Sunday, October 02, 2016

A Thank You To Two Legends: Dick Enberg and Vin Scully

There aren't many connections left to my childhood. On this final Sunday of the Major League Baseball season, we said thank you and so long to two of them.

I had wanted to be on the radio since I was three years old, and, as most of you know, I am a huge sports fan. It's no surprise then that, growing up, radio and sports would play a huge role in my upbringing, as well as the voices heard on television.

It all began with Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell on Baltimore Orioles radio broadcasts, first on WFLS Radio in Fredericksburg. When I see the O's on TV now, I see Manny, Matt and Adam, but I hear Chuck in my mind when I flip past a game on the tube.

On television for baseball, it was Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek on the Game of The Week, Curt Gowdy as well, back in the day when you only saw national games on NBC. There was no MASN, no HTS (remember Home Team Sports, the "channel you cheer for"??). When WRLH-TV, Channel 35 signed on in 1982 and started showing syndicated regular season Baltimore Orioles games, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. :)

Three other voices were most prominent thanks to sports on television. My favorite television announcer, period, was the lead football and golf announcer for CBS Sports, the late Pat Summerall. Summerall, a former player for the New York Giants, learned his craft in several ways, including on WCBS Radio in New York City, but also from another legendary football voice whose national career ended just as I was paying attention, and that was Ray Scott.

Scott was what is known as a "minimalist", which means, especially for the purposes of doing television play-by-play, say as little as necessary and let the pictures describe the action. Summerall adopted that measure, and, with his rich, deep, "voice of God" type voice, it became broadcasting gold.

Summerall was paired with former Philadelphia Eagle Tom Brookshier, and the duo instantly clicked, becoming the "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" of broadcasting. Their chemistry was undeniable, plus, they knew football, and knew it well. But, they also knew how to have a good time, and, by Super Bowl XIV in early 1980, it was showing on the air.

CBS executives knew they had to do something about their top NFL team. At the same time, The Tiffany Network was breaking in a new analyst in recently-retired Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden. They quickly knew they wanted him on the top broadcast team. So, in 1981, CBS decided to experiment, having Madden team with Vin Scully for a few games in September, then with Summerall for a few games in October.

The executives chose Summerall, and it was the right call. The "minimalist" Summerall gave Madden's developing on-air personality the time it needed to develop, and allowed Madden to be Madden. Scully's more poetic style of doing a broadcast would have sucked enough air out of the team to render Madden to be about half of what he would become, and that would never have worked.

As the story goes, to assuage Scully, CBS gave him and Hank Stram the 1981 NFC Championship Game to call, and, as it turns out, it put Scully in position to call one of the biggest plays in NFL history, and, in my view, one of the two iconic "seed change" plays in NFL history. By that, I mean the result of the play set off a chain of events that completely turned the hierarchy of the league on its head.

So that's why you hear Scully, instead of Summerall, exclaim, "Dwight Clark!" on January 10, 1982 in Candlestick Park.

Oh, earlier that day? A gentleman named Dick Enberg, who was probably wearing 15 layers of clothing, called "The Freezer Bowl" because of the intense cold in Cincinnati that day (the wind chill was 38 below at Riverfront Stadium...). Enberg had settled into his role as the new lead football announcer for NBC along with his partner, the great Merlin Olsen.

Enberg came onto my radar, first, thanks to a great television broadcast: "Sports Challenge"! Imagine a 30 minute quiz show all about sports complete with highlights and more, and your favorite athletes competing. What a great show.

But Enberg's reach widened quickly thanks to the beginnings of the growth of college basketball in the 1970's, first with his work for UCLA, then becoming NBC's lead college basketball announcer, joining the best three-man booth in sports history: Enberg, Billy Packer, and Al McGuire.

Oh, and did you know Vin Scully also hosted a game show? Check out a clip from the short-lived NBC show "It Takes Two".

