For Scully, died Tuesday at age 94, there was never a disgrace, never a crossfade to new technology. He was as beloved in his last baseball game as he had been throughout. “I have said enough for a lifetime” he said on that last show in 2016, “and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.” He never trumpeted his accomplishments, never promoted action on the pitch.
Yet he had an uncanny ability to see great things coming. His 1988 World Series home run call from Kirk Gibson is justly famous (“The impossible has happened…”), but that’s what he said before the physically wrecked slugger’s powerful swing that reveals Scully’s magical connection to the game’s great moments:
“All year they looked to him to start the fire and all year he responded to requests, until he was physically unable to start tonight,” Scully said. And then it happened, and Scully said only what was necessary: “Flyball high in right field. She left.”
Baseball, famously dubbed the only game you can see on the radio, was Scully’s canvas, a game whose leisurely pace and intense bursts of action allow the best storytellers to insinuate themselves into the lives of listeners, night after night, summer after summer.
For 67 summers, owners, stars and companions have passed through, and Scully has remained. His voice was SoCal smooth, unhurried, soft, with a touch of his native New York. He wrote poetry in the moment. His language was simple, sometimes erudite – he never simplified it. If the best description of a play had been invented centuries earlier by Shakespeare or a Greek tragedian, Scully would not hesitate to quote the master.
But in the big moments, Scully trusted her own words. It wasn’t Neil Armstrong delivering a well-rehearsed line as he stepped into a new world; it was pure improvisation, a jazz man working the changes in the pocket.
When Sandy Koufax, the Dodger pitcher who inspired some of Scully’s best work, started the ninth inning of his perfect game in 1965, the announcer paused between pitches to name the nine Dodgers on the field, men upon whom Koufax would depend to ensure his perfection.
“You can almost feel the pressure now,” he said. “There are 29,000 people in the stadium and a million butterflies.”
And then, after it was over, after letting the roar of the crowd be his own commentary for a very long time, Scully placed the event in history: “On the bulletin board in right field, it’s 9:46 p.m. in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, Calif. And a crowd of 29,139 seated to see the only pitcher in baseball history to pitch four games without a hit or a run. He did it four straight years, and now he’s crowned it: on his fourth no-hitter, he’s made it a perfect game.
Scully worked in television for decades – football and golf on CBS in the 70s and 80s, then baseball game of the week on NBC – but the Dodgers were his constant, and radio was his enduring love, his intimate connection to the family in the car, the kid with the transistor radio under his pillow in his bed, the people hanging out on the porch, the Dodger fans in their seats. Radio, he knew, was much more intimate than television; it was where he and fans could imagine together, Scully painting sonic images and listeners filling in the colors in their minds.
Scully always left room for that to happen. He endured in large part because of what he didn’t do: he didn’t tear apart the other team’s bad guys. He didn’t spew gossip. He wasn’t a homer – he loved the Dodgers, sure, but he wasn’t one of those announcers that team owners love, who find the silver lining in every lousy turn of the league’s fortunes. local team. Vin Scully spoke the truth, with empathy, but unvarnished. He never made the fans moan.
In his later decades, when he was already a legend, he could sometimes seem anachronistic. He insisted on working the games alone — no jocular jock sidekick, no joking crosstalk. He made listeners – he called them “friends” – an honest deal: no talk, no bogus yuck, just the direct story, with the lessons of history, the wisdom of someone who had seen everything. When Scully said that a young phenom’s swing was reminiscent of Hank Aaron, it had nothing to do with anything he had read or watched on YouTube: it was because Scully had seen them play every two and took good note of the line-up.
Scully never voiced his own opinions, but neither was he shy about being clear about what he believed. In 1976, at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, two protesters ran onto the field to burn an American flag, but Cubs outfielder Rick Monday had another idea: “Looks like he’s going to burn a flag,” Scully said. , “and Rick Monday runs and takes it away from him. And so on Monday – I think the guy was going to set the American flag on fire. Can you imagine that? On Monday, when he realized what he was going to do, he ran over and took the flag away from him. And Rick will get a standing ovation and well so.
On his last show, Scully told his audience that “you and I have been friends for a long time. But I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you ever needed me. He left them with a prayer, that “God gives you for every storm, a rainbow. For every tear, a smile. For every care, a promise and a blessing in every trial. For every trouble life sends, a loyal friend to share.
Most likely, no latter-day Scully could be hired anymore. Team owners want a PR man more than a storyteller. When Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos fired top announcer Jon Miller – a deacon at Scully Church – in 1996 he said it was because he wanted “more than one lawyer” for the home team.
What owners and men don’t get is that Scully was rich beyond words in the currency they would never understand, the most vital currency of all: trust. He refused to pretend he was just another fan. He valued only his credibility. And the fans felt that, felt that he represented what we really have in common. Vin Scully brought people together, maybe not to fight the big battles, for freedom or democracy, but to be together for the little things. He only told stories about a game, but he always reminded us of who we are and what we want to be.