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Vin Scully, a Babe Ruth of the broadcast booth, dies at 94

The Los Angeles Dodgers announcer was understated and conversational, and sat behind the mic for some of the biggest moments in baseball history

Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully in 2016. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Vin Scully, whose soothing delivery, exhaustive knowledge of the game, masterful powers of description and Ripkenesque indefatigability made him the best-known and best-loved baseball broadcaster of the past 50 years, died Aug. 2. He was 94.

The Los Angeles Dodgers announced his death but did not cite a cause.

Mr. Scully, the longtime radio and television play-by-play voice of the Dodgers (dating back to when they played in Brooklyn), is widely considered the greatest announcer in baseball history, if not in all of sports history. In 2010, members of the American Sportscasters Association voted him the top sportscaster of all time.

With his work for CBS and NBC in the 1980s and 1990s and the rise of satellite radio and streaming internet in the 21st century, generations of fans across the nation came to love, understand and savor baseball with Mr. Scully calling the action.

“Hi, everybody,” he typically began his broadcasts, with an unmistakable cheery neighborliness, “and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you might be.”

From that casual opening, Mr. Scully spun a fresh tale of wonder each time the Dodgers played a ballgame, filling his broadcast not just with descriptions of the action on the field but with light and learned asides, drawing on his knowledge of history and literature, while creating a sense of chatting with friends.

Perspective: Vin Scully delivered a nightly fanfare for the common man

“He ranks with Walter Cronkite among America’s most-trusted media personalities,” Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci wrote in 2016, “with Frank Sinatra and James Earl Jones among its most-iconic voices, and with Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor and Ken Burns among its preeminent storytellers.”

Mr. Scully’s career began in 1950 — which means he called baseball games for more than two-thirds of the sport’s entire broadcast history. He was behind the microphone for some of the most momentous events in baseball history, including Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game, Hank Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run in 1974, Bill Buckner’s calamitous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and Kirk Gibson’s dramatic walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

As the injured Gibson limped around the bases to the cheers of the crowd at Dodger Stadium, Mr. Scully remained silent for more than a minute.

“In a year that has been so improbable,” he said when he returned to the microphone, “the impossible has happened.”

Hear Vin Scully's greatest baseball calls

Mr. Scully continued to announce Dodgers baseball through 2016, retiring on the season’s final day. The baseball world honored Mr. Scully throughout the year, and many celebrated players, including Willie Mays — considered by Mr. Scully the greatest he ever saw — visited him in the broadcast booth.

Charley Steiner, Mr. Scully’s fellow Dodgers broadcaster, said simply, “Vin is our Babe Ruth. The best there ever was.”

Understated and conversational

Vincent Edward Scully was born in the Bronx on Nov. 29, 1927, and raised in Manhattan.

After graduating in 1949 from New York’s Fordham University — where, in addition to calling basketball and football games, he also played outfield for the baseball team for two years — he got his first radio job at Washington’s WTOP-AM, working as a fill-in on various sports broadcasts.

In 1950, when he just 22, he was hired to join Red Barber and Connie Desmond on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ broadcast team. (The Dodgers’ official yearbook that year referred to him as “Vince” Scully.) In 1953, when Barber left after a salary dispute with the Dodgers, Mr. Scully, then 25, found himself behind the microphone during the World Series. He remains the youngest broadcaster in history to call a World Series.

In 1955, Brooklyn’s “Boys of Summer” won their only World Series title before the franchise moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Mr. Scully, by then the team’s lead announcer, made a simple call after the team defeated the New York Yankees in seven games — “The Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world!” — then stayed silent for nearly a minute, allowing the roar of the crowd to tell the story. That device, the silent treatment in the immediate aftermath of a momentous finish, would become a staple of his style.

A legendary career

Early in his career, Mr. Scully was known best for his radio work, but with the rapid rise of televised sports in the second half of the 20th century, he soon became one of the most visible TV announcers in the nation.

In addition to his radio and TV work for the Dodgers, he also covered the National Football League and golf for CBS in the 1970s and 1980s. With NBC in the 1980s, he became a fixture of baseball’s Saturday “Game of the Week,” as well as on playoff and World Series telecasts.

Mr. Scully’s style was understated and conversational, though he could wield a metaphor with exquisite skill. Of fast-working St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson, he said, “He pitches as if he’s double-parked.” Of Dodgers speedster Maury Wills, he said, “When he runs, it’s all downhill.”

In 1974, when announcing Aaron’s 715th home run, which broke Babe Ruth’s record, Mr. Scully captured the historic grandeur of the event: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol, and it is a great moment for all of us.”

Nowhere was Mr. Scully’s skill as a dramatist at the microphone more in evidence than during his call of the ninth inning of Koufax’s perfect game, in which the pitcher did not allow a member of the opposing team, the Chicago Cubs, to reach base.

He opened the inning by setting the stage: “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.”

As Koufax faced the second batter of the inning, Mr. Scully opined, “I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world.”

When the final strike was in the catcher’s glove, Mr. Scully gave the simplest of declarations — “Swung on and missed, a perfect game!” — then remained silent for some 38 seconds before continuing:

“On the scoreboard in right field, it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games. He has done it four straight years, and now he caps it: On his fourth no-hitter, he made it a perfect game.”

In 2005, Bob Costas, the longtime NBC and HBO announcer, said of that call: “I’ve heard other announcers with great, great calls of home runs, great calls of exciting plays, 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.”

Baseball will never have another Vin Scully

Mr. Scully was elected to several Halls of Fame for sports and broadcasters and in 1982 received the Ford C. Frick Award for achievement in broadcasting, making him a member of the broadcasters’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, received an Emmy Award for lifetime achievement in 1995 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2016.

Although he was loved across the country, in Los Angeles, Mr. Scully was nothing short of a civic treasure — a part of the soundtrack of summer. No broadcaster spent longer with one franchise than his 67 seasons with the Dodgers, including 59 in Los Angeles.

In his later years, Mr. Scully made several concessions to age, cutting back his schedule to include only home games and road games in California and Arizona. He reduced his time on radio — more demanding of an announcer than television — to three innings per game.

When he missed the Dodgers’ home opener in 2012 because of illness, Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a column as an open letter to Mr. Scully.

“Frankly,” he wrote, “it is impossible to imagine the team opening the doors of Dodger Stadium without you.”

Mr. Scully’s first wife, the former Joan Crawford (no relation to the actress of the same name), died in 1972. In 1973, he married Sandra Hunt, who died in 2021. He had two children from his first marriage, Kevin and Erin Scully, and a daughter from his second marriage, Catherine Scully-Luderer. A son from his first marriage, Michael Scully, died in a helicopter crash in 1994. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

By the end of Mr. Scully’s career, he was as closely associated with the Dodgers franchise as anyone who wore the team’s uniform. In 2002, fans named him their favorite Dodger of all time, ahead of ex-managers Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda or such star players as Koufax, Don Drysdale, Orel Hershiser or Fernando Valenzuela.

Mr. Scully skillfully blended silence and words in creating his audio portraits of baseball games, but one word he never used to describe the Dodgers faithful was “fans.”

“I don’t use the word ‘fans’ ever, because it’s short for fanatic,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2016. “I always use ‘friends’ because I think of them as friends, and people seem to think of me as a friend, for that I’m humbled by the thousands.”

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