Farewell, Vin Scully

I was saddened when I heard that Vin Scully was going to turn off the mike and end his reign as lead broadcaster of Dodger games. What’s the rush, I thought. He’s only been doing this for 57 seasons!

I googled him. He’s eight years my senior. As one grows older, it’s easy to forget that people I have long admired are growing older as well. But Scully still seems young to me.

I regarded Scully as the poet of baseball. Radio, he has said, was his prefered medium. In an interview with USA Today, he contrasted calling a game on radio to broadcasting one on TV. On radio he could add to the drama of the situation by describing in detail a pitcher’s pre-pitch motions: running his fingers through his hair, drying his palm on his pants leg, heaving a sigh.

Describing a no-hitter on TV, he said, “All I could do was say, ‘Well, he’s done it.’…” The radio is a blank canvas. “…you’re trying to paint whatever you’re looking at. On television, the picture’s already there. You’re just adding a few comments beneath the picture.”

I grew up before there was TV. When I was eleven or twelve years old, I wanted to become a play-by-play announcer someday. Baseball was my game. I was not a good player. I wasn’t a bad fielder, but I ducked away from curve balls and was surprised when the umpire called them strikes. Still I loved the game. But I knew my limitations. I thought if I couldn’t play it, maybe I could describe it to others.

One summer my father was doing some construction around the house. I filled an empty tin can with wet concrete and stuck a stick in it. When it dried, I turned it upside down; and, lo, there before me I had a simulated microphone. I spent many a summer afternoon with it and my fantasies as I poured out my improvised play-by-plays in front of my tin can, and always behind the closed door of my room.

Every Saturday afternoon in the summer, my family gathered together on a blanket in the backyard to hand crank a half gallon of ice cream. I made sure I had placed our Philco on the sill of an open window so we could listen to Harry Caray broadcast the Cardinal games on our local Oklahoma City radio station.

My hometown team was the Oklahoma City Indians. Their announcer then, and my role model, was Curt Gowdy. OKC was an early rung on his career ladder. My friends and I from time to time would go downtown to a local radio station to stand before a studio window and watch Gowdy deliver his afternoon sports program. He could see us, and would always wave. We were thrilled. But he did not know who we were, and we did not know how famous he was to become.

I never became a baseball announcer. But it was not for a lack of good role models.

After I graduated from college, I moved to Connecticut. The Red Sox are king in New England. I had lost track of what was going on in baseball, so I was surprised when one afternoon I turned on a Red Sox game and heard a voice from my childhood. It was Curt Gowdy, now the voice of the Red Sox. He had already become a legend in Boston.

I heard his voice often. I followed the Red Sox in New England for several years. When I no longer lived near Boston, I could hear him on NBC (I believe it was) broadcasting sports events nationwide.

I felt something of an intimate connection with him. Like old friends who went back together a long way we had a history. I vaguely felt he should feel the same way. Of course, he had no idea who I was and I’m sure he had long forgotten those kids who came to admire him at the radio station in Oklahoma City.

Eventually I married and we moved to L.A. Anyone who loves baseball cannot live in L.A. for any time at all and not become an avid Dodger fan. I had often listened to Scully’s broadcast before I had an opportunity to go to a game. One happy afternoon, I finally got to Dodger Stadium.

As soon as I got settled in my seat, I could hear a gentle murmer all around me, like the buzz from hundreds of whisperers. Soon, Scully’s voice separated itself from the buzz.

During the 5th inning, I explored the stadium. I could follow his broadcast as I walked from the first base to the third base stands, and from the left field to the right field bleachers.

Everywhere I went I heard that buzz. Fans throughout the stadium had tuned in Scully on the transistor radios everybody carried around in those days, as they do smart phones today. These pocket sized radios came equipped with ear bugs, but no fan used them at the game. People turned their radios up just enough so anyone in their vicinity could hear Scully inform their minds of what their eyes saw as they watched the game. No one in the park was out of earshot of Vic Scully.

Who wouldn’t want a little poetry to go with their baseball? I never heard anyone fan complain. And I have never heard a report that anyone has complained. Why would they? We had the best of two worlds: the Dodgers on the field, and Scully on the air.

Vin’s voice was omnipresent not only in Dodger Stadium. In summer, drivers around town turned off their AC at night to capture the cooling Pacific breezes through open windows. So, at every stop sign, at every red light, at every stall in traffic, any driver could follow the game. Every car on the road it seemed was broadcasting the summertime voice of Vin Scully to the world. It cast a spell of calm leisure over the harried traffic. It was hard to be hurried, or harried, when listening to Vin. His was the perfect voice for baseball, and for L.A. His voice drifted through the L.A. summer night like the soothing ocean breeze.

Vin Scully is a celebrety L. A. never tires of. I don’t watch TMZ or read the tabloids, and I no longer live in L.A., but I have never heard of any scandal about Scully.

Everyone knows those icons that proclaim L.A.: palm trees, sunshine, the Hollywood sign. Locals soon take them for granted. But Vin Scully is, for those locals, the one icon of L.A. they claim as their own. He is relentlessly youthful, like Venice Beach. And, he is as venerable as Phillipes, where one can still enjoy the original french dip sandwich.

He is all those things minus those attributes that alas are also decidedly L.A.: smoggy days, congested freeways, smug natives, and absurd attitudes.

And, in a way most unlike L.A., Vin Scully is elegant.

Nowadays, sports announcers on TV seem trained to regard words as a detraction from the visuals. They might take a lesson from those Dodger fans who brought their radios to hear Scully. He was the good friend sitting next to you, the one whose talk made you feel alive. You had to be alert lest you miss something. Missed not just something that happened in the game; but, more importantly, missed something Scully had to say about what happened in the game. I have been to a number of Dodge games. I have never heard anyone shout, “Turn down the radio.”

I’m sure he will miss broadcasting games. He probably won’t miss the travel and being away from home. I know his colleagues in the booth will miss him. And, of course, the fans will miss him.

I do not know those things as a slam dunk fact. But I do know Vin Scully will be missed not just by baseball fans. Those who appreciate whatever it is that is at once gentle and genteel in human beings and poetic in their language will find it is no longer so personally accessible as it was when Vin Scully could be heard on the radio every summer day.