Kings’ Bob Miller reflects on lessons learned from Vin Scully

Exhale. Bob Miller is fine.

That’s important to clear up, because Miller, the Kings’ play-by-play voice for 44 seasons and an honorary inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame, disappeared mid-sentence while talking to Vin Scully during the Dodgers’ postgame show on Spectrum Sportsnet LA paid tribute a week earlier.

In one moment, Miller spoke over a video link and commended Scully for setting a high standard for sports broadcasting. Next, he disappeared from the screen without explanation. Miller, who retired in 2017, is approaching his 84th birthday. It was all too easy to imagine ominous reasons for his disappearance.

Do not worry about it. It was just a technical error that erased his memories of the man who made poetry out of ordinary baseball games and who was always kind in word and deed. “I had many more wonderful things to say,” Miller said over the phone the other day.

It’s a pity that he couldn’t speak in detail. Few people are better qualified to speak about Scully than Miller, who has teamed up with Scully and Chick Hearn to form an unprecedented triple crown of Hall of Fame announcers in Los Angeles for decades.

Hearn, who called Lakers games for 41 years before his death in 2002, invented much of the language of basketball. Scully made the language of baseball sing for an incredible 67 seasons.

Miller used his mic to educate new hockey fans and entertain those who know the game, berating the kings when they underperformed, celebrating them when they triumphed, and humanizing players whose individuality was hidden beneath helmets and pads. He has brought to life a sport whose speed and strategy do not translate well on television, a rare talent.

A Chicago native who called University of Wisconsin hockey and football games, Miller came to Los Angeles in 1973 after being hired by Hearn. Miller was from the Midwest and hadn’t heard much about Scully’s work. That soon changed.

Shortly after Miller arrived, he had an appointment downtown. He was surprised to see the attendant in the parking lot where he had parked his car and listening to Scully over a transistor radio, and he saw more radios being held to more ears as he walked towards his destination. It was a phenomenon. “I was like, ‘Gee, everyone’s listening to the Dodger game,'” Miller said.

“I think I said, ‘I hope one day I’ll be able to make an impression like that.’ Not that it happened, but people would want to tune in and listen to Kings games. I had no idea then that I would be here for 44 years.”

Scully was admired by his peers as well as the fans. They recognized his artistry in letting a game breathe, letting the roar of the crowd tell the story and making thousands of listeners feel like he was speaking to them alone.

“I think announcers listen to a game differently than fans. I know I do,” Miller said. “How did he describe this piece? What did he say in this situation? Here’s a great moment, and how did he handle it? I think you can learn from other announcers as long as you don’t borrow one of their trademarks.

“Vin just had this way of playing baseball where you wanted to listen to it for the stories and information he gave you. And I think that’s why people would take their transistor radios to Dodger Stadium and watch a game, but they wanted to hear it, because they wanted to hear Vin tell those stories.”

In baseball, it’s easy to line up these stories and get a satisfying payoff. Not so much in hockey. “They could spread it out an inning and a half or two. I would try to tell a story and there would be an outburst and I would have to stop it and I would forget to come back to it,” Miller said, laughing.

But Scully, who has also been lauded for his golf and football broadcasting work, likely could have added Miller’s specialty to his repertoire.

“Someone asked me if they could have done a sport as fast as ice hockey? And I said I think he might because of the one word that’s so important to me, whether it’s broadcasting or any job, and that’s ‘preparation,'” Miller said. “Be ready to do your job and it always has been. That made him the big announcer that he was.”

Miller and Scully didn’t see each other much, but they inevitably met at fundraisers and other occasions. One of the most memorable took place in 2000 when Miller, Scully and Hearn shared the stage at a roundtable event hosted by Fox Sports West.

During a pause in the conversation, Miller recalled telling host Bill Macdonald to look at the championship rings worn by the other two men. Scully identified his as a 1988 World Series ring. Hearn said his ring was a 1987 Lakers ring. “And I held up my left hand and said, ‘That’s my wedding ring, 1963,'” Miller said. “We laughed a lot and then Vin said, ‘You have the best of everyone.'”

Their respect for one another was real and deep. The morning after the Kings won their first Stanley Cup championship in 2012, Miller and his wife Judy – briefly asleep – relocated to downtown LA to guest-star him on John Mason and Steve Ireland’s radio show. Scully was a surprise caller. “It was so nice to hear from him. Congratulations on winning the Stanley Cup and being as lovely as he always was,” Miller said.

They took the spotlight again in 2014 when they took to the field together at Dodger Stadium to welcome 54,099 fans to an outdoor game between the Kings and the Ducks, and in 2016 when Miller Scully donned a Kings jersey with the number 67 on the Back donated (the length of Scully’s broadcasting career) as a retirement present. Miller retired after medical problems the following year.

Bob and Judy Miller, who met on a blind date and celebrated their 59th anniversary in May, made an age concession when they left their longtime West Hills home for a one-story home in Simi Valley near their daughter and two grandchildren to move into. He made it to more than a dozen Kings games last season and hopes to see as many or more next season.

Although he is in good health, Scully’s death came as a shock. “My first reaction is that I’m closer to eternity than I’d like to believe,” Miller said. “I’m only 10 years younger than Vin.”

Heaven Can Wait. Kings’ Bob Miller reflects on lessons learned from Vin Scully

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