Vin Scully, 1927-2022
The last time I saw Vin Scully, it was a Wednesday in May in the City of Angels, and we were at the ballpark, his ballpark, Dodger Stadium, and one more time I asked him about the old radio.
“Joseph,” he said to me, “how many times have I told you this story?”
He smiled. How many times had it been? A half-dozen? A dozen? But he always obliged. And Vin began like he always began: “When I was about 8 years old,” he said, “I used to crawl underneath a big, four-legged radio and listen to college football. In those days, college football was pretty much the only sport you would hear on the radio …”
When talking with Vin, even in the most casual of moments, there was always a temptation to close your eyes, and just listen like he was talking to you through that old four-legged radio.
“Henry,” he might say, for example, if Henry Aaron’s name came up, “well, Henry had a certain grace about him. He ran a little bit different.”
And, yes, I would want to close my eyes and turn up the volume.
“Willie,” he continued, now talking about Willie Mays, “now, Willie ran with his hat flying off and joy just coming off him like sparks. But Henry, there was something regal about Henry, opposite of Willie, who was a sandlot kid playing with all of us. And, understand Willie did play stickball in the streets of New York, as I did when I was a kid. Henry was just a little bit apart. He was just a regal player from the first time I saw him.”
It is not anything special to say I loved Vin Scully. We all loved him. We all loved him for the things he used to say …
“How good was Stan Musial?” he once said. “Good enough to take your breath away.”
“Bob Gibson pitches like he’s double-parked,” he once said.
“Football is to baseball,” he once said, “like blackjack is to bridge. One is the quick jolt; the other the deliberate, slow-paced game of skill.”
And we all loved him for things he didn’t say … like the moment after Aaron hit his 715th home run. “I took off the headset, and I went to the back of the booth, and I got a little water,” he would say, “and I just stood there watching this marvelous moment. There was nothing else I could say.”
We loved him most for being there, always, night game after night game, day game after day game, continuously finding a new story to coax a smile, a new description that caught us just a little bit by surprise, continuously finding the same level of delight he had been feeling for 70 years of calling baseball games … and other sports, too.
Vin, who passed away on Tuesday night, lived to be almost 95 years old. He, like all of us, lived a life of great joys and great sadness, a life of thrills and a life of pain …
…. but unlike all of us, Vin Scully never stopped being that kid in the Bronx sitting under that radio.
How does a person do that?
“Here’s a kid in New York, sitting under a radio at age 8 listening to Tennessee-Alabama,” he said of that first time, “not knowing anyone on the teams, not even knowing where Tennessee and Alabama were. But something would happen during the game. The crowd would roar. And I would be underneath the radio, the speaker would be directly over my head, and the roar would come out like water out of a shower head, and I would get goosebumps from head to toe.”
I told him then, as I had told him many times, about the goosebumps he had given me through the years. And I asked Vin one last time how he had done it, how for seven decades he had found the right words, how for seven decades in every situation imaginable he continuously found his exuberance and curiosity and sense of fun.
“Something does come up,” he said of all those moments through all those years. “I really think God has had a hand in it. I really and truly do.”
Rest in peace, Vin. Here is, more or less, what I wrote about him on the day when he broadcast his final game.
There are two outs now, bottom of the ninth, and we’re under a full moon at Dodger Stadium. There are runners at second and third, and the Dodgers trail by a run. And, well now, what’s this? It looks like Lasorda is calling back Steve Garvey. This is a surprise. I cannot imagine who Lasorda would rather have at the plate in this key moment than Captain America. But, the Dodgers are going to send up a pinch-hitter to face Warren Spahn.
And it looks like, yes, the pinch hitter going to be Vincent Edward Scully. Well, they say strange things happen on nights when there is a full moon, and this is certainly strange.
Vin Scully, well, there's certainly no need to tell you much about him. He has been with the Dodgers since they were in Brooklyn. Everything about him is familiar, even in this most unfamiliar of positions. Two outs. Two on. And the Dodgers trail by a run.
Spahn winds up and delivers. Screwball just outside for a ball. Scully bats left-handed, and maybe that gives us a hint why Lasorda brought him in here. There is a theory that left-handed batters have a better chance against the Spahn screwball because the ball breaks toward them instead of breaking away. Then again, you know what the French biologist Jean Rostand said about theories. He said, "Theories pass. The frog remains." And the Spahn screwball is the frog.
Scully steps out of the box to consider the moment. What must be going through his mind? He was born in the Bronx back in 1927, or, as he likes to say, shortly after the discovery of fire. He has seen this situation countless times. But he knows, too, that this will be the last time. What must he be feeling?
