Even a 5-year-old could hear and feel Vin Scully’s passion for baseball
I take a lead between the mulberry trees as the voice of summer breezes through the yard of the humble Henderson complex. Victory Village is transformed into Dodger Stadium.
Home plate is the welcome mat in front of apartment 23A, and my dear Grandma Catherine Curtis has again given manager Walter Alston the day off. With arms like Duke Snider and a brain like the World Book Encyclopedia, she’s my childhood sweetheart.
Forget the fact I’m 5. When the game is on the radio, or beaming on Saturday mornings from the RCA black-and-white, I’m Maury Wills on the base paths, Wes Parker at the plate, and Sandy Koufax on the mound. The ’65 Dodgers are a light-hitting bunch, but they homer often while Grandma is keeping score. And Koufax, well, he is always Koufax.
I check the pitcher once more, break for home, and slide in ahead of the tag.
• • •
That childhood reverie plays in my head as a Chicago hotel operator puts me through to the voice of that summer of ’65 and all my summers since, Dodgers announcer Vincent Edward Scully. Generations of fans call him Vin, but I couldn’t help calling him Mister.
Surely he couldn’t really understand the part he played in a thousand childhood memories during the years I spent with Grandma in that squat, one-bedroom unit a long fly ball from the Stauffer Chemical plant. Who could expect Scully, a Hall-of-Famer who owns the longest streak in the broadcast booth for a single franchise in American sports history, to give more than a polite pause to consider the impact his silky, soothing voice had on a Henderson kid.
I read somewhere that 79-year-old Scully has become a “beloved figure” in Los Angeles. Yes, and Whitman scribbled lines, Big Ben keeps time, and Jimmy Stewart had a bit part in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Scully is indeed beloved, and far beyond California. He’s literate without being condescending, humorous without a scent of sarcasm. He never forgets baseball is a game of high skill, but refrains from analyzing the seam on every fastball. Like Olivier, he delivers great lines at appropriate times, but is happy to let the roar of the crowd fill the stage.
His play-by-play cadence mirrors the rhythm of the game itself. The rhythm of summer.
“It seems like I’ve put most of Southern California to sleep at one time or another,” Scully says by way of self-deprecating introduction. “One of the nice residuals of this job is that I will meet people who say, ‘You know, when I hear your voice I remember summer nights with mom and dad, or painting the garage with my father.’ For some people I have been a bridge to the past.
“I feel it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve as the bridge – and at no toll.”
Born in The Bronx, raised in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, Scully was a Police Athletic League waif who spent free moments watching the Giants at the Polo Grounds. An avid reader, he was a Fordham University standout who thought he might man the press box as a newspaper columnist. With help from the great Red Barber, by 1950 Scully was a red-haired phenom during New York baseball’s golden era when the Giants, Yankees, and his Brooklyn Dodgers battled annually in the World Series.
“That was a magnificent period for baseball in New York, and I was in the thick of that,” Scully says, sounding as if he still can’t believe his luck.
After nearly six decades, you might think Scully would tire of the summer sojourn and hotel stays that go with it. Although he rarely goes east of Denver these days – even the great ones must save their legs – he couldn’t resist a recent trip to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs and Dodgers during a pennant race. I imagine him taking the steps to the press box two at a time.
“Your passion is alive and well – if it’s a passion,” Scully says. “I don’t see how the passion would wane. The roar of the crowd, my love of the game, it’s just a perfect mix for me.”
For me, he’ll always be the voice of summer.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was Koufax in short pants?
• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.