The Vin Scully call that budding young broadcasters study, the classic that will be examined for generations, is Sandy Koufax’s perfect game from 1965. The finest sportscasters and writers of the past three generations know bits of it by heart:
“Sandy removes his cap . . . wipes his index finger across his left brow, dries it off on his left pant leg, readjusts the bill of his cap. I imagine that the mound at Dodger Stadium must be the loneliest place in the world. There are 29,000 people here . . . and about a million butterflies.”
Through a career that stretches across most of the history of broadcasting, Scully has become known for his narrations of a handful of historic moments, such as his call of Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit, walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series. Scully’s perfect choice of words and daring use of silence leave his colleagues slackjawed: At the crack of the bat, he says, “High fly ball into right field. She is gone!” And then there is nothing but the roar of the crowd for 65 seconds, an eternity on the air.
Then, Scully returns to utter just one sentence: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” Then silence again for 29 seconds, the crowd still at full pitch.
Then, with an image of Dennis Eckersley, the pitcher who gave up the homer: “Look at Eckersley, shocked to his toes.”
Or, from April 8, 1974, listen to Scully’s words after Hank Aaron finally hit home run No. 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s record despite suffering weeks of racist abuse and threats from people who didn’t like the idea of a black man taking the Babe’s place in the history books:
“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. . . . It is over, at 10 minutes after nine in Atlanta, Georgia, Henry Aaron has eclipsed the mark set by Babe Ruth. You could not, I guess, get two more opposite men. The Babe, big and garrulous and oh so sociable and oh so immense in all his appetites. And then the quiet lad out of Mobile, Alabama – slender and stayed slender throughout his career. Ruth, as he put on the poundage and the paunch, the Yankees put their ballplayers in pinstripe uniforms, because it made Ruth look slimmer. But they didn’t need pinstripe uniforms for Aaron in the twilight of his career.”
But the beauty and the wisdom that Scully packed into his play-by-play was far more evident in his broadcasts of quotidian games than in the big blockbusters. It was in the relative quiet of an unimportant midweek midsummer game that Scully would summon a thought about why the current epidemic of beard-growing among players would have been rather unlikely in decades past: “I can remember when the number one sponsor for the World Series was Gillette. I mean, they sold a lot of blades and shaving cream. That’s a fly ball to right field and deep, but Kemp is there, so quickly two out in the seventh inning. . . .”
Between pitches, he tells the story of the writer J.D. Salinger’s role in the D-Day invasion during World War II, or relates the history of the American flag, or ruminates on the idea that redheads – like him – might vanish from the face of the earth in the decades to come: “I know one redhead who really doesn’t care. I’m not going to be around to see it. So, Justin [Turner, the Dodger third baseman] with that redheaded beard and that fiery red hair. . . .”