Have You Herd Of G.O.A.T.s?
Want to know who the G.O.A.T. is (The Greatest of All Time) for any particular endeavor? If you google G.O.A.T. for baseball announcers, there is little disagreement. Number one is Vin Scully.
Scully passed away recently at the age of 94. He called Dodgers games for 67 years, both in Brooklyn and L.A. He wasn’t just an announcer and play-by-play man (he did both): he was also a poet and a painter. On the radio, he created vivid pictures of what was happening on the field, but in the TV booth, he helped the viewer understand the game, and when great moments happened in baseball as they so often do—like Henry Aaron’s homerun to break Babe Ruth’s 40-year record in 1974—he knew when to let the cheers of the crowd tell the story. Rumor has it when Aaron hit that historic blast, Scully retreated to the restroom to heed nature’s call because he decided the next two minutes of the game did not require “his” call. When he returned to the mic, that’s when you heard his poetry. It’s worth listening to the YouTube.
Carl Erskine, Hoosier native and former Major League pitcher, is now the only living Dodgers link to the Jackie Robinson age of baseball, covering the late ’40s and ’50s. (With one exception: Robinson’s widow, Rachel, just celebrated her 100th birthday.) I spoke to Carl at a retirement village in Anderson, Indiana, where he and his wife Betty are about to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary in October.
I threw him a few softball questions, because I knew he was a fan of the off-speed pitch. He explained to me what made Scully great. Just as important as his passion for the game, said Carl, “You always felt he was talking directly to you. You don’t get that feeling today with many broadcasters. The voice of the announcer is part of people’s lives. Sometimes they get bigger rounds of applause than the players.”
Former Colts sportscaster Bob Lamey revered his peer, and he agreed with Carl’s sentiment that you always felt you knew Scully, that he was part of your family…even more so than the players were. According to Lamey, one of Scully’s greatest skills was to adjust his style to the broadcasting situation. Obviously, being on the radio required more visual description of the plays than announcing on TV, and Lamey described how Scully had a different presentation for day vs. night games. During summer afternoon contests, where there were many families in attendance, he might give a little extra explanation for something like a squeeze bunt or the infield fly rule. But at night, well, those were the true fans, not just folks looking for pleasant afternoon entertainment. “They knew what a squeeze bunt was,” Lamey mused. “No explanation needed.”
“Most importantly,” said Lamey, “I never once heard Vince Scully talk about himself. It was always about the game…and the fans and the players. Even if you were not a Dodger fan, he made the game fun. There will never be another one like him.”
As a kid, I used to hide a transistor radio under my pillow and listen to night games, falling asleep to Vin’s voice while he described a Jackie Robinson steal or a Carl Erskine overhand curve ball crossing the plate for the final out. Now, you may not agree that Vin Scully was the G.O.A.T., but this week it has been my honor to go to bat for him.
Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@ aol.com.