Editorial: With Vin Scully’s retirement, Los Angeles loses a poet-philosopher
Vin Scully has been the voice of Dodgers baseball for 67 seasons, a remarkable record of longevity — he has called games for more than half the lifespan of a franchise that began in 1883. But Scully has meant more to the Dodgers, and by extension to Los Angeles, than just someone who could be counted on to do his job well, day in and day out, for an inordinately long time. He has been the city’s poet-philosopher, albeit one who sits at a sports microphone.
Examples of this are legion; here are just two. Scully once mentioned during a game that player Andre Dawson “has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day,” then ruminated, “aren’t we all,” shifting from the prosaic to the profound in a handful of words. And down a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in the opening game of the 1988 World Series, a series few expected the Dodgers to reach, badly limping veteran Kirk Gibson was sent in to pinch-hit. With two strikes against him and defeat seemingly moments away, Gibson launched a home run to win the game. Scully’s reaction? Silence to let the drama announce itself, and then this: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
It was the perfect line for the perfect moment.
Scully called his first Dodgers baseball game in April 1950 as a red-haired 22-year-old kid just breaking into broadcasting. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier when he’d joined the Dodgers three years earlier, but baseball teams were still populated primarily by white men, games were broadcast primarily over radio in those infant days of television, and the Dodgers were still playing in Brooklyn. The Dodgers and crosstown rivals New York Giants would both move to California in 1958, the Dodgers taking Scully with them, marrying their team rivalries to that of the state’s two biggest cities.
Scully has been in Angelenos’ ears ever since, from South Central to Beverly Hills and from Antelope Valley to San Pedro, announcing games with the friendly intimacy of a favorite uncle — the one with great anecdotes who enjoyed your time together as much as you did. A consummate professional, he mastered the art of shutting up when the weight of a moment was self-evident but also filled the slower passages with his deep knowledge of the game and anecdotes and side stories (aided by a small staff) that added a breadth unrivaled by other sports announcers. Like the time Jonny Gomes was attacked by a wolf, or when Satchel Paige threw a baseball through a hole in the center field fence from 60 feet, six inches away to win a bet of a bottle of bourbon.
And Scully has, for the vast majority of us, always been there. More than 85% of the nation’s population was born after Scully began calling ballgames. No one is irreplaceable in a business, which is exactly what Major League Baseball is, but Scully comes awfully close. He has been the public’s most direct and stable connection to a sport built upon transiency, and his name is as identified with the Dodgers, and Los Angeles, as Walter O’Malley and Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela.
In an arena choked with egos, Scully has always exuded an aura of accessibility, ready with a smile for a fan’s camera and an autograph, and imbued with an unaffected sense of humility. And though it was inevitable, it does still seem impossible that Scully will today, in San Francisco, call the final out on his remarkable career. Summers won’t be the same.
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