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Dodgers Dugout: Farewell, Vin Scully

Vin Scully
(Paul Connors / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and this is one of the saddest weeks in Dodgers, heck, L.A. history. Normally this newsletter would be all about the trade deadline deals. Instead, this newsletter will be all about one man, and we’ll get to the trade deadline deals Friday or Monday.

Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers for generations of fan, died Tuesday at his home in Hidden Hills. He was 94. You can read all of our extensive coverage by clicking here.

There may not be any person responsible for the creation of so many Dodger fans as Vin. It’s either him Jackie Robinson or Fernando Valenzuela. Thousands of kids (and adults) fell asleep listening to Scully on the radio. Thousands of families bonded while watching the Dodgers with Vin in the booth. He taught a whole city about baseball after the Dodgers moved to L.A. You could hear him in Dodger Stadium because so many people listened to him while at the actual game. It’s like we didn’t believe our own eyes until he confirmed what we saw.

He was simply the greatest sports broadcaster of all time. He was almost as good at football and golf as he was baseball.

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And he was so beloved that the Giants paid tribute to him on the videoboard after the game against the Dodgers. Say what you want about the Giants, but that was a classy move. Giants fans in the stadium tipped their cap when they saw the tribute. Every team in baseball sent out a tweet in tribute to him. Every L.A.-area team did too. It was an outpouring of emotion. And, it seemed strangely appropriate that he died during a Dodgers-Giants game, pitting the team he grew up loving against the team he also loved and will forever be identified with.

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The amazing thing about Vin is his timing. It was like he could peek into the future and see how long an at-bat was going to last. He’d start a story about a batter, and you’d think “He’s never going to finish this story before this guy gets a hit or makes an out. But lo and behold, every time the story would wrap up right before the batter was retired or got on base. It was incredible. How did he know?

And he had a story ready for every player, whether it was a future Hall of Famer, or a kid making his major league debut. When the at-bat was over, the player seemed more human because you had learned some interesting detail about him.

In 1982 I was 14 and went to a Dodger game. This was before the internet and social media, so keeping track of the Dodgers’ top prospects or even daily transactions wasn’t as easy as it is now. In the starting lineup of the game was a catcher named Don Crow, up because of an injury to either Mike Scioscia or Steve Yeager.

When Crow was announced over the speakers as the starting catcher, you could practically hear everyone in the stadium say “Who?” But, when Crow came to bat the first time, Scully told a story of his youth and his travails reaching the majors. By the end of the story, with Crow still batting, you could practically hear everyone in the stadium hoping he’d hit a home run. He struck out, but the ovation he got walking back to the dugout was twice as loud as it was when he walked to the plate. And every at-bat after that, the fans greeted him warmly, all because Vin Scully told us a story we could hear over the dozens of transistor radios people brought to the game.

Crow played in only four big-league games and went 0 for 4 in his career. But I have never forgotten him because of Vin.

If I may be self-indulgent for a moment, I was fortunate enough to meet Scully twice. Once was backstage at a televised event called “Scully and Wooden: For the kids”, where Scully and Wooden told stories at an event that raised money for charity. You can watch the event here. I was fortunate enough to be one of the writers for the show. Backstage, I was introduced to Scully, who immediately said my name “Houston Mitchell, what a pleasure to meet you.” All I could think was “Vin Scully just said my name.” I said something back that was probably dumb, Scully laughed politely and we both moved on to other things.

After the event, I’m just standing there doing nothing, when who comes up from behind me but Vin. “Houston Mitchell, and it seems right that I call you by your whole name, those were some great questions you came up with. Thank you so much for helping make me look good out there.” He shook my hand, gave me a wink, and then was gone, like Santa Claus sliding up the chimney. Imagine, he came over to me, to thank me, for making him look good. (By the way, John Wooden was equally gracious and tremendous).

Six years later, I’m writing a book on the Dodgers and am hoping I can talk to Vin to tell me some stories about Jim Gilliam that I can use. I call the Dodgers, and they tell me that I can have five minutes with Vin if I get there three hours before the following night’s game. But they stress he is very busy and can only give me five minutes. No problem.

I get there and wait, and Vin is brought over to me. I tell him what I’m doing and hope he can talk about Gilliam. He says “We met at the Wooden event, didn’t we?” I was surprised he remembered, but he did. We sit at a table and he tells me a story about Gilliam (this is also where I learned Gilliam did not like to be called Junior.) The five minutes are up and someone from the Dodgers comes over to very politely shepherd him away. He stops them and says “I’m not done with my story, give me a few more minutes” The person leaves. Vin spends about 30 minutes telling me several stories about Gilliam and others. The person from the Dodgers comes to get him again. Vin looks at me and says “Do you have everything you need?” I say yes, and he says “Houston Mitchell, always a pleasure to talk to you.”

