I thought I had made my peace with Vin Scully’s desire to broadcast the Dodgers’ home games this season, fly to San Francisco for the season finale, then take off his headset and call it a career. After the national outpouring of respect and amazement for his work during the Dodgers’ first homestand, I am changing my mind, in the faint but sincere hope that Scully might change his.
Please, Vin, call the All-Star game.
This is not about a farewell tribute to Scully, who prefers to deflect the spotlight. This is about a historical tribute, one last chance for fans across America to appreciate a broadcasting style doomed to extinction when Scully walks out of the booth for the final time.
“This is the last year of the last guy of the greatest generation of broadcasters,” said Joe Buck, the voice of Fox’s national baseball broadcasts.
After Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks drove in a run at Dodger Stadium on April 14, Scully noted that Ahmed wore No. 13 and launched a riff on whether the number was truly unlucky, its relevance to colonial America and its importance in decoding the design of the dollar bill. A newspaper editor in Chicago transcribed Scully’s riff and posted it to Twitter — with the words “Never Retire” — and the tweet went viral.
The next night, Scully told a tale of San Francisco Giants star Madison Bumgarner: how the pitcher had killed a snake, how Bumgarner’s wife discovered a baby rabbit alive within the innards of the snake, and how the couple nursed it back to health. A football writer in North Carolina transcribed that tale and posted it to Twitter — with the credit to “national treasure Vin Scully” — and that tweet went viral too.
By that time, Major League Baseball had posted links to both calls. On its national broadcast from Dodger Stadium last week, ESPN unearthed a 40-year-old tape of Scully lyrically reciting a grocery list. You’ve never heard “and a half-pound of coffee” uttered quite so perkily.
“Vin has this incredible ability of making every viewer or listener feel like he is talking to them specifically,” Buck said.
“That’s a connection that is gone. That’s just not going to happen any more.”
That is not solely because of Scully’s retirement. No other announcer can speak directly to the audience, since he has to speak to the one or two other announcers stuffed into the broadcast booth. The babble, the promotions and the product placement suck up time that might otherwise be devoted to building a bond with the listener, and the imperative that the team not be criticized on air prevents the audience from trusting the broadcaster to tell it like it is.
A few moments of silence? God forbid.
What if a broadcaster today insisted upon a one-person booth?
“That person would never be hired,” Buck said.
Scully is not above reading an ad; a generation of Dodgers fans were weaned on his melodic “easternmost in quality, westernmost in flavor” pitches for Farmer John. What distinguishes Scully from any other person in the booth, solo or otherwise, is his extraordinary ability to weave the play by play and the folksy bits without making any of it sound rehearsed.
“There’s a level of preparation and being ready and being loaded without sounding like it,” Buck said. “I can listen to guys every day, you go, ‘Oh, he woke up three weeks ago knowing he was going to tell that story today,’ or you hear a guy that is basically pulling a groin calling a home run.
“It’s ‘How loud can I get? How in your face can I get?’ ”
You can’t get this anywhere else.
“It’s a pure way of broadcasting a game,” Buck said. “It’s not a lot of bells and whistles and in-your-face graphics. It just feels like a more peaceful way to watch baseball, which is what I think makes it so appealing.
“At Fox, we’re always trying to get the younger demographic under the tent. With Vin, it is such an institution that, no matter who is listening, they get something out of it. He has this incredible ability to mix a multilayered story in and around play by play. That’s a skill that I don’t know that anyone else possesses even close to what Vin has.”
Buck called Scully “the greatest ever.” He said the Mt. Rushmore of sports broadcasting includes Buck’s father, Jack, and Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell and Bob Prince, with Scully as “the guy hovering over Mt. Rushmore.”
So, one last time, for all of Baseball Nation to cherish. The All-Star game would be perfect. It is the showcase to give the fans what they want— one last start at shortstop for Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter, one last call for Scully. The game counts for nothing, which would give Scully the chance to weave his magical stories, from Jackie Robinson to Clayton Kershaw, without any concern about missing a pitch.
Scully is 88 and rarely travels, but the All-Star game is in San Diego.
“I’ll send a plane to get him,” Buck said. “That’s a part of my childhood. It would be an honor to get up, take the headset off, sterilize it and hand it to Vin.”
Scully said he appreciated Buck’s sentiments but reiterated he had no interest in calling the All-Star game.
“I don’t want to be part of it,” Scully said. “Joe is wonderful. He’s a good guy and a friend. But I’ve done my networks, my games of the week.”
Would anything change his mind?
“No,” he said.
What about a campaign?
“No,” he said, laughing off the notion.
I cling to this: For years, Scully refused to let the city of Los Angeles name a street in his honor. This year, the last of his career, he relented.
“Every time they brought it up, I would bring up Walter O’Malley,” Scully said, referring to the Hall of Fame owner that moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn. “That’s the one that I want. Somewhere, he has to be honored. He gambled and brought the team out here. He played at the Coliseum, where everybody thought it was a joke. He put his money and time and effort into Dodger Stadium.
“They’ve got to put something up. There must be something. That’s my campaign.”
Your call, Fox. Offer to commission a Dodger Stadium statue for O’Malley, and we’ll see if Scully relents.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin.