Welcome to VICE Sports Q&A, where we'll talk to authors, directors, and other interesting people about interesting sports things. Think of it as a podcast, only with words on a screen instead of noises in your earbuds. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Vin Scully has been calling games for the Dodgers since 1950, when the team was still playing in Brooklyn. He has won every award an announcer can win and is universally regarded as the greatest play-by-play man in baseball history. Recently, he announced that next season will be his last in the booth.
In this interview, Scully touches on everything from his early days in New York to the way technology has changed the broadcasting business.
VICE Sports: Looking back to your days growing up in New York, what triggered your interest in sports broadcasting and what made you think you'd be good at it?
Vin Scully: Well, I don't know that I ever thought I'd be good at it, but I do remember when I was about eight years old, we had a big four-legged radio in the living room. I used to get a pillow and maybe some crackers and a glass of milk and I would crawl under that radio. I would listen to whatever football game might be on. In those days, college football games were about the only sports on the radio. I would crawl up under that radio and might listen to a game that had nothing to do with me. It could be Mississippi and Alabama, but the roar of the crowd is what absolutely enthralled me. That was the beginning of my desire to be where the crowd was and to eventually be the announcer doing the ball game.
I don't think I ever felt at home for a good four or five years doing Major League Baseball, because in New York I was surrounded by so many wonderful announcers that it was pretty easy to be humble. Only after a while, after I survived and felt that I could have a career, was I able to relax.
If you had not become a sports broadcaster, what might you have become?
When I was in high school, I wrote a sports column for the newspaper and I also wrote one when I was in college. Before me, in college, there were writers like John Kiernan and Arthur Daley, who were magnificent writers, so I was trying to write in their footsteps.
I went away to the Navy for a year and when I came back to Fordham, they had an FM radio station and all of a sudden I had a chance to do the two things that I wanted to do. I could write and I could go on the radio, so I was very fortunate that the pieces fell into place.
You are well known for your work in baseball, but I find it interesting that you got your real start in sports broadcasting calling college football games. Didn't you call one game from a rooftop?
Yes. I was hired by CBS to call the Boston University vs. Maryland game at Fenway Park. The announcer who was supposed to work the game fell ill, so they sent me up there. I was on a rooftop. There was no booth. There was nothing except a card table and a poor, freezing engineer. I had left my hat and jacket back at the hotel. It turned out to be a terrific game. It was almost an upset. BU just missed winning that game and Maryland went on to win the national championship the very next year.
I got a great deal of national exposure that afternoon.
Is it true that shortly before every Dodgers game you step out of the booth and make a phone call?
It is true. I phone my wife. I go to the far end of the press box where there is a very small booth. I go in, sit down, and call Sandy. I usually leave home about 2:15 in the afternoon, so before the game starts, around 7, I like to find some time to call in, check and see how things are going at home. It is a ritual, without a doubt, before every game.
How important is it for you to have a spouse who understands your passion for your job?
It is a very, very difficult job on a marriage for anyone who has to travel as much as I used to travel. You are gone. Your wife is home alone, raising the children. The washing machine breaks down. All kinds of things can happen and, invariably, you are on the road somewhere and she is left with her imagination. She's home wondering just what you are doing in Chicago, New York, or whatever. It takes a woman with a great heart and a good mind, plus patience. It can be very really difficult. The young ball players are often at that age when the marriage has just started and that can be very difficult.
How has the preparation changed for you over the years? Obviously technology has changed in the past 60 years.
Yes it has, and because of that, there is so much information. In the old days, the ball clubs did not provide any information. They didn't have media guides. You didn't have all the notes and all the computerized paper that we receive now before every game. All that information can be a danger, as well. You can be caught looking at your notes and miss a play on the field, which is a mortal sin. All in all, the information helps you, but it can be like the Sirens in the song of the Lorelei. They can lure you onto the rocks unless you are very careful.
Everybody talks about your great voice. Do you like your voice?
I really don't think about it. I've been doing it so long. I thank God that I can still operate, but I am not enthralled. I don't listen to old tapes or anything like that. No.
