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Scully rises to occasion

Legend gives vintage treatment to milestone chases

Posted: Friday August 3, 2007 10:34AM; Updated: Friday August 3, 2007 10:42AM
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Vin Scully
Vin Scully's call of Thursday's Giants-Dodgers game was reminiscent of another milestone chase 38 years ago.
AP

Two outfielders. Two milestones. One Vin Scully.

Yes, the famed Dodgers announcer has been conducting the orchestra for some time now. On Thursday night, he presented a movement of Barry Bonds and his chase of Hank Aaron's record home run total. And 38 years ago, he played a symphony of Willie Davis and his chase of Joe DiMaggio's record hitting streak.

A great deal has happened in the world of baseball in the intervening time, but you know what they say about the more things change ...

Thursday marked the third night of Bonds trying to hit No. 755 in enemy territory, and it was getting harder for anyone to have a confident feel for things. Was Bonds the main event, or a sideshow next to a Dodgers squad that needed a victory to move into a tie for first place in the National League Western Division?

Back on Sept. 3, 1969, the Dodgers were also one game out of first place in the NL West. (Their opponent, the New York Soon To Be Miracle Mets, were five games behind the Chicago Cubs with 30 to go.) But many people were thinking more about Davis, who entered the game with a 30-game hitting streak, only seven games off Tommy Holmes' modern NL record and the closest anyone had come to DiMaggio's 56-gamer since Stan Musial in 1950.

"For a lot of people in the ballpark, it's hard to focus on the pennant race," Scully said with regard to Bonds before the start of Thursday's game. But he could have just as easily been talking about the 1969 game, a recording of which I finished listening to an hour before Thursday's first pitch between the Giants and Dodgers.

Facing the Mets and starting pitcher Jerry Koosman, the '69 Dodgers jumped out to a 4-0 lead. But other than making an acrobatic catch in the fifth inning, Davis had nothing to do with it, grounding out twice and striking out in his first three at-bats, putting his streak in clear jeopardy.

Bonds was a little more involved offensively in the Giants taking a lead in the present-day game, walking on a full-count pitch in his first at-bat and later scoring one of San Francisco's three first-inning runs. Bonds also singled in the second inning, though of course a single put history as much on hold for Bonds as an out did for Davis.

In between at-bats by Davis and in between at-bats by Bonds, Scully had much space to fill. And let the record show that he is the true history maker, because 57 years into his Dodger broadcasting career, he still fills that space like no other.

It is interesting to hear the contrast in Scully's voice between the eras. Perhaps it's a trick of the tape, but I've heard several Scully broadcasts from 1969 or earlier, and it's always the same. Scully's voice in those days was more polished than it is today. It's silkier. It glides. Today, you could characterize him as having more of a drawl -- not a Southern drawl for the Fordham grad to be sure, but a deeper, richer flavor than he had before. A more resonant melody.

The most common criticism Scully receives today is that he makes more flubs than he used to. It so happens that he had almost a perfect broadcast Thursday -- his only error was to refer to recent Dodgers callup Delwyn Young as "basically a second baseman" when Young has played in the outfield this season. On a day-to-day basis these days, however, he does get some names wrong, whereas four decades back, he shot through them like Robin Hood.

The constant for generations of listeners is Scully's undiminished enthusiasm for the sport. If anything, in the slower moments of a game, his voice today might have more life than it did years back.

Certainly, every time Bonds came to the plate Thursday, Scully rose to the occasion.

"Twenty-one years ago, Barry Bonds looked like the graphite shaft of a golf club," Scully said upon the commencement of Bonds' fifth-inning at-bat, which again ended outside of the record books. "So Barry Bonds fouls out, much to the delight of the crowd," Scully said, before commenting on the multitude of camera flashes in the stands. "Look at those fireflies, huh?"

But it was Scully's words traveling in the vast frontier between Bonds' at-bats that would remind you how special the iconic broadcaster is, whether it was pointing out the struggles of the Dodgers starting pitcher in the first -- "This has been a bloody inning for Brett Tomko" -- or highlighting a player at the opposite end of the media spectrum from Bonds, 29-year-old San Francisco catcher Guillermo Rodriguez, playing in his 17th career major-league game after nearly 12 years as a Giants minor leaguer.

"If ever a fella deserved to be in the big leagues, if ever a fella paid the bill, here he is," Scully said, later adding, "He would say to his friends, 'I see Paul Lo Duca, after so many years, coming up from the minors. Why not me? Why can't it happen to me?' Well, it finally did.

"Finally, he arrived with the Giants so excited, he couldn't talk."

With nothing happening on the Barry front for most of the game, Scully didn't force phony excitement or amp up the volume the way so many other broadcasters do in trying to justify their existence. He let the game come to him, just as he always has, with precise comments about the action and little stories that he and his research staff come up with. (Another nitpick some have with Scully is that he repeats his stories from day to day, but he concedes this while saying he repeats them intentionally, because he can't assume the majority of listeners for a given game heard the tale the first time.)

So Scully had plenty of time Thursday night to point out Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks in the stands, just as in 1969, he ably saluted the presence at Dodger Stadium of former Giant and Dodger catcher Chief Myers, born over in Riverside in 1880.

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