Let me start by reaffirming that the page you’re reading is a hockey blog. It’s meant to detail, disseminate and deliver stories from the hockey world, in between broadcasts.
But what you’re reading is partially inspired by not just a great voice, but an icon. And that icon is retiring the mic this season, and leaving everyone who leant an ear to the speakers with a flood of memories. That icon made an impact on not just those working in baseball, but across the entire sports landscape.
That icon is Vin Scully.
The figure who inspired me will leave the booth forever after he signs off in the Los Angeles Dodgers regular season finale at San Francisco on Oct. 2. It compelled me to pour out my heart and explain the Vin Scully “I know,” like crystalizing a warm, gentle, wise and incredibly articulate family member. Except he wasn’t a part of my family. He felt like it, though. And there are few people in many lives that influence decisions on a career path. He was one of them.
I wanted to be Vin Scully.
I was one of hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of kids who pretended to go to sleep just to satisfy mom and dad, when truth be told I was sneaking a radio under my covers just to listen to him clean up the ninth inning. I was mimicking Orel Hershiser in my Mom and Dad’s bedroom to their mirror, while the game blasted on 790 KABC-AM.
I was glued to the TV when he would lyricize each image on KTTV and KTLA. I rewound the 1988 World Series VHS tape a thousand times, copying every lyric he and Joe Garagiola articulated on a spur-of-the-moment script carried out on NBC (I don’t know how long it’ll last, but there’s a full length version now on YouTube).
It’s the tone, diction, and countenance of Vin who creates motherlode of appointment viewing/listening. He is timeless. Of course, over time, a broadcaster learns to cultivate his own genuine personality, and not copy his role models. But over time, his fundamentals remain the root of my broadcast philosophy (talk “with the listener,” not “at the listeners” – notice the change to plural in the latter).
This reaffirmed in my only personal, one-on-one encounter with him that will be one of the greatest highlights of my life, let alone in my career.
It lasted three days, in the summer of 2000, as a production intern for Fox Sports West (they had the Dodgers rights for years until forming their own network, SportsnetLA). As an intern, in part to the educational experience, at every sporting event in the greater Los Angeles area they covered you’re given the “option” of shadowing:
- Personnel in the production truck and leaning about the bells and whistles
- The broadcasters, stage manager, and statistician in the broadcast booth
Three Dodger games were coming up on the schedule. I admired the honest, hard-working individuals in the truck, but this was like getting a chance to watch Picasso paint inside his studio. Vin, please.
I didn’t talk to him (nor, have any ounce of courage to do so) that first night. On night #2 (June 26), inside a hot, cramped, but historic Dodger Stadium broadcast booth, I give him a “hello” nod and he returned the favor (a lot was happening – it happened to be Orel’s last game in his Major League career).
Side note: I’ll never forget the silent exchange Vin had with former Dodger broadcaster Ross Porter (handling radio that night), who took the time to drop into Vin’s TV booth after Hershiser was pulled by manager Davey Johnson. Hershiser left the mound to a standing ovation. All it took was for Ross to stare at Vin, and Vin to return the favor for a few seconds of silence to understand the gravity. We all realized Orel had emptied the tank.
On night #3, a couple of weeks later, I finally worked up the courage. Leaving Vin’s booth to use the restroom in the Dodger Stadium press box after the game, I returned to the dining hall quarters to find Vin sitting down over a cup of coffee with his stage manager, Boyd Robertson.
I thought “this is now or never, so let’s do this.” I walked up and found opportunity to tactfully interrupt Vin’s conversation when he made eye contact with me. And it was the most errantly fumbled introduction I ever had. I was legitimately starstruck.
“Excuse me Mi—Mister Scully … pardon me …”
Vin (with a smile and in his familiar and elegantly soothing tone): “hi son, how are you doing?”
Did that ever release the pressure valve.
We exchanged names, “pleased to meet yous”, the short “get to know you,” and I explained to the greatest about THE GREATEST three days of my whole life getting an educational experience from a figure I looked up to since I was eight years old. And now interning for Fox Sports West, hopefully it’s a springboard to a career he served as an inspiration.
Vin: “terrific Mike, I am very glad to hear it! Welcome aboard, It’s great to have you here!”
Feeling compelled to let him go and return to his one-on-one conversation, I thanked/apologized for any interruptions, and got into my car for the drive home from Dodger Stadium on one of the greatest adrenaline highs of my whole life. It’s often said, “don’t meet your heroes – you’ll be disappointed,” but this is one example couldn’t have turned out any better, short of him inviting me for lunch the next day (I probably would have fainted).
Experience taken, immediately to heart. What I learned about Vin Scully that night, on a deeper level, is the root of his “charm.” It’s genuine. It’s what delivered the obvious and seemingly natural connection with every listener for decades. Even though you’re separated by a TV screen or a radio apparatus, you feel like it’s just you and Vin in the room, enjoying the game together.
Case in point: you know how Vin makes each call so incredibly intimate, even though it’s just him, on-air in the booth? He relies on others in the booth who are off the air. For instance, Vin’s line of communication is transmitted as sheer “broadcaster-to-listener,” but he looks at the stage manager, statistician, or others as he shares a story – as if he’s talking with THEM. That enhances his tone of voice. I consider it my “a-ha” moment.
Not to mention, his scorebook is about the size of a Marcel Proust novel. He is an expert at the game. He does his homework.
I admire Vin Scully.
It’s his kind of on-air style, the “intimate, storytelling, engaging” figure that serves as my backbone and I hope continues to live on. It taught me about the importance of a listener, as if they’re already a friend (and the bonus to meet them in real life). Your responsibility is to manufacture an “on air” relationship, and give the details.
Sure, there’s less time in hockey to review in detail what Carter Hart routinely eats for breakfast, comparable to when Vin shared a story of Madison Bumgarner killing a snake to save a baby rabbit. As recent as 20 years ago, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way to find out the score and “how it happened” (now we have the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, etc … in addition to the good ol’ fashioned AM/FM/XM dial!). But the timeless standard that carries on is Vin’s genuine, friendly, and inviting charisma that offers you to “pull up a chair” for each broadcast.
The men and women who hold a microphone and talk with you still matter. People still watch or listen to a game simply because it’s 2-3 hour live theatre at its best, and they still want to relate to and enjoy the presence of other people.
The games are a never-ending book of humanity. It needs the ultimate narrator. That’s Vin Scully.
He’s got only a few weeks left until his entire career rides into the sunset. And aside from holding out hope the Dodgers release a “Best of Vin Scully’s Games” on Blu-Ray, I feel satisfied/happy/fulfilled to have experienced three decades of his on-air masterpiece that left an impression on me as a listener, and three unforgettable nights that made a difference in my career, forever.
I will forever remember Vin Scully.
Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Tweet at him here.
(Photo credit: Dominic DiSaia)