How Vin Scully scored his Dodgers gig at 22 years old

Vin Scully, who died on Aug. 2, 2022, is widely viewed as the greatest baseball announcer of all time. But for an earlier generation, his mentor, Red Barber, held that distinction.

In our recent biography “Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of a Broadcasting Legend,” we uncovered moving private letters and public references documenting the rich personal bonds between these two great voices of the game.

In 1939, Barber brought daily radio broadcasts of Dodgers baseball to Brooklyn’s fans for the first time. By the time Scully arrived in 1950, Barber – known as “the Old Redhead” – was the toast of Flatbush.

For a combined century – 33 years for Barber and 67 for Scully – the two blessed baseball fans with some of the sharpest word pictures ever painted of the grand old game. Together in the Brooklyn booth for four crucial years, from 1950 to 1953, they forged a relationship that proved to be both demanding and gratifying.

The chance of a lifetime

After Scully graduated with a degree in English from Fordham University in 1945, he papered East Coast radio stations with applications. He eventually scored an interview with CBS Radio, where Barber was director of sports. Barber came away impressed, but there were no openings at the time.

Barber later phoned Vin Scully when, at the last minute, he needed a reporter to cover a college football contest at Fenway Park in Boston for CBS College Football Roundup. Scully’s mother answered the phone and took the message for Vin that “Red Skelton” wanted to talk to him about a job – confusing Barber with the popular entertainer.

Fortunately, Scully figured out who was calling. He hustled to the park, only to learn there was no room for him in the press box. With only a light topcoat to defend himself against the cruel New England elements, he had to call the entire game from the roof, braving the winds on a chilly fall day with only a 60-watt light bulb to warm his hands. Barber, initially unaware of Scully’s plight, later wrote that when he learned his announcer had called the game from the roof, he was impressed by the young broadcaster’s stamina and even more impressed that Scully had never complained about the brutal conditions.

When Ernie Harwell, who would become the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers, left the Brooklyn Dodgers’ broadcast booth for the New York Giants, Red Barber needed to find a replacement. He decided to go with the young broadcaster who had so impressed him – later describing Scully as “a pretty appealing young green pea … a boy who had something on the ball.”

So Vin Scully, just 22 years old, was given the chance of a lifetime, to broadcast the games of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the National League’s most successful team.

But this golden opportunity was challenging in ways Scully did not foresee.

Barber takes Scully under his wing

Red Barber, who early in life planned to be a college professor, was a tough grader. He demanded a lot of himself, and he held those who worked with him to just as high a standard.

When Vin first entered the Dodgers broadcast booth, Barber told the young man that his job was to do whatever Red and his colleague Connie Desmond didn’t want to do. He also made it clear that any Scully errors would be corrected on air for all to hear. When Barber saw Scully drinking a beer with his pregame sandwich – a common practice at the time – he told Vin he never wanted to see him do it again.

Barber was no teetotaler – far from it; leisure hours drinks were something he treasured. But he believed a broadcaster should never have a drink, even a beer, on the job. Barber reasoned if Scully made an error, something inevitable for a broadcaster ad-libbing for hours at a time, anyone who saw him sipping the press room brew would conclude that alcohol had clouded his performance.

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