The Greatest Of All Time

On Sunday, September 25th,  Vincent Edward “Vin” Scully will sit behind a microphone in a Dodger Stadium broadcast booth and call a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball home game for the last time. 67 glorious, sun-soaked seasons since he sat behind a microphone in an Ebbets Field broadcast booth and called a Brooklyn Dodgers home game for the first time.

One week later, October 2, from AT&T Park, against the Dodgers’ arch rival San Francisco, Vin Scully will provide the play-by-play call for a professional baseball game for the very last time. Ever. And then the Greatest Of All Time will no longer grace the airwaves. Scully joined Red Barber and Connie Desmond in the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcast (radio and TV) booth in 1950. Three years later, at the age of 25, Scully became the youngest person to ever broadcast a World Series game. Despite all the voices that have come out of basements, barrooms and broadcast schools since, that’s a record that still stands today.

Memories are funny, fickle things and I have several when it comes to Vin Scully. When I was a kid we lived in Reno, Nevada, my paternal grandparents resided in Southern California (Rancho Palos Verdes to be exact). At least once a year, usually in the summertime my family would pile into the latest version of the family car and drive more than 500 miles to spend a week, or so, with them. Some of those memories, now decades old, are soft around the edges. Others are as clear as a Southwestern Colorado nighttime sky. The less focused ones include what my brothers (one two years my senior, the other an infant) were up to. The crystal clear ones include my parents and grandparents playing bridge and Vin Scully.

I was 5 or 6 and didn’t much like going to bed in my father’s, father’s house. But I was 5 or 6 so when it was “bedtime” I didn’t have a choice. I remember a type of day bed/couch, upon which was laid an imprecise fitting sheet that, along with the pillowcase, smelled like my grandma. I don’t remember it being an unpleasant odor, just distinctive. The bed/couch had an arm on one end that served as a headboard and was bordered on one side by a brick wall, painted white. I have no memory of where my older brother slept or in which room my parents placed my younger brother’s crib. I just remember my bed and how much I disliked it. One night, amidst my protestations and while tucking me in, my folks set a transistor radio by my head and tuned it to, volume low, KFI 640 AM and Los Angeles Dodgers baseball.

I didn’t know much about baseball but I knew I liked it. I also “knew” we were San Francisco Giants fans. My dad said I didn’t have to like the Dodgers to listen to them on the radio. “It’s baseball,” he must have said, “now go to sleep,” I’m certain he said. So I listened to the sounds that emanated from the other room, ice clinking in glasses, some laughter, some calls of “three spades” or “two no trump”. And I listened to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett. On my hands and knees, rocking back and forth like a mad man, working up a sweat and trying to tire myself out, I listened to Vin Scully.

In a remarkable twist of fate, thirty years later I met and worked with Vin Scully. The best in baseball and one of the best in the entire business for years, Mr. Scully would be the lead announcer on a made for television golf match on which I was lucky enough to work. It was Thanksgiving weekend just outside of Palm Springs, California and The SKINS Game was a phenomenon. I was an Associate Producer and one of my roles was to write and then edit the opening tease for the broadcast and all of the features that would air inside. I had been on the job for a little more than a year and had worked with a number of professional broadcasters, all talented, none Vin Scully.

The SKINS Game featured four of golf’s biggest names. Major Champions, Players of the Year, best of all time, gathered every fall for a “hit and giggle”competition for money. By the late 80’s and early 90’s standards they gathered for lots of money. It was a huge hit, “must see TV”, many times the highest rated golf broadcast other than the Masters Tournament, and I was charged with writing copy that would be presented to one Vincent Edward Scully, widely regarded as American television’s greatest sports announcer, to read. Was I nervous? You bet. Was I intimidated? Thanks to Vin Scully, not a chance.

I remember distinctly laboring over every word, writing and rewriting each phrase. Eliminating some clichés, emphasizing others. Reading the words in my voice then attempting to read them in Vin’s. When I felt I couldn’t make any more improvements I brought them to the announce booth. As I handed them to the man he accepted them graciously. We had met, SKINS Game director Steve Beim had introduced me to Mr. Scully earlier in the week. As he slipped the headset off his left ear, days later in the booth, he acted like he’d known me for years. “Thanks Keith,” he said with a smile. I told him what I have since told almost every announcer with whom I’ve worked, “feel free to edit or change anything you don’t like.” He slipped the headset back over his ear, gave the copy a glance and informed the control room he was ready to “give it a try.”  Every word I wrote, he read and it came out a million times better than I could have ever imagined.

That was a quarter century ago and I have seen Vin Scully on a couple of occasions since. He still remembers our short time together and calls me by my name. Working with the greatest of all time remains among my most treasured memories. There are excellent announcers working today, as a Giants fan I have the pleasure of listening to three of them in Jon Miller, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. There will be excellent announcers coming up through the ranks, some are still in college, others in elementary school. But NONE will EVER be Vin Scully. He is, without question, the greatest of all time. 67 years worth of a body of incomparable work illustrates that. Baseball and America will say goodbye to Vin Scully when the Los Angeles Dodgers make the final out of their 2017 season.

I, for one, will celebrate a man who put baseball first, the Dodgers next, and himself last. A man who forged a peerless career in broadcasting that will be remembered and exalted for generations.

 

About Keith Hirshland

My name is Keith Hirshland and I am a four decades television veteran who has spent time both in front of and behind the camera. During nearly forty years in broadcasting my path has crossed in front of, behind and alongside some of the best in the business... And some of the worst. Many of those people I count as friends while others wouldn't make the effort to spit on me if I was on fire. This television life started early watching my Mom and Dad found, fund and run a local affiliate TV station in Reno, Nevada. As a teenager approaching adulthood I worked for them, first as an on-air sports reporter/anchor and later as a director and producer. Jobs in the industry took me across the country and then to many places around the world. Sports is my passion and putting it on TV has been my business. Production credits include auto racing, baseball, basketball, bowling, college football, field hockey, soccer, volleyball and water polo but the majority of my time "in the chair" since 1990 has been invested in the game of golf with both ESPN and The Golf. Channel ( I was one of the first forty people hired by TGC in 1994 ). I am a fan and I watch TV sports as a fan but I also have hundreds of thousands of hours watching from inside a production truck. I think that makes me qualified to comment, my hope is you agree. I have written two books, Cover Me Boys, I'm Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat), a memoir that is a tribute to my parents, the hard working, creative people who started ESPN2 and The Golf Channel and a look back at my life in television. My second book is a novel, Big Flies, and is a mystery that tells the story of a father and a son with four of the world's most notorious unsolved robberies as a backdrop. I look forward to sharing new thoughts about golf, golf television, sports in general and the broadcast industry with you. The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They are not connected to nor endorsed by any other person, association, company or organization.
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One Response to The Greatest Of All Time

  1. Richard says:

    Great story Keith. What a thrill. Those original skins games were required viewing even here in Australia. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

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