Remembering baseball announcer Vin Scully for what he said – and didn't say
The Baseball Hall of Fame member broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games for 67 years, plus sports for NBC and CBS, in his distinctive style.
Legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully is being remembered for the way he described both the big and small moments — from Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run and perfect games pitched by Sandy Koufax and Don Larsen to his folksy "It's time for Dodger baseball!" greeting or commercials for Farmer John hot dogs.
Marty Brennaman and Johnny Bench remember Scully's kindness and mentoring.
But I also remember the times he didn't say anything at all, and let his audience hear the roar of the crowd celebrating the athletic feat he just described during his 67 seasons broadcasting games for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Scully, who died at age 94 Tuesday, told me during the 1990 World Series, which he was broadcasting for CBS Radio, that he learned the power of the crowd noise as a child listening to the radio in his Bronx home in the 1930s.
"We had a big old radio up on four legs, and I used to take a pillow and a box of Saltine crackers and some milk, and I'd crawl underneath the radio and listen to a football game. It could have been Georgia Tech or Duke, which meant nothing to a kid growing up in New York. When someone scored a touchdown, the crowd would roar, and the noise would come out of the speaker over my head like a shower. It would come right down over me.
"I would be thrilled! And I think that's really what got to me, and why I wanted to be where that crowd was making that noise."
And Scully wanted to make sure his audience experienced the thrill of the crowd, too.
When Eric Davis homered in Game One of the 1990 World Series, he said simply, "Gone!" Then his CBS Radio listeners heard the Riverfront crowd explode.
"I always try to call it as quickly and accurately as possible and then shut up. There's nothing I can say that's better than listening to the crowd. And that goes all the way back to the days when I was a little kid listening to the radio."
Not only did Scully call Dodgers games from 1950 to 2016, he also broadcast 25 World Series and 12 All-Star Games while working for NBC Sports and CBS Sports. But to Scully — and Brennaman, and me, and fans of baseball games on the radio — the pictures are better on the radio. Great sportscasters stimulate our imagination with their descriptions and storytelling.
"When you do television, you walk in and the picture is already there, and that's a whole different approach," Scully told me before doing Game Two of the 1990 World Series at Riverfront Stadium with Bench.
"But when you do radio, you come into the booth and you bring all of your paints and your brushes and your palette and a canvas, and you can make the broad strokes, and line strokes, and shades, and all the other stuff. And at the end of three hours, you back off and say, 'That's about the best I can do for the day.' "
When Koufax threw his perfect game in 1965, Dodgers fans heard Scully say: "One strike away. Sandy into his wind up. Swung on and missed. A perfect game!" followed by 40 seconds of cheering.
Sometimes he'd poetically paint a mural for his listeners, capturing the historic significance of the moment, as he did when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record while playing for the Atlanta Braves in 1974. After 27 seconds of the crowd roaring and fireworks, Scully said:
"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 a record of an all-time baseball idol, and it’s a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron."
Scully's broadcasts were so magical that Bench told me today that "when I did the games with him, I felt like he had already seen the game and was doing a replay." Bench noted that Scully was "kind to me from the beginning, but everyone has said that."
Brennaman and Scully were close for years. Scully, who was in his 25th season when Brennaman debuted with the Reds in 1974, credits the Dodgers announcer with offering him critical advice throughout his career.
"He's the greatest," Brennaman told me years ago. "He's not only the greatest baseball announcer who ever lived, he's also a wonderful person. That's the neat thing about him. He's very gracious. They don't come any better than him."
In the late 1970s, after the Big Red Machine won the back-to-back Word Championships (1975-76), Scully told Brennaman that broadcasters become better "when you go through a truly bad season." Brennaman didn't believe him until the Reds collapsed in 1982 and lost a franchise record 101 games.
"I became a better broadcaster out of going through 1982, '83 and '84, because you have to take each game as a season unto itself. You can't say, 'Well if the Reds win tonight, they will only be 19-1/2 games behind Atlanta. Who cares?"
So Brennaman and partner Joe Nuxhall talked about everything from their tomato plants to golf, Elvis Presley, pro wrestling and wedding anniversaries — and they became more popular than ever.
The veteran Dodgers voice, who retired at age 89 in 2016, also encouraged Brennaman to take vacation days during the season to extend his career.
"Vinny once asked me when were out in Dodger Stadium, 'How many games do you take off?' And I said, 'I don't take any off.' And in typical Scully fashion he said, 'You don't labor under the illusion that they can't play if you're not there, do you?' I said no. And then he said, 'Let me give you a piece of advice. If you want to hang around forever, or as long as you want to hang around, you start taking time off.' "
So Brennaman started taking series off after Nuxhall retired. Brennaman left the Reds in 2019, after 46 seasons, at age 77.
Few people knew that Brennanman turned down a chance to leave the Reds in the 1970s to join Scully in the Dodgers radio booth until I published my Joe Nuxhall: The Old Lefthander & Me book last year.
The Dodgers were interested in Brennaman for the 1977 season, before hiring Ross Porter. That meant Brennaman would have left the Reds after the 1976 World Series, coinciding with the departures of slugger Tony Perez and pitcher Don Gullett, which Reds fans consider the beginning of the end for the Big Red Machine.
Had Brennaman taken the Dodgers job, the popular "Marty and Joe on the radio" team would have lasted only three years instead of more than three decades!
The Dodgers tried to lure Brennaman, then 34, by saying he would take over when Scully retired. Had he gone to L.A., Brennaman would have been Scully's sidekick for 40 years before finally succeeding him at age 74 in 2016.
"I realized — correctly as it turned out — that Vinny was never going to leave and I'd always be No. 2," Brennaman told me.
Instead, he was No. 1 here for 46 seasons, while Scully was painting his masterpieces on the Los Angeles airwaves.
As I've often said, the pictures are better on radio during a baseball game. Sometimes no words are needed.
Hear Vin Scully's 10 greatest calls at USA TODAY Sports For The Win website.