Scully pulls up his own chair
Vin Scully recently watched the MLB Network replay of the perfect game pitched by Don Larsen for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. He watched and he listened.
He listened to Mel Allen call the first half of the game and then listened to himself, an earnest and eager 28-year-old, call the second half.
What did Scully notice about that broadcast? People have asked that a lot since the rebroadcast was aired Jan. 1 on the new MLB Network. Because the game re-airs today at 11 a.m., it’s appropriate to listen to what Scully thinks now of that game and what he thought then.
Did he seem surprised that his voice, the voice of a kid almost, one who was still living at home with his parents and his sister, sounds exactly the same as the 81-year-old man who has described baseball with a simple, elegant phrase turn for 60 years? Or that in the 1956 broadcast that his hair was slicked back as if he were trying to look dressed up for a grand occasion or that he made shaving with a Gillette razor sound deeply intellectual and almost a little romantic in a commercial?
“Here’s what I noticed,” Scully said. “I was a little surprised, looking back, at how primitive televised baseball was. How much better it is [today] with all the cameras, all the angles, the close-ups, the replays of every imaginable area compared to almost a stationary camera behind home plate, no center-field camera. To me, that was about as simple as it gets.
“Another thing, in those days, radio and television wasn’t a cottage industry. Now everybody has a television set, don’t they? The approach in those days was, we were always told to be quiet, don’t talk. Ball one, strike one, fouled back, don’t say much else. Today under those circumstances, we’d be talking up the drama, the tension, telling people who Don Larsen is, what he does. We were somewhat intimidated by talking in those days.”
Yet, even in this media world of yapping about what did so-and-so eat last night, whom did he cuss at in the locker room, why did he not take that pitch or swing at that one, Scully still thrives and his enthusiasm for his craft and the sport isn’t easily contained.
For example, Scully suggested that in watching the rebroadcast he noticed how few shots of the Yankee Stadium crowd were shown.
“One of the things we’d have today, we would have gone into the stands more in a game of that magnitude,” Scully said. “We would have shown fans reacting more, screaming and shouting.
“We would have done so much more.”
Is Scully saying the 1956 way is better than the 2009 way? No, that’s not it. “I’m saying it’s different,” he said.
“Ball one, strike one,” Scully pronounced through the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Scully’s speaking was sparse and yet, just by the timber of his voice, by the way he said, “18 straight retired by Larsen, 19 straight,” the tension was temptingly teased for the viewer.
“In this day and age,” Scully said, “I would have started in the seventh inning. ‘Hey, call your friends, this guy is pitching a perfect game.’ That’s a major part of reporting the game now, getting other people to share in the experience. But in those days it was not done. It was a baseball superstition. You didn’t speak of a perfect game.
“I followed Mel’s lead. He started to count the outs, he handed the baton to me, I picked that up.”
Scully said he was curious to see the DVD of the game that was sent to him by Major League Baseball.
“I’m not much for looking back,” Scully said, “but occasionally there is such an instance as this and I was interested. My first thought when I saw it? Holy mackerel, I was 28 years old and life goes on.”
There aren’t many tougher critics on Scully than Scully. He called himself a “defensive” announcer in 1956.
“I was still at the point in my career when I was very afraid of making a mistake.
“Here I was, in 1956, it was already my third World Series, but I was just a kid, really. As the game went on, I’d listen to Mel for a while, then go back, look at my watch. I was just sitting alongside Mel on a stool, I think, not making a sound. The network wanted only one voice. One time there was a foul ball that I didn’t try to catch. I just sat there and kept score with great interest.
“When I look back I think I was like a lot of young ballplayers. I didn’t want to go up to the plate and strike out. Later on, as you mature you become like the veteran ballplayer. You relish the pressures and the tensions.”
It was Scully’s luck to have drawn the second half of the Larsen game.
It was how they did things in the World Series, each team’s broadcaster did half the game.
“Mel was heartbroken he didn’t do the entire game,” Scully said. “If you’re the lead tenor in the opera and you come to the big moment and can’t go back on stage after all those years of work, that wasn’t easy.”
Like the rest of baseball fans, Scully is looking forward to seeing more of what the new network might offer.
“The MLB has the resources, they have a gold mine,” Scully said. “Features on players, someone like Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, some of the players so many have never seen, if you can watch Willie Mays playing, it’s electrifying.”
Kind of like listening to Vin Scully calling a perfect game, it’s worth the replay.