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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Vin Scully On His Legendary Broadcast Career

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HH: Morning glory and evening grace, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt, and boy, do I have a gift for you on this 4th of July eve. There are some voices that make up the soundtrack of your life. For me, one of those voices was the late Herb Score, who was my constant and often illicit companion when the Indians were on a late night West Coast swing with a transistor radio under the covers. For other folks in New York, maybe, Mel Allen. In Philly, By Saam and Harry Kalas. In Detroit, Ernie Harwell. If you were a Cardinals or a White Sox or a Cubs fan at one time or another, it would be Harry Caray. But the man who has been the true voice of summer for millions for more than six decades, legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, and he joins me now. Vin Scully, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

VS: Thank you, Hugh, and I’m delighted and honored to be a part of it.

HH: Tell me, Vin Scully, who was that voice for you when you were a young boy in New York listening to baseball.

VS: Well, when I was a young boy in New York, we didn’t have baseball. But I did have network football on the radio. One of the voices that certainly mesmerized me because of his vocabulary, and the richness of the tone, was Ted Husing. I remember Ted Husing doing a football game, and we all know about the secondary. But Ted Husing would describe the football game, and he would talk about the tertiary, and that knocked me for a loop.

HH: You were born and raised in New York City, and as I did the prep for this, there’s not much that I could find out about you, those years, except that you went to Fordham Prep. Did you go to parochial schools or to a P.S. when you were a little lad?

VS: Oh, I was parochial all the way. I graduated from Incarnation Grammar School. That would be about 175th Street in Manhattan. Spent many years up on Washington Heights. I think my first grade was at Good Shepherd Grammar School. And then from Fordham Prep, I went on to Fordham University, tried to play a little baseball up there. And the big break for me was I left to go briefly in the Navy, and when I came back thinking I might become a writer, they had established an FM radio station. And that gave me, really, what I truly wanted and never thought would achieve, a chance to go on the radio.

HH: That’s remarkable. Now back in at the Incarnation school, did you have nuns or priests at that time?

VS: Oh, we had nuns, Sisters of Charity, and I might bore you with a little story.

HH: Please.

VS: There were times when they were not too charitable to this red-headed kid, and the reason was that I was very, very left-handed. And every time I would use my left hand, the good nun would hit me across the back of the knuckles with the flat of the ruler. And if I insisted upon using my left hand, occasionally she would turn the ruler so that she would hit me with the edge of the ruler, which broke the skin. And one night at dinner, passing the bread or whatever, my mother saw this cut up hand, and she assumed that I had been punished for talking in class or whatever. And she would have been correct 99% of the time. But in this instance, I explained no, it’s because I’m using my left hand. Well, our family doctor, and I only use this because it works out very well, our family doctor was Jewish. And he sat down and wrote a letter to the Catholic nuns. And in the letter, he explained, among other things, that if you force this little boy to become right-handed, it might very well cause him to stutter, which would have changed my life dramatically. And then the last line of the letter, it said and besides, dear Sisters, why in the world would you want to change God’s work?

HH: Wow.

VS: So he hit a grand slam with that line, and they allowed me to stay left-handed. And I was very, very familiar, long before the movie, with King George in England who stuttered. I bet I read a book about him, because I was left-handed, maybe forty years ago. And the reason he stuttered was because he was basically and originally left-handed, and they made him right-handed. And from that book and from that story, they made the beautiful movie The King’s Speech.

HH: Yes.

VS: But they only alluded to the fact that he was left-handed, forced to be right-handed, in one quick throwaway line. But I really understood, and was very empathetic to the King.

HH: Did that make you, did that experience make you empathetic to southpaws, and the fact that Sandy Koufax was your, you know, you called a couple of great games with Sandy Koufax on the mound.

VS: Oh, I would say so for sure. Of course, I also remember a rather funny left-hander with the Boston Red Sox, the name Bill Lee.

HH: Bill Lee.

VS: And he said that we think with the opposite side of our brain, and that means all left-handers are in their right mind.

HH: Tell us about your family. There’s a couple of notes in some of the interviews you’ve done, but your dad was a hard worker. This is Depression-era New York, isn’t it?

VS: Oh, yes indeed. My father passed away when I was about, oh, four and a half years old. My mother took me back to Ireland to her family until she felt that she had recovered enough to come back to the United States. And she actually opened up a small apartment with extra bedrooms as a boarding house, and she took care of itinerant merchant seamen, one of whom she married, a pipe-smoking, quiet, beautiful human being from England. And he helped me and my sister grow to adulthood, and then we moved on. But he, in his quiet way, had a very marvelous way of helping me grow up. And then from the so-called boarding house, eventually I got involved into radio and television, and here I am gratefully.