What about critiquing yourself? Chick Hearn used to tell me that if he called a Lakers game 99 percent right, he would beat himself up on the drive home about the 1 percent that he did not get right. What is your approach?
I don't say I would beat myself up, but I do criticize and I often think on the long drive home, Gosh, I wish I had this, or I'm sorry I said that. Oh sure.
When you have a microphone in front of you for three hours, you are doing a high-wire act over a chasm. One mistake could haunt you and you could actually say something that would damage your career, but after you have been in it about a thousand years, you don't think about that. You just think about, Am I happy with what I did? Or, Gosh, I wish I had done that better.
In broadcasting, the more you say, the higher the chances that you are going to say something that offends someone. How have you managed to avoid controversy in your career?
What's the date? I mean, every day you go on the air hoping that you avoid a bullet. I can't think of any major problems. I try not to get involved in things where my opinion is suddenly caught up in the action. I've always tried to stay away from that as best as possible. Other fellows are very good at it. They'll challenge authority. They'll challenge plays. That's not my nature. I just try to move on.
What's the greatest highlight or event that you've seen in your broadcasting career?
I'd have to go back to Brooklyn. I was younger, more passionate, more impressionable. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1955 and I happened to be on the air working with the great Mel Allen. I was calling the last half and I was able to say, "Ladies and gentlemen. The Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world." That was a first and a last. It was the only one that they ever won and, of course, they moved away a couple of years later. That was probably the biggest because I really felt for the players. I sensed and knew their frustrations. They had lost so many times before and when they finally did win, it really struck me emotionally. So, that is probably No. 1.
What was it like when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles?
When the Dodgers came out, there was a parade. The mayor and all the City Council was involved. It was a big deal. As it turned out, it was a heartbreak for the good people in Brooklyn. Luckily, the Mets are now there to give them all the thrills they need. But it was a big deal when the Dodgers came to Los Angeles.
You call games on radio and television. What is your approach to working each medium?
When you are doing radio, you walk into the booth, you go on the air, and you have all your brushes for your broad strokes and your fine strokes and there is an imaginary canvas. You are trying to paint a picture. You might be talking about the pitcher mopping his brow and drying off his hand on his pants. You are describing everything and, at the end of the game, you get up and say, "There is the canvas. That's the best shot that I have for today."
With television, you walk in and the canvas is already there. The pictures are already there. Television is a director and a produce's medium, not the announcer's. Radio is about the announcer, not television. With me, I try as hard as humanly possible to look at the pictures that I am given on television so I can comment on those pictures and only those pictures. Television really controls me, as opposed to the freedom that I have on radio.
You may be the only baseball broadcaster who works "solo" anymore. Everybody seems to have an analyst working alongside. Was that your choice to work alone?
It has nothing to do with ego. It goes all the way back to Red Barber. He felt "one man, one voice." We never had a lot of conversation on the air. Ever! It was just one man, and I think his idea was a very good one. You are trying to sell people to come to the ballpark. Let me put it to you this way: if I want to sell you a car, is it better for me to talk directly to you about the merits of the car, or do I talk to somebody else about how good the car is and you listen to that conversation? Red always felt that the one-on-one situation is what sold the car. So we've just kept that going for all these years. It has always been "one man, one voice."
You have announced that you will come back next year to work one more season with the Dodgers. Are you afraid about the prospect of retirement?
Up until about a year ago, I wondered, What would I do? I have been working since I was eleven years old. What would I do if I'm not working? I don't feel that way anymore. I am looking forward to next year and calling it a career. I feel very comfortable with that. I no longer have the fear of "What am I going to do at home?" Believe me, I'll find something. I am very much at peace right now. God willing! I mean, we're talking about next year like it's a cinch, but if it comes about, I will be so thrilled and so happy, and I will fold my tent and quietly sneak away.
When it is all said and done—and I mean when it is all said and done—how does Vin Scully want to be remembered?
As a good man. Never mind my broadcasting ability. I'm sure there are just as many people who are not particularly happy with it. I don't really care, but if I want to be remembered, I'd like to be remembered as a good man, a good husband, a good father, and a good grandfather. That will do it for me.