How broadcasting legend Vin Scully captured one of Detroit sports’ most iconic moments

Detroit Free Press

Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully died Tuesday at 94.

Although Scully gained renown for his 67 seasons as the voice of the Dodgers in Brooklyn and LA — receiving the Baseball Hall of Fame’s highest honor for broadcasters, the Ford C. Frick Award, in 1982 — his calls are linked to many great non-LA moments in sports history. (USA TODAY captured several when he retired from calling Dodgers games in 2016.)

That includes a few with Detroit area ties.

Perhaps the most well-known is his call on the NBC broadcast of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series between the Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics. The link to Detroit? Gibson, of course, was a Michigan State (baseball and football) alumnus in his first season with the Dodgers after seven years with the Tigers. Summoned from the clubhouse, where he was dealing with two ailing legs, Gibson launched a 3-2 pitch from closer Dennis Eckersley into the night sky in right field in Chavez Ravine for two runs and a walk-off LA victory. As Gibson rounded the bases and pumped his fist, Scully summed up the unlikelihood of the ex-Tiger taking Eckersley deep.

“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” Scully intoned. “And now the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted.”

He did, and his Dodgers went on to defeat the heavily favored A’s in five games.

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Sully’s eloquence wasn’t limited to baseball, as he called the NFL for CBS in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of his most notable football calls featured the San Francisco 49ers’ NFC championship win in 1982 — Joe Montana finding Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone in the final minute. That touchdown with 51 seconds sent the 49ers to Super Bowl 16, held at the Pontiac Silverdome on a frigid Jan. 24, 1982. It was his final football game on CBS.

In the NFL’s gamebook, the touchdown in San Francisco with 51 seconds remaining is described plainly: “Clark 6 pass from Montana.” But in Scully’s verbiage — “Montana… looking, looking, throwing in the end zone … Clark caught it! Dwight Clark! … It’s a madhouse at Candlestick!” — it became the internal narration for a generation of football fans dreaming of seeing their team reach the Super Bowl.Two weeks later, the Niners were champions in Pontiac (with, yes, as many playoff wins there as the Lions over more than a quarter-century).

Those calls featured Detroit ties — Gibby, the Silverdome — but Scully also had an imprint on perhaps the most famous home run in Detroit Tigers history (with apologies to Magglio Ordonez’s 2006 blast to lock up a World Series berth). Though his greatest impact came in the words he chose not to say, in the end.

This event, on NBC, featured Gibson, too, of course.

With the Tigers leading the San Diego Padres, 5-4, in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 1984 World Series — an inning away from winning their first title since 1968 — Gibson came to the plate with two on (Marty Castillo and Lou Whitaker), one out and first base open.

The stage was set for ace reliever Goose Gossage, in his second inning of work, to face either Gibson — who had homered earlier at Tiger Stadium, but also struck out vs. Gossage to open the previous inning — or Lance Parrish, who had hit a solo homer off Gossage.

Nearly everyone in Tiger Stadium — including Scully, Padres catcher Terry Kennedy and manager Dick Williams and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson — expected an intentional walk for Gibson. But during a mound visit (as revealed by later footage) Gossage convinced Kennedy and Williams that he could get Gibson again.

We’ll let Scully’s narration, with some help from commentator Joe Garagiola Sr., carry the scene once again.

Scully: “You know, it’s interesting: Kirk Gibson made his major-league debut, his very first at-bat in the big leagues against Goose Gossage. That’s a great way to break in. And Gossage struck him out on three pitches.”

Garagiola: “Blew him away, Sparky says.”

Scully: “And maybe because of that, Gossage is saying, ‘I can get him.’ So we’ll see.”

After a first-pitch ball inside to Gibson, Scully continues: “The infield is up. … They give Gibson the left-field foul line. Brown is in left.”

Gossage delivered again to Gibson, belt-high on the inside corner of the plate, and Scully delivered his call of Gibson’s shot to the upper deck in right field …

“And there it goes!”

And that was it for more than 90 seconds. Scully let the roaring crowd at The Corner (Michigan and Trumbull, of course) do the talking as director Harry Coyle cut through nearly two dozen camera shots as Gibson rounded the bases with, at first, his right arm in the air, followed by both arms as he reached third base.

Finally, Gibson reached home plate and high-fived Castillo, Parrish and Whitaker (plus a batboy), then turned to the dugout and raised his arms again, with a couple of hops — just in time for Free Press photographer Mary Schroeder to capture the iconic photo of the 1984 Tigers’ title — followed by high-fives with seemingly the rest of the Tigers roster.

Only after three pitches to Parrish (resulting in a strikeout) did Scully speak again: “I have a distinct feeling that Goose Gossage talked Dick Williams out of the intentional walk.”

Garagiola: “And that’ll be another one of those things that’ll haunt Dick Williams, because it looked like they were maybe gonna set up the double play. But Williams was doing all the talking.”

Scully: “I know Kennedy figured to walk him; he held four fingers up.”

And then, as Gossage finally ended the eighth with a strikeout of Larry Herndon, Scully delivered a paraphrase of John Greenleaf Whittier from 1856: “Saddest words of tongue and pen … what might have been … for San Diego.”

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Scully went on to broadcast big-league baseball for three additional decades. But there might not be a more memorable effort of his for Detroiters — sorry, Dodgers fans — than his brief silence in 1984.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.  

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