“But watching Rigney’s reaction, it looks like Gorman is gonna call it foul! And Rigney is about ready to eat his glasses. Alston has walked away like a Philadelphia lawyer who has just won his case. Rigney slams his hat down! And the grey hairs glistening under the lights. Bill is now goin’ jaw-to-jaw with Boggess … now he kicks at the dirt. Hands on his hips. Left hand thrown high in the air!”
— Vin Scully, May 30, 1959
My lifetime with Vin Scully actually started years before I was born. Let me explain: I was born into a Dodger family. My dad was 10 years old when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and they became his everything. He wrote an amazing letter to Vinny last week that — if he’s so gracious — I’d love to share on TomRants as a guest post.Anyway, before I can even remember, I was a Dodger fan. And, therefore, I was a Vin Scully fan. The first game I remember attending at Dodger Stadium was in 1976 — when I was five — against the Padres, in all their brown-and-gold glory. Of course, we took a radio to the ballpark that day.
I really started consciously tuning into the Dodgers in those pennant-winning years of 1977 and 1978. We would listen to every game — and watch the 50 games they showed on KTTV Channel 11. The personalities seemed so big to me: manager Tommy Lasorda; the infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill, Russell, and Ron Cey; and, of course, Vinny — the voice I associated with the Dodgers, probably from before I could speak.
About that time, my dad introduced me to an album from his vast collection: “Dodgers 59,” it was called. It contained audio recordings from the Dodgers’ second year on the West Coast, when they’d become the first team in baseball history to go from seventh place to the World Series the very next year, and then beat the Chicago White Sox for their first championship in L.A.
I sat, transfixed, as Vinny’s calls from that memorable season flowed from the speakers. There was Roy Campanella Night at the Coliseum, with 93,000 fans lighting candles in support of the famed Dodger catcher who had been paralyzed in a car crash in January 1958. There was a record-setting 18-strikeout game from a young fireballer named Sandy Koufax. That same game featured a three-run walk-off home run from Wally Moon to beat the hated Giants. There was Vin calling two games at once during the pennant race — with the Coliseum crowd listening in on transistor radios and reacting to every pitch of the Giants-Phillies game up the coast. And, of course, there’s the famous call of the moment the Dodgers clinched the National League pennant in a playoff against the Milwaukee Braves on Sept. 29, 1959:“Big bouncer over the mound, over second base. Up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!”
While all of those moments were incredible — Vin weaving tales and descriptions of the happenings on the field for an audience listening strictly on the radio — there was one nearly 10-minute clip on the record that stood above everything else. It’s the one that made me a fan for life. On May 30, 1959, the Dodgers were playing the Giants at the Coliseum. In the sixth inning, Willie Mays hit a Don Drysdale pitch high down the left field line where it struck — depending on who you believe — the foul pole or one of two guide wires that helped hold up the 40-foot-tall left field screen. That foul pole was just 251 feet away from home plate due to the Coliseum’s layout as a football and track stadium. The heated argument — first by the Dodgers after the ball was initially ruled a home run, then by the Giants when it appeared the umpires had reversed course and called the ball foul (before splitting the difference and awarding Mays a ground-rule double) — was, as described by Vinny, a dramatic stage play. The quote at the top of this story is from the middle of the rhubarb and is my favorite turn of phrase, but there were others.
How’s this for a description of Dodger third baseman Don Zimmer pleading his case:
“Zimmer will be hoarse in another two minutes. The veins on each side of his neck bulging out like the cable that actually holds up the left field screen.”
Or this description of Giant manager Bill Rigney and third-base umpire Dusty Boggess:
“Boggess comes over and Rigney, like a mad traffic cop now, with the right hand indicating all the umpires are mad.”
It was all magic — all of it. I didn’t want to listen to anything else. I probably gave that record as good a wearing out as my dad did when he was 11. Last week, thanks to a quick Google search, I located the audio from the album on YouTube. Both sides are linked in text above (here they are, in case you missed them: Dodgers 59 Side 1 and Dodgers 59 Side 2).
After being hooked for good, I was a lucky kid, because every April I was granted six (or more) months of Vinny and the Dodgers. Not only that, but the Dodgers were one of the best teams in baseball for almost my entire childhood. Between my birth and my 18th birthday, the Dodgers won seven N.L. West championships, four National League pennants, and two World Series. They also finished second in the N.L. West six other times.
“Griffin ready, at the belt. Delivers. Valenzuela lines it in to right field! Base hit! Dodgers lead, 1-0! (40 seconds of silence as the crowd roars.) And they are going wild at Dodger Stadium! And there’s no way this game will continue — not for a while! Valenzuela is told by Manny Mota, ‘Take your helmet off.’ So Valenzuela said, ‘Ok!’ He lifted his helmet high in the air and the crowd loved it! I swear, Fernando, you are too much in any language. Could you imagine, on this night of all nights, he’s two-for-two, he got the first Dodger hit, and he just drives in a run. The Dodgers lead one-nothing and here’s Davey Lopes. Griffin ready and delivers and it’s waved at and missed, 0-and-1. Listen to this crowd just talkin’ to themselves. Whoa-ho, what a show! Dodger Stadium, what a great place to be.”give it a listen). But it was always Vinny, every night, welcoming us like a friend he’d been expecting: “A very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be.”
By the time I was 10, you couldn’t pry me away from the Dodgers or Vinny in the summer. We usually only went to one or two games a year, but the radio and TV were always there. We subscribed to ONtv, a pay-TV service that pre-dated cable, when the Dodgers added 20 home TV broadcasts to that channel in the late 1970s. Now, 70 games were televised! And, you could always count on Channel 11 adding a few random home games at the end of the season when the Dodgers were in the race.I was transfixed by baseball, by the Dodgers, by Vinny. Around that same time, I’d acquired the plastic batting helmets of all 12 National League teams from the local toy store. During the summer, if the Dodgers were in the Midwest or on the East Coast with an early start, I’d take my little Hitachi radio, my Dodger helmet, and the helmet of whichever team they were playing (that gold-topped, black-billed Pirates helmet was probably my second favorite) and head out to the back yard where I’d play along with the game as each hitter for both teams. Vin’s voice and descriptions made it easy for me to mimic the action.
That same Hitachi radio served as my bedtime buddy. Growing up in Fullerton, just a few miles north of Disneyland, I have three distinct memories of going to bed in the summer: bedtime was 9 p.m.; at 9:30, you’d hear the “Boom! Bam! Bam!” of the Disneyland fireworks in the distance; and trying my best to stay awake as long as I could listening to Dodgers’ home games on the radio.
(In the winter, those same “stay awake to listen” memories belong to the Lakers and Chick Hearn.)
It’s only because of Vin that — at that age — I knew names like John Ramsey (the long-time Dodger Stadium and all-L.A. public address announcer in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) and Helen Dell (the Dodger organist from 1972 to 1987). It’s because of Vin that I knew then — and I know now — that Farmer John meats are always “the easternmost in quality, and the westernmost in flavor.” It’s because of Vin that I learned to “Go with the spirit! The spirit of 76!” when the car needed gas.
And it’s because of Vin that my family was brought together by those damn Dodgers. Because, as often as they enjoyed glorious victories, they also sustained crushing losses. The Dodgers always made things exciting — as when they won the last three home games of the 1980 regular season to catch the Astros for first place, only to lose, 7-1, in the single-game playoff against Houston in the same stadium on the next day.The 1981 World Champions, led by the only group of Dodgers I’d ever known at that point — Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Baker, Smith, Monday, Yeager, Hooton — were simply remarkable. Not only did they produce one dramatic victory after another in the postseason (trailing Houston two games to none in the division series, Montreal 2-1 in the LCS, and the Yankees 2-0 in the World Series), but they also produced maybe the best one-player phenomenon I’ve ever seen in baseball. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like Fernandomania again — and Vin was there to spin the tale into the tapestry of baseball history.
