“It’s a great time of the year … if you can stand it”

The headline is a quote from Vin Scully, who has announced Los Angeles (and before that Brooklyn) Dodgers baseball since 1950. (Yes, 1950.)

Scully worked for CBS-TV in the 1970s and early 1980s …

… NBC during the 1980s …

… and before and after NBC CBS radio.

But Scully is obviously best known for his Dodger work, which spans from Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella to Adrian Gonzales, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, with Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, SteveDaveyBillRon GarveyLopesRussellCey, two Mike Marshalls, Tommy Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser in between. (Listing three hitters in 1950 and two pitchers in 2013 demonstrates the difference between the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.)

The greatest sports announcer of all time hasn’t had national work since CBS Radio lost the Major League Baseball postseason contract. He is, however, working this year because the Dodgers won the National League West.

What is Scully’s secret? According to Sports on Earth, work:

He will turn 86 in November. He will start his 65th season as the voice of the Dodgers next April. He lives with the abiding love of a sprawling metropolis. He has gone from Gil Hodges and Duke Snider and Roy Campanella all the way to Yasiel Puig, whom he can cite as “a study all by himself,” comparable to none, with “his unbridled joy of playing, his enthusiasm, his recklessness.” Yet as another season depletes toward Game 162 and, in this Dodger year, beyond, Vin Scully still totes around a healthy fear of unpreparedness.

“Well, you can see what I’m doing and you can see all these notes, and this is a highlight pencil,” he says. “And it’s one of the things you have to do, because you’re overwhelmed with minutiae, and so I go through all this and I highlight a few things that I want to use on the air. So that at a glance, I will see, ‘Oh, I thought I would use this, so I highlighted this.’ But the problem with this is you start looking and you’re liable to miss a play on the field, and that of course is a killer, so in a sense you’re being lured onto the rocks by the Lorelei, you know, so you try not to do that.”

He still worries about missing a play, and that being a killer.

He continues: “As you can see, we have all kinds of notes, because of the computer, every team furnishes tons of numbers and notes. The first thing I do, if I can get the lineup, that’s the first, write the lineup in.”

He has done so.

“And then you start putting the record of the two pitchers. And then you write what the two teams have done against each other; in this instance, the Dodgers, they’ve won nine of 17, they’ve won four of eight here. You’re going to mention that sometime. And, if it’s a terrific pennant race of course, you’re going to talk about games in front or games behind, but since they’ve won the division, that’s superfluous now. Then you go in to check especially the visiting team, maybe somebody has a hitting streak, maybe somebody’s coming off a very hot game, whatever, then you try to make notes in your book. And eventually, by the time you prepare it’s about time to go on the air.

“I would say on average, I get here at 3:30, and I work somewhere close to an hour and a half. That gets it to five of five. I have to tape an opening. I have to tape a little thing they put on the board, notes on the game. I’ll come in and eat. I’ll be finished eating. If my wife isn’t at the game, automatically at six o’clock I’ll call her to let her know that I’m here and find out what she’s going through at home. And then after I make the phone call, I go back to look for any late notes, whatever. I might talk with one or two of the other team’s broadcasters, say, ‘What’s new, who’s doing what?’ And then, by the time you’re ready to go on, you have a head full of stuff.” …

Listeners often relish Scully for his storytelling. He provides living, compelling evidence that stories enthrall human beings long after the bedtime-pajama phase. So it’s curious to mull the fact that Scully does spend most of his broadcasts on the mandatory rudiments.

Now, there’s no one we’d rather hear explain how Zack Greinke hasn’t made an error since July 2010, or outline the biography of Juan Nicasio “from San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic,” including the scary August night in 2011 when a line drive hit Nicasio’s head. (Scully: “The screws and plate, by the way, are permanent. There he is out there, in danger again. It’s his livelihood.”) There’s nobody we’d rather hear call a Todd Helton first-pitch groundout, then lament that “we didn’t have a chance” to read off Helton’s career stats, then read those stats, then wryly lament not getting to read those stats because, “Darn it. Swung at the first pitch.”

The truth is, you wouldn’t mind listening to that voice read the earned-run average charts, which would come as a melody, but really, the ear seldom feels more pleased than in hearing Vin Scully say, “Wow, sunset time in Los Angeles and in Southern California, seventy-nine degrees and there the mountains are… What a view we should never take for granted.”

Still, it’s interesting to remember that while the storytelling helps make Scully great, he seems to spend more time making sure he’s good.

“Well, I think first of all, the average baseball fan knows a great deal about baseball,” he says. “I mean, he really does. He’s extremely knowledgeable. And unfortunately, it’s almost by rote, every day, ‘Ball one, strike one, foul ball…’ And I’ve always felt that part of the job, certainly, it’s impossible to entertain (except) to a limited degree. I mean, I want to be accurate. I want to be factual. I want to be interesting. And then if I can just drop in a little something once in a while, I like to do it, and since it’s hard to do, I mean I can do it once in a while, the stories, a lot of times I’m not even aware I have them in my head. Something happens and it triggers the story and it comes out, as natural as that.”

“So you haven’t jotted down…”

“Oh no, no. So what happens a lot of times is I’ll do the game, I’ll get in the car, I’ll start going home thinking about the broadcast, and I’ll think, Gosh,” — and he claps his hands — “why didn’t I remember (a certain story)? And you could kick yourself. No, it’s really all the stories, really, come out of the past and your own experiences, but what’s in there, it’s like a mine, you don’t know until you find it.”

“So they’re all impromptu…”

“Yes, which makes them a little difficult. I don’t want to be, what was it Mark Twain said, I don’t want to remember things that never happened, which is a good line, but yeah, I’m careful. I have to think through the story to make sure it’s accurate and that I can remember all the names in the story, and then I’ll tell a story.”

Such sustained humility of purpose stretches beyond the broadcasts.

Scully, by the way, will be the grand marshal of the 2014 Rose Bowl parade.

Let’s hope this marching band is also in the parade.

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