HH: Where were you on Pearl Harbor, Vin Scully?

VS: December the 7th, 1941, I was where I would normally be found during the football season. We had a rather large radio in the living room. It stood on four legs. There was a crosspiece to give it some strength underneath, connecting the four legs. And I was forever taking a pillow, and maybe a box of saltine crackers, and maybe a glass of milk or whatever, and I would crawl under the radio. And the point of it all was, and I did that with college football every Saturday, was, and it meant nothing to me that Tennessee was leading Alabama, because here’s a kid in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in Washington Heights, listening to a game in the deep South. But the roar of the crowd absolutely intoxicated me. I guess I’ve told it enough times, I’ve made it somewhat like a cliché. But the roar of the crowd would come out of the speaker like water out of a showerhead. And it would just cover me from head to toe with goose bumps, and I would think oh, my gosh, would I love to be there. So on Pearl Harbor day, December the 7th, I was curled underneath the radio, listening to a New York Giants football game. I believe they were playing the Washington Redskins, and I do remember, among other things, that the center for the New York Giants, the great Mel Hein, played an enormously long career, was never injured, except on Pearl Harbor day, he was injured. And they interrupted the broadcast while a Giant halfback was gaining about five yards, which in those days seemed like a pretty long run. And they interrupted to say that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Well, I thought Pearl Harbor, I mean, after all, I was about 13, I thought Pearl Harbor was in China. It sounded like Chinese with the word pearl. My stepfather, whom I always refer to as my father, had been in the Merchant Marines, and he had been everywhere in the world at least three times. So I went into the kitchen, and mom and dad were having tea after their luncheon. And I said dad, where is Pearl Harbor? And he said why? And I said well, they just interrupted the football game to tell me that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. And he said oh, my God, that means war. And I said well, where is Pearl Harbor? And he said it’s on the island of Oahu and explained the Hawaiian Islands. And that was how, like the nation, I was shocked and had my heart broken later on when I saw all the carnage at Pearl Harbor.

HH: When the War was over, and you went back from Fordham and you’re looking for a job, you get your first job with WTOP. Just a word on that, and that experience for young people out there who want in their heart and soul to be in broadcast. How hard is it to get that first gig, Vin Scully?

VS: Well, again, fate played a hand. There was a lovely girl on the campus who was a friend of mine, not a girlfriend, but a friend named McGee Marguerite Clark. And Marguerite said I will type up letters, and we’ll send them out to radio stations. And I said okay, let’s start from Maine to Florida. And so we had a big book called the Broadcast Magazine, and it listed all of the stations, the address, the station manager’s name, et cetera. And she began typing up the letters. And we came to Washington, D.C., WTOP AM and FM, which is a 50,000 watt station. That’s the major leagues. It doesn’t get any bigger and brighter than that. So I said to McGee, as we called her, McGee, we’d better skip that. That’s too big a station. And to date the story, she said look, it’s only going to cost another three cent stamp. So we put a three cent stamp on this 50,000 station letter, mailed it off. And I received a lot of answers from other stations, basically saying no job, or listen pal, this is a big station, and you’re coming off a college campus station, which is was not. It was an FM station. But anyway, WTOP said please send an audition disc. So I sent a disc down containing the various bits and pieces of on air broadcast, and the next thing I know, I received a phone call. And the phone call said we would be interested in meeting you. We don’t hire anyone sight unseen. So I went down to Washington, auditioned again live, and got the job.

HH: That is…

VS: And later on, I found out, I believe that there were 52 other people who had auditioned for that single job. So it was fortunate indeed to spend the three cents, and to follow Marguerite Clark’s advice.

HH: That is encouraging. I have a young intern right now, ex-intern of mine whose name is Alex Cadona, who’s working for WTOP right now as a stringer.

VS: Oh, great.

HH: And I just hope he has the same career. But how did you come to Red Barber’s attention? How did you get to the Dodgers?

