A Familiar Voice
“Oh come on! It’s only me” Indeed it was only Vin Scully the long time announcer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. How long is long time? How about 67 years! Who does that? How many people have you ever heard of did a job for 67 years? After 67 years the day came when Vin was finally getting honored. The ceremony was before a Dodger game and the place was packed. Many of the people that Vin had touched through the years were there to speak. One of them was a great pitcher of yesterday named Sandy Koufax. Sandy had an up and down career. In his case it was more down and up. His first 5 years in the league he was a troubled left handed pitcher who barely won as many as he lost. Then miraculously he found himself and for 5 straight years was the best pitcher anyone had ever seen! Then at the tender baseball age of 30 Sandy retired. Arthritis in his left pitching arm had led to his elbow swelling up every time he pitched. It didn’t affect his great pitching, but made life very painful and Sandy had had enough.
Sandy now 81 talked about Vin and what he meant to him. He mentioned how the Dodgers had another great announcer before Vin in Red Barber. Sandy thought Red was pretty good but he rated Vin very good. They became friends through the years and Vin has a special place in Sandy’s heart. You see Sandy has lived his life after retirement far away from the public eye on purpose. Only as a tribute to Vin was Sandy willing to get before the public again. Sandy told the story about when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. It was in those early home games that Sandy notices while pitching that the voice of Vin was all around him. Fans had paid Vin the ultimate tribute by bringing their transistor radio’s to the games. They were saying “We like to see the game with our own eyes, but we also like to hear the gentle voice of Vin describe it in his own way to us!” It was Vin describing Sandy behind the microphone as Sandy performed his greatest feats. In the 1965 World Series he described Sandy’s every movement on the mound as he maneuvered his way through the Twins order without his best curve ball. In fact he wasn’t able to get it over the plate at all and relied on his fast ball constantly. Vin led us up to the big moment and when Sandy recorded the final out Vin was silent. His style was to let the picture and the fan noise take over. It was telling a story and his silence invited us to drink in the moment.
After the game in the locker room Vin was interviewing Sandy about a statement he had said earlier. “Sandy, After the last game”, Vin began “you said you felt like you were one hundred years old. How do you feel now?” Sandy quickly answered his old friend “A hundred and one” That question in retrospect was what Vin was about. He wasn’t always trying to get the strategy out of the player as much as he was getting the person out of the player. We always hear announcers describing games, but Vin had a knack of describing people. Earlier that year Sandy had thrown a perfect game against the Cubs. Twenty Seven batters came up that day and twenty seven went down. It is rare for an announcer to be able to describe a perfect game, but ironically I am sure that Vin called many perfect games. They weren’t perfect in the baseball world. The pitcher invariably gives up a hit, walk, and run. Still the job Vin did in his broadcasts describing the action was perfect!
From the beginning Vin had his own style. Not only did he describe what was going on in the games, but he was a friend and a story teller. He did his homework and got to know the players personally. He would tell us the inside information about a players personal life and how it related to the big game. He could tell us what the player was probably thinking because he had asked them beforehand what they thought about in certain situations. Vin always described in kind of a sing song tone that was comforting and came across as someone we could trust. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There is an announcer broadcasting games in Japan that gives Vin that highest compliment. Even though his broadcasts are in Japanese if you listen you will notice that same sing song tone that Vin has used the last 67 years.
