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For 66 years, L.A. Dodgers announcer Vin Scully has been the voice of summer. As Scully prepares to retire after this season, L.A. Times columnist Chris Erskine is trying to figure out what, exactly, has made Scully's voice resonate with generations of baseball fans. The unexpected answer — explored this week in Erskine's column -- is music.
Across seven decades, Vin Scully has bewitched baseball fans with That Voice — full of swing, moxie and sonic opulence. He uses it like a horn, to serenade an antebellum sport that is too slow by half and make musical the specter of grown men mostly standing around for three hours.
In short, the kid can really sing.
"I've always heard a certain musicality to it, and it's almost like he's scoring a movie," Erskine says. "And so I was just curious about what it was about that voice. Why it resonated.
"And it wasn't just that he had such great content. I mean, one time in a game in Miami he said, 'You know, it's so hot today the moon got sunburn.'
"But there was also just something about how reassuring the voice was, and I wanted to study that a little bit more.
"I talked to Chris Sampson, who's a professor of popular music at USC, and a colleague of his, Jeffrey Allen, who's a professor of vocal music down there. I just picked out a couple of professors on their media site, and there was a guy with a guitar, and I go like, 'He looks like he's a baseball fan.' And that was Sampson. And Sampson in 30 seconds — I sent him a note saying what I was up to — and he got back to me in 30 seconds and says, 'This is the best email I've ever gotten.' And I go, 'Well, you haven't gotten very many, obviously.'
"I sent him some audio clips of Vin's calls, and of course, he has some iconic calls."
He's solo in the booth. He has no sidekick. They're not yammering on endlessly about this or that.Chris Erskine
Take, for example, Scully saying, "He dances down at third," in the 1955 World Series.
"That was when Jackie Robinson was on third base," Erskine says. "This is not the glory years of Jackie Robinson. He was — in 1953, he was diagnosed with diabetes and heart congestion, a failing heart. So, here he is two years later. He's not in his prime, but he still has great flashes of brilliance — and he dances down at third. He dances down at third.
"That is just the sort of alliteration that you will see in a pop song, because what songwriters will do is look for that hook, that alliteration and that little bit of pop. And that's exactly what Scully had done on that call.
"Chris Sampson poured it into his computer and analyzed it that way. He says, 'It's got swing to it,' and he starts snapping his fingers. He goes, 'It's just swingin.'
"He sort of superimposed Scully's call over this piano beat and, sure enough, it's there. He just stays in cadence, he stays on the beat. And that just blew Sampson away.
"It was a perfect way to make the point that there is this great rhythm, this great swing to Scully's voice, and it was also a way to show why these moments sort of stay in our head.
It's Not Analysis, It's A Concert
"He's solo in the booth. He has no sidekick. They're not yammering on endlessly about this or that. He's very tuned into the game, and he's telling his anecdotes. He really is masterful."
Another iconic Scully clip is from the last at bat in Sandy Koufax's perfect game: "Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away."
"It's almost like a jazz riff," Erskine says. "The last at bat in Sandy Koufax's perfect game, a legendary game for Dodger fans, of course, and part of the lore of Sandy Koufax. And now, in turn, part of the lore of Vin Scully.
"Vin is — as accessible as he is — he's kind of a recluse, but I have enough of a relationship with him that I can say, 'Hey Vin, we've done this crazy thing. I know you're going to mock it, because that's the kind of guy you are, but, you know, hear me out.'
"And so I explain that I had a couple of clips and I go, 'I'd like you to listen to 'em.' So sure enough he listens to 'em and he gets back to me and he says, 'You know, this is too clever by half for me.'
"He was, you know, in the end very flattered but he doesn't know how he does it. It was just kind of a mystery to him."
This segment aired on April 9, 2016.
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