January 17, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Writing Vin Scully script for MLB World Series video not easy

The word jumps out at you. It is the 20th word Vin Scully reads as narrator of the official 2020 World Series film.

“To tell the story of the 2020 World Series, you have to understand what will always be its most improbable aspect: that the Series happened at all,” Scully reads.

Improbable?

That word is immortalized in Dodgers lore, and in World Series lore, in a line Scully uttered in 1988. As Kirk Gibson circled the bases after his legendary home run, Scully delivered this legendary line: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

For Scully, and for the Dodgers, that adjective should be retired. Who would dare ask Scully to use that word this year?

Aaron Cohen, a three-time Sports Emmy winner, has written the annual World Series film since 2015. The film is scripted, which means Cohen had the job of putting words into Scully’s mouth.

In October, the pressure was on Clayton Kershaw. In November, the pressure was on Cohen.

“It is daunting,” Cohen said. “The genius of Vin Scully, more than anyone, is that what comes out of his mouth naturally is pitch perfect, and better than anything that anyone could ever write.

“There is a virtuoso element to it. For me, the goal is to try to come close to that level.”

Said Scully: “That’s kind of an overwhelming compliment. Let’s just put it this way: I have been trained to do my ad-libbing when I was doing play-by-play. When I’m involved in a tape of a movie, in between scenes, I know how tricky it is to time everything. So I’m not about to deviate from the script at all.”

The film runs for 85 minutes, with Scully narrating the two dramatic sweeps: the introduction that lasts for about six minutes, and the conclusion that covers about four minutes. In between: highlights and interviews from the six games, with Scully narrating the transitions between sequences and games.

Dodgers players celebrate after beating the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series to win their first championship since 1988.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“With Bryan Cranston, I might not want to use the term ‘red-hot bat.’ It’s a little too baseball-ish and cliche-ish,” Cohen said. “But with Scully, it’s really cool when he says it.”

The calls on the game highlights are a mix of clips from national and local broadcasts. Charley Steiner, the Dodgers’ radio voice, features prominently in the film. When the Dodgers win the Series, Steiner delivers a good line.

“In a year like no other, where joy has been so hard to come by,” Steiner says, “tonight, tears of joy. Let ‘em flow.”

The year indeed was like no other: a pandemic-shortened season, threatened by virus outbreaks, completed with the Dodgers as the host team in a nearly empty stadium 1,500 miles from home.

Yes, an improbable season. The adjective did fit, and Scully did not mind using it.

“I don’t think I own a word,” he said, laughing. “It was at least improbable, wasn’t it?”

Twelve seconds after Steiner delivers his line, the film offers a replay of Scully’s classic line, in a sequence which blends three images: Mookie Betts, then Cody Bellinger, then Gibson.

The next minute is the best: images of the 2020 celebration spliced with images of Jackie Robinson, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser, Don Newcombe and more Dodgers champions.

You see Scully interviewing Koufax after the final game of the 1965 World Series. Next you see Kershaw, the heir to Koufax, jumping for joy with his kids after the final game of the 2020 World Series.

Dodgers announcer Vin Scully speaks during a news conference.

Dodgers announcer Vin Scully says he feels lucky to see the team win another championship.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The tie that binds the Dodgers’ seven championships is Scully.

“It was a privilege, God’s blessing, to allow me to hang out for 67 years,” Scully said. “And to sit on the sidelines and watch No. 7 pop up, that was great.”

Cohen said the privilege was his, to write the words Scully would say.

“This is absolutely a bucket list sort of item,” Cohen said.

This film is not going to be a big seller in San Francisco. This film is for Dodgers fans, and that montage of team history — from Ebbets Field to Dodger Stadium, from Robinson to Betts, from Koufax to Kershaw — is a video scrapbook for the ages. There is only one voice Dodgers fans would want to hear sharing that story.

“It’s a nice slice of home,” Cohen said, “to hear Vin Scully.”