Scully was born in New York City and grew up in Washington Heights, at the narrow northern end of Manhattan Island. He went to Fordham Prep, entered Fordham University, took time out for two years in the Navy, returned to Fordham and graduated in 1949. He played some baseball there (he was a good-field no-hit outfielder), but by his senior year Fordham's campus radio station had become Vin's consuming interest. "I remember when I was in grammar school in the 1930s," he says, "when there couldn't have been more than a couple of sports announcers around. I wrote a composition about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an announcer."
He studied speech. (When he was a small boy he and his mother made a long visit to Ireland after his father died, and when they returned Vin had a thick Irish brogue. Yet despite that and despite his New York background, Scully's voice today has no noticeable accent or regional inflections.) Before his graduation from Fordham in 1949 he wrote dozens of letters to radio stations up and down the East Coast, applying for a job. He did not really expect any results from the letters, but to his surprise he landed a summer spot as an announcer with a station in Washington, and there he picked up his first professional experience. That position ended when the summer did, and Scully returned to New York. One day he walked into the Columbia Broadcasting System office and asked to speak to Red Barber, who at that time was also sports director of the CBS network. Scully managed to see Barber and they had a pleasant, if brief, chat, but there was no job available and, in fact, Scully did not even fill out an application.
That fall CBS had a Saturday afternoon college football program, which Barber ran, that utilized a roundup broadcast of several games from around the country. Barber, on the air, would contact the announcer at one of the games, get a quick report from him and perhaps a few minutes of play-by-play and then switch to another game. One week the announcer who was supposed to handle the Notre Dame- North Carolina game in Yankee Stadium fell ill at the last minute. Ernie Harwell, who had broadcast Dodger games with Barber, was scheduled to do the Boston University-Maryland game in Boston, but Barber switched him to New York for the Notre Dame- North Carolina game, which was supposed to be the big game of the week. Then Red looked around for someone to take over the game in Boston. No one was available. Every experienced announcer was busy. Barber thought for a while and then said, "Who was that redheaded kid who came in here that day looking for a job? Anybody remember his name? Where was he from? Fordham, wasn't it?"
Barber knew Jack Coffey, director of athletics at Fordham, and phoned him. Coffey instantly recognized the "redheaded kid" as Scully, and put Barber in touch with him. Vin, of course, leaped at the chance, and the next day, Saturday, he was on a train for Boston. It was a cold day, and Scully had packed long underwear and extra sweaters, but on the train he ran into some Fordham men he knew who were on their way to Boston for a game between Fordham and Boston College. They told Scully that there was going to be a party after the game and they invited him to join them when he finished his broadcast. Vin checked into his hotel, decided not to bother with the long Johns and the sweaters so that he would not have to go back to the hotel to change before going on to the party, and went off to his first job wearing a light topcoat.
The Boston University-Maryland game was played at Fenway Park. Scully was directed to the roof of the stadium. There he met his engineer, who had rigged up a table for his equipment and had strung a 60-watt bulb on a pole for illumination, in case light was needed later on. Scully was given a head set, a microphone, a program, 50 yards of cable and the run of the roof.
"Boy, it was cold," Scully said recently, remembering. "There I was with my warm clothes back in the hotel and the wind blowing across that roof. I have never felt so cold in my life. I had assumed that I'd be in a booth—not a heated booth, but anyway a booth. But no, sir. And it turned out to be a terrific game. Harry Agganis was playing for BU, and Maryland had come up with one of those good teams they had—with Ed Modzelewski and those guys. I didn't have any spotters, and I had to identify the players from the program. I'd hear Red Barber's voice say, 'And now up to Vince Scully in Boston. Give us a quick 15-second rundown, Vinny.' I learned radio discipline fast that day. You had to have your facts clear and ready to say anything in 15 seconds: there wasn't time for any floss about the clouds scudding across the cold New England sky or anything like that. I had to say something like, " Maryland scored in the middle of the first period after a 70-yard drive, mostly on the ground, and leads 7-0, but here in the second period, after an exchange of punts, Boston University has marched across midfield and down to Maryland's 42, where it is now first and 10. Back to Red Barber in New York.'
"What happened then was that all the other games on the roundup that day turned out flat. Notre Dame beat North Carolina 42-7, or something like that, and the other games were just as one-sided, while the game I was doing was getting better and better. I'd finish a 60-second report and say, 'Now back to Red Barber in New York,' and Red would say, 'Right back to you, Vinny. I think we'll stay with you for awhile up there.' So I was doing more and more play-by-play. Whenever Red took it back for a few minutes I'd go over to the engineer's table and cup my hands around the electric light bulb to get them warm. The game ended with Maryland leading 14-13 and Boston on their eight-yard line, I think. It was really a tremendous game. But, oh, I was cold.
"Yet the cold and everything else turned out to be another lucky break. I didn't say anything to Red during the game about the conditions we were working in. I didn't have time, for one thing, but for another I thought it was routine and that I hadn't known about things like roofs because I was inexperienced. And when I got back to New York I was so excited about having had the chance to do the game that I didn't say anything about it then, either. But the Boston University officials wrote a note to CBS apologizing for not having a booth for us and for having to stick us up on the roof. Well, now, this impressed Red—not so much the fact that the conditions were bad but that I hadn't said anything about it, that I hadn't complained, and that I had gotten the job done. He was very pleased. A couple of weeks later he called me up again and said, 'Want to do another game for us?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He gave me the Yale-Harvard game.
"That winter Ernie Harwell shifted from the Dodgers to the Giants. Ernie had come up to the Dodgers in the first place when Red had gotten ill suddenly in Pittsburgh during a road trip, and when Red got better there were three of them broadcasting, Red, Ernie and Connie Desmond, who had been with Red for years. When Red came back, Ernie more or less made a job for himself, but when he got the chance to go over to the Giants he took it. Now the Dodgers needed someone to take his place. But they didn't want anyone with a great deal of experience. They wanted someone who could handle commercials and fill in for an inning or two now and then. Red suggested me. The agency that handled the advertising had some doubts, but Red got the ball club to let me go to spring training on a trial basis. Then Red called me and asked me if I'd be interested. Oh, boy! Here I was, 22, single, just out of college, and I'm asked if I'd like to go to spring training with the Dodgers!
"I had to go over and be interviewed by Branch Rickey, who was president of the Dodgers then. I spent three hours with him; I remember that because he had lunch brought in. He did most of the talking. He talked about the pitfalls a young man faced. He asked me, 'You married?' I said, 'No, sir.' He said, 'Engaged?' I said, 'No, sir.' He said, 'Go steady?' I said, 'No, sir.' He said, 'Got a girl?' I said, 'Well, no.' He chewed that cigar of his for a minute and then he snapped, 'Get a girl, go steady, get engaged, get married. Best thing in the world for a young man.' "