For native Angelenos like myself, Vin Scully was more than an announcer. He was our history teacher, storyteller, role model, uncle and neighbor all wrapped in one. Scully taught us about the American flag, D-Day, the atrocities of socialism, J.D. Salinger, 1950s America and civil rights all while a baseball game was happening.
By Chris Umpierre
You are watching a run-of-the-mill game in the dead of summer and you’re about to change the channel when the voice on the television starts telling you about a player who nearly got consumed by a wolf.
“Let’s start when he was 12,” Dodgers announcer Vin Scully says as Braves outfielder Johnny Gomes fouls off a pitch. “Johnny was doing work on his grandmother’s house and a hired hand showed up with a wolf on a leash.”
You drop your cell phone, sit up straight and listen to the voice.
“And the wolf attacks him,” said Scully, his voice rising. “The wolf knocks Johnny down and is on his chest. It’s just about ready to devour him. 2-2 pitch. Check swing. No swing. Ball three. Anyway, Johnny suddenly, totally and completely relaxes. He was done. He knew it. But whatever he did by relaxing the wolf decides, ‘Uh huh, I don’t have a rival here.’ So the wolf got off his chest and walked away.”
Vincent Edward Scully — the world’s best storyteller — retires Sunday after 67 years as the radio and TV voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For native Angelenos like myself, Scully was more than an announcer. He was our history teacher, storyteller, role model, uncle and neighbor all wrapped in one.
Scully taught us about the American flag, D-Day, the atrocities of socialism, J.D. Salinger, 1950s America and civil rights all while a baseball game was happening. Scully was our bridge to the past and THE reason why we brought radios and headphones to games. His voice enthralled us. His humility inspired us. And his consistency galvanized us.
Can you imagine doing the same job for 67 years? Can you imagine calling 10,000 baseball games?
Scully did, and he did it without losing his skills. Last month, the 88-year-old described the details of a necklace hanging on a San Francisco reliever’s neck.
Scully went viral — that’s happened a lot with Vin — in September 2016 when he told a story about the late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. Scully, whose research is incomparable, talked about an old Fernandez tweet.
“Young Jose a year ago wrote the following, ‘If you were given a book with the story of your life would you read the end?’ He was 23 then and already thinking some pretty deep thoughts,” Scully said.
But to me, Scully’s greatest gift isn’t his broadcasting acumen. Scully’s greatest gift is bringing people together.
My mother, who isn’t an avid baseball fan, loves Vin. She won’t watch other baseball games but she will listen to Vin and his stories. She wanted to go to Vin Scully’s last home game to be there for Vin, a man she has never met.
It’s his humility, consistency and devotion to Los Angeles that endeared Scully to my mother and to thousands of non-baseball fans.
When I think of Scully’s most famous call — Kirk Gibson’s legendary walk-off home run against Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series – I don’t immediately think of Scully’s historic line although it does still bring me goose bumps:
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” Scully said.
Instead, I think of my family gathered around a 12-inch television set in my kitchen. We watched together as Kirk Gibson limped to the plate. I was just 10 years old but I can still remember my mom, dad and two little brothers watching that magical game around our small kitchen table.
Through the decades, Vin Scully and the Dodgers have been the glue in our home. His quality broadcasts united us. It helped me bond with my father. Could it have happened with another broadcaster? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been the same.
With Vin Scully on the microphone, all you had to do was close your eyes. Scully gives you images, color and detail. He paints the picture. His cadence and words seem like he’s reaching out of the TV and talking to you.
The best, at least to me, were his stories. Three of my favorite:
The time Madison Bumgarner chopped up a rattlesnake and saved a rabbit
The history of beards
In an era where television networks put pressure on announcers to be supportive of the home team, Scully has never gone that way.
Scully calls them how he sees it. He won’t call a Dodger home run unless it is a home run. He will question Dodgers management, owners and lineup moves.
Scully does it all while being humble. He loves to fill a historic game-winning home run with … silence.
Why drown the moment with words? Let the crowd noise tell the story.
After Hank Aaron clubbed his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s record in 1974, Scully remained silent for one minute and 44 seconds. He let the images and the sounds of the stadium take over.
When the cheers and fireworks died down, Scully came to the microphone with analysis for the ages:
“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 the record of an all-time baseball idol, and it is a great moment for all of us,’’ he said.
Scully was once asked why he lets silence takes over. Other broadcasters like to yell during these moments. Why doesn’t he do that?
“The game is the thing, not me,” Scully said.
A Child at Heart
Scully has endeared himself to L.A. and the world because of his love for children. Watch any of his broadcasts and you’ll find him talking about children in the stands. He’ll laugh and joke as if he’s talking to the boy or girl.
Scully says children elicit a response in him. He can’t hold back. He has to comment on that childhood joy.
Scully has 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Scully has also lost a child — his son Michael died at age 33 in a helicopter accident — and that surely factors into why Scully makes it a point to pick out children in the crowd.
Scully’s other child, Catherine, has brought him joy. Catherine tells the story of how she wouldn’t go to the family pool without the voice of the Dodgers announcing her with a proper introduction.
“Ladies and gentleman, now presenting the infamous Catherine Anne Whale!’’ Scully would say.
Vin Scully’s departure is L.A.’s second broadcasting blow. Chick Hearn, who spent 42 years as the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Vin formed quite a twosome. Chick and Vin nurtured and fueled my love for sports.
Now, they’re both gone.
L.A. will find its next broadcasting stars, but it could take years or decades.
Dear Vin: We will miss the iconic way you start broadcasts. “It’s tiiiiiiiiiime for Dodger baseball” will never sound the same. We will miss your stories. We will miss your history lessons. We will most definitely miss your musical voice.
You represent the Southern California dream. You represent L.A. You represent the Dodgers.
We will always remember your signature introduction to each game. So let’s end this story with how you started yours:
“Hi everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.”