Vin Scully’s Last Time on the Air for the Dodgers Is Another Solo Flight
By RICHARD SANDOMIR |
Vin Scully’s final game on Sunday was something close to a miracle in sportscasting — an 88-year-old man performing a solo act, conversing with us for more than three hours, keeping track of the game while telling stories, invoking memories and reminding us that he did this single job for 67 consecutive seasons.
How many men or women his age have ever performed so ably, so publicly, with no safety net? Think of two announcers often thought of as baseball’s greatest before Vincent Edward Scully succeeded them.
Red Barber, Scully’s mentor, was 58 when he was fired by the Yankees. Mel Allen was 51 when the Yankees broke his heart by dismissing him. Imagine if they had worked for 30 more years — would they have maintained their abilities as Scully has? Would they have been as fortunate as Ernie Harwell, who retired at 84 but would have been able to work as long as Scully has?
Scully’s working alone was a gift to all of us. He could carry games by himself, as he proved every day. Anyone else competing for air space would have interrupted his flow. (He even shooed his large family out of the booth in the fifth inning on Sunday: “It’s time to go back to work. I love you. See you later!”)
And oh, that voice, so melodic and with a pace ideally suited for baseball.
Others have had a vocal gift, some of them quite wonderful. But until Scully signed off after the Giants’ 7-1 win over the visiting Dodgers, his was the peerless voice, the one that we pulled up a chair to listen to.
“His voice hits the ear in just the right spot,” the announcer Joe Buck said during Fox’s pregame show on Saturday.
After last weekend’s tributes at Dodger Stadium, there was lovely serendipity in Scully’s finale taking place at AT&T Park. He had allegiances to both sides of the long Dodgers-Giants rivalry, like a player traded from one franchise to the other. He became a Giants fan in 1936 at 8 years old. He sat in outfield seats at the Polo Grounds close enough to shout into the Giants’ clubhouse. But he was hired by Barber to call Dodgers games in 1950, when the franchise was still in Brooklyn. He went west with the team just as the Giants headed to San Francisco after the 1957 season.
The greatest player Scully ever saw was the Giants’ Willie Mays, who is 85.
Before the fourth inning, Scully and Mays stood together for the unveiling of a plaque for Scully in the Giants’ press box. The moment had some magic — two symbols of New York and California baseball, two extraordinary performers who, as octogenarians, can still generate a tingle down older fans’ spines. The ceremony delayed Scully’s return to his seat in the visitors’ TV booth, but when he got there and put on his headset, he said, “I think there’s a game going on out there.”
The Dodgers’ Justin Turner was at bat, but Scully’s mind quickly turned to the Giants. To “Melvin Thomas Ott from Gretna, Louisiana,” as Scully called him, whose right-leg kick Scully imitated to much less success. To the years when the colors of the Giants cap were blue and white. To Russ Hodges’s repeated shout of “The Giants win the pennant!” when Bobby Thomson hit a home run in the 1951 playoff game that sent the Dodgers home for the winter. And to doing what Scully could not do as an announcer who had been instructed by Barber to be a reporter, not a fan.
“I can root for them,” he said, referring to the Giants, “when they go to New York and play the Mets” in the wild-card game on Wednesday.
Scully leavened the valedictory aspect of the broadcast with humility. He was, to an extent, embarrassed at the attention surrounding his season-long farewell. He appreciated it all, though he toyed with his self-consciousness by sweetly excusing himself for jabbering away with personal reflections.
But this was a local game on SportsNet LA, not a national broadcast. The more Scully, the better for fans throughout Southern California and those watching it on the Major League Baseball streaming service or the Extra Innings service. After an inning of his call was simulcast on the Giants’ radio station, Scully fantasized what two San Francisco fans were saying.
“Did you hear Scully?” one says. “Yeah, big deal,” says the other.
“But it’s a big deal to me,” Scully told his audience.
I wish it had been a bigger deal to MLB Network, which could have carried a simulcast to the country but instead cut back and forth to games with playoff implications. The network showed some of the Scully finale because the Giants needed to win the game to clinch the second National League wild-card slot. The network should have used the Scully finale as its anchor and cut now and then to other games. It was a lost opportunity to give a historic game a wider audience.
And now, the Dodgers and baseball move on. Joe Davis, not yet 30, joined the Dodgers’ booth this season to call road games. He does not succeed Scully. He is the next man in, as Scully was when he replaced Harwell with the Dodgers. Davis deserves time to grow into the best broadcaster he can be, but he will do it under a far brighter spotlight than Scully did in the early 1950s.
Let’s check in on Davis in, say, 2082.
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