The last of the best saved his best for last.
I wasn’t yet the ghost of cigarette smoke curling toward the ceiling in my granddad’s eye when Sinatra played the Sands in ’66. When Satchmo took over New York Town Hall May 17, 1947, my mother was in the womb. My folks hadn’t yet met when Elvis stalked the stage during his caped comeback of ’68. And when Judy Garland shouted the rooftop off Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, my father was just entering puberty and probably had the same pitch as pill-popping Dorothy.
You could say I missed out on all the great performances of the 20th Century, and you would be right. You would be right that there is nothing to match those pipes in our contemporary voice vernacular as well.
You would be right, that is, until 3:40 p.m. Friday, April 4, 2014.
It is then I will tune the dial and hear, broadcast live, one of the golden greats of the 20th …and 21st centur(ies), give the following salutation to set the stage for the first game of his 65th season in the broadcast booth:
“It’s time for Dodger baseball. Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good day to you, wherever you may be.”
This rhapsody in Dodger Blue. This mortal whose tone and cadence and emotive prose sends the giants of his craft into the shadows of repose. One man. One voice.
One Vin Scully.
It is difficult to speak on Scully without having to reach into the bag of superlatives and dust off every single last one, send it to the dry cleaners like one of his signature Century 21 branch manager jackets and appropriately clashing pocket squares, and try them on new again.
So I won’t.
Some, even those who call themselves contemporaries, dare make the mistake of getting nostalgic when the spare Scully starts his laconic loll. There’s an intimation of a better time coming through his mic more in the words unsaid than those spoken.
Indeed, the America of 1950, Scully’s first year announcing for the Trolley Dodgers of Brooklyn, is less vague than in memory — and very real if only for him. And maybe that is the only thing that makes it hard for us to hear. The fact that we were not there. It is a secret only he knows and dares not share. So we listen with the hope he might.
The good and the bad. The things he does not speak and, more importantly, those he does intone. And that is, it was never a perfect time because it has never been a perfect time. And he does not play it as such. The consummate straight man. The one who is honest enough to tell you he is bluffing with a bad hand. Yet he is good enough you don’t believe him.
His no-frills bottomless reservoir of talent obscures a part of our country’s fabric that we have somehow managed not only to forget, but un-stitch, revise and re-sew. Our yearning for that precious moment is the same one he brings to every play call. It is the reality of now and now is really that we just the want to be better ourselves.
This very human realization, though times have, has never changed.
It is no wonder one voice stirs the desire to take part in all that is right. It is only right to want be more in the face of a natural wonder — the only thing that can happen when history is made 81 home games a year before you by a voice beyond you. A single broadcaster has not dominated but defined the airwaves for more than a quarter of his nation’s history. Scully has not only become synonymous with the sport, but the events of the world that changed around him as he remained a constant.
And, whether intentional or not, he has made everyone look all the sillier for it.
No, there is no @vinscully on Twitter. Instagram to him is a broken camera in a box of the storage area in his Pacific Palisades garage. Midcentury Modern isn’t a kitschy catchphrase or commodity of the clever, it is the LA he saw awaken before his eyes.
He watched the cranes creak and grumble and the stanchions and light towers and palms rise — a stadium tucked in a ravine coined after a then-forgotten Angeleno councilman from the century prior. His neck cricked as he saw the cement trucks pour concrete in serpentine swirls through the wind-rushed hills and riveted valleys as a city rose from low tide. He rubbed his eyes one memorable morning and saw a miracle — the white sand-frosted endless horizon of the West.
Once each strikeout is dealt and each home run measured, the sun sets for Scully and for Scully only. His California, the one he imagined then built with words, slumbers and wakes again for the promise of a sunny day matinee.
He is transcendent if not relevant, if not revelatory. He was born in the Bronx but bought a stake in the Golden State and that is where he will stay, through his last season and beyond. He wasn’t bi-coastal or any kind of bi- really. Like his contemporary Carson, he did not take much stock in the market and real estate was a place you lived not an investment you made. You worked for your dollar but knew you had one over on the working man anyway. You gave him a smile and a wink and in return, you won him over again, every day.
Retirement was never the goal, it was the death sentence.
And so, at 86, Vin Scully keeps working. He can recall with clarity the first Dodger title of 1955 Brooklyn and then another in 1959 and yet again in 1963. But he doesn’t bite when the next generation of journalists, now called bloggers, ask him to play it back for them in sepia tone. The color on his set has never had to be adjusted. Life is how he calls it. Straight-forward in the majority, boredom for long stretches and fleeting in a moment of beauty.
The dark alley of memory lane is a white wash, a lazy man’s shell game. Chase away the gilded post-war era. The way men dressed and the way women blushed. The way children screamed and the way America didn’t have as many scratches and dings. To Scully, that is a filigree of someone else’s imagination one block down in Hollywood. It is just a show you see on AMC.
He was there. He lived it. Sure it was another time and another place. But in it he sees something else. Something #nofilter can replicate. He sees the truth. And the truth is he is here now, and we are here with him. And that is what counts.
Humility comes naturally to those like Vin Scully. And, to qualify, there is only one Vin Scully and humility doesn’t come naturally to the rest of us. And that is why we marvel.
When approached this off-season by an LA Times beat writer who gingerly gestured whether Scully would be pleased if the arterial avenue to Chavez were named in his honor, the play caller brushed aside the query in the classiest of ways. Instead of saying, “Well, I’m not done yet. Let’s talk frontage roads when I reside beneath one,” he diverted the attention to legendary Dodger owner and his first boss, Walter O’Malley.
O’Malley was the man with the vision. The man who saw Los Angeles as not only a vacationer’s respite but a permanent home on the Pacific. O’Malley was not the Boston parking lot owner and carpetbagger McCourt who sucked the team dry as his personal ATM to help pay for $50 million in legal fees to divorce attorneys. O’Malley was not the Chicago-based hedge fund which parades out Magic Johnson and giant TV contracts to punish the fan by putting the team in the billion-dollar super-earning stratosphere. O’Malley was rows of families and dollar beers and spacious seats and Farmer John Jumbo Beef Franks and a chance to bring a little bit of Brooklyn Swagger to the sleepy and sweeping sea.
Or in Scully’s words: “(O’Malley’s) the one who came out on a gamble, who played in the Coliseum with that (left-field) screen to the scorn of Eastern writers. (He’s the one) who built Dodger Stadium. He really deserves it. Just think of all the city and tax dollars, all the jobs.”
No, it is not the place of a man, even a lion who will turn 90 before his team’s ace is halfway through his current contract, to criticize. But he can still jab. It is his job. It is his right (and his left) that he has earned.
From Koufax to Kershaw, Lasorda to Little, Hodges to Hershiser and Podres to Puig — Scully has called them all with candor, composure, calm and the wonder of that same 22-year-old boy who first set foot in the Ebbets press box and started to do the play-by-play as he was born to.
Calling the game he’s seen stay constant like a stream of his own lyricism. A game he’s seen play over the course of one great war and a few not-so-good ones …insurrections, assassinations, allegations, consternations and conflagrations, plus an earthquake and a riot or two.
Economic build-ups to political melt-downs. Shady back-office dealings on skid row to revitalized downtowns. Summers spent in the abyss of dismal sub-.500 ball and every single voice-raised-just-an-octave home run call; in all of this, he has remained the rarest of all rare commodities, in baseball — and in life. He embodies the one trait we have lost as a collective.
Vin Scully is sincere.
Now let’s all tune in and listen to what that sounds like, and maybe apply a little of it to our own life. #shallwe?