EDITOR’S NOTE: Tonight’s E:60 (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET) feature on the legendary and iconic voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Vin Scully, was both a labor of love and a labor of perseverance for correspondent Jeremy Schaap. Here, Schaap shares the unique backstory that intersects two sports legends.
As a baseball fan, as a sports broadcaster, and as a fellow native New Yorker whose entire family cheered for the Dodgers, I was very much looking forward to interviewing Vin Scully. As far as I can recall, I had never really talked to him, although I had met him, for an instant, at the 1986 World Series. He is a living link to the Dodgers of [Jackie] Robinson, [Pee Wee] Reese, [Duke] Snider and [Gil] Hodges, all of whom were sainted figures on both sides of my family, and beyond that he’s simply Vin Scully, the nonpareil.
The challenge, of course, is deciding how to approach an interview with someone who has done so much, for so long, and who won’t be sitting down with us for a long period of time. Typically, we interview the main subjects of our pieces on camera for two or three hours, sometimes longer. At 88, Scully isn’t interested in spending that much time in the chair being asked questions.
– Schaap on the night of Ali’s death
This would be shorter. Based on my conversations with Dodgers executives Lon Rosen and Steve Brener, I figured we would have about 30 minutes. To prepare, I leaned on the keenest observer of Scully that I know, fellow E:60 reporter Chris Connelly, like Scully a New Yorker transplanted to southern California. Unsurprisingly, Chris gave me some terrific insights and suggestions – as did Dan Lindberg, the gifted producer who did all the heavy lifting on this story. Fortified by my conversations with them, I left home for JFK Airport on the afternoon of Friday, June 3rd.
My plan was to get to Los Angeles on Friday night, get a good night’s sleep, have the morning to prep, then head to Dodger Stadium for the 3:30 p.m interview with Scully. But on the way to JFK, I received a phone call from E:60 executive producer, Andy Tennant, telling me to turn around and get to Bristol as soon as possible. Muhammad Ali had been in grave condition all week and we’d been monitoring the situation. Now it seemed he had taken a turn for the worse and [Tennant] wanted me to be in studio if Ali died that night.
I got to Bristol by about 7:30 p.m. ET and Bob Ley and I waited for several hours in the studio. At about 12:15 a.m. ET, the news came that Ali had died – and then we were all on the air for hours, non-stop, until I think about 4:15 a.m., after which I taped a couple of segments about Ali and went home. It was a long, emotional night, more emotional than I expected. I eventually got to sleep at about 6, woke up at about 8 and headed to JFK, flew to LA, hit a little bit of traffic and reached Dodger Stadium at about 3:10 p.m. PT.
Scully walked into the room at 3:30 – maybe 3:28 – and said, “How much time do you need?” Like an idiot, I think I replied, “As much as you can spare.” To which he replied, “Is 10 minutes good?” I said I would do my best.
Ultimately, Scully gave us 18 beautiful minutes. Every answer was a gem. Every anecdote telling. Just what you would expect from the master. He talked about baseball, naturally, but also about grief, and the accelerating passage of time, and the constancy of his faith in God.
I just missed the 5 p.m. flight back to JFK, which gave me the chance to have a nice dinner. Then I took the redeye, landed at JFK an hour late, headed straight into Manhattan for a live shot for Sunday’s 9 a.m. Outside the Lines, was held up only a minute or two by a parade, and was sitting in the chair by 8:58 a.m., ready to talk to Bob Ley, this time via satellite, about Muhammad Ali.