Thanks for the Memories, Vin

He was the greatest voice of the greatest game.

Vin Scully, the legendary Dodgers broadcaster who entertained millions of baseball fans for generations by turning each game into a story unto itself, died Aug. 2, 2022, at the age of 94.

Even among the Dodgers’ storied franchise history that includes celebrated personalities such as Tommy Lasorda and Jackie Robinson, Vin Scully stood out as one of the team’s iconic representatives.

After a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Scully, a native of The Bronx, became a student at New York’s Fordham University and did radio broadcasts for many of the school’s sports teams. He caught the ear of CBS Radio’s Red Barber, who recruited Scully for the network’s college football coverage. In his first assignment in November 1949, he braved freezing weather on the roof of Fenway Park in Boston after leaving his coat behind due to a misunderstanding about the location of the broadcast facilities.

Barber, who instilled in Scully a sense of objectivity and professionalism, then brought the young redhead over to the Brooklyn Dodgers, starting in 1950. When Barber left after the 1953 season, Scully became the team’s primary voice. He was there for the latter half of Jackie Robinson’s career, including the Dodger franchise’s first World Series win, and only one in Brooklyn, in 1955.

His arrival in Los Angeles when the team moved here in 1958 proved a perfect match for a growing city built on freeways and car culture. Fans could acquaint themselves with their new team on the go by listening to Dodger games on their car radios, and many became so accustomed to Vin’s voice they began bringing transistor radios to games at the L.A. Coliseum (where the team played before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962). Some games there were so many radios in the stands tuned to Vin in unison that the players reportedly could hear the broadcast on the field as they were playing.

Scully unsurprisingly was on hand for many of baseball’s most iconic moments during his career, from the perfect games of Don Larson and Sandy Koufax, to Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth’s career home run total, to more somber moments such as welcoming back fans in 2001 after 9/11. He was there for the Dodgers’ L.A. title legacy in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988. He was there for Fernandomania. He even shared play-by-play duties with President Ronald Reagan during an inning of the 1989 All-Star game in Anaheim, Calif. Undoubtedly his two most memorable calls happened during World Series: the Mets comeback against the Red Sox in game six of 1986, and Kirk Gibson’s walk-off homer in game one to lead the Dodgers past the A’s in 1988.

For me and so many others growing up in the Greater Los Angeles area, Scully’s voice was synonymous with the sound of a baseball game. He always seemed just as knowledgeable about the visiting team’s players as the home team, and had such a knack for telling stories about players or the history of the game in between pitches that he always seemed to finish just before the inning did and the broadcast cut to commercial.

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While he was the primary voice of the Dodgers and his Gibson call remains an indelible moment of the team’s history, many forget that he was actually in the booth for that game as part of NBC’s broadcasting team alongside Joe Garagiola, just as he was in 1986. In the 1980s, World Series broadcasts alternated between ABC in the odd years and NBC in the even ones, so Scully’s presence for those two moments was something of a happenstance. He worked for NBC from 1983 through 1989.

Outside of baseball, Scully called tennis, PGA Tour golf and NFL football games for CBS from 1975 to 1982. His most famous call during this stretch was probably “The Catch,” Dwight Clark’s touchdown that put the 49ers into Super Bowl XVI.

Beyond sports, Scully hosted a number of TV shows, including the game show “It Takes Two” from 1969 to 1970 on NBC; most of the episodes are believed lost due to the common but shortsighted practice at the time of reusing broadcast tapes, though some episodes can be found on YouTube.

Scully also plays himself in the 1999 Kevin Costner baseball movie For the Love of the Game as one of the broadcasters, his most notable among several film cameos.

As a sign of his influence on Hollywood, the character of Dana Scully on “The X-Files” is named after him.

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However, he will be first and foremost remembered for his association with baseball. He was given the Ford C. Frick award, often referred to as being included in the baseball hall of fame broadcaster’s wing, in 1982. As television evolved and networks built broadcasting teams with separate play-by-play announcers and color analysts, Scully remained a throwback to an earlier era when working the booth solo was the norm. Even as the Dodgers moved past single-man booths in the early 2000s, Scully remained one of the last solo play-by-play announcers through the end of his career. More often than not, a portrayal (or spoof) of a generic baseball announcer was doing an impersonation of Scully.

Scully maintained a cherished place in the Dodgers’ broadcast booth for 67 years, finally retiring in 2016. His most iconic catchphrase, “It’s time for Dodger baseball,” lives on as part of the pregame ceremony before every Dodgers home game. Both the press box at Dodger Stadium and a street leading to the park were re-named in his honor.