They say never meet your heroes, but in this case I’m glad I did.

OK, self-indulgent part over.

And the great thing about Scully, in this age of social media and people tearing each other down, you never heard or read a bad thing about him. No one posted “Ran into Vin Scully at the grocery store today. He was rude when I asked for a picture.” Those stories don’t exist.

Now, I want to hear from you. I want you to tell me how Vin Scully impacted your life. We did something similar when he announced his retirement in 2016, but now that he’s gone, you may have new thoughts on the matter. I will run selected memories throughout the rest of this season, and probably next season.

Please email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. Please make sure the subject line says “My Vin Scully memory” so I can group them easily. If you sent one in in 2016, please send in a new one. Please include your first and last name (can’t run it otherwise) and the city where you live.

As Scully said in his last game “Don’t be sad that it’s over. Be glad that it happened.”

Well Vin, with all due respect, we’re going to take a couple of days here to be sad. But we will forever be glad that we grew up listening to the best ever.

I don’t know all the legalities involved, but if I was in charge of the Dodger radio network, I’d be searching for an appropriate Vin-called game and would play it on the next evening the Dodgers have off. Promote it and give everyone in L.A. one last chance to fall asleep while listening to Vin Scully.

Vin Scully’s memorable calls and quotes

Here are some of Vin Scully’s most memorable calls and quotes:

“All year long they looked to him [Kirk Gibson] to light the fire and all year long he answered the demands. High fly ball into right field. She is gone! [pause] In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

“Sometimes it seems like he’s playing underwater.” — on Bobby Bonilla

“There’s a high bouncer over the mound, over second base, Mantilla’s up with it, throws low and wild ... Hodges scores, we go to Chicago! [crowd noise for a nice long while] The Cinderella team [1959 Los Angeles Dodgers] of the National League.”

“There’s a little roller up along first, behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!” — 1986 World Series

On his cool demeanor when calling the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only World Series title in 1955: “On the last out of the game in the finale, I said, `Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world.’ Then I stopped and didn’t say another thing. All winter long people asked me, `How could you have stayed so calm?’ Well, the truth is, I was so emotionally overwhelmed by it all that if I had to say another word I think I would have cried.”

“When he runs, it’s all downhill.” — on Maury Wills

Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day to day. [pause] Aren’t we all?”

“Football is to baseball as blackjack is to bridge. One is the quick jolt. The other the deliberate, slow-paced game of skill, but never was a sport more ideally suited to television than baseball. It’s all there in front of you. It’s theater, really. The star is the spotlight on the mound, the supporting cast fanned out around him, the mathematical precision of the game moving with the kind of inevitability of Greek tragedy. With the Greek chorus in the bleachers!”

“He pitches as though he’s double-parked.” — on Bob Gibson

“He’s like a tailor; a little off here, a little off there and you’re done, take a seat.” — on Tom Glavine

“How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old-timers’ game.”

“It’s a passing of a great American tradition. It is sad. I really and truly feel that. It will leave a vast window, to use a Washington word, where people will not get Major League Baseball and I think that’s a tragedy.” —on the last “NBC Game of the Week” on Oct. 9, 1989.

“I would come home to listen to a football game — there weren’t other sports on — and I would get a pillow and I would crawl under the radio, so that the loudspeaker and the roar of the crowd would wash all over me, and I would just get goosebumps like you can’t believe. And I knew that of all the things in this world that I wanted, I wanted to be that fella saying, whatever, home run, or touchdown. It just really got to me.”

Roberto Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pittsburgh.”

Calling Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run: “What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. … It is over, at 10 minutes after 9 in Atlanta, Georgia, Henry Aaron has eclipsed the mark set by Babe Ruth. You could not, I guess, get two more opposite men. The Babe, big and garrulous and oh so sociable and oh so immense in all his appetites. And then the quiet lad out of Mobile, Alabama — slender and stayed slender throughout his career. Ruth, as he put on the poundage and the paunch, the Yankees put their ballplayers in pinstripe uniforms, because it made Ruth look slimmer. But they didn’t need pinstripe uniforms for Aaron in the twilight of his career.”