As the team began to change — age and the era of free agency forcing the Dodgers to make moves — the successes continued. Vin’s call of a dramatic 1983 pennant race victory over the Braves, closed out on a squeeze bunt by rookie R.J. Reynolds is a memory seared into my head: my whole family, jumping around the living room on a hot September Sunday, as Vin called, “The squeeze! And here comes the run! They squeezed it in!” (No. 13 on the Dodgers’ Top 20 Vin Scully calls as ranked by Dodger fans)
By the fall of 1988, I’d reached my senior year of high school. That summer, my dad and I fell into the magic of that Dodger team, attending a pair of memorable Saturday night games on back-to-back weekends in August. But the Dodgers also had been crushed time and again by a Mets team that had taken 10 of 11 regular season meetings. When they playoffs started, the Mets did it again, rallying from 2-0 down in the ninth inning of Game 1. There was simply no way the Dodgers were going to come back from that. But come back they did, gritting and grinding through a memorable seven-game series win, capped off by another shutout performance from Orel Hershiser.
Game 1 of the World Series, in which the Cinderella Dodgers again looked overmatched, this time by the powerful Oakland A’s, took place on a warm Saturday evening in L.A. The Dodgers looked even more overmatched because National League MVP Kirk Gibson was not expected to play in the series due to a pair of injured legs. That night, I was at a friend’s house in Fullerton, watching with a group of other friends and planning on going to a high school party later, when Gibson suddenly appeared — and a 3-2 Dennis Eckersley slider suddenly disappeared into the right-field pavilion.
And then, perhaps, Vin’s greatest line. After more than a minute of silence, letting the sound and NBC’s pictures tell the story, he returned to air with the perfect description of that Dodger season:
“In a year that’s been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
A few minutes of deep breaths later, I was on my friend’s house phone, calling my dad. We proceeded to, essentially, ugly cry into each other’s ears for about three minutes before hanging up. To this day, it’s still the greatest single moment I’ve ever seen as a sports fan — and it had to be Vin at the mic.
Five days later the Dodgers won the World Series in Oakland (“Like the 1969 Mets, it’s the impossible dream — revisited,” Vin said.) Twenty-eight years later, they still haven’t been back.
***“He hits a high fly ball to right field. Back goes Martinez. To the wall, it is gone! Miracle upon miracles, he’s hit another one! And it’s 10-1, Dodgers! They are going wild at Dodger Stadium as Mike Piazza has just put a fillip on one of the more dramatic moments of the year — and he gets another curtain call!”
— Vin Scully, October 3, 1993
You might ask: haven’t those 28 years without a World Series been frustrating as a fan? Of course they have, especially after the success I’d grown used to in the early stages of my life. However, while of course we all want to see the Dodgers in (and winning) a World Series again, there is something more to being a Dodger fan then any other team I’m a fan of. Certainly, having graduated from USC, Trojan football is right up there with it — and I do love my Kings and Lakers.
But there’s something extra special about the feeling I have for the Dodgers. What it comes down to is a feeling about life and family — those summers as a kid, playing along. Those nights with the radio nestled next to my pillow. Those times where my family would be listening or watching to an important game in the living room. Those times — limited as a child — where you walked into Dodger Stadium, smelled the Dodger Dogs, the beer, the peanuts, heard the organ, the roar of the crowd, and Vinny over the radio.What all of those feelings come back to is Vin Scully. All of us can list our favorite Dodger memories — beyond those I’ve mentioned: the Fernando Valenzuela no-hitter in 1990; the Kevin Gross no-hitter (which I attended) during the dismal 1992 season; being at the park with my dad on Oct. 3, 1993 when Mike Piazza destroyed the Giants’ post-season hopes; Steve Finley’s walk-off grand slam to beat the Giants on the next to the last day of the 2004 season to clinch the division; Vin’s aptly named “Magic Castle” of 2013, when — for two months — it seemed the Dodgers couldn’t lose.
But what we can’t list or quantify is the feeling of knowing — at the end of a long day at school or work, or after a difficult argument with your mother or girlfriend, or even when you woke up on a brilliant Sunday morning with a spring in your step — that Vin would be there to let you know that “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
For most of my adult life, I commuted somewhere between 25-45 miles to work each day. Work, you say? Well, here’s another facet to my story about Vin: I went to journalism school at USC because he (and Hearn) inspired me to be a sportscaster. While that dream didn’t quite come true, there’s no doubt that his inspiration is — in part — responsible for where I am today in my professional career.Back to the commute: about four years ago, I was able to turn things around to where I could work at home four days per week and take that load off. But during the 20 or so years I was out there driving L.A.’s freeways, there was no better feeling than getting to 7 p.m. and knowing that Vin would carry me the rest of the way home: “Hi everybody, and a very pleasant Wednesday to you, wherever you may be. We’re at Dodger Stadium for the final game of a three-game series between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds.”
