Baseball’s postseason has concluded with the Boston Red Sox doing something they hadn’t done for 95 years: clinching a World Series in front of the home folks at Fenway Park. For Sox-lovers who’d never witnessed such a sweet spectacle up close, good times never seemed so good. But for me, the postseason peaked the moment the Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs.
By no means do I bleed Dodger blue, but L.A. extending its campaign an extra few weeks meant a temporarily unaligned fan like myself could indulge in a delectable aural treat. For the reasonable price of an MLB At Bat subscription, I found myself invited by none other than Vin Scully to “pull up a chair” and listen in on his singular descriptions and accounts of Dodger baseball in the heart of autumn.
In a sense, it wasn’t a big deal. Vin’s been issuing his trademark invitation regularly since 1950, when he commenced broadcasting for the Dodgers. They were from Brooklyn then and Vin, from the Bronx, was a year removed from his studies at Fordham University. The Dodgers moved west in 1958. Vin joined them geographically but has stayed in the same role as their television and radio announcer for 64 seasons. He has endured from coast to coast and century to century because he is, by popular acclaim, the best who has ever done what he does.
And he keeps doing it, no matter what’s going on around him, no matter whose exploits he’s describing. At Ebbets Field, Vin’s first right fielder was the Reading Rifle, Carl Furillo. At Dodger Stadium, Vin’s latest is the Wild Horse, Yasiel Puig. Furillo played his final game in 1960. Puig drew his first breath in 1990. Scully’s called each man’s name and detailed the throws they made to nail the runners who foolishly attempted to advance from first base to third against the strength of their fabled right arms. You can forge those kinds of Scully-fueled chronological connections for seasons on end if you so choose.
Vin would choose otherwise despite everyone else’s proclivities to the contrary. He tends to be treated, as John Hiatt might put it, like an icon carved out of soap by his reverent colleagues when they make their perennial pregame pilgrimages to his broadcast booth. The questions have been the same for decades: “What was it like in Flatbush?” “How incredible was Koufax?” And, inevitably, “Do you think this year will be your last year?” Vin couldn’t be more politely indulgent of his inquisitors. The answers don’t much change but they always sound heartfelt and fresh, particularly the one about letting The Man Upstairs decide when he’s done (and he’s not referring to Dodger part-owner Magic Johnson).
You listen, as I did, to Vin Scully call the Dodgers throughout their playoff run, and you understand all over again why the retirement question carries no more weight than a harmless foul ball back to the screen.
When the Dodgers visited the St. Louis Cardinals to start the 2013 National League Championship Series, I turned down the volume on my TV, pulled up a chair alongside my iPad and listened to a broadcast that would have sounded splendid before Furillo hung up his spikes yet worked beautifully here and now in the age of Puig. As luck would have it, the game was tied after nine innings, so it was off into extras we went, with Vin Scully as my nocturnal guide. It was after 1 a.m. where I was, but the 85-year-old Voice of the Dodgers was up for anything.
Those towels teams give their fans to twirl hopefully? They made it “look like a snowstorm in the grandstands.” The clothing of choice in those seats? “When you come to St. Louis, it’s like an internal hemorrhage in the ballpark, nothing but a sea of red.” Conference on the mound between a nervous catcher and his hirsute pitcher? “Ellis covering his mouth with his glove and Wilson covering his mouth with his beard.” The temporarily mild horse Puig not coming through with a big hit at Busch Stadium? “He looks so frustrated — on one of these swings he’ll break the laces in his shoes.”
What you didn’t hear was a second of dissatisfaction that this contest had no ending in sight. “It’s a four-hour game,” Vin remarked with innings to go before he slept, “and well worth every minute of it.”
Eventually — George Carlin’s protestations regarding baseball’s lack of a time limit notwithstanding — the game did end. The Dodgers lost. Their announcer reported it fairly and then he presumably went back to the hotel to rest up for the next day’s game. Vin Scully doesn’t usually accompany the Dodgers east of the Rocky Mountains anymore, but these were the playoffs. Vin was at his microphone for as long as the Dodgers would keep going.
Though I’d heard him on and off over the years, whether on national telecasts or beamed via satellite radio, there was something about his current arrangement that caught my ear as noteworthy. When a commercial break was over, Vin’s velvet voice wasn’t the first sound I heard. His producers would play a brief music bed, something instrumental and almost always something contemporary, whether it was extracted from a song you’d categorize as dance, hip-hop, rock or pop. Whatever it was, I ascertained as I listened, it was something Vin Scully probably didn’t know from. He heard the tune in his headphones, he picked up his cue and he welcomed us back to Dodger baseball. Yet he and those songs sounded seamless together.
Vin is famous for working alone, but these days he goes as well with a few beats of Robin Thicke as he ever did with Joe Garagiola. When it comes to transcendent greatness, there are no blurred lines for Vin Scully; it doesn’t much matter that a hit song from the summer Yasiel Puig came up to the big leagues crossed paths with an announcer who broke in by telling Brooklynites about the 106 runs Carl Furillo was driving in 63 seasons earlier. For Vin Scully, and for all of us, what we love to do should be the great contemporizer. In a community built around what we cherish — whatever we happen to be terrifically enthusiastic about — demographics can flatten out to the point of near-irrelevance.
Me, I’m terrifically enthusiastic about baseball, having been so for more than two-thirds of the length of Vin Scully’s career to date. Sometimes it’s just an announcer and me taking in the action with a radio between us. More often, though, I’m cheering upon common ground alongside fellow fans who range vastly in age yet probably don’t give our actuarial differences an excess of thought. I go to ballgames with people 30 years older than me and people 30 years younger than me. We all share a hard-won wisdom. We each generate a renewable source of energy. We revel in referencing what we’ve seen before while we await anxiously the moment that is wholly unprecedented. We’re in this thing as one, however long we’ve been in it.
And at the end of a given game, no matter how many innings or hours it took, we are reminded that none of us is ever too young or too old to stay a part of something that we believe to be so gloriously timeless.