Monday, September 26, 2016

My tribute to Vin Scully

Okay, this is part one of a two-parter. It didn’t start out a two-parter but I just had so much to share I couldn’t stop writing. Even the two parts are a little long. But the subject matter deserves it. My tribute to the great Vin Scully.

I can’t imagine not having Vin Scully. It’s like… what if there was suddenly no color red? Or (for you Millennials) no more computers?

Growing up in Los Angeles, Vin Scully calling Dodger games has been a constant. His voice has been a reassurance that no matter what craziness goes on in the world or my life, everything was going to be okay. Listening to Vin Scully was the ultimate comfort food; the quintessential Linus blanket.

This has been going on here in LA since 1958. For folks in Brooklyn, even longer. For an overwhelming part of the population, that’s longer than they’ve been alive.

And it all ends next Sunday.

Vin Scully is retiring after Sunday’s final game with the Giants. He’ll turn 89 in a few weeks. After broadcasting for 67 years he’s certainly entitled. But the void he will leave is incalculable.

Everyone in the world is writing tributes to him this month (as they should be). I won’t dwell on just how great an announcer he is. He is Mozart. No one will ever be better. Period. No announcer will ever have as much impact on a community. Never again will 50,000 people bring radios to a sports venue to hear an announcer describe the game they’re watching. There must be a hundred sites that are featuring his highlight calls. But I want to talk about the impact he had on me personally and my relationship with him.

Quite simply, no one besides my parents have had a greater influence on me. My love for baseball, broadcasting, and storytelling all stem from being enraptured by Vin Scully calling countless baseball games. His use of language, his sense of drama, his humanity, even his comic timing inspired me to chart my course. From the time I was eight years-old I wanted to be a baseball announcer. (Most kids want to be players, but I knew even then I was a klutz.)

When I was nine I organized a Vin Scully fan club. Me and several friends would meet in our garage at 7:30 on nights the Dodgers were playing. Back then home games began at 8:00. We listened to the warm-up show (brought to you by Draft Brewed Blatz Beer), stood up during the National Anthem, and listened to the first inning. After that the meeting broke up and we all had to go to bed. (Of course I listened to the rest of the game on a transistor radio under my pillow.)
This was a post card of Vin Scully & Jerry Doggett that I sent away for in 1962
When I was thirty-five I decided if I really wanted to be a baseball announcer it was now or never, so I went to the upper deck of Dodger Stadium and began broadcasting games into a tape recorder. Two years later I sent around tapes, got a job in the minors and that launched my play-by-play career that would take me to Baltimore, Seattle, and San Diego.

My first year in Baltimore, we were in spring training in Florida. One day we traveled to Vero Beach to play the Dodgers. Scully happened to be there that day. I introduced myself and we sat for fifteen minutes trading information about our teams. And the thought struck me, “Holy shit! Vin Scully is treating me like a PEER.” That’s when I knew I had arrived.

Years later I became the host of Dodger Talk (the Dodgers’ pre and post game shows) and got to see Vinny in the booth every night. Every time he would cheerfully say, “Hi, Kenny!” I was like, “Ohmygod! The prettiest girl in school knows my name!” Vin was always approachable, always willing to answer questions or share a story.

I did some traveling with the Dodgers and in 2000 we opened the season in Montreal then went on to New York. I always got out to the park very early. On Sunday, April 9th I arrived at Shea Stadium and it looked like Christmas morning. It had snowed during the night and the field was white. No game that day. The only other person in the pressbox was Vinny. So he and I went to the press dining room for warm coffee, and for two magic hours it was just he and I sitting at a table talking. Any time he asked questions about me I wanted to say, “Who gives a shit about me. Let’s talk about YOU.” Having been a fan since the day the team arrived, I was able to ask him questions about those early days, how difficult it was to call games in the Coliseum, what he and longtime partner, Jerry Dogget would do on the road, etc.  If ever in my life I wanted time to stand still...

He revealed something I never knew, and something he never made public until just a few years ago. After several seasons in Los Angeles he was offered the number one job with the Yankees. Vin was still a little homesick for New York at the time, and as a New Yorker recognized that lead voice of the Yankees was the pinnacle of baseball broadcasting. So he almost took it. Yikes.  At the last moment something in his gut told him to stick it out in Los Angeles. But I had no idea that we came that close to losing him and how different my life might’ve been as a result.

We didn’t only discuss baseball. He loves Broadway musicals. For the last few seasons he’s had a driver, but for many years he’d drive himself to the park and sing along with showtunes. Wouldn’t you love to be in THAT car?   Fans got a glimpse yesterday when he sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" after his final home game.   Big surprise -- he's a terrific singer.  Even at 88. 

My other memory of that East Coast trip is coming home one night in Montreal. There is a subway line that goes straight from the stadium to a block from our hotel. It was a much faster and easier option than taking the team bus. So Vin and the other broadcasters took the subway. One night we’re sitting on the train and some tipsy baseball fans enter the car, see Vinny and just about plotz. I’m sure it’s the same reaction when someone sees Barbra Streisand at the 99-Cent store.

Doing Dodger Talk from 2008-2010, I would get out to the park very early. Usually around 3:00; partly because I loved how still and peaceful Dodger Stadium was at that hour. And it was so quiet that I could hear Vin chatting in the next booth. Again, just hearing that voice was a source of great comfort.

My new play that opens this Thursday is dedicated to Vin Scully.  

