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How to Watch a Baseball Game : Vin Scully's Primer for Neophytes and Connoisseurs

October 13, 1985|HENRY WEINSTEIN | Henry Weinstein, a staff writer who specializes in labor relations, has been listening to Scully since 1958

He's been called "The Bard of the Base Paths." "The Velvet Voice of the Dodgers." "The Babe Ruth of Sportscasting."

He is Vincent Edward Scully, who for 35 years has been captivating millions of baseball fans around the country--be they rookies, seasoned observers or outright addicts--with his descriptions of the national pastime.

Since he started as an assistant to Red Barber, one of baseball's legendary broadcasters, at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field in 1950, Scully has announced thousands of games, including 13 no-hitters, two perfect games, a dozen World Series and the breaking of Babe Ruth's career home run record by Henry Aaron.

Vin Scully became the chief broadcaster for the Dodgers in the mid-'50s when Barber left the team after a contract dispute. But he really hit his stride after the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

Soon, his highly descriptive, fact-packed radio accounts of Dodger games not only won wide praise but also were deemed responsible for the creation of a new subspecies of humanity--the transistorized fan. Such people are so into baseball that they hold small radios to their ears and listen to a Dodger game wherever they are, be it a bus stop, a Bar Mitzvah or even the ballpark itself.

In 1976, Scully was voted "the most memorable Dodger personality of the century," in a poll of Southern California fans. And in 1982, he became one of six broadcasters enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

His fame has grown considerably since then, in part because he now handles baseball's "Game of the Week" for NBC as well as Dodger games. He's a surprisingly well-known public figure. In hotel lobbies, airport waiting rooms, boarding the Dodger bus on the way to a game, getting out of the bus on arrival at the ballpark or jumping into a cab when leaving the stadium, Scully is besieged by well-wishers and beseeched by autograph-seekers.

Fifty years ago, Scully was the autograph hound. That's when his romance with baseball began. At the time, he was an 8-year-old boy rooting for the Dodgers' archrivals, the New York Giants, the team nearest his family's apartment. Scully collected returnable soda pop bottles to raise the 55 cents he needed for admission to the bleachers of the Giants' home field, the cavernous Polo Grounds, a stadium that is no longer.

But in the mid-1930s, sitting 483 feet from home plate, in seats no batted ball had ever reached, Scully, "worshiping from afar," noticed something curious. "I would see the batter hit the ball. I would see the ball in the air. I would see the ball leave the infield. . . . Then it's on the way to the outfield, then I hear the crack of the bat."

After that happened several times, Scully grew more puzzled and turned to a man in the bleachers and asked him to explain. "He gave me a lesson in elementary physics, that light travels at a considerably faster speed than sound. It's nothing, but to me it was a big thrill. I was charmed."

Scully still finds baseball charming, if hardly simple. He has watched more than 5,000 games, says he's still learning about the sport and manages to combine the enthusiasm of a boy with the wisdom of his years in his broadcasts. Scully said he still gets goose bumps watching a great pitching duel, a dazzling double play, a home run at a climactic moment. Now he sits much closer to the action, and he agreed on the eve of the World Series to share some of his insights on how to watch a baseball game. His suggestions ranged from the specific to the cosmic.

The Essential Nature of the Experience "You can't compare sports," Scully begins. "You can't compare baseball, for instance, with basketball or football. Basically, basketball is like playing 21: two cards. Hit me. Bingo. You made it or you didn't. Constant action. Action. Action. Turnover. A lot of people like 21. Other people like gin rummy; it takes some more thinking. Then there's that group that loves chess."

With baseball, Scully says, it could simply be a group of fans going to the park to relax and have a good time "and then somebody hits one over the fence and it's 21. If you're a gin rummy player, baseball might be gin rummy. But if you're really into it and you're looking to see 'Are they holding the runner on?; this might be a hit-and-run play,' then suddenly it's chess. It's like beauty: It's in the eye of the beholder."

Scully's philosophy is that baseball should be savored before being dissected--and there's a hint of regret that he can no longer watch the game as he did when he was an 8-year-old boy at the Polo Grounds. There's the matter of "following the ball," for example. "Let's say it's a bottom of the ninth in a close game and a home run hitter is up," Scully hypothesizes. "The fan wants a home run badly. The fellow hits a fly ball, just an ordinary fly ball, and as soon as he hits that fly ball the crowd goes bananas because they think they're going to see what they want and it's just a fly ball. If I broadcast that way, I'd drive people crazy.

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