Vin Scully, Koufax and Perfection

With the Dodgers in town a couple weeks after Matt Cain’s perfect game, I talked to the legendary Vin Scully about his broadcasts of no-hitters and perfect games. Vin has broadcast 25 no-hitters in his career, including four perfect games. He broadcast Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. And he broadcast Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965.

Vin’s call of that game later became nearly as famous as the game itself. Charlie Einstein, who used to be a columnist here in San Francisco, came out with a book every few years called the “The Fireside Book of Baseball.’’ It was a compilation of the best baseball writing in recent years – columns, feature stories, well-written game stories. In one edition, he included a transcript of Vin Scully’s ninth-inning call of Koufax’s perfect game.

All the sentences are grammatically correct, elegant, descriptive and filled with the drama and tension of the moment. But it was totally extemporaneous as the action unfolded in front of him. No chance to ponder it after the fact and say, “This would be a good line.’’

At one point, the fans groaned when the umpire called one of Sandy’s pitches a ball. “A lot of people in the ballpark now are starting to see the pitches with their hearts,’’ Vinny said.

I asked him about that game when he was here for the Dodger series. He had called the station in the eighth inning and asked them to tape the ninth so if Koufax got the perfect game he could give him the tape as a memento of the occasion. Vinny had done the same thing for Koufax’s three previous no-hitters. He wanted Sandy to be able to relive the moment many years from now.

So with that in mind, Vinny continually set the scene: “The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date, September the 9th, 1965, and Koufax is working on veteran Harvey Kuenn.’’

There were great write-ups about this after the fact. People said it was genius to include the time to enhance the drama of the moment. And Vinny said, “I really wasn’t trying to do that. I was just trying to think of Sandy 30 years later. Maybe it would spur some memories of how it felt to be there that night.’’

It’s a story that shows why Vinny is such a treasure. A great broadcaster, a gentleman and a humble person. And of course he’s a walking history of the game. The best there ever was, IMHO!

The night of Matt Cain’s perfect game, we were a man short on the broadcast team. Krukow had some days off. So I moved over to TV to work with Kuip, and Dave was on radio. We don’t like the radio broadcast to have just one voice the whole night. So for the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, Dave went to TV with Duane and I went to the radio. Then, we switched back for the final 3.

My hat is off to Kuip whose commentary in the 9th of that perfect game was brilliant, at once capturing all the drama but in an understated, unselfconscious way. He came through big time in the clutch!

I think he also may have made some Major League history of his own. I believe he’s likely the only person to have broadcast a perfect game who also played in a perfect game!  In 1981 when Len Barker pitched a perfect game for Cleveland, Duane Kuiper was the second baseman. Thus, 31 years later on our telecast, he was able to speak from firsthand experience about the crushing burden for every player on the field of protecting the perfect game.

Indeed, I felt we saw what he was talking about unfold a couple times late in Cain’s perfecto.

Crawford came in cold in the sixth and he got a tough grounder going to his left. I could feel the pressure on him in the pit of my stomach all the way up in the booth. Everyone in the park knew the stakes, and he got a little tricky hop on that ball. But he fielded it cleanly and got his man. The sense of relief—his and the crowd’s—was palpable.

And the final play by Arias at third was very tough, especially for someone with so little experience at the position. Hey, only 130 years of history riding on whether he made that play or not!

As time goes on I think his play and Crawford’s will probably be lost in the excitement because Blanco made the almost superhuman catch of the night to save the first perfecto in Giants history. But, it says here, Crawford’s and Arias’ plays, while not spectacular, were nonetheless huge! Both came through under terrific pressure.

It was strange that Jason Castro would be facing Cain for the last out. Before the game, Castro’s mom and dad, Tom and Lori – who are Bay Area natives and still live in the East Bay – were brought up to the booth by my old Little League teammate, Mike Brazil.

We had broadcast Castro’s first game in the big leagues a couple years earlier in Houston, which Tom and Lori also attended. He hit his first major league home run in that series — and it was against Matt Cain. The only two times he faced Cain, he hit a home run and he walked. So we kidded with them about why Castro wasn’t in the lineup against Cain since he had done so well against him before.

Now, hours later, it’s two outs in the ninth, and here’s Castro as the pinch hitter. Kuip and I both looked at each other and thought, “Oh my God, this is a little too spooky.’’ This would be the toughest out no matter who Cain was facing, but here was Castro who had had it over him before and a local kid to boot — whose mom and dad were standing right where Kuip and I were now exchanging a knowing, tension-filled glance. A private shared moment of dread between us.

But, Arias made the play and…History!

Also Cain struck out 14, which tied Koufax for the all-time strikeout record in a perfect game. I listened to Vin’s broadcast of the last couple of innings that night, 47 years ago, on KFI out of LA, then the Dodgers station and with a powerful signal. I was 13 years old. I remember hearing Vin Scully’s description of that last out.

“Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch:

‘’Swung on and missed, a perfect game!’’

Then Vin fell silent for nearly 40 seconds so listeners could hear the crowd cheering.

Then:

“On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games. He has done it four straight years, and now he caps it: On his fourth no-hitter he made it a perfect game. And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flurry. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that “K” stands out even more than the O-U-F-A-X.’’

The perfect finishing touch to a perfect game.

 

10 Comments

Thank you so much Jon; all is well said about a man who is so well spoken.

Fantastic,.. please, more, more, more.

Perfectly captured, Jon! Thanks for bringing us into the booth that night and then bringing us back to your own childhood. That’s the thread that binds the game. Personal note: I’m a former Oriole fan, first listened to you in 1983 (a good year!). I thought you’d been around forever, you and Chuck and Brooks. Eventually moved to San Francisco, now Petaluma. We’re flying out to visit Mom in Baltimore next week. Going to Nationals game July 3rd. Would love to bring my 13 y.o. to see you guys. Email is attached if there is any possibility. :)

Tell us what you think of the Daron Sutton dress code situation: Insubordination? Fiasco? Both?

Wonderful memory, Jon.
It’s nice to have a treasure from my childhood still in the booth.
Now, if we could only hear Russ Hodges, again. I still miss him.

Where can we find audio of Kuip’s broadcast of Cain’s perfecto?

Wow. What a great piece. What it was for us outside in the stadium was insane. To be in the booth must have been unbelievably tense. I bet Kruk’s upset!! DANG!!
We are so lucky to have the best broadcast team in MLB. Believe, me we travel a lot and we’ve heard them all—you guys ROCK!!

Pingback: Vin Scully Is Making Baseball History (No Performance Enhancement Required) |

You always have something to say and do it so well. I only ask that you do it more often. This wonderful piece was written almost a year ago.

Wonderful!
You can actually write about baseball as well as you describe it on air…… You are also the baseball eyes for a blind man I once spoke to – He said he loves the sounds and smells of the game as he listens to your descriptions of the actions….. You are right up there with Scully…. Both respectful and respectable!

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