While Scully would pop up for official team appearances from time to time after his retirement, his final role as the voice of the Dodgers was to help celebrate the team’s 2020 World Series win by narrating Major League Baseball’s official championship documentary.

“I know I’ve been so very fortunate to see the celebration of every one of their championships,” Scully says in closing out the official 2020 World Series Film. “Every legend of every generation, enjoying their greatest moment on the game’s grandest stage.”

That’s the beauty of baseball — a continuity of stats, records and achievements that dates back for more than a century. And for nearly half the history of the sport, spanning the careers of thousands of players that came and went, Vin Scully was a common thread connecting them all. As baseball’s traditions struggled to meet the demands of modern entertainment, he was a calming reassurance that the game would be fine, a living embodiment of the principle that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And still, the game will never be the same without him.

2021 World Series Game Film, Complete Series Coming to Blu-ray Disc from Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory has set a Dec. 14 release date for 2021 World Series Collector’s Edition: The Atlanta Braves, an eight-disc Blu-ray Disc set that includes the official 2021 World Series highlight film, all six complete game broadcasts from the 2021 World Series and a bonus disc including the clinching NLCS Game 6 against the Dodgers. The package will retail for $74.98. Each game includes four audio options, allowing home audiences to watch the games while listening to the network television announcers, the Atlanta Braves Radio Network, or a Spanish-language version of the broadcasts.

Shout! Factory is also releasing a two-disc Blu-ray Disc + DVD set, with a runtime of 90 minutes, that includes just the World Series highlight film from Major League Baseball, narrated by Braves fan and multiple Grammy Award-winner Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. This set carries a suggested retail price of $19.98. The official World Series documentary will also be available for purchase on all major digital platforms two weeks ahead of the disc release, on Nov. 30.

When the Braves capped their championship run with a 7-0 victory over the Astros in Game 6, they completed one of the most spectacular late-season surges in baseball history. Halfway through the regular season, the team had a losing record and were dealt a season-ending injury to superstar and NL MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. GM Alex Anthopoulos deftly traded for Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario, changing the course of the season in undeniable ways. Braves lifer and manager Brian Snitker now had his crew, and the Braves caught fire with a 36-19 (.655) finish to claim the NL East Division championship. They then beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS and dethroned the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS to set the matchup with the Astros, a franchise playing in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/8/21;
PBS Distribution;
Documentary;
$99.99 DVD, $129.99 Blu-ray, 11-disc set;
Not rated.
Narrated by John Chancellor, Keith David. Featuring Roger Angell, Mike Barnicle, Robert Creamer, Billy Crystal, Gerald Early, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Jay Gould, Donald Hall, Daniel Okrent, George Plimpton, Studs Terkel, Tom Verducci, George Will, Bob Costas, Buck O’Neil, Vin Scully.

Documentarian Ken Burns’ Baseball is a must-see for any fan of America’s national pastime. Burns’ definitive recounting of the game, presented in nine parts (structured like the innings of a ballgame) running a total of about 19 hours, guides viewers through baseball’s origins in the 19th century, to the formation of the Major Leagues, the important games, the rise of the great players, and even the history of the Negro Leagues.

Through archive footage and interviews with those who influenced the game and were influenced by it, Burns presents the national pastime as a metaphor for America, growing and changing with the times.

Baseball was originally released by PBS in 1994, serving to fill a gap in fans’ yearning for the game when the season was cut short by a players’ strike. As it was originally presented in the 4:3 ratio standard for TV at the time, subsequent home entertainment releases (VHS and a few editions on DVD) have made it available only in standard-definition, until now.

Burns’ 10th inning update in 2010, covering what had transpired in the big leagues since the end of the original documentary, was produced in high-definition, offering a clear contrast in image quality compared with its lower-resolution predecessor. In 2013, Burns remastered his classic The Civil War documentary, but it took another eight years for Baseball to get a similar upgrade.

The original nine episodes have been gloriously remastered in high-definition for the long-awaited Blu-ray release, presented as an 11-disc boxed set of both the original series and The 10th inning.

This is not just a wonderful sports program, rich in memory and detail, but also one of the all-time great documentaries, ranking up there with The Civil War, if not better, at least in terms of entertainment value if not pinpoint accuracy.

In drifting between its narrative setups and the reflections of its interview subjects, the original run of Baseball tends to indulge itself in the folklore of the game, printing the legend, so to speak, while only occasionally taking the time to set the record straight.

It also leaves out some key details, such as realignments and labor stoppages. Each decade gets two hours except for everything before 1900, and after 1970. The 1970s, 1980s and the 19th century get essentially an hour each.

