The Weekly Q & A: Vin Scully
STORY BY // Brian Bencomo
The grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses this year may be as much of an icon as the Tournament itself. In a year in which the TofR is celebrating its 125th anniversary and the 100th Rose Bowl game will be played, Vin Scully will be entering his 65th season as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. We spoke to the legendary broadcaster about his previous experiences with the Tournament of Roses, the little boy who dreamt of being a broadcaster, and that one time he beat Jackie Robinson in a race… sort of.
Obviously it’s special any time to be named Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade, but how much does it mean to you given the numbers attached to this one – 125th Rose Parade and the 100th Rose Bowl game?
Well, I think besides the overwhelming honor -– and it is overwhelming when you arrive at the Tournament House and they show you the pictures of some of the previous Grand Marshals, and the thought comes that your name will be linked with them — I guess to bring the numbers into play, it’s like a hitter in baseball hitting .300 as opposed to .299. Or a pitcher winning 20 as opposed to 19. I think the number 125 for the parade, 100 for the game, just adds a little extra luster. Although you certainly don’t need any extra luster.
If you weren’t the grand marshal, what would you typically be doing on New Year’s Day?
I would certainly be watching the football game. Absolutely.
The theme of this Rose Parade is “Dreams Come True.” Does that resonate with your life?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I might not really qualify to be a Grand Marshal, but I certainly qualify under “dreams come true,” because I wanted to be a sports announcer when I was eight years old. Now that’s really rare because there were hardly any sports on radio and there was no television. So for a little kid who crawled under a big radio to listen to a college football game, to become a sports announcer and work in the big leagues, oh yes, I’m the embodiment of dream comes true.
Are there any dreams that you’ve yet to accomplish?
You know in all honesty, no. I have a great deal of thanksgiving to God because I’ve really done just about anything you’d want –- got married, had children, grandchildren, the Dodgers, doing the NFL, doing World Series, All-Star games, championship football games. No, I’ve done just about anything that I could possibly have dreamt of someday doing. And of course I never even thought about being the Grand Marshal of the parade.
You rode in the parade once. What was that experience like for you and how do expect that it will be different this time?
I’ve actually had two experiences in the past. In the 60s, Elizabeth Montgomery, who was the queen of television –- she was on a show called Bewitched and she played the part of a witch, she was marvelous — she and I broadcast the Rose Parade on the ABC network. She was the biggest star on TV, and I learned a great lesson because she was so down to earth. Where she might have been a prima donna, but was anything but. She was just wonderful to work with.
So I actually broadcast a parade, and then a couple years ago rode in the Dodger float with a large group of fellas. And that was fun, waving to the crowd and all that. But you felt that you were a tiny part because you were on a float with a whole bunch of other people. This particular spot you almost feel like you’re at center stage in the spotlight since you’re riding in what I assume will be an open convertible. And it’s my wife, myself and the driver. That’s the zenith I think of exposure in the parade. And the nice touch — I’m not sure, I assume they’ll be directly behind us — is that a lot of the members of my family will be in open cars directly behind us, so that makes it really precious.
Did you ever take part in any of the Dodgers championship parades, and if so, what were those experiences like?
Yeah, I must have been in the parade when we first came here in 1958. But again, it’s totally different when you’re with a large group. You don’t feel like an individual. You feel like part of a big team. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to feel almost alone in the spotlight. Hopefully it just gives me an opportunity to try and thank the people in Southern California who have been so gracious and kind to me over the years. That’s what I’m going try to do. If you watch it, you’ll see me applauding. That’s what I will try to do besides just waving. I would like to spend the day applauding the fans.
You’ve said that you used to listen to college football games on the radio as a kid. Did you ever listen to the Rose Bowl on the radio?
I just remember I listened to every game I could as a little boy. We had a big four-legged radio, and I would get a pillow –- and they had a crosspiece to support the radio –- and I would crawl underneath it, put the pillow on the crossbar and get my head directly under the speaker so when the crowd would roar –- and that was a thing that absolutely I loved –- the noise would come out of the speaker. I’ve made it a cliché I’ve used it so many times, but it was true, the crowd noise would come out like water out of a showerhead and just cover me and I’d be all goose bumps. It didn’t make any difference who was playing. I mean, here’s a kid in Washington Heights in New York and getting excited over Alabama-Mississippi. You know, couldn’t have been farther away from my world and the crowd noise, but the excitement –- it was intoxicating.
I know you haven’t broadcast a Rose Bowl game, but have you ever been to a game there?
I went to one, yeah. It was a UCLA game. I forget who they played, and it was probably shortly after I came out here in 1958. I went to one parade that same time, and then I thought, ok, I’ve touched those bases, I’ll probably never go back over into the big crowds again, and now this will be my third extra trip.
I know that oftentimes during broadcasts you like to comment on the beautiful setting beyond the outfield walls at Dodger Stadium. What do you think of the setting for the Rose Bowl?
I’ve always heard the descriptions of the mountains and the background, so I’m looking forward to all of that and seeing it in real time in person as opposed to watching it on television. But it’s always been, I guess going way back to the early broadcasts, every broadcaster down through the years always talks about what surrounded the Rose Bowl and how beautiful it is, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same way.
Since it is winter, and he was raised in Pasadena, I just have to ask you to tell me about the time you beat Jackie Robinson in ice skating.
Oh, well it was probably my second year with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they asked me to go to a resort in the Catskill Mountains called Grossinger’s, and Jackie and Rachel Robinson were also asked to go up and join me, and we would have a Q and A with the people at the resort. And this was the dead of winter. It was very cold. And as a kid in the East I had ice-skated quite a bit, so I brought my skates. When I got up to Grossinger’s I planned to skate. When I met Jackie and Rachel and they saw that I had the skates they said, “oh, you’re gonna ice skate!” I said “yea,” and they said “well then we’ll go with you.” I said “great.” Rachel was probably seven months pregnant so that kind of unsettled me a little bit, but she went with the lady who had been an Olympic skating star, and they went to the ladies dressing room to get Rachel’s skates and Jackie went with me.
We got a pair of skates for Jack and he was sitting on a bench in front of a locker and said, “when we get out there, I’ll race you.” I was a little startled, so I said “Jack, you’re from Georgia and Southern California, and I know you were a great half-weight and football and everything else that you could do, but I didn’t know you skated.” He said “I’ve never been on skates in my life.” So I kind of laughed and said, “Jack, I’m not a great skater but I can skate. There’s no way you’re gonna beat me in ice skating. Not yet.” He’s walking on his ankles. If you’ve never been on skates, you can’t stand on the blade, and very seriously he said after I said there’s no way you can beat me, he said, “I know, but that’s how I will learn.”
And so he got his skates on and he walked on his ankles, and we went out on the ice and, actually, there was no race. They took a picture of Jackie and me as if we were “ready, set, go,” but of course Jack couldn’t skate and I just skated away. So everybody said, well, that’s the only time anybody ever beat Jackie Robinson in anything!
Meanwhile, Rachel –- seven months pregnant, thereabouts –- she got on skates and kind of tiptoed around the rink. So it was a memorable day.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the upcoming 2014 season for the Dodgers? Is this their year?
Well, you know, I never predict because I really — I’m like everybody else — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I do know that they came off a most exciting season and they came close. I tell people: one pitch, one fractured rib and two games. That’s as close as they came to the World Series. So if they can stay healthy –- and no one can predict that –- but if they stay healthy, they should be very, very competitive once again.