SIMPLY, AND SADLY, THERE NEVER WILL BE ANOTHER VIN SCULLY
He was such a close baseball companion, as his voice resonated across America and connected generations, that he grew larger than the game itself — a rock-star popularity that wouldn’t be allowed now
There are days when the writer of a remembrance isn’t worthy of the subject. This is one of those days. I should not be doing Vin Scully’s obit, nor should anyone else involved in sports media. Maybe I should just stop before I start, but that would be a disservice to a broadcaster who didn’t stop brushing his verbal velvet until his late 80s, retiring only because he wished to spend time with his wife as the doctors nudged him.
I’ve worked humbly in the press box named for him. I’ve listened to his game narratives countless times, most after moving to southern California as a transplant, as he once did. The best I can do: The man has died, at 94, but the voice will live as long as the planet rotates, or at least as long as the Los Angeles Dodgers play baseball in a canyon called Chavez Ravine.
We will hear the voice, so soothing across a complicated metropolis, every time we stroll into Dodger Stadium. It doesn’t matter which gate we enter, doesn’t matter where we sit. We can walk past the Jackie Robinson statue and Sandy Koufax statue. We can stop at the top of the ballpark and gaze downward, in a topographical quirk, at the downtown skyline. We can stare at the parklands and the mountains. We can stop for a Dodger Dog, and it must be grilled, though we have no idea what’s inside the charred tube. The game can begin, and the home team typically wins, thanks to the revenue streams within and corporate owners who haven’t screwed up the romance, and regardless of the heroes’ names that day or night — Betts, Kershaw, Freeman, pick your Turner — all we hear is that voice in our heads, even now.
Which is only appropriate, as we’ve entered the grounds from Sunset Boulevard onto Vin Scully Avenue. They could have chosen anyone from a Hall of Fame pool swelled with Dodger Blue name recognition. Scully was the only one who could be on the address. His final words on the air in 2016 might have been, “May God give you, for every storm, a rainbow; for every tear, a smile; for every care, a promise; and a blessing in each trial.” But the pope of the booth never exited our collective consciousness. His passing won’t end the soundtrack of everyone’s summer, no matter where you live in this country, as then-President Obama recognized six years ago in awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant ‘Good Evening’ to you wherever you may be,” he’ll speak to us if we go Friday night, when the San Diego Padres resume a rivalry fueled by the Juan Soto trade and a spending spree.
“Well, we’ve had all the introductions,” he might say. “We’ve had all the pomp and circumstance. We’ve had all the fuss and feathers. But it’s time … it’s time for Dodger Baseball!”
Never has a rock star carried himself with less pretension. Never has a storyteller enraptured his audience with such a vice grip. Never was a hair out of place or a suit jacket wrinkled. “God has been so good to me to allow me to do what I’m doing,” Scully said not long ago. “A childhood dream that came to pass and then giving me 67 years to enjoy every minute of it. That’s a pretty large Thanksgiving day for me.”
He spoke to the people, resonating with every generation, connecting families. He wasn’t a know-it-all, though he knew it all. Not once was he compelled to step out of character and downshift into loud mode, unlike some of his baseball brethren, because he wasn’t the story. It was more than enough to be Vin Scully, the blessed messenger, and in an industry town where actors and musicians and studio heads and agents engage in megalomania wars, he’s the only star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame who doesn’t have an ego. He probably wasn’t aware that fans voted him as the all-time Dodgers icon. His bobblehead is a national treasure. Another broadcasting giant, Dick Enberg, once captured Scully perfectly.
“I would want to describe what Vin isn't,” he said. “It's not loud. It's not frantic. It's not about himself grandstanding. It's not shouting. It's smooth and soft and well-prepared. It's that favorite sweater that you put on during a chilly day.”
What’s sad is that the evolution of sports and media, gnarly as it has been, never will allow another Vin Scully to thrive for seven decades. Or, thrive at all. Teams and media networks don’t want a broadcaster to be bigger than the owners, the executives, the players, the managers, the ballpark … everything. At some point, an a-hole boss feels threatened — he’s ONLY the team voice! — and runs him off. Maybe the greatest tribute is that Scully prospered and survived in his seat as long as he did, because his popularity was bigger than the Dodgers themselves. If someone tried to fire him, the fans would have burned down the ballpark.
“We have lost an icon,” said Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten, who just sat back and listened and never messed. “Vin Scully was one of the greatest voices in all of sports. He was a giant of a man, not only as a broadcaster, but as a humanitarian. He loved people. He loved life. He loved baseball and the Dodgers. And he loved his family. His voice will always be heard and etched in all of our minds forever.”
Today’s sports establishment wants robots, housemen. Scully proved, every game, that he could love his job and the Dodgers while not coming off as an overgrown fanboy shilling for a paycheck. When necessary, he’d find fault with a manager or player, without ripping him a new one. He was your baseball pal, your trusted companion, a delightful conversationalist. “There’s not a better storyteller and I think everyone considers him family,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He was in our living rooms for many generations. He lived a fantastic life, a legacy that will live on forever. … You don’t get in awe of too many people. I don’t. But when you’re right in front of him and you hear his voice it’s kind of like an ‘awe’ moment. It’s a legacy of longevity. Class. He was a gentleman.”
To call him a play-by-play guy is the most egregious of insults. He was wide awake culturally back in 1974, when he didn’t have to be yet. On the TV call when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home-run record in Atlanta, Scully said on the national broadcast, “A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. What a marvelous moment for baseball.”
Lest we forget, Scully was a human being who suffered tragic personal losses. His second wife of 48 years, Sandy, died of ALS last year. His first wife, Joan, accidentally overdosed on medicine and died in 1972. One of his sons, Michael, died in a 1994 helicopter crash. He never let anyone see his pain or hear it in his voice. He had a job to do.
“I just want to be remembered as a good man, an honest man, and one who lived up to his own beliefs,” he said a few years ago.
There is nothing more to write today that doesn’t get in the way, other than he succeeded quite well in his life mission. A very pleasant “Good Evening” to you, Vin Scully, wherever you may be.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.