Some things never get old, like baseball’s purity, and Vin Scully
SAN DIEGO — Every so often I get an email suggesting Vin Scully has lost it, and I smile.
I wish I had just what he’s lost.
There is no accounting for some people in this world.
The same miserable cusses who might respond “Sam Gilbert” when John Wooden’s 99-year span of life is mentioned probably would have been the first to say that Chick Hearn was too old to close the refrigerator door anymore.
I’ve never been able to get enough of these old men, their talent and wisdom allowing them to survive for so long while so many others did not.
I used to sit with Hearn before Lakers games with the hope of learning his secret, knowing full well as I was walking up the stairs he was telling his usher pal, “Oh no, here he comes.”
With Wooden it was, “Oh no, you” — just loud enough so he knew I would hear as he threw both hands up in front of his face.
Now with Scully it’s a rousing welcome, his producer explaining later that Scully never lets on whether he’s talking to someone he likes or doesn’t.
I remember now how jolly he seemed when Frank McCourt joined him on the air. I feel better now.
When I arrived here for the start of the season, my first stop was Scully’s booth; if you had the chance, wouldn’t you do the same?
Day 2 here I was back like a stalker. But a young woman was already there asking to have her picture taken with Scully, telling him, “You probably don’t remember my name, it’s Donita.”
Without hesitation, Scully says, “Let’s see if we can find a tattoo parlor,” so he might carry her name with him forever.
I know what she’s probably thinking: If only he was 50 years younger.
Don’t we all wish it could be so?
I’d just come from a thrilling Lakers-Clippers game to a sluggish-moving baseball game.
“That’s like trying to compare blackjack and bridge,” Scully says, and how many baseball games has he sat through while never once taking a bathroom break?
“With blackjack it is bam, bam, while the other one is slow, deliberate. But people playing bridge love it as much as the people playing blackjack.”
But isn’t baseball boring?
“No, no, no,” Scully says, and for the next 20 minutes he explains his “love affair” with baseball.
He talks about standing beside Jackie Robinson in left field at Yankee Stadium during a 1953 World Series workout. And he talks about how excited he was to watch Dee Gordon make a great play at shortstop in the opener Thursday.
“I tried to play the game,” says Scully, a center fielder at Fordham. “Yale had a pitcher, Frank Quinn. We’re talking 1947. When Quinn graduated he got $100,000 to sign with the Washington Senators. I was so excited for the chance to play him.
“I led off. I was a left-handed swinger, not hitter. This guy threw harder than anyone I had ever seen. I was like ‘wow.’ I struck out.
“The point being, I know what it’s like to play this game and how these guys make it look easy. And it’s so bloody hard. I don’t find it boring; I find it amazing the things these guys can do.”
“That’s so pure,” I say, and he laughs.
“First time that word has been applied to me in many years,” he says.
I forgot about Donita and the tattoo parlor.
He calls himself a “salesman,” with no desire to be a homer, and recounts a conversation he had with Walter O’Malley.
“Mr. O’Malley wondered if I should do more cheerleading because we were the only team in town,” Scully says. “I told him I wasn’t trained to do that, and bless him, he didn’t challenge it.”
He says he could’ve been a reporter before discovering radio, writing early under the column logo “Looking Them Over.”
He knows now he could never have played baseball for a living.
“Gil Hodges goes home for the birth of his first child, we’re in Battle Creek, Mich., for an exhibition game, and manager Burt Shotton tells me I’m going to suit up,” Scully says.
“They didn’t have a uniform, so I had to wear Hodges’. I was 140 pounds of dynamite and Gil was a marble statue. I put his uniform on and ‘Dodgers’ comes down to my belly. . . .
“They tell me to go shag fly balls, so I’m out there and Roy Campanella hits a ball about eye high on a dead line to center. I catch it but I’ve never felt a ball hit my mitt with such impact. I knew I didn’t belong out there; what am I, crazy? I left the field.”
The story is not over, the best yet to come.
“I head to the clubhouse and kids want Hodges’ autograph. I’m telling them I’m not Gil, but these two kids stay with me the whole way and I’m thinking what a sweet guy Gil is and these kids are going to think Hodges won’t sign for them.
“So I signed Gil’s name, remembering he made a little circle above the ‘i’ in Gil. I’m embarrassed to say it, but if those kids are still living, they think they have Hodges’ autograph.”
I’m laughing, but he’s answered my question.
“It’s just a pleasure to watch the very best do something so well,” he says. Nothing boring about that.
Three games into another season he knows he made the right choice to return. “It’s the goose bumps; they’re there,” he says.
The Padres started pitcher Edinson Volquez in the opener and Scully was almost giddy.
“I saw this great story about him over the winter, cut it out and just couldn’t wait to give everyone my fastball,” he says. “I love it when I come across something; I’d cut it out of your column if you ever had a good story.”
Now I’m beginning to understand why some folks think he might’ve lost it.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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