Through his many years of broadcasting Vin made numerous great calls. However the call he made in the 1988 World Series has been voted the greatest moment in baseball history. Kirk Gibson had carried the Dodgers to the Series with his great play in the N.L. Championship series that qualified them. In two of the games against the Mets he hit decisive home runs and he also made a great catch in the field. However during that series he sustained two crippling injuries. The first was to his left hamstring while stealing a base in game 5. In game 7 still hobbled by the hamstring he injured his right knee sliding into second. So as the Series began speculation was that the Dodgers best player through the season and championship series wouldn’t be able to play. Game one was winding down and the Oakland A’s were a run ahead of the Dodgers. Vin had been periodically talking about Gibson and how his injuries had him missing in action. At one point Vin was talking about how Gibson couldn’t possibly pinch hit. Gibson who was sitting in the locker room with the TV on was heard to say “like He_ _ I can’t!” He showed up on the bench and informed the manager he was available. The game winded down to it’s last out. The Dodgers had a man on first and two outs when Gibson limped up to the plate as a pinch hitter. Vin had stayed on the story and was taking us step by step into the narrative. Dennis Eckersley, the best relief pitcher in baseball quickly got two strikes on Gibson. Gibson feebly hit foul balls where he barely hit the ball. With each swing we could see how much pain he was in. The count reached three balls and two strikes. Then the miracle occurred. Gibson guessed that Eckersley would throw him a slider and he did. Gibson’s timing was just right as he hit the ball solid. Vin Scully described the hit in a very short manner. “High fly ball to right and she is gone!” Then there was silence as Gibson hobbled around the bases. As he got near second base he started pumping his arm in a heroic gesture. Vin spoke again, “In a year that has been so improbable the impossible has happened.” Then there was silence as Vin let the picture do the talking. Finally as Gibson had crossed the plate to the mob of his ecstatic teammates there was more silence as we drank in the moment and his comment. Then as the screen played the replay of Gibson hobbling around the bases Vin said “And now the only question was, could he make it around the bases unassisted?”
It seemed appropriate that Kevin Costner who starred in baseball movies Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For the Love of the Game would conclude the tribute with this moving speech to Vin Scully.
“We will miss you, my friend. We will miss you in our radio, in our cars, in our backyard. You’ve been a gift to Los Angeles and to baseball itself. It seems forever that you’ve been guiding us through your personal window into the game.
“How lucky we were that day in Brooklyn when the microphone passed into your hands. You were the chosen one, the skinny redhead who stood on the shoulders of the biggest kid, ready to look through the knothole in the fence to describe to us what was going on. You were better than a golden ticket. You invited us all to pull up a chair, spend the afternoon, then proceeded to walk us into the next century.”
“For 67 years you managed to fool us into believing you were just a sports announcer, when in fact you were really a poet, a wordsmith. It was a nice trick, and after almost seven decades, you might’ve thought we would’ve caught on. But now the masquerade is over and the jig is up. We’re all taking deep breaths Vin, and we’re all struggling with our own emotions as we admit we’re down to our last three outs with you.”
“You did it in a style so friendly and unique, so effortless that years from now we will not be able to explain it to those who never heard it for themselves. The game will not lose its way, but it loses a perspective, a singular voice that managed to capture a boy’s game played by man at the highest level. You grounded it in a way no one else ever has, trusting that you never had to make more of any one moment than it really was.”
“We’re all taking deep breaths, Vin,” Costner said. “We’re all struggling with our own emotions as we admit we’re down to our last three outs with you. You’re our George Bailey and it has been a wonderful life. You can’t blame us for trying to hold on to you for as long as we can. And shame on us if you ever have to pay for another meal in public.”
“We know that you have to move up to the press box. Don’t mind us as we turn in our seats to look up one more time. Forgive us our silly wave, our clumsy toast, our personal salute. And should your mind begin to wander as innings start to slip away, we already forgive you. If the memories become too thick, then just stop and look around. “You leave us and the game, Mr. Scully, but not without leaving a lasting impression, and not without taking a piece of our broken baseball heart.”
Vin was a voice of reason. When it was hard for Dodger fans to watch because of the tension of the situation, it was Vin with his ever pleasant voice that led them through. That is how God wants to lead us through trying situations. The Bible states that “My sheep hear my voice.” It is very peaceful to hear God’s voice and know that all is well no matter what is happening.
Sandy Koufax mentioned something that Vin prayed for before every World Series. “Lord, make every player a hero.” He knew the damage that a single play in an important game could have on a player’s life. He didn’t want goat horns put on anyone. That exemplifies the compassionate spirit of Vin Scully. In his own way he touched lives by his peaceful demeanor, friendship and story telling. Those are wonderful qualities for all of us to strive for as Christians. What a wonderful life we can live when we take this non selfish attitude. What a story we have to tell about Jesus’ undying love for all of us! We are no more than the vessels he is using for his glory. Likewise Vin was there to describe, promote, and help us enjoy the game. As the fans went crazy with their applause Vin in his own way brushed off the gratitude. As the fans cheered their loudest Vin wasn’t about to let their cheering define the moment. Awe Cmon”, he pleaded, “It’s only me.”