INSIDE STORY: Vin's last innings
INSIDE STORY: He’s American baseball’s answer to GAA’s Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, combined with the authoritative flair of Michael O’Hehir. But next month, Vincent ‘Vin’ Scully will turn off his microphone for the final time. In a world exclusive interview, the esteemed broadcaster, whose family roots lie in West Cavan, spoke to Seamus Enright...
Having spent the past 67 years working as the play-by-play announcer for Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, Vin is described as having a voice better known to most Los Angelenos than their next-door neighbour’s. His imminent retirement therefore has been greeted akin to that of the loss of a fond relative, so highly is the New York-native thought of in his adopted Californian home.
Vin will retire at the end of the 2016 Dodgers season, marking the last time fans hear his trademark address: ‘It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good (afternoon/evening) to you, wherever you may be’.
“God has been more than good, he has been extremely generous to allow me to do and fulfil a child’s dream, to get this job at a very young age, and then to allow me to do it as long as I have done it,” caresses Vin, now aged 88 years, in signature dulcet tones.
He adds: “I’m a very ordinary man who has been give an extraordinary opportunity, and that is about the most of what I think of myself.”
Born in The Bronx to Vincent Aloysius and Bridget (nee Freehill), an Irish immigrant originally from Ballyconnell, Vin grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. But when Vincent Sr died of pneumonia, Vin, then aged four years, and his mother travelled back to Ireland.
They landed in Dublin in time for the 31st International Eucharistic Congress, June 1932, where an estimated 25% of the country’s population attended the mass in Phoenix Park, before descending on O’Connell Bridge for the concluding blessing by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.
“They were saying mass in the streets in Dublin and all over. My father had died, and I guess I was not quite five, so my mother, heartbroken, brought me back home and spent quite a bit of time not only in Ballyconnell, but I’m sure out on the farms and wherever the family was.
“The one thing I was told, when we [returned to NY] to attend grammar school, I had the thickest Irish brogue in the whole world. Sooner or later playing in the streets of New York they hammered it out of me. That’s for sure,” he says.
It was while in Ireland that it’s claimed Vin garnered his now-legendary speaking abilities after kissing the Blarney Stone.
On a shelf in his Californian office, Vin has a prized-possession of a picture of Bridget outside what he describes as a public house once run by the Freehill family on Main Street in the west county town. “I guess it was a restaurant and a bar downstairs and a couple of rooms upstairs... they had a fairly big family.”
Vin has been to Ireland once since. On a trip to Japan with the Dodgers in 1956, while travelling with friends during which they attained an audience with the Pope (Pius XII- Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli), Vin spent several days in Dublin before heading back across the Atlantic.
“I regret in retrospect that I didn’t go to Ballyconnell. But there wasn’t anybody there I would’ve known, or any relatives, so I didn’t make that trip. I wish I had though,” recalls Vin, whose second cousin is Labour councillor and former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mary Freehill.
He describes his mother, from whom he inherited his red hair, as a “very strong” person- “spiritually, physically, mentally”.
The two returned to New York, in poor circumstances, where Bridget busily set about establishing a small boarding house catering for those coming off merchant navy ships. It was through this that Bridget met and later got remarried to Englishman, Allan Reeve.
Living through the Great Depression, sleeping on a pull-out bed and living with very little, Vin has nothing but good memories growing up in the warm embrace of a loving family.
“He was the loveliest, soft-spoken, pipe-smoking Englishman,” describes Vin fondly. “He filled that absence of a father. So they had a daughter and that was our family. It was really a stroke of good fortune that mom was able to meet Allan. He was a beauty and saved a family for sure.”
He adds: “The lack of money didn’t mean a thing in our family. We were surrounded by people who had a lack of money, and we were very happy.”
From as young as aged eight, a focused Vin wanted nothing more but to become a broadcaster, finding himself fascinated by the thrill expounded in football broadcasts on the radio.
“What I loved was when someone scored a touchdown or did something great, what thrilled me was the roar of the crowd. It would come out of the loudspeaker like water out of a shower head and I would just get goosebumps all over me,” Vin remembers.
With the Dodgers since their days in Brooklyn, before that Vin served with the US Navy, but really he began his career in broadcasting while studying at Fordham University, and later when recruited for the CBS Radio Network for college football coverage.
In 1950, Vin joined the Dodgers’ radio and television booths and, at age 25, became the youngest broadcaster to commentate on a World Series game.
“The crowd itself gets the adrenaline going and I ride that for as long as I can. Normally that’s the course of the game, and when the crowd is satisfied with the end of the sporting event, I am too,” explains Vin.
Humble and engaging, Vin is tremendously conscious of the enviable career position he has earned in life. His however has not been without tragedy, and he counts each moment valuable and his success as a “great gift”.
In 1972, his then 35-year-old wife, Joan Crawford, died of an accidental medical overdose. The couple had been married for 15 years.
In late 1973, Vin married Sandra Hunt. They had two children together but, in 1994, their eldest son Michael (33) died in a helicopter crash while inspecting oil pipelines in the aftermath of an earthquake.
A devout Catholic, Vin tells the Celt: “I’ve just been given this great gift. I know I can lose it in two seconds. I’ve been able to hold onto it for this long and I am about ready to offer it up with great thanks.”
Ranking among the echelons of America’s most-trusted media personalities, Vin, somewhat surprisingly, does not attend or even watch on baseball games on TV when he is not announcing. Instead, he finds solace beyond work at the theatre and in the pages of a good book.
These hobbies often lend themselves to his lyrically-descriptive, all-encompassing turn of phrase that float melodically as a spoken-word soundtrack to the high and lows of following high level sport.
But, despite his innumerable memorable attributed quotes, Vin surmises: “When you talk three hours a day, everyday for 67 years, every now and then something might come out that is worthwhile. It’s not planned or anything like that. It just stumbles out, it’s just one of those moments. Believe me, in the 67 years, there are more blanks than there are good quotes,” he says with unmistakable honey-dipped tenor.
As for the many honours bestowed upon him, National Sportscaster of the Year three times (1965, 1978, 1982), a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Dodger press box named, a decision by LA City Council to change the Dodger Stadium address to ‘Vin Scully Ave’ and even had a ‘Vin Scully Day’ (July 8, 2016), the man himself maintains, not ungratefully, that “honours are for the moment”.
But once Vin puts down the mic, perhaps against the Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco on October 2, Vin admits he will miss the buzz of the crowd “very much”. He has called roughly 9,000 big league games in his career, 20 no-hitters, three perfect games, 12 All-Star Games and almost half of all Dodgers games ever played but, as his final game approaches, in his heart Vin says he knows “it’s time”.
‘I will be where I should be’
“I’ll be 89 in November and the thought of working next year when I’ll be approaching 90 seems ludicrous for a child’s game. I just don’t belong at 90 at the child’s game. I will be where I should be, where I owe a great amount of time and presence, is to be with my wife and family. We have five children, 16 grandchildren, and we have a couple of great-grandchildren. So whatever time I have left, I think it’s very wise and prudent, especially to be with my wife. She has made a great sacrifice. It’s a lonely job to be married to somebody who works nights everyday and travels. I mean, I travelled for about 60 years all over the country where I was gone for a couple of weeks at a time. So I think I should fulfil my debt to her, she deserves it immensely.”