VS: Well, my job at WTOP was a summer replacement announcer. That meant as each announcer went on vacation, I would then assume all of his duties except for one. The one thing that I would not be privileged to do would be the presidential announcer, the man who says ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States. And they had two announcers, Reg Allen and Lee Vickers. I’ll remember their names forever. And they had the job, one was always ready, to introduce the president. But I did everything else, and this was from May into October. And by that time, all of the announcers had enjoyed a summer’s vacation, and I was thrilled that I had been working. Well, one of the announcers announced to the staff that he was leaving in February. So they said to me, we will welcome you with open arms, you will have a permanent job in February. Well, I was absolutely delighted and thrilled. And they said to me, in order for you to oh, basically stay alive until February, they gave me a letter of introduction to the head of news at CBS Radio in New York. Well, I had a lovely chat with him, but I knew in my heart I was not going in that direction, and I was also consuming his valuable time. And he mentioned, well, I mentioned something about sports. Oh, he said, you’re going to have to meet Red Barber. And I understand he was going to lateral me from his office, and you know, get this kid out of the way. So I went over, and Red was putting on a topcoat and his hat. It was the end of October or November, and Red said hello, and we chatted a minute, and he said I’m sorry, my wife is circling the block on Madison Avenue. And he said but leave your name at the desk, which is all I did. And I went on my merry way. Well, they have a show on radio called the CBS Football Roundup. And we did four football games not quite simultaneously, but we would bounce from one game to the other under Red’s direction. He was the moderator. And one of the announcers fell ill, although I didn’t know that. And I came home one day, and my red-haired, excitable mother, God rest her soul, was so excited. Oh, Vinny, she said, you’ll never guess who called. And I said no, honey, who? And she said Red Skelton.

HH: (laughing)

VS: And I said no, I don’t think it’s Red Skelton. But I said could it be Red Barber? Oh, that’s who it is, she said, Red Barber. And to make a long story short, I assumed the role of sports announcer on this football show, and went to Boston to do the Boston University-Maryland game from Fenway Park. Well, Fordham was up there playing Boston College, and at that age, all I thought of was the dance after the football game. So it was a bitter cold day, but I thought I’m with the network, I’ll have a beautiful, glass-enclosed booth. So I left my hat and my topcoat and my gloves in the hotel room. And I got to Fenway Park, and I went up to the press box, and they pointed, and out on the roof was a poor soul with a card table, and his gear on the card table, and that was my engineer. And I went out on the booth. He handed me a microphone with 50 yards of cable. And I was on the 50 yard line. So wherever they went, left or right, I was able to run along the roof and try to do the play by play. Well, the other games fell apart, and they wound up concentrating on my game. And it got dark, they turned the lights on, it was brutal. But fortunately for me, I never mentioned anything except doing the game. Well, I guess it was the Monday, Red got a phone call apologizing to the CBS network for having their announcer running up and down on the roof. Well, let’s say I did a barely ordinary job. With Red, the fact that I never mentioned the cold, never mentioned I was on the roof, never mentioned any of the hardships, that really impressed him more than the play by play. And I’ll always remember him saying after he talked to me that day, he said well, you’ll have a booth next week. You’re doing Harvard-Yale. And from there, one of the dearest men who ever lived was with the Brooklyn organization, named Ernie Harwell. And Ernie moved on, there was an opening. Red decided you know, that red-headed kid, he might just fit in here, because he’ll be so thrilled to be here, he wouldn’t mind sweeping out the booth. And he called me. I met with Branch Rickey, went to Vero Beach spring training for a month’s option. They could have fed me to the alligators or stick with the team. And 63 years have gone by.

HH: Wow, that had to be one of the happiest moments in your broadcast career to get that call from Red Barber. I’m curious, what is the happiest moment that sports has given you, Vin Scully?

VS: Well, I’ve been so fortunate, Hugh, and again, I don’t take any credit for it. I have been able to see and witness some of the great individual moments in the history of the game. Some were not always the happiest, but they were certainly the most important. I can remember standing behind Red Barber and Connie Desmond, two great announcers, when Bobby Thompson hit a rather electrifying home run to beat the Dodgers in 1951. But then again, one of the more emotional moments for a young broadcaster, I was doing the World Series with the great Mel Allen. We had done 1953 together, and in 1955, I was on the last half of the final game, and I was privileged to say ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world. So that might have been one of the great moments, but along the way, I had all of Koufax’ tremendous performances, I had the great Henry Aaron’s, to me, historic home run. And as I’ve heard, I said at the time, I think I was numb, but I said something to the effect, what a marvelous moment this is, not just for Henry and the Braves, but the fact that a black man is being honored for breaking the record of a white icon in the deep South. And I mean, they were crazy saluting Henry. So that was another one.