Baseball is the story of the game through its biggest stars, most eccentric personalities, key moments and cultural impacts. In addition to the classic touchstones of the history of the Major Leagues, Baseball famously tracks the history of minorities in baseball, particularly the formation of the Negro Leagues to the integration of the Majors starting with the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson in 1947. This actually serves to make it an interesting companion piece with The Civil War, if not something of a sequel.

For hardcore fans of the game, the documentary’s vivid retelling of baseball’s history and the nostalgia that embodies makes it something akin to comfort food.

There’s just a timeless quality to it that makes Baseball still vibrant despite its age. However, it’s amusing how the narration will make absolute statements about things that had yet to happen when it first aired that have since happened, such as new World Series wins for the Red Sox, Yankees, Giants and Cubs, and various records that have been broken, such as the single-season and all-time home run marks.

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Just from watching the episodes and comparing them with the old standard-def version it’s pretty clear they remastered all the individual elements from the series — interviews, archive footage and photos — and reconstituted the episodes in a widescreen aspect ratio. So, yes, that means recropping a lot of footage, so tops and bottoms of scenes originally presented as square are now gone so it fits the shape of the HD rectangle. This is a minor quibble since the cleaned-up footage looks so good.

The exception, however, comes when the old footage comes from television broadcasts or videotape, which starts to creep in at around the 1960s. Since this footage can’t really be remastered as much as upscaled, it shows off a lot of digital artifacts, and a lot of it looks better on the old standard-def DVDs.

Unlike the Civil War Blu-ray there’s no featurette about the remastering process, but one has to assume it was handled in a similar way to that groundbreaking documentary. PBS earlier presented the remastered version online. Interestingly, the typical PBS pre-show acknowledgements of sponsors still uses the voiceover as if this were being viewed on a PBS station and not on disc.

The only extras in the Blu-ray set are those that carried over from the original home video release of The 10th Inning, which had already been released as a standalone Blu-ray when it first came out. Those extras include interviews with Burns and his collaborator, Lynn Novick, about revisiting Baseball, as well as extra footage shot during production of The 10th Inning but not used in the show.

The original miniseries had some DVD making-of featurettes back when it was released by Warner in 2000, but those never made it to the PBS DVD re-releases in 2010 and they aren’t here either.

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It should be noted that the version of The 10th Inning in the new boxed set aren’t the same discs as the update’s original Blu-ray release. While all the content is the same, the discs have been re-engineered with a new menu, which matches the menu from the Blu-rays of the original series episodes, further giving the whole show more of a unified feel.

While it does a nice job of recapping baseball from the 1990s and early 2000s, The 10th Inning just feels a bit different in tone from the original miniseries because it’s so contemporary. And it’s not just the fact that John Chancellor, the original narrator, died in 1996. They could have replaced him with Civil War narrator David McCullough, who sounds close enough and shares a similar cadence. Instead they went with Keith David, whose own distinct voice makes him a great choice, but it lacks the certain folksiness that Chancellor had that brought so much charm to those first nine innings.

Instead, It feels more like an examination of the foibles of the modern game than exploring it as a reflection of America’s self-image. Most of its focus seems aimed at the resurgence of the Yankees and Red Sox, plus issues related to the strike of 1994, and a lot of time devoted to steroid scandals, framed by the career of Barry Bonds.

In many cases the recaps seem less about reflecting on the cultural significance of the moments and more about providing epilogues for the personal fandoms of many of the filmmakers and interview subjects (most of which, unsurprisingly, are big Yankees and Red Sox fans).

As such, The 10th inning, even 10 years on, doesn’t feel much different than any number of typical ESPN documentaries covering the same topics.

It’s long at four hours to cover the 1990s and 2000s, but leaves a lot of stuff out. And the choice to frame baseball’s recent history through certain narrative threads also causes some odd structural issues that didn’t affect the original series because it’s easier to gloss over certain things that happened when many of the viewers weren’t alive. But most viewers of The 10th Inning have their own memories and opinions about the events depicted, and will have widely varied expectations about what should be covered.

As an example, Angels fans curious about how the show covers the 2002 World Series, the first and only title in the franchise’s history, will likely be disappointed that the 2002 World Series is presented almost exclusively from the point of view of how Bonds was denied a championship; it can barely be bothered to mention any of the Angels players or coaches.

In another segment, despite extensive coverage of the 2001 World Series following 9/11, no mention is made of George W. Bush throwing a perfect strike for the ceremonial first pitch before game three, and how much that contributed to boning up the national psyche following the attacks. The omission, while conspicuous, is perhaps not much of a surprise given Burns’ political proclivities.

But these are ultimately minor quibbles, and obviously, with all that’s happened in the past decade in baseball, from sign-stealing scandals to the COVID season, an 11th inning update from Burns would definitely be welcome.