The Los Angeles Dodgers have gone through almost whiplash inducing change over the past six months, from bankruptcy, to being directed by MLB for a bit, through a new ownership group that seems to have more money than most moderate-sized countries. For a time the Dodgers seemed more like a soap opera — “As the McCourts Turn” — than a major league franchise.
These new guys, including basketball charmer Magic Johnson, have shown no reluctance to spend that money, this month picking up high-ticket players Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox. The team had already acquired Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins and Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton from the Phillies. They seem to be intent on making the New York Yankees look like small market pikers.
For all the new names and faces in Dodger blue, many Angelinos are most pleased about a returning Dodger who has been with the team forever (or nearly so). Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers and one of baseball’s troubadours, announced this week that he’ll return to the broadcast booth for 2013.
The soothing tones of the Old Red Head will, God willing, soften Los Angeles nights for at least another summer. This is good news because Scully has been turning baseball games into poetry for more than half a century. If you don’t like baseball after hearing Vin describe a game, you never will.
When Scully first broadcast Dodger games in 1950, partnered with Red Barber, Dodger players were not millionaires named Adrian, Josh, Shane, Andre, and Matt. They were more modestly compensated guys with names like Oisk, Newk, Peewee, Jackie, and Duke. They played in a small band-box of a park called Ebbets Field in a small, tightly-populated place called Brooklyn. Most of them rode public transportation to work.
The Dodgers are putting up a spirited race for the NL West crown with their new hired help. And their prospects for next year are good. These happy Dodger prospects influenced Scully to sign up for yet another year.
“They want to win and they want to win now, so I want to hold on with two hands and see how far they’re going to take this ball club,” Scully said. “Put it all together — the little boy in me, the opportunity to see how far these owners take it — it would be pretty hard to walk away from.”
Scully says he still loves the game and would miss his friends at the ballpark if he retired. And he would miss those dramatic moments of the game, some of which baseball fans associate with Scully’s call of them: Kirk Gibson’s dramatic pinch-hit, walk-off home run ending the first game of the 1988 World Series (“In a year that has been so improbable, the incredible has happened”), and Hank Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run off of Dodger lefty Al Downing. He broadcast no less than four no-hitters by Sandy Koufax, including a perfect game in 1965.
The moments keep coming, which helps keep Scully energized. New Dodger Gonzalez homered in his first at bat as a Dodger last Saturday. In a media conference Sunday when Scully confirmed that he was re-enlisting yet again (he doesn’t have enough sleeve now for all his hash marks), he spoke of this event thus: “Every now and then there’s something like last night that you just can’t possibly think of.”
So after 64 seasons and more than ten thousand games, baseball still moves the man who many, including me, consider the best baseball announcer ever. Vin ended his media conference with a Scullyism.
“I have to go to work now,” he said apologetically. “I have to go over my carefully prepared ad-libs.” So the Dodgers institutional memory is still on the job. And baseball fans lucky enough to be within the sound of Scully’s voice have a connection to the past, and can enjoy Scully’s soothing, jargon-free, un-hyped, erudite but accessible narratives on baseball nights. Alone among sportscasters, Scully works alone. So there’s no beefy “color-guy” in the booth with Scully, prattling on as if he’s more afraid of a few seconds of dead air than of a hard-hit foul ball heading for the broadcast booth.
Almost invariably Scully starts with, “Hi again, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.” Then the magic begins. Scully and his work truly are to be celebrated.