In a time when job changes occur quite rapidly, Vin Scully’s 67 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers stand out like a grand slam in a game filled with singles and strikeouts.
Scully has taken his broadcasting career as far as he possibly could. He started at age 22 with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, and three years after that he became the youngest man ever to call a World Series. Six-plus decades, a cross-country move to Los Angeles, and six world championships later, Scully owns the longest broadcasting tenure ever with one pro sports team.
It is difficult to find someone who does not think of the redheaded New York City native as the absolute best in his profession. The word “great” does not suffice for Scully’s admirers. Instead, terms such as “number one” and “the best of all times” are freely used.
Rich Donnelly is among those whose admiration for Scully is immense. Donnelly, the third base coach with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007, said, “Vin Scully is, without a doubt, the best baseball broadcaster ever. No one has done what he has done, as well as he has done it, for as long as he has done it.”
Donnelly values not only the way Scully has broadcast so many games, but also how he has conducted himself off the field.
“Major League Baseball has had lots of characters over the years, but Vin has always been able to maintain a dignified and upbeat outlook, regardless of who he’s dealing with,” Donnelly said. “He’s very professional on-air, of course, but even on the team bus or plane, I never heard him complain about or ridicule anyone.”
As Catholics in professional baseball, they had a lot in common already. But Scully and Donnelly shared something else they would have liked to have avoided: Scully lost his 33-year-old son in a 1994 helicopter crash, and Donnelly lost his 17-year-old daughter to cancer in 1993. However, both men were able to faithfully persevere through these tragic times.
Equals with royalty
Kansas City Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre’s memories of Scully date back to the 1970s. He fondly recalled the voice of the Dodgers — often termed “The Soundtrack of Summer”— and, since he lived fairly close to Scully, would even see him occasionally in the neighborhood.
In 1999 Lefebvre became the announcer for the Royals, an American League team that rarely plays the National League’s Dodgers. But in 2003, Lefebvre got his chance to call a game against the Dodgers, which meant he would meet with Scully beforehand to exchange stories about their respective teams.
Lefebvre was thrilled at the upcoming opportunity, but also very nervous. Because the last time Lefebvre saw Scully was around 1982, he planned on introducing himself to the broadcasting legend before they started their preparation for that day’s game.
When Lefebvre entered the broadcaster’s booth, Scully was seated at his counter overlooking the field. As Lefebvre approached, he was about to extend his hand and launch into his introduction. Before he could do so, Scully turned and said in his distinctive voice, almost as if calling a great play, “Well, Ryan, after all these years, look at you.”
“That just melted me,” Lefebvre recalled. “It was a life-changing experience. I hadn’t seen him in over 20 years, and when I had seen him last, I was just a boy. The fact that he remembered who I was, despite having encountered thousands of people over the years, floored me. At that point I was an actual colleague of this towering figure.”
While Lefebvre was pleased to be working with Scully for that series between the Dodgers and Royals, he does not think he can match the overall quality of the legend’s work. However, he does plan to do some of the same off-air things that Scully has.
“Vin is not only the best baseball an-nouncer of all times, he is the best sports announcer of all times. He is so much better than everyone else that I don’t even try to reach his level,” Lefebvre said. “However, I can treat people like he treats them. I can respond to a fan’s letter or be patient with someone who is asking me a question I’ve gotten on 20 previous occasions that week. Those things are within reach, so I try to do them whenever I can.”
Another ‘all-timer’s’ story
Dr. Vince Fortanasce, renowned neurologist and author of The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription, has a personal story involving his father, Michael, and Scully. In his work as a UPI reporter in 1950s Brooklyn, Michael Fortanasce had spoken with Scully many times. He had since retired, and in 1994 he was going to visit his son, Vince, in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers had moved in 1958.
A dinner date was arranged with the Fortanasces, Scully, and then-Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda. The meal was scheduled early enough so that Scully could call the Dodgers’ game later that night and Lasorda could manage it. The Fortanasces would be watching from seats in the owner’s box.
Dr. Fortanasce arrived home at noon to pick up his father, but he was not there. He finally came home hours later, and when questioned by his son about the evening they had in the works, he could not remember it. Even though he himself was the one who initiated it, he was drawing a blank.
Alarmed by what was one of the very first signs of his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Fortanasce called Scully to apologize for not being able to make the dinner. After explaining what was happening, the iconic announcer was gracious.
“He assured me that he was not offended and that there was nothing to worry about. He also said my father was a great man,” Dr. Fortanasce recalled. “Vin gave me much-needed comfort and made an embarrassing situation better.”
Dr. Fortanasce has since discovered that one of the factors that helps reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s is having at least eight regular social contacts. When he informed Scully of this, the broadcaster replied that if that was the case, he would stay in baseball forever.
Thanks be to God
While Scully’s record-setting tenure won’t last forever, it has been filled with countless highlights. Among the top for Scully are announcing the Dodgers’ six World Series titles, Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965, and Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.
While his career seems to have a storybook feel throughout, Scully’s personal life has had its challenges. In addition to his son’s early death, his first wife, Joan, died in 1972 from an accidental prescription drug overdose. Despite his devastation at the time — or maybe because of it — he continued to pray for the strength to do God’s will.
Scully told the National Catholic Register in 2013 that “the worst thing you can do in times of trial is to stop praying. The tough moments are when you need God the most. He’s always there and more than happy to give us his help; we need only ask for it.” Scully’s on-air communication skills have been praised again and again, but he knows the most important discussions for any of us occur in prayer.
Prayer, along with the other timeless traditions of the Church, were emphasized to Scully as a boy by the Sisters of Charity, who served at the Incarnation School in Manhattan. He has continually expressed gratitude for the elementary school nuns who provided the solid foundation that made his unparalleled career possible.
Scully will be the first to state that he has been blessed in many ways and that he is tremendously grateful to God for being able to do something he loves for so long. As the Dodgers’ season ends this year, Scully’s career will also come to a close.
When asked by Catholic Digest early in the 2016 season if he feels like he has one foot in heaven, the 88-year-old Scully had a reply characteristic of his career — one that could be called “vintage Vin.” With touching simplicity, Scully said, “I don’t feel like I have one foot in heaven, but I think I can see it from here, especially at Mass.”