What I learned from Pat Summerall was much, especially the importance of not talking too much, yes, even on the medium of radio. I'm not afraid of not talking for a few seconds between plays. The listeners hear the fans in the stands, the band playing in the distance, the echoes of a PA announcer.

Here's what I learned from Dick Enberg and Vin Scully:

In 1984, trying to get accepted to the Governor's School for The Gifted after my junior year of high school, part of the application process was to write a letter to someone in the industry that you aspire to become a part of looking for advice. I wrote my letter to Dick Enberg.

What I loved about Enberg was two very distinctive qualities: consistency and fun. His cadence, no matter the sport, met and fit the mood, He developed a catch phrase in "Oh, My!" that I am sure was not planned, not given to him by a focus group. It was just him. And I never found myself bored watching a game with Enberg announcing. He would find a way to make a 35-0 rout riveting.

When I think of Vin Scully, I think of versatility. I know baseball is his groove, the Dodgers are his home. But I also hear him call "The Catch" from Montana to Clark, I hear him host a game show, I hear him in 1986 say, "A little roller up along first....behind the bag! It gets by Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!"

Before that, after a wild pitch brought in the tying run for the Mets, who, five minutes earlier, were an out away from losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, who thought their 68-year drought was ending, Scully uttered this line.

"Five-five in a delirious tenth inning!"

The perfect set up for Mookie Wilson's line drive foul down the left field line, and then, of course, what would next transpire. See it all at the 3:30:00 mark by clicking HERE.

Then, take serious note of what Vin, and Joe, do after Vin says, "..the Mets win it."


Two replays.

More silence. Three minutes and 23 seconds without a comment from the commentators. Scully explains why at the 3:34:30 mark. NBC was also guilty of being caught with the proverbial pants down as they were already in the Red Sox locker room, plastic tarp taped over lockers, the champagne on ice, the World Series trophy sitting, awaiting Boston to wrap it up. Bob Costas has been quoted as saying he's never seen a tear-down of a playoff locker room happen so fast than it did that night. And remember, this was Game Six. The Mets only forced a Game 7.

So, on this monumental day in sports broadcasting history, two icons bid farewell, and between them, they take home 127 years of broadcastinng experience. Scully began with the Brooklyn Dodgers, describing the play of baseball's color barrier breaker in Jackie Robinson. Harry Truman was President. We were only five years removed from World War II and Korea was just beginning.

Six years later, Eisenhower is President, Don Larsen is months away from pitching a perfect game in the World Series, and Enberg began his career at a much lower level of baseball.

And, over the next 60 years, you can't think of these moments without Vin:

--"The Catch"
--"Here Comes Knight and the Mets win it!"
--Bo Jackson's monster home run in the 1989 All-Star Game while interviewing Ronald Reagan
--Kirk Gibson's Home Run to win Game 1 of 1988 World Series

And you can't think of these without Enberg:

--"Notre Dame ends UCLA's 88-game winning streak"
--"Michigan State Spartans, National Champions, 1979!"
--John Riggins on 4th and inches for a touchdown in Super Bowl XVII
--"The Catch II" for San Francisco: Montana to Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII
--Plenty of tennis moments, from Wimbledon to the U.S. Open

In a new age of "look at me, hot take sportscasters" which has brought an industry I love down to its lowest level of professionalism and respect that I've seen in my lifetime, we now lose two more voices who understood humility, God-given opportunity, and the inevitable fact that what they were describing was not earth-changing, but it sure was a lot of fun. Classy, selfless, always allowing the game, and their broadcast partner, take the shine.

I know my play-by-play career has touches of Enberg, Scully, not to mention Summerall. I'll never be what they are, but they most certainly continue to drive me to be the best I can be, for I never know when new opportunities to do this will arrive. If they do, I want to be ready. If they do not, I'm certainly grateful for those which have.

Thank you, Vin. Thank you, Dick. Enjoy your families, and may retirement be filled with love and a clean slate, filled with things that you love to do, and enjoy.  :)

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