The last time the Dodgers opened the season without Vin Scully in their employ, the Korean War hadn’t started yet. Harry Truman was president. NATO had just been born. The Braves were still in Boston. The Athletics were still in Philadelphia. The Orioles were in St. Louis (as the Browns). And Mickey Mantle hadn’t yet played his first Major League Baseball game.
If you count the history of Major League Baseball from the beginning of the so-called Modern Era, starting with the birth of the American League in 1900, there have been 116 seasons. Vin Scully has called Dodger games for 67 of them. And after next year, his sixty-eighth, he will stop calling Dodgers games, assuming God doesn’t invite him to pull up chair between now and then.
Vin Scully harkens back to a different era in baseball, an era when the game was about stories and pictures painted in your mind because there were no Jumbotrons or high-definition score boards the size of Montana can show you in intricate detail everything down to the number of pimples on the next greatest phenom. The game was played for most on the radio on soft summer afternoons. The broadcaster was more than a reporter, he was a engineer of image and a director of imagination.
Since 1950, Vin Scully’s seen all the phenoms–the ones who made it like Mantle, Koufax, Griffey (both of them), Ripken, Pujols, and Kershaw. He’s seen the ones who didn’t make it. Hartung and Hurdle. Orie. And Tim Leary, who never got to join the line of Mets pitching greats, but pitched for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series.
He’s seen the Dodgers play in a bandbox, a football stadium, and their current home–a 54 season old gem that’s still among the better venues in the game, in spite of the plethora of new-look baseball places.
You could almost take the famous Field of Dreams baseball speak and replace the word baseball with Vin.
They don’t make them like Vin Scully any more, because no one says things like ‘a cotton candy sky with a canopy of blue.’ It’s not cutting or snarky, with a self-referential bite. But it sure does paint a picture.
In an era when most announcers insert themselves in the biggest moments, loudly screaming about the events the fans can see and hear themselves, Scully is smart enough, good enough, and secure enough to allow the story to tell itself.
Scully’s call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 home run may be the best sports call ever. Painting the picture as the tension mounted with each pitch. Gibson, baseball’s grittiest player and against Dennis Eckersley, the game’s most feared reliever. Imagine David against Goliath, if both of David’s legs were injured.
God picked that moment to honor Scully, as with a full count, he noted that Steve Sax was on deck, but the game right now was at the plate. And the game was at the plate as Gibson took an unlikely swing that didn’t look like much but did the job.
As Gibson’s miraculous home run climb into the dark Los Angeles night, Scully said, “High fly ball into right field. She iiiiissssss…gone!” And then he went again the instinct any sane human would have to tell the story of Gibson’s miracle and he let the pictures speak for themselves.
ESPN’s comments are notorious for bringing the trolls out of the woodwork. When I looked at the story about Scully returning and retiring, I didn’t see a single angry, stupid, or trollish comment. Not one.
When Scully announced he’d return and be leaving, he was characteristically modest. In 2015, when only the loudest voices are heard, it can almost seem like a false modesty. But this is the guy who invited you to pull up a chair, as if you and he are watching the game together. The guy who let’s the story tell itself and only gets in the way when necessary. To him, the game is the attraction and he’s just a friendly tour guide.
Scully’s love affair with baseball is deep and long and unshakeable, through strikes and lockouts, bad teams, horrid ownership, and scandal upon scandal.
For fans, the love affair will continue long after Scully has said good night for the last time. But it will lose a little sparkle. There are many pretenders to the throne, but only one modest, articulate, and ultimately finite king.