The Greatest Storyteller Since Plato: Vin Scully
Baseball. If you don't know how to play it, don't know the cerebral part of it, or are just familiar with the physical aspects of the sport, then it looks like just a kids' game.
Baseball is slow, it's played during the hottest months of the year, and there's a lot of standing around. That's how people who don't really know the game look at it. People could say A Tale of Two Cities is just a period piece. But if you have the right wordage written in just the right descriptive manner, it makes a bit of difference when describing it as a masterpiece rather than a novel.
I was spoiled because I grew up outside of Los Angeles and had possibly the greatest storyteller ever describing this game all my life.
His name was Vin Scully, and when you walked into his cathedral called Dodger Stadium, his voice could be heard everywhere. People in the stands listened to him while the action was unfolding in front of them.
He's still alive at the time I'm writing this; he retired in 2016. That's the reason for the past tense reference. For the enjoyment he gave people, he deserves to live forever, and I hope he does.
At my first Major League Baseball game at Dodger Stadium that my father took me to, I can recall sitting in the stands about 100 feet from Vinny as he announced the game.
I was looking up at him, not even paying attention to the game at times. He is such an icon and such a respected part of the game and to an era in Southern California from the '60s to 2016.
Even as a nine-year-old kid, I was aware of that fact. I was just staring at him as he announced the game. When I felt that he was looking my way, I waved at him. To my surprise, he waved directly back at me!
Oh, no doubt about it. He leaned a little bit further in my direction and gave that wave that adults do to little kids.
I was stunned. I shook my father's arm and exclaimed, "Dad! Dad! Vin Scully just waved at me!" It was like God had acknowledged my existence on Earth! I was now someone that counted for something on this planet! He had noticed!
That just doesn't happen with any other announcer or play-by-play man. People wanted to hear him describe the game in his eloquent style with pathos, passion, and empathy for the human beings on that field. He made it a poetic dance from all the action unfolding while it was right there in front of us!
Yes, we could see it as it happened in real time. But to see it and have Vin Scully describe it was like no other experience. Plato, Hippocrates, Socrates, and Vin Scully. These are the greatest storytellers man has ever known.
The Voice of God
Like the printing press helped Martin Luther spread the word of the King James Bible, so too was the transistor radio beneficial to Vin spreading his baseball gospel throughout Southern California.
The advent of the transistor radio had coincided with the beginning of his career in Brooklyn, just a few years before the Bums packed up and moved forever to the West Coast. The radio was his forum and stage as he was heard everywhere around Southern California.
In the stores, in garages, under kids blankets late at night after they've been told to go to bed and shut off the game. He was heard in the kitchens of restaurants. When the waiter would open the flimsy door, you could hear Vinny's voice and we'd ask what's the score. (Hey, that rhymed! See what he can do to you?)
You would hear him everywhere you went! Gas stations, office buildings, parks, the beach. People in Southern California own a lot of convertibles and you would hear Vinnie's voice at the stoplight. You could hear him far into Central California and as far south as San Diego. That is until San Diego got their own major league team.
Ironically, the smartest thing that Vinny ever did was not speak at all when the action spoke for itself. He'd let you hear the cheering crowd and you felt like you were there. You felt as though you were sitting at the game. He already described what had happened. Now you could feel as though you were there and you could drink it all in.
He didn't have a kooky trademark line that he repeated. But he did have a wonderful greeting to begin each and every broadcast; it was for us, his audience, his dear ol' friend.
"Dodger baseball is on the air! Well, hi everybody! A very pleasant (good evening/ good day) to you all!"
Oh, he might say during a game, "It is interesting to note..." Or when describing a home run that left the field, he'd say, "She... is... gone!"
He might have been the only baseball play-by-play man that would describe the type of pitch thrown in the split-second it took to reach the plate. I never heard an announcer do that before or since. It was usually a pause, then perhaps something like, "Sandy into his wind up... the two two pitch... fastball!"
He also read lips. So he could describe each side's case in a "rhubarb" (an argument). He'd leave out the saucy language, however, and substitute it with a cute, obvious euphemism.
So perhaps I was helped along to think about the more deeper aspects of the game by this great storyteller who injected a more descriptive ambience to the game. You came away a smarter, more literate person after listening to the man.
He didn't care if the player on the field was on the other team. If a fellow made an outstanding play, he would praise him. Conversely, I never heard him get on someone's case for making a human error. Vin Scully would usually feel sympathy for that fellow.
His favorite player was on the hated rival team, the Giants. It was Willie Mays, and if you knew him well enough, you could call him what his teammates called him; "Buck," as in "young buck."
