Evidence of Vin Scully's greatness: In a storied 67-year career, 68 seconds of silence
Broadcasting legend Vin Scully died Tuesday in Los Angeles. This essay was first written in September 2016, shortly before his retirement.
Only days away from retiring after a 67-year broadcasting career with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, Vin Scully has possessed many qualities that have made him one of the most respected and admired announcers in Major League Baseball history.
Among those traits has been his ability to let history unfold without foisting commentary on the moment. Prime case in point: The 68 seconds of silence he allowed between calling Kirk Gibson's dramatic game-winning home run for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series opener and then speaking again into the microphone.
The words he spoke on both ends of that selfless restraint were equally marvelous.
As the ball soars into the night: "High fly ball into right field ... she is GONE!"
Then, a full 45 seconds after Gibson had concluded his memorable, 23-second hobble around the bases: "In a year that has been so improbable ... the impossible has happened!"
A replay of the jaw-dropping home run follows 20 seconds later, and nearly 10 seconds into it, Scully wryly observes: "And now the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted?"
Even before Gibson stepped into the batter's box, there was high drama: As Oakland A's reliever Dennis Eckersley walked the previous batter, Mike Davis, an ailing Gibson hopped off the bench and made his way to the plate.
"And look who's coming up," Scully remarked. Over the ensuing 35 seconds, he let the roar of the Dodger Stadium crowd provide the soundtrack before resuming his commentary. Scully had a great respect for baseball -- and knew that he wasn't bigger than the game.
Perhaps the sharpest contrast to Scully's restraint: The late Howard Cosell, whose blowhard tendencies resulted in his repeated shifting of the spotlight to his own bombastic pronouncements. To wit: Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, when Cosell barely let the ball clear the fence before rambling on as Reggie Jackson circled the bases -- on each of his three home runs.
So many others have weighed in on Scully's excellence. Any fan of baseball, any fan of communication, any fan of professionalism would be well served to read some of those accounts.
For me, how Scully allowed Gibson's epic moment to stand out -- without feeling the need to utter a single word -- most eloquently captures his greatness.
Some data points from his call of Gibson's stunning round-tripper:
5:22: Length of Gibson's at bat.
4:36: Length of Gibson's at bat with two strikes.
8: Pitches Eckersley threw to Gibson.
4: Foul balls Gibson hit.
20: Estimated number of inches that a ground ball rolled foul down the first-base line, on an 0-2 pitch.
3½: Minutes between that nearly game-ending grounder and Gibson's home run swing.
5: Pickoff attempts of baserunner Davis -- four by Eckersley and one by catcher Ron Hassey.
2: Times Davis went to steal second base. (The first time, Gibson fouled off the 1-2 pitch. He stole the base on Eckersley's seventh pitch.)
68: In seconds, length of time between Eckersley's 2-2 pitch (a ball outside) and his final pitch.
68: In seconds, length of time Scully remained silent after making his home run call ("High fly ball into right field ... she is GONE!").
12: Words that Scully used to capture what had just happened: "In a year that has been so improbable ... the impossible has happened!"
29: Additional seconds that elapsed before Scully made his second postgame declaration, describing the replay of Gibson hobbling around the bases: "And now the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted?"
46: In seconds, average length of time between Eckersley's pitches (46, 65, 44, 26, 29, 44, 68).
29: Seconds it took Gibson to round the bases.
0: Number of at bats for Gibson the rest of the World Series.
For more of this essay, which includes video clips, go to https://tinyurl.com/VinScullyGreatness