HH: Let me play that for the audience. This is the call of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run by Vin Scully.

VS: …ball and no strikes, Aaron waiting, the outfield deep and straight away. Fastball, and it’s a high drive into deep left-centerfield. Buckner goes back to the fence. It is gone!…

HH: And you know, Vin Scully, there’s another one that this audience will mutiny if I don’t play for them, and that is the 1988 World Series game. I’m not going to play the whole thing, just the start and the end of your call, Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit, walk-off home run off of Dennis Eckersley of the A’s. Here’s how it begins.

VS: …High fly ball into right field. She is gone!…

HH: And then you fall silent and let the crowd roar go on until almost a minute passes, and it concludes this way.

VS: …in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened…

HH: You let a minute of cheering go by, Vin Scully. What was in your head? Were you aware of your job to not get in the way of the moment?

VS: Remember, Hugh, I mentioned about 24 hours ago about the little boy who crawled under the radio and listened to the crowed like shower water coming out of the head?

HH: Yeah.

VS: I have always fallen in love with the roar of the crowd. Not to digress, they always said one of the longest continuous laughs in radio was on a Jack Benny show. And I guess they were rather naïve days, and Benny, who supposedly was so cheap, was walking along the street, and he was held up. And the man said to him, your money or your life. And there was a long pause.

HH: Yeah.

VS: And then the crook, the thief said well? And Benny said I’m thinking, I’m thinking. And the roar, the laughter is one of the longest. And having loved crowd noise, knowing there’s nothing I could have said better than the roar of the crowd, I shut up for about a minute and a half on Henry Aaron’s home run, which was radio only. And I shut up for however long for Kirk Gibson, and it brought to mind before all of that, doing one of the World Series, a television columnist said, and I took it to heart. Perhaps Vin Scully made his greatest contribution by saying nothing. And I thought yeah, you’re right. You can’t beat the roar of the crowd. So I love the roar of the crowd to this day.

HH: You’re being very generous with your time, and I don’t want to take advantage of it, but I’ve got a couple more questions. One is sports breaks your heart. People from Cleveland know this very well. I mentioned Herb Score earlier, but I could talk to you endlessly about Cleveland. When did your heart get broken by sports, Vin Scully?

VS: Well, I guess the very first time was my first year, where the Dodgers went down to the very last game with the Philadelphia Phillies, and it was Robin Roberts against Don Newcombe, two great pitchers. And it went right down to the tenth inning on the final game. And an outfielder of the Phillies named Dick Sisler, hit a wrong field home run. He hit it to left field. And they won the game, and I was absolutely in shock. And I thought oh, my gosh, how tough is this? And the next year, I was there, thank goodness not on the air, watching Bobby Thompson hit the home run. And I thought well, I will never ever experience the heartbreak of those two years. But if you hang around sports long enough, you’ll have it broken again and again. And in 1962, the Dodgers had a large lead, Sandy Koufax had a problem called Raynaud’s Phenomenon, where the fingers on his valuable left hand turned ice cold, no circulation, and they lost that one. So over the years in this job, although I try very hard not to show that emotion on the air, yeah, it happens quite often.

HH: Here’s a call you made in 1986, World Series Game 6, Bill Buckner of the Red Sox at first base, cut number three:

VS: …little roller up along first, behind the bag. It gets through Buckner. Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it.

HH: Have you ever talked to Bill Buckner about that, Vin Scully, and how…

VS: Well, yes I have, and of course, Bill, who was at the other end of Henry Aaron’s home run, that big night, and of course, he played for the Dodgers for several years, and he has matured. It must have been a terrible cross for him to carry all these years. He really shouldn’t have been in the game. At that stage, he was on one leg, and they should have had a defensive replacement, but they didn’t. And another very close friend of mine was Ralph Branca, who God bless him, is still very much alive. Ralph was the pitcher who gave up the home run to Bobby Thompson. And every time Bobby Thompson was being celebrated, they had to have Ralph Branca on hand. Well, it was the same cross that Buckner carried. And to their credit, I think carrying that cross made them more admirable, really, in many ways, than the fellow who had hit the home run, or a Mookie Wilson, who had hit the ground ball.

