For Scully, who died Tuesday at the age of 94, there was no fall from grace, never a fade in some new technology. He was as lovable in his last game as he has been all along. “I have said enough for a lifetime,” he said on that last broadcast in 2016. “And for the last time, I wish you all a very interesting morning.” He never shouted about his accomplishments, and he never exaggerated his work in the field.
Finn Scully, Babe Ruth of the broadcast booth, has died at the age of 94
However, he had an uncanny ability to see big things coming. His 1988 World Championship invitation to Kirk Gibson is rightly famous (“The Impossible Happened…”), but it’s what he said before swinging hard for the physically wrecked champ that reveals Scully’s magical connection to his big game moments:
“All year round, they looked to him for a fire and all year, he met the demands, until he was physically unable to start tonight,” said Scully. Then it happened, and Scully only said what was necessary: ”High flyball in the right ballpark. It’s gone.”
Known as the only game you could watch on radio, baseball was Scully’s Canvas, a game whose fun rhythm and intense rush allow the best storytellers to infiltrate listeners’ lives, night after night, summer after summer.
For 67 summers, the owners and all the stars and stagers drifted away, and Scully remained. His voice was smooth, unhurried, gentle, with a touch of his native New York. Poetry was written at the moment. His language was simple, cultured at times – he never softened it. If Shakespeare had best described the play centuries ago or a Greek tragedy, Scully wouldn’t be ashamed to cite the master.
But in the big moments, Scully trusted his words. This Neil Armstrong wasn’t making a good streak when he entered a new world; This was pure improvisation, a jazz guy making changes in the pocket.
When Sandy Kovacs, the dodgy bowler who inspired some of Scully’s best work, started the ninth inning of his perfect game in 1965, the announcer paused between pitches to name all nine dodgers on the field, Kovacs’ men would rely on them to ensure his perfection. .
“You can almost taste the pressure now,” he said. “There are 29,000 people in the stadium, and a million butterflies.”
And then, after it was over, after making the crowd’s roar his commentary for the longest time, Scully made history: “On the scoreboard in the right field, 9:46 p.m. in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California. A crowd of 29139 Seated to see the only bowler in baseball history to shoot four games without an injury or run. He’s done it four years in a row, and now it’s capped: In his fourth game, he’s made it a perfect game.”
Scully has worked on television for decades—football and golf on CBS in the ’70s and ’80s, then baseball on NBC a week—but the Dodgers was always his, radio was his enduring love, his close relationship with the family in the car, the kid with Transistor radio tucked under his pillow in bed, people lounging on the platform, Dodger fans in their seats. He knew that radio was more intimate than television. It was a place where he and fans could imagine together, Scully drawing auditory pictures and listeners filling colors in their minds.
Scully always left room for this to happen. He bore a big part because of what he didn’t do: He didn’t tear apart the bad guys on the other team. He did not gossip. It wasn’t Homer – he certainly loved the Dodgers, but he wasn’t one of the announcers the team owners love, finding the silver lining at every lousy turn of the home team’s fortunes. Finn Scully told the truth, sympathetically, but without a body. He never made fans groan.
The Best Calls of Finn Scully, from Don Larsen to Hank Aaron to Kirk Gibson
In later decades, when it was already a legend, it might at times seem outdated. He continues to play action games alone – no player banter, no mutual banter. He made the listeners – addressing them “friends” – an honest deal: no gossip, no false atoms, just the straight story, the lessons of history, and the wisdom of someone who saw it all. When Scully said that a small virtual swing reminiscent of Hank Aaron, it had nothing to do with anything he had read or watched on YouTube: It was because Scully had seen them play and took careful notes on the alignment.
Scully never offered his opinions, but he also wasn’t shy about stating what he thought. In 1976, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, two protesters ran into the field to set fire to the American flag, but Cubs defensive player Rick Monday had another idea: “Looks like he’s going to burn the flag,” said Scully, “and Rick on Monday runs.” And he takes it from him. And so on Monday–I think the guy was going to burn the American flag. Can you imagine that? On Monday, when he realized what he was going to do, he raced and took the flag off him. And Rick would have the applause and rightly so.”
In his last broadcast, Scully told his fans, “You and I have been friends for a long time. But I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you’ve needed me.” He left them with a prayer: “God give you for every storm, a rainbow. For every tear a smile. For every care, a promise, and a blessing in every experience. For every problem life sends, a loyal friend to share.”
Most likely, Scully can’t set it anymore. The team owners want a PR guy more than a storyteller. When Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos fired great broadcaster John Miller — a deacon at Scully Church — in 1996, he said it was because he wanted “more defender” of the home team.
What the owners don’t get and the money the guys don’t get is that Scully was rich beyond words in a currency they would never understand, the most vital currency of all – trust. He refused to pretend to be just another fan. He only appreciated his credibility. Fans sensed it, and they felt it represented what we already had in common. Finn Scully united people, perhaps not to fight the big battles, for freedom or democracy, but to be together for the little things. He’s only been telling stories about a game, but he’s always reminding us of who we are and what we want to be.