Part Two is tomorrow.  Hope you'll join us and "pull up a chair." 


Stephen Marks said...

Very nice picture and tribute to a legend. Perhaps Tom Hank's new movie should have been called, and about, "Scully"

Mike Barer said...

Glad Vin is still with us and is leaving on his own terms! Hats off to this legend to all legends!

Mike Barer said...

Quite a passing for us baby boomers. Charles Osgood and Vin Scully retired and Arnold Palmer died.

Michael said...

Ken, when I was eight, I decided I wanted to be a baseball announcer and wrote to him. The next year, for my first major league game, my parents wrote ahead and he invited me to the booth to meet him--which my parents didn't tell me until we got to the stadium. Plotz is the right word. When I entered the booth, he looked down and said, "So you're the guy who wants my job!" I gaped. I think I managed to say thank you when he ushered me out after bringing me down to the front of the booth, introducing me to Jerry, and opening the pre-game show.

Now I'm a history professor. I write and talk for a living, I guess. And like you, I feel Vin's influence every day in every way. And meeting him is still, next to my wedding, the greatest moment of my life. My wife is a Giants fan and feels the same way about him. So I better quit before I say he ties with my wedding, and while I can still see the screen.

1955david said...

This is a great piece. Thank you

Anonymous said...

To the 95% of America that has no idea who Vin Scully is...You hear that a team has an announcer who's been with the team 67 years and you figure it's some old geezer they keep on for nostalgia's sake. His voice must croak or be scratchy, his partner must cover for his mental lapses occasionally--he's there because today's fans remember what he did when it was 1975.


He is a freak of nature. His pipes are great and so is his eyesight. He can follow a 500 foot homer into the left field pavilion. He works solo without a wingman. 16 inning game at age 88? Sure, no problem. He has the mind of a 30-year-old with the stories of a 90-year-old. Others will write about what it was to grow up listening to him. I'll tell you he's going out at the top of his game. Some will say his signature is the "It's time for Dodger baseball" that starts every broadcast. Nah. The real Vin Scully comes through with his next line: "Well, hi everybody and a pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be." A pleasant retirement to you, Vin Scully, and god have mercy on whoever must follow you.


julian said...

thanks, Ken. Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

Gary West said...

Vin is one of those, who you wish - could go on forever. Like Dan Ingram and Johnny Carson. I'll be enjoying the Giant games over KTLA-HD (over the air). I don't think I'll ever hear "Wind Beneath My Wings" the same again. All that Vin Scully (car) singing paid off!

Breadbaker said...

MLB network has given us most of his games this season and we will watch just for the pure pleasure of hearing his almost perfect rendition of the game. Including his knowledge that baseball can overwhelm announcing and sometimes silence is the perfect sound. If the game is tight, he might say nothing between pitches.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Great story, Ken. Every 8-year-old needs to read it. Dreams do come true.

As a kid, I listened to Dodger games with my dad. Probably one of the best bonding experiences we had. But I also bonded with the Dodgers. I'm not certain that bond would have been so deeply felt if it weren't for Vin Scully's elegant vocal portraits of the players, the game, and the thrill of his awe-inspiring home run call..."she is gone."

HIs final home game broadcast couldn't have been written any better. A dramatic home run won the game and the division title, and I was a kid again, cheering with pop, and brought to tears by a brilliant, humble artist, Vin Scully.

His broadcasts filled winning and losing with class, inspiration and maturity. If only he were running for President.

Paul B said...

One trip to LA I was driving in the car and somehow landed on a Dodger game. It was during a rare rain delay and for the next 15 or 20 minutes Vin just talked extemporaneously. It was the greatest call of a baseball game that wasn't (or was)!

VincentS said...

Like a true champion, he went out when he was still ahead. He brought such class to the game. I will miss him. And I'm a Yankees fan!

Dave said...

Said this before and will say it again: the most awesome thing about Vin is that he doesn't really appreciate how awesome he is. I'm glad we all had the opportunity to express our thanks while he was still around to receive them.

Kosmo13 said...

I know Vin Scully primarily as a TV Game Show host and secondarily for his X-Files connections. I keep forgetting he also did some sportscasting.

Glenn E said...

Sept 25, 2016 was an emotional ride in sports for the entire day. Waking to the terrible Jose Fernandez news and the agonizing press conference with all the Marlins. Then the extra inning walk-off division clinching moment for Vin Scully's final home Dodgers game. And by the end of evening, we were saying farewell to another class act: Arnold Palmer.

Young at heart indeed. Thank you, Ken.

Doug said...

I hate the Dodgers. But I love Vin Scully. Godspeed and may he enjoy many years with his family.

DrBOP said...

I had Early Wynn and Herb Score
and you had Vin Scully
no comment

Unknown said...

Thanks, Ken. While I'm a little fatigued by all the Vin tributes, ones like this - that are personal and have actual stories - are just gold.

JayKogen said...

Great tribute. Personal, warm, and well said. Very Vin. I can't wait for part 2.

JayKogen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yatesy said...

I fell in love with Vin and his voice when I was a kid in the 80's. I was an indoor kid and loved watching the NBC national saturday games he would do. Besides Harry Kalas, he is just tops. They don't make announcers like him anymore (I'm looking at you, Joe Buck). I took the Dodger Stadium tour this summer and we got to go into the press box (which is now named after him). I was fantasizing about him walking out and waving to us, but it was too early. I thought it was awesome tho, to see where he created all that magic for so many years. I am really going to miss him.