It was Venice Beach, Pink’s hot dog stand and the Hollywood Bowl rolled into one. Los Angeles, the sound of summer, was the poet laureate of the Dodgers – Brooklyn and Los Angeles – for 67 seasons.
We knew Vin Scully wasn’t going to live forever. It only seemed as if he could. Even in retirement, years after his last broadcast in 2016, his presence remained ubiquitous and ethereal, like the ocean and the air.
“There are two words to describe Vin: Babe Ruth,” said Charley Steiner, the Dodgers’ radio play-by-play man since 2005 after moving back from the Yankees’ booth (2002-2004). “The best person to ever do it. Babe Ruth will always be defined as baseball. Vin will always be remembered as the voice of baseball.”
The wild ride that was Tuesday’s major league trade deadline suddenly and sharply gave way to still heaviness that night, when the Dodgers announced that Scully had died at 94. Baseball’s cycle of life, distilled into a day only: a new and sad beginning. ends. Scully’s health had been deteriorating in recent months, and those who knew him well were preparing for the phone call. But when it came, it was still a gut punch.
“It doesn’t make it any easier, because we lost a friend,” said Rick Monday, former outfielder and longtime Dodgers broadcaster. “Whether we met Vin Scully or not, he was our friend.”
Like the best of friends, he was full of wonder, joy, humility and wonder.
“When I was in college, I wrote for The Times, so you’ve probably seen my byline,” Scully said excitedly to begin an interview with The New York Times earlier this summer for a story about Gil Hodges, as if his days at Fordham University were just around the corner recently. “It says, ‘Special Correspondent to the Times.’ I was under an assumed name. Anyway, I just wanted you to know my literary background.”
Another time, late at night after a home game at Angel Stadium early in the 2013 season, some of the news media were waiting for a press box elevator to go home in the evening when Scully joined them for the ride down. He was wearing a brace on his left arm and wrist, as a result of a bout with tendinitis.
“I was telling someone earlier that I should tell people that I’m interested in falconry and that I’m waiting for the bird,” he said, smiling broadly. “That would be a better story, wouldn’t it?”
His instincts were perfect and his joie de vivre constant.
“It was such a good read,” said Monday. “He also spoke English. When you listened to Vin, you felt like you should go back to school right away. But he never talked down to anyone. It was amazing.”
In one of his last public acts, Scully wrote a letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Era Committee in support of Hodges’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame—a letter that was said to be very influential. But the ever-submissive Scully refused to believe he had enough influence to sway the voters and, moreover, he didn’t want any credit.
“Even when I wrote it, I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be publicized to the point where all of a sudden I’m trying to step into the same spotlight because I didn’t want that at all,” Scully said this summer. “Yes, I wrote the letter, and it was true as far as I know in every respect. But I don’t want to dwell on it at all.
“I’m very sensitive now that I’m retired. I don’t want to do anything when I seem out of place.”
But Scully’s “place” was everywhere, everyone was welcome, starting with the warm invitation he gave at the beginning of each broadcast to “pull up a chair”. And for nearly seven years, from the mansions of Bel Air to the blue-collar neighborhoods around the Southland, on behalf of the Dodgers, he created an incredible extended family.
Monday grew up in Santa Monica, California, with a single mother who fell in love with the Dodgers when they moved back in 1958. Every time they were in the car when the Dodgers were playing, Monday recalls, Scully is his companion.
“His voice was like a gentle hand on our shoulder saying, ‘Hey, things are going to be okay. Whatever’s going on in the world, whatever’s going on in your life, for the next three hours, I got you’,” said Monday. “That’s the feeling we had.”
Millions of other people have had similar feelings during those 67 Iron Man-esque years.
“This game mesmerized me and Vin’s voice and the way he presented the game mesmerized me even more,” said Monday. “The description he made of the uniform, the field, how fast a guy was running, how hard a ball was hit, the diving catch that was made. When Vin was making a game, it wasn’t just the plays of the game, it was the final game.”
Monday was the No. 1 overall draft pick. 1 in the first amateur baseball draft in 1965, taken by the Athletics, who traded him to the Chicago Cubs before the 1972 season.
“So the Dodgers finally go to Chicago, and my mom can watch the game on TV,” he said Monday. “This is my seventh year in the bigs, and my mom heard Vin Scully say my name. I said, ‘Mom, you didn’t even realize I was in the big leagues until Vin mentioned my name.’ She laughed. That made it official.”
The Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1998 named Scully the most trusted man in Los Angeles. Eight years earlier, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray made the case that Scully was the greatest Dodger of them all. Little has changed since then.
“Vincent Edward Scully meant as much or more to the Dodgers than any .300 hitter they ever signed, any 20-game winner they ever pitched,” Murray wrote in a column published in August 1990. “True, no he limped to home plate and hit the home run that turned a season into a miracle – but he knew what to do with it and so it would echo through the ages.”
When Kirk Gibson smashed that home run against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley to set the tone for the Dodgers’ upset of Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Scully exclaimed: “In a year that was so unbelievable, the impossible happened!”
For one minute and eight seconds, he remained silent, allowing the roaring Dodger Stadium crowd to fill the television speakers. The echoes continue to this day.
The time, the history and the time he had was amazing, no matter what the occasion.
“He wasn’t just an announcer,” Steiner said. “He wasn’t just a baseball figure. He was a father figure, he was avuncular, he was conscientious, he was all that we would expect him to be right with the world. And more often than not, it was.”
Steiner continued: “Los Angeles is a city of stars. Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, you name it. I have long felt that Vin was the greatest star of all because of his longevity. No one ever did it better, and no one ever said it stinks. He was comforting, parental, angelic. He had a wonderful and impeccable spirit.”
After the Dodgers-Giants game on Tuesday night, Monday said he was up in his San Francisco hotel room until 5 a.m. turning the memories over in his mind, alternately laughing and tearing up. When he and his wife travel somewhere, he said, his wife often glumly comments that the place was not as good as the brochure. “Vin Scully was better than the brochure,” said Monday.
He recalled Scully’s final Dodger Stadium broadcast in 2016, when the icon managed to sell out the crowd beautifully by singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” after the game was over. Utility man Charlie Culberson had smashed a storybook walk-off home run a few minutes earlier. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t Scully’s last broadcast, the Dodgers ended that season with three games in San Francisco.
Culberson’s now famous bat was with him. When he wasn’t sure what to do with him, Monday suggested he sign Scully. Culberson was shy, asked Monday and Scully said he would be “honored” to sign it.
Monday led Culberson upstairs to the San Francisco press box where they met with Scully.
“It was unbelievable,” said Monday. “It was like two kids in a field examining this magic wand of a bat. Vinny signed it, and they were about to say goodbye when in walked into the booth the man who Vin always said was the greatest player he had ever seen — Willie Mays.
“Charlie and Vinny were already in tears, then Willie walks in and it was like one of those moments from a time capsule.
“And then we get word in the third or fourth inning here last night, 60 feet from where that happened.”