HH: Now let me wrap up by asking, I’ve only broadcast from Cooperstown once. Duane Patterson and I went back there when there was this symposium about George Powles at the request of Justice George Nicholson of the California Appellate Court. And as I was preparing for this, and I was thinking about all of the people that Powles coached, Robinson, Joe Morgan, Vada Pinson, all these different people, I got to thinking about you. Are you overwhelmed by how much baseball knowledge you kind of carry around with you?

VS: You know the old joke, the only think I can keep in my head for over an hour is a cold?

HH: (laughing)

VS: Well, I really don’t know what’s inside this head. Sometimes, you will say something, and it will trigger a response. Many times, I will be sitting in the booth praying for a response, and it won’t come. I actually feel every now and then that I’ve gotten an extra boost out of nowhere. For instance, on the Gibson home run, I mean, I didn’t expect him to be there. I had no idea. I was only hoping he wouldn’t strike out on such a major stage. And where the expression came out about the improbable and the impossible, I think the good Lord probably gave me a hand there.

HH: In the 63 years that you’ve been calling balls and strikes, and long may you continue to do it, you’ve seen a lot of young players and you’ve seen a lot of broadcasters. The game has changed, broadcasting has changed. Or has it, Vin Scully? You tell us. Have the players, when they’re wide-eyed and first up, and have the broadcasters in the booth changed over those 63 years in ways that you have a comment on?

VS: Well, I think the only thing that has really changed, the game remains the same in the National League. They don’t have the designated hitter. The basic game is the same in the National League. The players could very well have changed a bit, but who am I to sit up there and judge several hundred players? But we do know the rewards are truly remarkable. The long term contracts were never heard of before, and I think that has helped change the game. I also think that going back to when I started, for instance, the freshmen in the Major Leagues, the first year player, received $5,000 dollars a year. The freshmen first year player today gets $480,000 dollars a year. Now maybe it’s reasonably close when you talk about inflation. But I would think that monetary gains have changed the players somewhat. But as far as broadcasting is concerned, Red Barber, when I first started, told me not to listen to him or to anybody else. And I guess what he was telling me is I would somehow, without thinking about it subconsciously, water my wine, that I would start borrowing phrases, inflections, tonal qualities from other people. So I don’t listen to other broadcasters, even though I know I probably would learn something from them. But I’ve always followed Red’s advice. So yes, the game has changed. It’s coast to coast, we have indoor stadiums, we had Astroturf. But the basic game for the players, the challenge remains the same – somehow see the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball and throw the all, and do it all accurately, and in a hurry.

HH: Vin Scully, last question. Other than your beloved Dodger Stadium, where’s your favorite place to broadcast from? And of all those stadiums, what was the worst?

VS: Well, you know, in some ways, Ebbets Field was my favorite place. Ebbets Field was intimate. You were very well aware of the fans, individual fans, where in the modern day ballpark, and I don’t mean to put them down, but the fans are somewhat like audible wallpaper. You see them, but you’re not aware of the individuals. I remember, bless her heart, there was a woman in Brooklyn named Hilda Chester. And anyone old enough to remember Hilda knows exactly what I’m talking about. She carried a big cowbell, believe it or not, and she moved sometimes from the bleachers to the grandstand. The seats were $1.10, general admission. And one quiet afternoon, there must have been about five or six thousand people in the ballpark, and I was sitting rather primly alongside Red Barber, and he was doing the game. And all of a sudden, I heard this deep, almost basso profundo voice coming out of a woman, and she said Vin Scully, I love you. And the crowd roared, and I got red-faced and dropped my head. And when the crowd roar stopped, she said, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” And that broke everybody up. So that was Ebbets Field, the individuals as opposed to the large stadium. I wouldn’t even want to try to talk about the worst, because if you love baseball, and you can see the game, there’s no such place as the worst, except I would give you one little note. In old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, they moved us around considerably. It seemed like every time we came there in the early 50s, we broadcast from a different vantage point. And one time, so help me, we got there and the broadcast booth was in the upper deck on top of the ladies’ restroom.

HH: (laughing) Vin Scully, I want to thank you for this 4th of July eve present to my audience, and to all of baseball everywhere. And I’d love to have you back sometime and do it at length. And thank you so much for everything you’ve done for the sport, and for the enjoyment of millions over these decades.

VS: Well, thank you, Hugh, very much, and I join you and all of us in saying a prayer on the 4th of July that we’ll continue to have our independence, so many died for it, and our prayers that the United States of America will remain and not change dramatically, which I fear.

HH: Vin Scully, thank you.

VS: Thank you, Hugh.

HH: Bye, bye.

End of interview.

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