Vin Scully was at Yale, not to broadcast, but to play against future president

Vin Scully in 2007, when he was presented a Fordham baseball jersey with his name on the back and the same number 17 he wore as a player for the Rams in the late 1940's (photo courtesy of Fordham Office of Sports Information)

The Los Angeles Dodgers confirmed last week (Aug. 23rd) that Vin Scully would return to its broadcast booth in 2014, which would be his 65th consecutive year on the job.

It prompted Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe to list several baseball announcers, then write “All of these guys are/were great, but none can be Vin Scully. Only one man can be the greatest sports broadcaster who ever lived.”[1]

In view of this and several other news stories and columns, I wondered if there could be a Connecticut relationship to the man who was named by the baseball historian Curt Smith as the sport’s all-time best broadcaster.[2] I found that there definitely is a connection.

 Vin Scully was at Yale, not to broadcast, but to play against future president
Vin Scully as he was pictured in his Fordham 1949 class book

Long before the general sports world had ever head of Scully he was at Yale’s baseball field in West Haven in 1947. This was three years prior to when he faced a microphone for the Brooklyn Dodgers at the age of 22, and five years before becoming the youngest person to describe a World Series on the radio.

However, the reason the young red head was at Yale Field on April 12, 1947, was not to broadcast a baseball game. It was to play in one. A relatively obscure fact about Vin is that he was on the baseball team at Fordham before he graduated with a B.A. degree in 1949.

A New Yorker all the way, Vincent Edward Scully was born in the Bronx on November 29, 1927. He grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, and was schooled at Fordham Prep, before attending Fordham University, where he was involved in several extra curricula activities.

Among them was radio. He helped develop the college FM station, WFUV, that is still going strong and over which he described football and basketball games, as well as its baseball games[3] for the two seasons when he wasn’t himself playing center field for the Rams.

Even while wearing number 17 on his Fordham jersey his mind was still on radio. In fact, he was so interested in announcing that, in an interview years later, he admitted “When I was in center field I’d be calling play-by-play of the game for myself.”[4]

On that Saturday in April, the Fordham squad traveled from its Rose Hill campus to Yale Field to face a Bulldogs team that would, in less than two months, become a finalist in the initial College World Series. Yale’s first baseman was future U.S. President George H. W. Bush, often referred to by his teammates and sports reporters as “Poppy.”  It was one of several nicknames Bush had acquired in his pre-college days.[5] Bush was to captain the Elis the following year.

The Yale-Fordham rivalry was steeped in tradition. They began playing each other in 1892 and this was the 41st time they met, the first after a war time lapse of five years. There was a “huge early-season crowd, estimated at more than 3,000, attracted by the combination of an unusually warm and sunshiny April day.”[6]  Scully could have been practicing his imaginary announcing while playing in that game.

A few years ago Scully told a Los Angeles Times columnist. “I tried to play the game. Yale had a pitcher, Frank Quinn. We’re talking 1947. When Quinn graduated he got $100,000 to sign with the Washington Senators. I was so excited for the chance to play (against) him.” [7]

Yale pulled out a 3-1 win. “I led off,” Scully continued. “I was a left-handed swinger, not hitter. This guy (Quinn) threw harder than anyone I had ever seen. I was like ‘wow,’ I struck out.”

The box score and game stories are in the archives of at least three newspapers.[8] The box score shows that Scully batted sixth, not leadoff. His memory, however, was otherwise pretty accurate on another point. Unfortunately, for him and Fordham, he did, as he recalled, strike out.

Yale was coached by former major leaguer, Ethan Allen, and Fordham’s coach was its legendary Jack Coffey, who played baseball as an undergraduate and in the major leagues. In fact, Coffey is the answer to this well-worn trivia question – “Who was the only person to be a teammate of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb in the same season?”[9]  Later, Fordham’s baseball and football fields were named in his honor.