Juan Marichal begins his windup. There's that famous high-leg kick, and the pitch is in there for a strike at the knees. Scully might have thought that was a bit low, but he has been around this game long enough to know that his opinion doesn’t matter much on such matters.
Scully, you might know, longed to be a sports announcer before there was any such thing as a sports announcer. When he was 8 years old, Sister Virginia Maria asked her students to write a paper about what they wanted to be when they grew up. The girls all wanted to be teachers and nurses, and the boys all wanted to be firemen and policemen. Vin Scully wrote that he wanted to be a sports announcer.
The count is one and one, and Bob Gibson glares in to get the sign. There is nothing in baseball quite like that menacing Bob Gibson glare. He could scare one of the knights of the roundtable with that stare. Gibby likes to say he is not really trying to intimidate anyone, he just stares like that because he doesn't wear his glasses on the mound, and he can’t see the signs clearly. I would guess just about every hitter in the National League would prefer that he wear his glasses.
Here's the windup and the pitch -- high for ball two.
Look at that moon. Can you believe we put a man on it?
Two on, two outs, this is a good situation for a hero. Jackie Robinson is on third, Ron Cey on second, and the Dodgers trail by a run. Robinson is over there dancing around, hoping to distract the pitcher, Tom Seaver. But Seaver is keeping a close eye; he’s been around this game a long time. Seaver is ready now. Here’s the windup and the pitch -- swing and a miss for strike two. Blew the fastball right by him.
Scully shakes his head like he remembers a time when you couldn't throw a fastball by him.
We were talking about heroes. Scully has always been fascinated by heroics. When he was a kid, he says, he used to take a pillow and crawl under the radio in the family’s fifth-floor walk-up apartment. There was no baseball on the radio in those days, but there was football, and the young Vin Scully would lie under the radio, wait for a big moment, a touchdown or an important tackle, and then soak in the roar of the crowd. He says the cheers would just engulf him, like water spouting out of a shower head. He would sure love to hear some of those cheers now, and 45,983 here at Dodger Stadium would love to oblige.
Two and two to Vin Scully. Greg Maddux checks the runners. He looks so professorial on the mound, Maddux does, with his glasses and that incisive look on his face. He looks like he will be teaching Chaucer after the game. In an age of fireballers, Maddux manages to get people out with his mind as much as with his arm. Maddux into his windup, here’s the pitch, fastball, and Scully barely fouls it back to stay alive. The crowd leaps and then sighs.
Everyone know that this will be Scully's final at-bat. There are so many statistics we could use to describe his unfathomable baseball life. He has spent 67 years with the Dodgers. He lasted through 12 different managers, from Burt Shotton to Dave Roberts. He has survived 18 different Dodger owners. How about this one? The Dodgers have played 145 different people at first base since Vin Scully joined the team. There are many more, but I would prefer to use statistics for illumination rather than the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support.
Deuces wild on the scoreboard, two balls, two strikes, two on, two outs. Randy Johnson checks the runner at third, and he steps off the rubber to gather himself. You could hear the crowd exhale, couldn’t you? You probably know that Randy Johnson, at 6-foot-10, is the tallest pitcher in major league baseball history, but do you know who was the tallest pitcher before the Big Unit came around? That’s one that might stump your friends: It was a pitcher named Johnny Gee, who pitched for the Pirates and Giants in the 1940s. He was 6-foot-9, and he won seven games in his career. Ol’ Johnny Gee -- people didn't know what to call him. Some naturally called him Long Johnny Gee. But others called him Johnny Gee Whiz.
Johnson’s ready now, he delivers the 2-2 pitch and, it's outside for ball three. And now we are at the end, the count is full, and Vincent Edward Scully stands ready for the final time with the winning runs on base and the moon dangling over Dodger Stadium, and the Dodgers trailing by a run. It’s a funny thing about baseball. You see a rookie take the field for the first time, so full of nerves and energy and hope and wonder, you think it will never end. But end it must.
And here we are at the end for Vin Scully. Madison Bumgarner nervously kicks at the dirt like a kid getting ready to ask a girl to the prom. Now, he looks up, and Scully digs in. Here’s the windup. And here’s the pitch. High fly ball into rightfield … she is gone!
(The sound of the crowd roaring)
It is midnight in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California, and Vin Scully, whose name will always remind you of the way baseball can clutch your heart and make you float a few inches above the ground, rounds the bases, and he lets that sound, that wonderful sound, wash over him one final time, like water pouring from a shower head.