I remember making a point of going to dinner with sports columnist Jim Murray and his wife in the days leading up to each Super Bowl while I was on the NFL beat, and working him for insight into his greatness.
I know by my e-mail, some of you have guessed I failed in my quest.
While I was mining for inside tips, Murray was waiting for the waitress to bring him a fork. I wanted the secret to success and he wanted to eat.
I think for a while he thought of me as some sort of nagging diet.
“I’m just a working stiff,” he would say, but I wanted more.
I REMEMBER HAVING the good fortune to spend an evening with Chicago columnist Mike Royko in his favorite tavern.
He was swearing at another youngster who was pestering him, and I got to thinking maybe Murray was looking for that fork for another reason.
I remember telling Royko that I was an admirer of his, and having him turn his cussing in my direction. When I mentioned that I had all his books, he stood and asked for everyone’s attention in the tavern.
“Did you hear that?” he said. “The kid has all my books.”
I remember getting off my stool and turning to everybody in the room. “I got all those books for free--I wouldn’t pay anything for that crud.”
Royko put his arm around me, sat me back down and began talking about newspapers. I would have paid anything for that, and it was free.
But when it was over, there were no secrets revealed.
“I write five times a week,” he said. “Be in the paper, kid--work it. . . . I don’t know what else to tell you.”
TWO HOURS BEFORE the fans have arrived in Dodger Stadium and Vin Scully is doing his homework Saturday night. I’m not sure anyone has ever done more homework when you consider he’s being doing this for 51 years.
Now it takes a certain amount of persistence to be Vin Scully, the prepared broadcaster, each night. Outside his broadcasting booth there is a line of people hoping to catch a glimpse of him, maybe shake his hand or tell him about the night they sat with their dad listening to his poetry.
Fifty-one years ago Saturday evening, Scully was behind the microphone for the first time working a home Dodger game, and now in a few minutes he was going to be honored. After the homework was completed.
I’ve asked Murray, I said, and Royko--what is the secret?
“Fear,” Scully said. “I’m afraid of being a horse’s ass. So I rehearse, study--I’ve never stood up and ad-libbed--I’m afraid of that. There’s no secret--you just bust your fanny.”
HARD TO BELIEVE someone who speaks so elegantly and eloquently is able to do so because they bust their fanny.
To everyone else who has heard that voice, it’s a gift. Maybe more than that--a treasure.
Saturday night the Scully admirers, including family, friends, Dodger employees and media, were here to pay homage to him once again.
Scully has already been voted “Sportscaster of the 20th Century,” earned a place in the baseball Hall of Fame and been described as the “poet laureate of baseball,” but Saturday night the Dodgers chose to name Scully’s office in his honor. They unveiled a pair of impressive “Vin Scully Press Box” signs--if only his vocabulary could rub off on some of us writing inside.
“Thank you, I’m honored--it’s a wonderful organization--believe me,” Scully told the crowd, and what do you want me to do--disagree with Vin Scully?
There is no question that there aren’t many better sounds in a day than the voice of Vin Scully telling everyone, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
“Vinny has the same impact on my boys now as he did on me when I was young,” said Bob Graziano, Dodger president, in paying tribute to Scully.
At the same time as the press box christening, the Dodgers introduced a “Wall of Fame” to pay tribute to L.A.'s sports writers and broadcasters who have gained baseball Hall of Fame attention.
“To be absolutely honest, when I was asked about the naming the press box proposal, I was honored, but I wanted to decline,” Scully told the crowd. “The press box is sacrosanct for the writers--it’s not the place to have a broadcaster’s name.”
And then in a moving tribute away from his own extraordinary lifetime achievements, Scully paid tribute to a long list of sportswriters who had done their work inside the press box that will now carry his name.
“Any time you walk by and see the name Scully on the press box, it should be representative of all those years and all those writers,” he said. “That’s what I would like you to remember.”
IT’S NOT EASY to get a handle on greatness, especially when everyone wants the recipe, and those who have achieved it subscribe only to hard work.
But Scully may have let something slip last week--the magic ingredient that brings hard work and talent together in full bloom--when I bumped into him outside the Padre press box in San Diego. Scully was all bouncy and cheery a night after being kept late in extra innings--in his 52nd year on the job. But instead of bemoaning a night of overtime in a string of 162 games, he could not contain himself.
“Wasn’t that just a great game last night?” he said. “Gosh, that was fun.”
TODAY’S LAST WORD comes from an unnamed e-mailer:
“Say it with me: ‘Go Kings Go.’ ”
But I’m rooting for the Suns.
T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org