In 2005, a pizza-size recording disc was discovered in the archives of WFUV, the Fordham University radio station. With no equipment old enough to play it, the disc had to be transferred to a CD or a cassette tape to yield what lay within its old grooves.
It was the voice of Vin Scully, then a 21-year-old senior and sportscaster at the college in the Bronx, narrating a 15-minute Easter play that was performed by a group of campus actors.
“It was obviously Vin, very young, and about halfway through this thing, I realize the role he’s playing,” said Bob Ahrens, the executive sports producer of WFUV. “He’s playing the voice of God. How prophetic! He was never identified as God, but you realized who he was playing.”
For now, what might be the oldest known recording of Scully will remain in Ahrens’s memory. He has not seen or heard it for four or five years and has been searching for it in anticipation of Scully’s retirement Sunday after 67 seasons as the voice of the Dodgers, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
“I put it in a safe place,” Ahrens said. “And it’s still in that safe place.”
The last days and weeks of Scully’s unmatched tenure in sports broadcasting have brought him wide acclaim as the greatest baseball announcer ever, with many of his famous calls replayed.
But he will also leave behind an archive of oddities – some of them cataloged and preserved, or only a few clicks away on the Internet, and some of them desperately sought – that reflect an era when no job seemed too small and a lyrical, rhythmic voice honed for radio was really something.
He read a grocery list on air. He hosted a game show. He sang and, by most accounts, sang pretty well.
Of course, an effort is underway to find and preserve the recordings of ballgames, too, with a number of them missing from the early 1950s and 1960s, when preservation was not paramount and it was not clear Scully would become revered. But some of the other jewels are just as coveted, and the missing ones are wistfully recalled by those who heard them or once had them.
Andy Strasberg, a former San Diego Padres marketing executive, had an idea that had probably occurred to others: that Scully’s distinctive delivery would make the most mundane material compelling.
So one day in 1982, while with Scully in the visitors’ broadcast booth at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, he asked, Would you read this grocery list for me?
“Sure, Andy, I’d be happy to,” Scully said into the microphone, and he spent the next 48 seconds moving through 31 items, pacing himself as if he had rehearsed, never stumbling and pausing ever so dramatically when he said, “Pickles – kosher, that is.” And if you were familiar with Scully’s commercials for Farmer John hot dogs, as Strasberg was, you heard a hint of jauntiness when Scully said, “Bologna.”
On YouTube, where many of Scully’s classic baseball calls reside, you can also find remnants of a short-term job from the 1969-70 television season, when he hosted It Takes Two, a game show that featured celebrity couples answering questions like “How old was the oldest dog?”
In 1963, Scully provided play-by-play for an episode of Mr. Ed. Three years later, for the sitcom Occasional Wife, he spoke over the opening credits about a swinging bachelor whose boss demanded that his executives be married.
So, as Scully said, a friendly hatcheck girl “went on salary as his occasional wife.” He continued: “And they set up housekeeping – Peter in his apartment on the seventh floor and Greta in her apartment on the ninth floor, to the lasting confusion of the fellow in between.”
Then there is the singing.
In 1998, Scully sang a very credible version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game at Wrigley Field in honour of Harry Caray, the Chicago Cubs’ idiosyncratic announcer, who had died that year.
“His voice is beautiful,” Scully’s wife, Sandi, said by telephone. “Vin would be Gene Kelly if he could be anybody reincarnated.”
As there are for all announcers of his vintage, there is a trove of missing baseball calls, too.
Little of his work from the 1950s and 1960s has been preserved; much of it was erased, discarded or never recorded.
Tom Villante, the producer of Dodgers broadcasts from 1952 to 1958, said the absence of so many early recordings was a great loss because of Scully’s vivid sense of drama and history. Villante wished to hear again Scully’s call of a catch by center fielder Duke Snider in 1954 against the Philadelphia Phillies’ Willie Jones, who was known as Puddin’ Head.
“It was like a 2-iron golf shot to left-centre,” he said. “Snider ran over to the track, put his spike in the cement, got traction and made the catch.”
In a vault on the third floor of Dodger Stadium, the team maintains an archive of the franchise’s radio and TV broadcasts, with a fair amount from the 1960s. But some fragile footage rests in film canisters that have not been opened while they await their expensive digital transfer.
“We have Vin’s original welcoming call from the Los Angeles Coliseum,” Erik Braverman, the Dodgers’ vice-president for marketing and broadcasting, said, referring to the Dodgers’ temporary home from 1958 to 1961. “We’re pretty robust in terms of audio.”
Still, the collection needs people like Jim Governale, whose uncle taped Sandy Koufax’s no-hitter against the New York Mets in 1962 – the first of Koufax’s four no-hitters – from the bottom of the eighth inning until the end. At one point in the broadcast, Scully said: “Kanehl, waiting at the plate. Koufax rubbing up the ball. Sandy straddles the rubber, leans on his right knee, stares in at Roseboro.”
Governale, who hosts a radio show on KKLA in Los Angeles, found the reel-to-reel tape in a box in 1990.
“I saw a clipping on the box that said it was a Koufax no-hitter, but it didn’t dawn on me that it was a rarity that the Dodgers wouldn’t have,” he said in a telephone interview. “I just thought it was cool.”
In the booth or out, Scully’s voice will always be associated with baseball.
This year, he recited the speech from Field of Dreams for the Hall of Fame tour that made its first stop at the film’s original cornfield location in Dyersville, Iowa. Performing a cover version of James Earl Jones’s oration enabled Scully to deliver words that may have felt poignant to him and his fans as he approached his final game:
“The memories will be so thick,” he said, “they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”Report Typo/Error
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