Baseball Takes a Lot of Heart to Play
Scully said that, when he was growing up in New York City, his love for the game began when he read the box score of a World Series game through the window of a Chinese laundry. He felt sorry for the team that had been clobbered by the Yankees in a score of 18 to 4. That team was the New York Giants. He became a Giants fan even though most of his neighborhood pulled for the Yankees. Ironically, his last game he announced after 67 wonderful years as the Dodgers announcer was on that same day.
What's also ironic is that the Dodgers pulled the game out in their last at-bat with a homerun to win not just the game but also clinching their division. Sort of an appropriate send off for Vinny, wouldn't you say?
Listening to Vin Scully describe the greatest pitcher of all time, Sandy Koufax, was golden. Just like Vin, Koufax gave so much of himself. He injured his arm and had to retire at the young age of 31.
Listen to Scully Describe Koufax Throwing the Last Three Outs of His Perfect Game
His Greatest Moment Was Typical
Vinny's greatest moment was named by the Los Angeles Times as the greatest moment in Los Angeles sports history.
It's Game One of the 1988 World Series. The MVP of the league, Kirk Gibson from the Dodgers, is so badly injured that he can't play that night.
But here's an example of Vinnie's voice reaching people's emotions because everyone knows he's always on the radio. Many of the fans in the stadium are listening as he describes the game that's happening right in front of them.
No other announcer before or since has received that kind of love. To have the great Vin Scully narrating a game makes it so much better. You were able to hear him all throughout the stadium.
Kirk Gibson was in the trainer’s room listening to the game. He heard Vin Scully forlornly say, "Well, the man who’s been there for the Dodgers all season, Kirk Gibson, is not in the dugout and will not be here for them tonight."
That did it. Gibson is known as a hothead and an intensely competitive ballplayer. Now he was mad and immediately informed the dugout that he was available to pinch hit.
There was two outs in the ninth inning. The Dodgers were down to their last hope, and Vinnie announced to the delight of the fans, "And look who’s coming up!"
When Gibson clubbed the game-winning home run, Vinny had the call.
"High fly ball into right field. She is gone!"
There was a pause for nearly a full minute. This is where Vinny was at his best. He was so smart to let you feel the crowd. Listeners got to feel the excitement that almost gave you the impression that you were there at the game experiencing it. Why muddle it up with some announcer's gibberish?
So by not speaking at the proper moment, he further solidified his place as the greatest narrator, announcer, and storyteller of modern time.
It was just like the timing of a stand-up comedian's joke. When the audience is laughing, the experienced actor knows when silence is the most appropriate punctuation to convey the feeling of the moment. Scully knew when to eloquently take over the microphone again and give the proper perspective on the moment that just occurred with his usual literary pathos and twist.
I remember when this happened at my friend's house in the living room. I thought to myself, "Did that really happen?" Vince was just thinking what I was thinking.
"In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!"
Was he ever so correct! It was classic Vin Scully. If I'm not mistaken, he was the first and the only sports announcer to ever use that method of not being the announcer. It became a trademark of his to be the audience.
Tell Us About the Time Gibson Homered, Vin!
He Was the Background of My Springs into My Summers and the Farewell in Fall
Oh, the winters can seem so long!
In such a brief conclusion, I could talk all day on the metaphor of life and baseball and how I had someone to tell me about it in a style that was like no other throughout the history of great storytellers.
He never missed a day of work, never missed one game. Because we relied on him to be there when you turned on the radio. We needed someone to sacrifice themselves for you, for them, for everyone listening, rooting, and praying for your guys.
Tell us Vin! Tell us, oh please! Tell us about being able to once again dance in the sun on the green soft grass for another year. To smell the dirt, the flowers, the trees, to see the bees buzzing, to hear the birds chirping. I'm still alive to experience it one more time because Vin is on the radio.
To feel my leather mitt and smell the horsehide ball. To feel the wooden bat in your bare hands. To feel your flannel uniform and the splinters in the seat of your pants from the rickety old, bright green-painted wooden dugout bench of my Little League field.
The start of the season brought the sight and smell of a Roi Tan cigar with smoke wafting from my father's lips into the air and out of the stands.
It's the taste of popcorn, an ice cold beer in a plastic cup, and sizzling hot dogs from the pungent smoke of the barbecue. The feeling of sweat dripping off your brow. They remind you that you're alive!
Vinny was a part of all that and he might even describe it for you. Then suddenly you are there! I can see all of it if you describe it, "Redhead."
I'm tearing up right now because I miss hearing him. I miss being young or even just younger again. He's been there all my life—even before I was born!
Turn on the radio!
"It's time for Dodger baseball!"
Yeah. It's just a stupid little game, isn't it?
We're Going to Miss You, Storyteller!
© 2018 Dan W Miller