I spent the weekend in New York City with my Dad and when we learned on Friday night that Vin Scully would be broadcasting Los Angeles Dodgers’ games for a 67th season, we were both delighted. Over dinner the following night, I said to my father, “I hope he’s still broadcasting when he’s 100.” As it happened, when we returned home the MLB Network had the Cubs-Dodgers game on with Vin Scully in the broadcast booth. It was then I learned that 2016 would likely be his last season. Naturally, I wanted to write about it but saw that Larry had beat me to the punch.
Larry’s piece is in its usual fine form. He’s pretty much covered the bases, but I believe there is room for some further appreciation for Vin Scully. I first heard Vin Scully’s voice when he was partnered with Joe Garagiola on NBC’s Game of the Week during the mid-1980s. Obviously, Dodgers fans knew Vin Scully was, but this gig gave him a national audience. Remember MLB games weren’t on every night like they are now and this gave Scully both a national and an international audience. During this period, Scully is remembered for calling Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and Kirk Gibson’s walk off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
A decade later, while living in Ottawa, my appreciation grew much deeper when I got cable and KTLA was part of my package. This meant Dodgers games. This also meant Vin Scully in the broadcast booth. Alone. He did both the play by play and color commentary and he did so with ease. Scully blends the past with the present seamlessly as he did the other night recalling a story when Hall of Famer Met Ott, by this time the manager of the New York Giants, intentionally walked Cubs slugger Bill Nicholson with the bases loaded while keeping tabs on balls and strikes thrown to current Cubs slugger Kris Bryant.
While Scully is right to say that baseball will go on once he signs off, it won’t be the same. Everything will be homogenized. There will be no more solo broadcasts. Every team will have two, sometimes three broadcasters in the booth with one, sometimes two sideline reporters. It is also not unusual to see a half inning devoted to interviewing individual players in the dugout. While this is happening the game is proceeding and being forgotten about. By doing this, the networks are effectively saying, “Baseball is boring. So we’re going to distract you with bells and whistles.”
So as long as Vin Scully is around, the game remains paramount. It is the main story of the day. Scully skillfully leaves room for other matters to be discussed be it an idiosyncracy of a player up at bat or a moment in baseball’s history which is relevant to the game at hand. That is where the color comes in. It augments the game. Today, that color has superseded the game. A lot of telecasts are talk shows that happen to be taking place in a baseball stadium. This means you Michael Kay.
Vin Scully also represents a myriad of links. From Ebbets Field to Dodger Stadium. From Gil Hodges to Adrian Gonzalez. From Jackie Robinson to Jimmy Rollins. From Koufax to Kershaw. When he is gone those links will go with him. Scully has been covering games since Harry Truman was in office. His tenure with the Dodgers has lasted 12 Presidents and I was hoping that he would outlast our current occupant. Scully might ask, “How much longer can you go on fooling people?” On his worst day, Vin Scully is better than any baseball broadcaster in the business today on his best.
Above all else, I fear a departure from the booth could hasten Vin Scully’s departure from this world. Indeed, his doctor advised him to stay on the job because, “You retire and a year from now you’ll be an old man.” By this logic wouldn’t the same hold true if he retired after next season? The key to long life is activity. While Scully might not be able to handle the same kind of activity at 88 that he did when he began the job with the Dodgers at 23, there can be no doubt that having an office at Dodger Stadium for 81 games a season keeps one young, healthy, and in good spirits. Somehow 67 years in the broadcast booth doesn’t seem long enough.