In this game Coach Coffey sent out his ace pitcher, Jim Arbucho, to face Quinn, who came from West Hartford. Trailing 1-0, Fordham’s Tom Cusmano singled leading off the second. The next batter was Vin Scully, and that was the time of the strikeout he recalled two years ago.

Fordham tied the score in that inning when Cusmano stole second and came in on a single by Jim Quinn, no relation to the Yale pitcher. Fordham had no hits after that, only two in the game, as Frank Quinn registered 13 strike outs. Arbucho limited Yale to four hits. The matchup was described in the New York Times as a “mid-season hurling duel.” [10]

Yale got its big hit in the eighth inning. With the score 1-1, Art Moher hit a 350-foot home run into the left field bleachers with Frank Quinn on first. He had reached after the Fordham shortstop, Jim Quinn, committed a throwing error that pulled first baseman Gus Matrulis off the bag.

Scully played centerfield and made four putouts. He was hitless in three at bats. In the ninth inning he was pinch hit for as Frank Quinn struck out the side to end the game

Like Vin Scully, “Poppy” Bush, who was to be Yale’s captain the following season, was also hitless, but did have a stolen base. Decades later they were playing golf together and Scully reminded the former President that they both went 0 for 3.

For our SportzEdge readers who would like to see further documentation of the game played on April 12, 1947, here is a reproduction of the box score, including columns for outs, assists and errors, the format used at the time:

New Box Score

 In addition to each going 0-3 at the plate, there are other parallels shared by Scully and Bush. Both were left handed batters, and had served in the Navy before ending up in the same college baseball game. In later life, each returned to his alma mater to be awarded an honorary degree. And today, they have both been blessed by longevity of life.

According to press reports there were more than 3,000 fans on hand. It could safely be assumed that not a single one of them, including Scully and Bush themselves, could have foreseen the success and fame the future would bring to the two of them.

Who in attendance that day imagined that the centerfielder for Fordham would later become a legendary baseball announcer, still plying his trade for the same team 64 years after he started? Or who would have predicted that the first baseman for Yale would embark on a political career taking him all the way to the White House?

Scully was to be at another Yale sports event at least one more time, the same year after he graduated from Fordham in 1949. That summer he obtained a replacement job in radio with CBS in Washington. Before long he got the attention of Red Barber, whom he would  join on Dodgers’ games. the following season. Barber was hosting the “Football Roundup” on CBS.  The program consisted of live cut-ins from around the country ,with snippets of play-by-play from various college games.  He assigned Scully to cover the Yale-Harvard game from the press box at the Yale Bowl.

The lesson we can take from this true story is that nobody knows which college athletes we watch today are potential celebrities. Maybe one of them will become a famous broadcaster or a U.S. President. It is said that if something happened once, it could happen again. And this scenario of Vin Scully and “Poppy Bush” as college baseball opponents is already in the books.

 


[1]  Dan Shaughnessy, Vin Scully simply the best broadcaster of all time; Boston Globe (August 25, 2013)

[2]  Curt Smith; Voices of Summer; Da Capo Press (2005)

[3]  Wikipedea.com; Vin Scully

[4]  David Hinkley: At Fordham, Scully Got Ball Rolling; New York Daily News (May 16, 2012)

[5]  Barbara Bush: A Memoir, p. 206; Charles Scribners Sons (1994)                                          Joe Hyams: Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War, p. 61, p. 96, and p. 143; Haircourt Brace Jovanovich (1991)

[6]  John J. Leary Jr; Yale defeats Fordham 3-1 on Moher’s eighth inning homer; New Haven Register (April 13, 1947)

[7]  T.J. Simers: Some things never get old, like baseball’s purity and Vin Scully; Los Angeles Times (April7, 2012)

[8]  Baseball; Yale 3 Fordham 1: Boston Globe; New Haven Register; New York Times (April 13, 1947)

[9]  Jack Curry: For 150 Years, Fordham Baseball’s Tradition of Winning; The New York Times (April 5, 2009)

[10]  Yale’s Nine Halts Fordham by 3 to 1; The New York Times (April 13, 1947

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