Is there anyone in American culture who can claim such a sweeping hold on generations of families all over the country? Scully has been a daily fixture in our lives, six months a year, for 67 years, going out Sunday with all the poetry fully intact as he nears 90.
In 1952, my parents moved west from Boston and, like so many others, settled in the orange-tree-laden paradise of Los Angeles, just six years before the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn and brought with them a young announcer named Vin Scully.
It was a perfect match, a town hungry for Major League Baseball at just the time transistor radios were becoming the rage. Fans, including my parents, would sit in the stands at first the L.A. Coliseum and then Dodger Stadium, listening on their transistors to Scully call the game they were watching, and slowly falling in love with that mellifluous voice.
I know I did as a youngster in L.A., listening to Vinny — we were on a first-name basis, and still are — bring to life the exploits of Willie Davis, Wes Parker, Ron Fairly and especially Sandy Koufax, my hero. I’d hang on every Dodger game, the outcome determining my mood for the next 24 hours, until Vin came back into our house to do it all over again.
Now my son has caught the baseball bug — however did that happen? — and though we are a thousand miles away from Dodger Stadium, he can listen to Vinny through the newest technological advancements, such as XM Radio, MLB apps and the like. And he, too, is transformed by that voice, and the lyrical yarns that somehow always come to a snappy conclusion just as the third out is made.
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So consider this: We have my mom and dad, now 92 and 88, respectively, still listening to Vin (born 28 days before my mom) call the Dodgers; myself, at 59, forever stamped as a baseball fan through the nurturing of his broadcasts; and my son, 17, a recent convert to the Church of Scully.
Is there anyone in American culture who can claim such a sweeping hold on generations — a span of 75 years in my family, a tale that is mirrored in families all over the country?
As Bob Costas pointed out to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, someone such as Tony Bennett might qualify, but you listen to Bennett albums only periodically, or see him in concert once or twice. Scully has been a daily fixture in our lives, six months a year, for 67 years, going out Sunday with all the poetry fully intact as he nears 90.
For me, it will be an incredibly powerful moment when Vinny signs off for the last time after calling the Dodger game vs. the Giants in San Francisco. Despite a clamor, he will not broadcast Dodgers playoff games, because as he said, in inimitable Scully fashion, “I didn’t want to say goodbye like they do in grand opera, and they say goodbye 25 times in 15 minutes. … We’ll tie the ribbon on the package in San Francisco, and that will be that.”
With all due respect, no, it won’t. Not by a longshot. His departure will be immensely sad, obviously, because it’s nearly impossible to imagine baseball without Vinny’s soundtrack. But more so, it will be deeply poignant in the way that all events reminding you of your mortality are. If the eternal Vinny, who truly seemed like he was going to call Dodger games forever, is finally silenced, well, I guess I really am getting old. And you, too.
Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to be part of a conference call with Scully, who discussed his final week of a Dodger career that began in 1950, when Harry Truman was president, Alaska and Hawaii weren’t yet states, Connie Mack and Ty Cobb were still alive and Mickey Mantle was a year from making his debut.
Of course, it was delightful. Vinny wove wonderful yarns about falling in love with baseball as an 8-year-old in Washington Heights when he walked by a laundry on the way home from school on Oct. 2, 1936 — 80 years ago to the day on Sunday, his final broadcast — and saw the line score of the World Series game in the window. It was an eventual 18-4 win by the Yankees over the Giants, prompting Scully to say to himself, “Oh, the poor Giants,’’ and become transfixed by the sport.
And he told how he fell in love with broadcasting as a kid while nestled under his parents’ stand-up, four-legged radio, nibbling on saltines and mesmerized by the crowd noise booming from the speakers “like water out of a shower head.” It was that appreciation of the power of the crowd that taught Scully, in one of many of his strokes of genius, to go silent after huge moments, such as Koufax’s perfect game in 1965 and Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series, and let the crowd convey the emotion.
“What I’ve tried to do ever since the beginning was to call the play as accurately and quickly as possible, then sit back and revel in the roar of the crowd,’’ he said. “And for that brief few seconds I was 8 years old again, I guess.”
Vinny told about the crowds at Dodger Stadium groaning to his puns they were listening to on their transistors, including a gruesome one that ended, “Chicken Catcher Torre.” He talked about singing in his kitchen with broadcasting buddies Ernie Harwell and Russ Hodges, three legends harmonizing and goofing.
Yeah, I ate that stuff up. I even got a chance to ask a question, and when my name was announced by the operator, Vinny boomed “Well, hello, Larry, great to hear from you.”
Be still, my heart. I’d like to think he remembered me from a few chit-chats we had in the early 1990s, when I traveled with the Giants as a beat writer and would make three trips a year to Dodger Stadium. Once, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Scully by Giants announcer Hank Greenwald and managed to stammer out a greeting to Vinny, who was familiar with star-struck introductions and couldn’t have been more gracious.
I’m sure Vinny had no recollection of that whatsoever; he was just being gracious, as he continued to be throughout the call by warmly greeting each questioner by name. I asked him about connecting generations, as he has done with my family, and the satisfaction that must provide him.
“You know,’’ he replied, “one of the residuals of the job, and I hear this a lot, because of all the years that have flown by, people will say to me, ‘You know, when I hear your voice, I think of backyard barbecues with my mom and dad. Or painting the garage with my father and listening to the ballgame on the radio.’
“It’s nice to be a bridge. It really is, from one generation to another. I keep saying it because I mean it so much: God has been so good to me to allow me to do what I’m doing at a very young age, a childhood dream that came to pass.
“Then giving me 67 years to enjoy every minute of it. That’s a very large Thanksgiving Day for me. So, yeah, I’ve loved it, and I loved the connection with people — and to hear about it, too.”
Scully’s humility shined through on the call. He just can’t quite understand all the fuss, attributing it to his longevity rather than his majesty.
“I’m just a vessel that was passed hand to hand down through all those years,’’ he said. “I don’t take it to heart as some great compliment. I just realize that because I’ve been doing this for 67 years, that’s why everyone wants to talk about it.”
Well, not quite, far from it, but Scully noted that baseball will go on, just as it did after Mel Allen, Hodges, Jack Buck, Harry Caray and Red Barber stopped broadcasting.
“All those were, ‘My gosh, it will never be the same,’ ” he said. “But you know what? A year or so, however long it takes, and you’ll be history. I know that, and someone else will hopefully ride in and have a great career in your place.”
That’s technically true but emotionally dead wrong. There will never be another Vinny, no matter who sits in his chair.