Los Angeles Dodgers fans are in mourning. Not for their pennant hopes, although there’s always a chance that they’ll muff the playoffs again this year. But because on October 2, after 67 years, Vin Scully spent his last afternoon in the broadcast booth, doing play by play over the airwaves.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Vin Scully call a game, you’ve missed out on the poetry of baseball. Scully was scrupulously fair to the players on both teams, and never committed the cardinal sin of talking too much. In fact, there were times (like after a game-changing home run) when he simply let the roar of the crowd tell the story. But his use of the English language was both creative and elegant. An L.A. Times sportswriter who covered his handling of his final game worked into his column some Scully bon mots. One jittery member of the Giants team, he said, “would make coffee nervous.” And a curveball coming from Dodger pitcher Kenta Maeda “floated up there like a soap bubble.” Before the action even got underway, he offered a dramatic description of the San Francisco weather: “The temperature here is 62 degrees, kind of an angry sky at about 6:30 this morning, but it’s softened up a bit . . . and the sky has punctures in it with a little bit of blue overhead.”
Yes, Scully had a sense of baseball’s drama, but he was also a master of its long, storied history. Especially during rain delays, he could spin a great yarn about ballgames past, highlighting both the heroics and the funny moments. Early in his career he worked for a smalltown station where the baseball news came in on a telegraph wire, but this gave only barebones information: how many runs, how many hits per inning. Forced to narrate a game they weren’t actually seeing, he and his colleagues became wildly creative, imbuing each out with a thrilling narrative of its own. No wonder he later had so much fun describing what was really going on.
Scully made a number of movies, usually playing a baseball announcer (natch!), but what he did on the air was certainly entertainment in its purest form. Sure, he sometimes had to shill Farmer John sausage, but what he could accomplish with his voice should serve to remind us of what great radio performers could do, back in the day when television had not yet been born. When we listened to Vin Scully, we felt we were out at the ballpark, feeling the warm sun, smelling the peanuts. In fact, when Dodger Stadium was built, it was engineered so that fans could continue to listen to Vinnie on their transitor radios (remember those?) during the game itself.
I personally encountered Vin Scully twice. As a young pre-teen on my first-ever trip to San Francisco I discovered the Dodgers were in town to play the San Francisco Giants. They were breakfasting at the Palace Hotel, and I was as excited to get Vin Scully’s autograph as I was to collect those of the team’s star players. I remember him as gracious, even if his bacon and eggs were getting cold.
Much more recently, I had to go to a specialized dentist (ugh!). In the waiting room, I saw a familiar-looking face. I wasn’t 100% sure until he answered his phone and I heard that famous voice. I’m sure I reacted, and then Vin Scully winked merrily at me, obviously having gotten this response many times before. I’ll miss you, Vinnie! You’re in a league of your own!