It has been the most compelling part of every Dodgers game for the past 67 years.
A batter will step out of the box to adjust his gloves. The pitcher will step down from the mound to rub the ball. The umpire will take off his mask to wipe his brow. And then, like a sprinkling of glitter across a landscape of drudgery, it fills the screen and the radio and the heart.
Vin Scully will tell a story.
It might be about Pee Wee Reese from 50 years ago, or Clayton Kershaw from last month. It might be bout the origins of home plate, or the history of the glove.
Or it might not be a baseball story at all.
It could be a history lesson about D-Day, or a treatise on the legend of beards. There have been poems about children, and sagas about bird poop.
The beauty of the stories is not only in their substance but in their delivery, Scully weaving them seamlessly into his call of the action, pausing only to note a certain pitch or hit, sometimes completely ignoring a play to finish the thought, the stories becoming the game and the game becoming the interruption.
The stories are often better than the game, so good that the Dodgers have the only baseball fans in America who actually cheer for foul balls. That way, Scully has more time to finish.
Fans, Scully is right there with you.
Does it sometimes seem as though the better the story, the more fouls are hit? Does it seem as though Scully is never cut short?
“I don’t know why it works my way, but it does,’’ he said. “God is very good. It’s like he’s hitting those foul balls for me.”
At his core, Scully is the bard of Los Angeles, as much storyteller as announcer, as much bleacher companion as the best broadcaster in history.
“Did I ever tell you about the time Jackie and I raced each other on ice skates? (That’s gonna be hit into right field, Ethier on the run, picks it off, one away. Conor Gillaspie out to right, Barry Zito coming up.) What happened was Rachel and Jackie and I were going up to a resort in the Catskill Mountains a long, long time ago. … Being a kid from the East, I had ice skates. … Now Jackie is putting his skates on alongside of me in the dressing room. … and he says, ‘When we get out there I’d like to race you.’ And I said, ‘Jack, I didn’t know you ice-skated. … (Squirts down to Gordon, two outs.) … Anyway, I said, ‘I didn’t know you ice-skated’ and Jackie says, ‘I’ve never been on skates on my life. … I want to race you because that’s how I’m going to learn.’ … There aren’t very many people who can say, ‘Oh sure, I raced Jackie Robinson … on ice.’”
The game, from several years ago, is a faded memory, but the story is legend. Scully never actually said who won the race, but his stories are never about the destination, always about the journey.
Vin Scully, with wife Sandi at his side, waves to the crowd during a ceremony honoring the Dodgers broadcaster before the game Sept. 23, 2016, at Dodger Stadium.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Vin Scully and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax embrace during the pregame ceremony honoring the Dodgers broadcaster on Sept. 23, 2016.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts (30) joins MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, right, in presenting a check to Vin Scully to be donated to the Dodgers broadcaster’s favorite charity during a pregame ceremoney Sept. 23, 2016.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Fans wipe away tears during the pregame ceremony honoring Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Vin Scully with Jerry Doggett in the announcer’s booth at Dodgertown during spring training in Vero Beach, Florida on April 8, 1985.(Jayne Kamin / Los Angeles Times)
Vin Scully has broadcast Dodgers games since before the team moved to L.A. in 1958.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Hall of Fame Dodger announcer Vin Scully before the start of a Dodgers - Reds game at Dodger Stadium on August 22, 2010.(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers announcer Vin Scully takes the stage to speak about his decision to come back for a 66th season in the broadcast booth during a news conference at Dodger Stadium on July 30, 2014.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Vin Scully is applauded on the field at Dodger Stadium, by family members, as he is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the “longest tenured sports team employee” on September 23, 2015.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully talks to members of the media at Camelback Ranch before a spring training game Friday.(Tom Tingle / Arizona Republic)
“People have referred to it as like listening to their grandfather telling a story,” said Scully, 88, laughing. “That might be correct, given my age.”
Scully said his style stems from acting as if he’s a guy sitting in the bleachers describing the game to a companion. He said he tells the stories because, well, between innings at a baseball game, isn’t that what everyone does?
“If I was sitting next to a person at a ballgame, it’s the end of an inning, teams changing sides, it’s normal for me to say something, and that might have nothing to do with baseball,” he said. “I guess it’s kind of a running commentary with an imaginary friend.”
And who exactly is that friend? Scully said it could be anybody and everybody, his theory on storytelling cutting to the roots of what has made him such a beloved announcer.
“I’ve never tried to envision that person, I just feel there is someone sitting alongside of me, at the ballpark. I’m talking to the person next to me, we’re both looking at the game,” Scully said. “I don’t have to really describe the game for him, I’m just sitting next to someone, I don’t know who it is, we’re just watching the game. I’ll make a comment, or I’ll imagine sometimes he’ll be asking me a question.”
If you listen closely, you realize Scully doesn’t really do play-by-play announcing. He does play-story-play announcing. He doesn’t really broadcast a game as much as share it.
““Sometimes I’m talking to a fan about some knowledgeable part of the game,” he said. “Another time, I’m talking to a woman, making a comment about a lady’s dress. Sometimes I may be talking to a little child, trying to imagine what that child is saying.”
Sometimes, in all his humble brilliance, Scully even becomes that child.
“We once had a shot of a baby who was yawning,” he recalled. “I started to be the baby, saying, ‘Oh, mom is so warm and soft and the game is OK but perhaps it’s better if I stay here with her.’”
“One of the first lessons I ever learned in baseball, I was a child in the bleachers in the old Polo Grounds in New York. I’m at least 450 feet from home plate. I noticed that when the batter hit the ball, I would see the ball come into center field, then I would hear a crack,” he remembered. “It puzzled me why I would see the ball for so long, then hear the crack.”
Scully said he turned to another fan for the answer.
“I asked a gentleman and he said, simply, ‘You just learned your first lesson of physics, because the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light,’” Scully recalled.
For 67 years, Scully has been that gentleman sitting in the next seat, talking to the child that was once him.
“When I’m telling the history stories on the air, I’m thinking of when I was that little boy in the bleachers,” he said.
Announcers don’t pay much attention to little boys in the bleachers anymore, perhaps because there aren’t as many little boys in those bleachers. Baseball has an aging demographic, and many broadcasters don’t feel a need to educate or enlighten. Instead of talking with us, they talk at us. It is reasonable to fear that when Scully leaves the booth for the final time, the art of baseball storytelling will retire with him.
The Dodgers will be a vastly different viewing and listening experience without Scully for reasons that have nothing to do with the baseball. There will be a break in the action and we won’t move to the edge of our seats. There will be a child spotted in the stands and we won’t turn up the volume. When we see someone wearing a cabbage leaf under his cap on a hot day, we’ll have to turn to Google.
The saddest of it being, a player will hit a foul ball and we won’t even care.