The sense of drama, and of the precise words to describe it, distinguishes Vin Scully from his peers.
If only we were as precise with our language as Scully is with his. He truly has no peer. For all the accolades over all the decades, he has changed with the times. He is not calling no-hitters the way he always has.
That is a preposterous sentence for anyone except Scully. He has called 19 no-hitters — the first in 1950, the most recent Wednesday.
We paid homage to Scully’s call of Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game by using it as the model for our account of Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter in Thursday’s Times. But the elements that made the Koufax call so famous — “On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels” — were completely absent from Scully’s call of Kershaw’s no-hitter.
As Kershaw took the mound for the ninth inning Wednesday, Scully said: “We are delighted to share the moment with you. … And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to sit back and watch it with you.”
The difference between the calls, Scully said, is the difference between radio and television — particularly modern television, with its proliferation of graphics and score boxes and reaction shots. On radio, where he raised a generation of Los Angeles baseball fans, Scully painted the scene so we could imagine the reaction. He gave us the words that gave us goose bumps.
“On radio, you’re trying to focus on the drama,” Scully said Saturday. “With television, there it is, for all to see. I don’t feel it’s that intimate. I’m the voice, but the picture is there.
“I’m certainly less emotional on TV than I would be on radio.”
The Koufax no-hitter was a rite of summer a half-century ago, when sports television was in its infancy and game replays were fantasy. If he was calling a game in which the pitcher got to the seventh inning, Scully said, he would ask the engineer to call the studio, to ask someone there to record the broadcast.
“Not for me,” Scully said. “I wanted to give it to the pitcher.”
For Koufax, who threw no-hitters in 1962, ’63 and ’64, Scully put his own stamp on the tape.
“With Sandy, knowing him as well as I did, I would always put the date,” Scully said. “That was for him, so that 25 years later, if he was listening, he could remember the date.”
In 1965, as Koufax closed on his perfect game, Scully wondered what flourish he could add to the recording.
“I thought, ‘I’ll put the time on it.’ I have no reason to put time on it, because it is a baseball game.
“I put the time on it and the next day people went crazy. They thought putting the time on it was the most dramatic, theatrical thing, and I had no thought of that. Zero. I just wanted to give Sandy a little extra flavor.”
The extra flavor in the Kershaw broadcast included Scully’s gentle reminder of the preposterous silliness among fans that complain that saying “no-hitter” can jinx the no-hitter.
“We don’t believe in superstition,” Scully said on the air. “Our job is to give you information.”
And the 86-year-old Scully did not miss a beat in inviting viewers to call their friends and let them know about the no-hit drama at Dodger Stadium. After a whisper from producer Boyd Robertson, Scully modernized his invitation.
“You can text your friends,” he said. “Hashtag Kershaw, or something. Ha!”
He did not intend to tweak the masses. It is not his fault, after all, that the Dodgers’ new television channel is invisible to most of Southern California. But the text messages that followed — about the cosmic unhappiness in missing a no-hitter called by Scully — compelled us to ask him whether the TV debacle this season would factor into his decision whether to return next season.
“No,” he said.
Do not fret. Although Scully said he has made no decision about next year and does not plan to do so until later this summer, everything he said Saturday sounded as if he is leaning toward coming back for a 66th season.
“My health is good,” he said. “That’s the primary thing. Certainly, my enthusiasm is still there. I feel all the good things you are supposed to feel.
“I know one thing: Every adult male that I know — and they’re not fans, necessarily — they say, ‘Don’t retire.’”
He will consult with his wife and with the Dodgers, in that order. And he will subject himself to the kind of self-criticism that seems laughable to those of us privileged to listen to him.
“I don’t want to just be hanging on,” Scully said. “That’s why I want to watch my work and, if I’m worthy of it, continue.”
After Kershaw’s no-hitter, tweets from several major leaguers appeared to satisfy Scully’s criterion.
From Trevor Plouffe of the Minnesota Twins: “I’m glad I stayed up to hear Vin call that game. Amazing stuff, congrats to Kershaw.”
From Jason Motte of the St. Louis Cardinals: “Congrats to @ClaytonKersh22 on the no-hitter. Great guy. And hearing the great Vin Scully announce it was pretty sweet.”
From Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals: “Nothing like listening to Vin Scully!”
Who else, after all, could call his first no-hitter with Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider in the Brooklyn lineup, then call four no-hitters by Koufax, then one by his protégé, Kershaw?
Scully certainly has not lost any sense of timing. In the moments after the no-hitter last week, he saw Kershaw’s wife, Ellen, in the Dodger Stadium elevator.
“So, Ellen,” Scully said, “what’s new?”