April 18, 1950: Vin Scully’s First Game

At the end of the 1953 season, Barber got into a dispute with Gillette, the World Series sponsor, over what he was to be paid. Barber refused to accept Gillette’s offer. Scully filled in and became, at age 25, the youngest person to broadcast a World Series game—a record that still stands. Barber bolted to the New York Yankees the following season. This left Scully and Desmond to work Dodger broadcasts as a twosome. Desmond was a chronic alcoholic who sometimes was too drunk to work games. Dodger owner Walter O’Malley became fed up with the unreliable Desmond and axed him during the 1955 season. Desmond was given a second chance in 1956 but his addiction to booze was too powerful. Jerry Doggett replaced Desmond. By that time Scully was the Dodgers’ lead announcer. When the team vacated Brooklyn after the 1957 season, Scully and Doggett made the move to Los Angeles too.

The Dodgers’ first home stadium in California was the enormous Los Angeles Coliseum, a venue built in the 1920s that was the centerpiece for the 1932 Summer Olympics. It was absolutely not designed for baseball. Some fans’ seats were so distant from the action that it became commonplace for spectators to bring their transistor radios to the game to better follow action. Thus Scully gained a huge following among fans both at the game and listening at home. If Scully made an amusing remark, it was not uncommon for most of the ballpark to erupt in laughter. On another occasion Scully mentioned it was an umpire’s birthday—news which prompted the Coliseum crowd to merrily sing Happy Birthday to You to the surprised arbiter. When the team moved to the cozier confines of brand new Dodger Stadium in 1962, the fans saw no reason to discontinue the established custom of bringing their radios to the games since Scully’s voice seemed to be such an integral part of the ballpark experience. To many fans in southern California, Vin Scully was and is synonymous the Dodger baseball.

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Scully constantly transfixes listeners with his smooth delivery and flawless segues and transitions. He ably fills lulls effortlessly with information about players and all other factoids related to baseball. One could be forgiven for at times thinking that Scully is reading from a script. Case in point: Scully’s call of the final inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965 was so utterly perfect that it was included verbatim in a compilation of great baseball writing! Biographer Curt Smith unabashedly compares Scully’s calling a baseball game to Jascha Heifetz playing the violin. In 1976 Scully was voted by the fans as the greatest Dodger in the team’s history, accruing more votes than any player, several of whom had been elected to the Hall of Fame. Scully himself was honored by the Hall of Fame in 1982 as the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding contributions to baseball as a broadcaster. Consider this: At the time Scully was given the Frick Award—basically understood to be a lifetime achievement trophy—his broadcasting career at the MLB level had not even reached the halfway point!

The following year Scully left CBS and joined NBC for its Saturday Game of the Week coverage. Fans across North America got to enjoy Scully’s descriptions of games on a regular basis for the first time. Scully teamed with Joe Garagiola from 1983 until 1988. Garagiola retired after the 1988 World Series, but Scully continued with NBC for one final season after which the network’s contract with MLB ended. Scully’s tenure with NBC was truly the heyday for national baseball telecasts. Bob Costas and Tony Kubek, an excellent tandem themselves, were assigned to the network’s secondary games. The 1983 All-Star Game, a competitive dud that ended in a 13-3 rout for the American League, still enthralled veteran sports writer Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times solely because the man at NBC’s mike had shone so brightly. The impressed scribe (whose career in sports journalism was nearly as impressive as Scully’s broadcasting career) wrote:

Nobody understands baseball the way Vin Scully does. He knows it for the laid-back relatively relaxed sport it is. Scully is the world’s best at filling the dull times by spinning anecdotes of the 100-year lore of the game. He can make you forget you’re watching a 13-3 game as we were Wednesday night at Chicago, and take you with him to a time and place where you are suddenly watching Babe Ruth steal home. He is like a marvelous raconteur who can make you forget you’re in a dungeon. He can make baseball seem like Camelot and not Jersey City…

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