His final words as a Dodgers broadcaster:

“You know, friends, so many people have wished me congratulations on a 67-year career in baseball, and they’ve wished me a wonderful retirement with my family, and now, all I can do is tell you what I wish for you. May God give you, for every storm, a rainbow; for every tear, a smile; for every care, a promise; and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life seems, a faithful friend to share; for every sigh, a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer. You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know, in my heart, I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me, and I’ll miss our time together more than I can say. But, you know what, there will be a new day, and, eventually, a new year, and when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, ooh, rest assured, once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball. So, this is Vin Scully wishing you a pleasant good afternoon, wherever you may be.”

Final inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game

You can listen to the inning here.

“Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked out to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth where he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, September the ninth, nineteen-hundred and sixty-five, he made the toughest walk of his career, I’m sure, because through eight innings he has pitched a perfect game. He has struck out 11, he has retired 24 consecutive batters, and the first man he will look at is catcher Chris Krug, big right-hand hitter, flied to second, grounded to short. Dick Tracewski is now at second base and Koufax ready and delivers: curveball for a strike.

“Oh-and-one the count to Chris Krug. Out on deck to pinch-hit is one of the men we mentioned earlier as a possible, Joey Amalfitano. Here’s the strike one pitch to Krug: fastball, swung on and missed, strike two. And you can almost taste the pressure now. Koufax lifted his cap, ran his fingers through his black hair, then pulled the cap back down, fussing at the bill. Krug must feel it too as he backs out, heaves a sigh, took off his helmet, put it back on and steps back up to the plate. Tracewski is over to his right to fill up the middle, Kennedy is deep to guard the line. The strike two pitch on the way: fastball, outside, ball one. Krug started to go after it and held up and Torborg held the ball high in the air trying to convince Vargo [the umpire] but Eddie said no sir. One and two the count to Chris Krug. It is 9:41 p.m. on September the ninth. The one-two pitch on the way: curveball, tapped foul off to the left of the plate.

“The Dodgers defensively in this spine-tingling moment: Sandy Koufax and Jeff Torborg. The boys who will try and stop anything hit their way: Wes Parker, Dick Tracewski, Maury Wills and John Kennedy; the outfield of Lou Johnson, Willie Davis and Ron Fairly. And there’s twenty-nine thousand people in the ballpark and a million butterflies. Twenty-nine thousand, one hundred and thirty-nine paid.

“Koufax into his windup and the one-two pitch: fastball, fouled back out of play. In the Dodger dugout Al Ferrara gets up and walks down near the runway, and it begins to get tough to be a teammate and sit in the dugout and have to watch. Sandy back of the rubber, now toes it. All the boys in the bullpen straining to get a better look as they look through the wire fence in left field. One and two the count to Chris Krug. Koufax, feet together, now to his windup and the one-two pitch: fastball outside, ball two. (Crowd booing on the tape.)

“A lot of people in the ballpark now are starting to see the pitches with their hearts. The pitch was outside, Torborg tried to pull it over the plate but Vargo, an experienced umpire, wouldn’t go for it. Two and two the count to Chris Krug. Sandy reading signs, into his windup, two-two pitch: fastball, got him swinging.

“Here is Joe Amalfitano to pinch-hit for Don Kessinger. Amalfitano is from Southern California, from San Pedro. He was an original bonus boy with the Giants. Joey’s been around, and as we mentioned earlier, he has helped to beat the Dodgers twice, and on deck is Harvey Kuenn. Kennedy is tight to the bag at third, the fastball, a strike. Oh and one with one out in the ninth inning, 1-0, Dodgers. Sandy reading, into his windup and the strike one pitch: curveball, tapped foul, Oh and two. And Amalfitano walks away and shakes himself a little bit, and swings the bat. And Koufax with a new ball, takes a hitch at his belt and walks behind the mound.

“I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world. Sandy fussing, looks in to get his sign, Oh and two to Amalfitano. The strike two pitch to Joe: fastball, swung on and missed, strike three. He is one out away from the promised land, and Harvey Kuenn is comin’ up.

“So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date, September the ninth, 1965, and Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn. Sandy into his windup and the pitch, a fastball for a strike. He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and that’s gone unnoticed. Sandy ready and the strike one pitch: very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That’s only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off — he took an extremely long stride to the plate — and Torborg had to go up to get it.

“One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready: fastball, high, ball two. You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while Kuenn just waiting. Now Sandy looks in. Into his windup and the two-one pitch to Kuenn: swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m.

“Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch:

“Swung on and missed, a perfect game! (Crowd cheering for 38 seconds)

“On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games. He has done it four straight years, and now he caps it: On his fourth no-hitter he made it a perfect game. And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flourish. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So, when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that “K” stands out even more than the O-U-F-A-X.”

And finally

Vin Scully’s final sign off. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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