Never smokes. Drinks only an occasional glass of wine at dinner. Avoids air conditioning at all cost.
* Never uses "we" when referring to the Dodgers.
It says everything about Scully that he has no world-famous calls, no well-worn catch phrases (except perhaps for his introduction). His trademark style, if you can call it that, is one of understatement.
In 1955, five years after being hired by the legendary Red Barber to be the number three man on Barber's Dodgers broadcast team, Scully was at the mic on television when Brooklyn won its only World Series title.
"As the fates would have it, I was the one who got to say, 'The Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world,' " Scully says. The silence that followed that call, as he allowed the crowd noise to tell the story, would become a Scully trademark. "People would say all winter, 'How could you be so calm?' But it wasn't that I was so calm. It was that I couldn't say another word without breaking down and crying."
Scene in Its Entirety
Scully has witnessed and called many of baseball's greatest moments, from Don Larsen's World Series perfect game to Hank Aaron's 715th homer, but his calls are typically not the most famous ones. On Aaron's historic homer, for instance, that is Milo Hamilton's familiar call on all the old clips, saying, "There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron!"
Similarly, when Dodgers pinch hitter Kirk Gibson famously limped to the plate and hit the game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Jack Buck's radio call was the one immortalized: "I don't believe what I just saw." (On television, Scully said simply, "She is gooonne!!" then remained silent until Gibson had crossed the plate, and said, "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.")
"Vin had a very good call," NBC broadcaster Bob Costas says. "But if you just compare calls, Jack's might have been the better of the two. It might have raised more goose bumps. But Vin's entire call -- Gibson limping out of the dugout, the crowd's reaction, the drama of the situation, the mounting tension -- that's where Vin excels. And he has a way of summing things up afterwards that is just beautiful."
To wit, here is what Scully said after the final out of Fernando Valenzuela's 1990 no-hitter: "Fernando Valenzuela has pitched a no-hitter! If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky!"
"And then," Costas says, "don't forget Koufax's perfect game."
To hear Scully call the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax's Sept. 9, 1965, perfect game (http://www.doubledogmusic.com/baseball/Scully_Koufax_Perfect.mp3) -- or to read a transcript of it (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/vin_scully_quotes.shtml) -- is to make a baseball writer contemplate a career as a roofer.
Off the top of his head, without the benefit of a delete button or an editor, Scully composed one of the most gorgeous pieces of baseball literature you will ever encounter, expertly capturing the drama and tension without overcooking it.
Scully's call begins thusly: "Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked out to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth where he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, September the ninth, nineteen hundred and sixty-five, he made the toughest walk of his career, I'm sure, because through eight innings he has pitched a perfect game."
"I've heard other announcers with great, great calls of home runs, great calls of exciting plays," Costas says, "but what Vin is really great at is all the moments of anticipation leading up to the big moment. It isn't just the last pitch of the Koufax game. It's that whole inning, and how he perfectly captures the scene and the passion."
Ten years ago, Costas was introduced to the late musician Ray Charles, and the two struck up a conversation about baseball.
"And Ray says, 'You know who I'd really like to meet?' " Costas says. "I said, 'Who?' And he said, 'Vin Scully.' I was a little surprised, and Ray said, 'Because to me, the picture doesn't mean anything. It's all about the sound. And his broadcast is almost musical. Would you introduce me to Vin?'
"So I took him to Dodger Stadium. Vin was gracious and clearly appreciated who Ray Charles was. But Ray was so excited to meet Vin Scully. You could tell it was the highlight of his year. He was just beaming."
Somewhere in heaven, then, Charles is nestled in the easy chair, and the home team is winning again, on its way to another 162-0 season.
Down here, meantime, we boot up the computer, or tune the radio dial, searching, until we find it, and we feel better: the Voice of Heaven on earth.