Then there’s the music. The Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine (no relation to Carl) recently compared Scully’s voice to a horn that can “make musical the specter of grown men mostly standing around for three hours,” and that contains such elements as “swing, moxie, and sonic opulence.” The University of Southern California professor Jeffrey Allen describes the voice as “a virtuoso instrument.”
Scully would probably run for the nearest beer at such dissection, but the USC musicologist Chris Sampson insists that the voice “starts with a dominant chord (that) has some tension to it that’s leading to a resolution.” (He has actually done sheet music on the last out call of the 1965 Sandy Koufax perfect game: “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn. One strike away.”) It scans poetically, too—trochaic pentameter actually—urgent, even insistent, with a double-stressed spondee (“One strike”) before ending with a teasing iamb, keeping us hanging in the air. Sampson calls this unconscious music Scully’s “claw mark”—what makes Sinatra Sinatra, Lennon Lennon, Flack Flack—and no one else.
The Voice has been more than mimetic—it has catalyzed, and not just fans. Angelenos never tire of the myth of Kirk Gibson, the crippled Dodger who hobbled off the bench in the last inning of the first game of the 1988 World Series—angered at hearing Scully’s radio voice in the locker room attesting that he would “not see any action tonight, for sure.” Gibson hit a stumbling, one-handed home run to win the game, rounding the bases while cocking the air as if it were a rifle. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” Scully exclaimed, after 67 seconds of silence, or rather crowd roar. In a crazy sort of way, Scully had goaded, even caused Gibson’s heroics.
Gibson’s gimpy homer has been voted the greatest sports moment in Los Angeles history, but it wasn’t Vin’s, by his own reckoning. His was not of a Dodger at all; in fact, it took place during a Dodger loss. It was the middle of Watergate, April 8, 1974, almost four months to the day before Richard Nixon would resign the presidency. Henry Aaron was at the plate, tied with Babe Ruth for the all-time record in home runs (714), facing the Dodgers’ Al Downing. Aaron took the first pitch, low, below his knees. And then: “Fastball, high drive to deep left center field. Buckner goes back, to the fence—it is GAWN!” Scully later recounted that he took the headphones off, went to the water cooler for a drink, and let the crowd’s ecstasy and fireworks fill the nation’s ears. “Scully made his greatest contribution by saying nothing, thank you,” he told a benefit audience honoring him in February 2016. But that is not true. Here’s a condensation of what he said when he returned to the mike:
What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta, for the country and the world! A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South. And it is a great moment for all of us, but particularly for Henry Aaron who is met at home plate not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and his mother, who came running across the grass, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for all she was worth. As Aaron circled the bases, the Dodgers on the infield shook his hand. And for the first time in a long time that poker face of Aaron’s shows the tremendous strain and relief of the past seven months. It is over, at 10 minutes after nine o’clock in Atlanta, Georgia. Henry Aaron has eclipsed Babe Ruth. You could not get two more opposite men—the Babe, big and garrulous, oh so sociable, immense in all his appetites—and then the quiet lad out of Mobile, Alabama, slender. Ruth, as he put on the pounds and the paunch, the Yankees put their ball players in pin striped uniforms because it made Ruth look slimmer. But they didn’t need pin stripes for Henry Aaron. And now you can hear Georgia around the world.
Aaron was a better export that year than lies and tapes. You can see other Vin virtues here: his reverence for people (he’s a devout Catholic), knack for story and character detail, but also, his sense of pathos. It’s in that “tremendous strain” on Aaron’s face. As Bart Giamatti once said, “[Baseball] is designed to break your heart.” But Scully caught another kind of tragedy: the racism Aaron endured that year as he got closer to 715 homers. It was hardly a magic number for him. His home was attacked, death threats were delivered.