It never had to be a big game. It just had to be a Dodger game with Vin on the call. It was like getting home while you were still on the road. You knew you’d be able to see the action through Vin’s words — and you knew you’d probably learn something, whether it was about an obscure rookie shortstop for the Reds, about the history of pirates, or about just how cute the baby was that everyone was seeing on TV. You knew that if there were two balls and two strikes on a hitter with two outs and two runners on base that the deuces were wild. You knew that Vinny would never put you on the wrong path with an overhyped call on a lazy fly ball — when he said, “There’s a high drive to deep left field …” you knew it was gone.
While we’ll all relish in the great calls — the classic calls, the historic calls, the calls only the greatest sports broadcaster of all time could make — what I’ll miss the most are those random weeknights in earlier in the season against any random opponent. The pennant race is still so far off then, the games — while not meaningless in any way — more of an exercise in languid enjoyment. Listening to Vin on those nights always brought me back to my childhood, my house in Fullerton, my family together. It brought me back to those years where I’d get a pair of Dodger tickets for my birthday and my dad and I would sit in Dodger Stadium, likely somewhere high up in the reserve level, with our radio on a late May night. One particular night — a 1980 game against the Cardinals won on a three-run, eighth inning homer by Dusty Baker — is so etched into my memory that I can nearly reach out and touch it.
***“O-and-1 to Charlie. Swung on, a high fly ball to deep left field. The Dodger bench empties! Would you believe a home run? And the Dodgers have clinched the division and will celebrate on schedule!”
Last Sunday at Dodger Stadium was, perhaps, the most incredible day in the ballpark since Oct. 15, 1988. More than 51,000 Dodger fans piled into the stadium for Vinny’s final home game on the air and for a chance to see the Dodgers win their fourth consecutive N.L. West title.
I was very lucky to be there with my amazing wife of 18 months. In 2013, when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, she agreed to take a 30-game plan of Dodger tickets with me. That year, she fell in love with those Dodgers — a loveable group, for sure, with personality plus from folks like Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, and unreal rookie Yasiel Puig. But, as she’s wont to do, she fell in love with the part-timers like scrappy Nick Punto, as well. The next year, we took season tickets for the first time. To say that becoming a Dodger season ticket holder was the culmination of a childhood dream is an understatement. And she’s been by my side there for 25-30 games a year since, building the same types of memories I’ve had since childhood.
From the start, last Sunday was so special. Each Dodger batter tipped his hat in Vin’s direction the first time through the order. There were a series of spontaneous ovations for Vin throughout the day. And when we all sang along with his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch, it was nearly overwhelmingMeanwhile: the game! Corey Seager tied it at two with an RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Seager crushed a home run to tie it up at three (“And a high drive into deep right field … Seager has done it again!”).
Finally, in the 10th inning, with the team, the crowd, and Vinny about as wrung out emotionally as you could imagine, a part-timer — just the kind of guy he has the best stories about — named Charlie Culberson etched his name into Dodger history.
The celebration on the field. The celebration in the crowd. The team turning in unison and tipping their new division champion hats collectively to Vin. And Vin asking us to listen to his rendition of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” I still have a hard time fathoming it — and I watched all of it happen from my spot in Loge 159. Maybe 45 minutes later, as my wife and I were still wandering around the stadium, dazed but thrilled, my phone rang in my pocket. It was my dad. We spoke briefly about the game. He said, “You know, ‘The Natural’ was written as fantasy. I’ve now seen the Dodgers do something better — and less believable — than that movie twice in my life.”
More importantly, as we moved to end the call, he said, “I just wanted to call you to share this moment with you. It was so special. And I love you, son.”
I blubbered out an “I love you, too,” as I fought off tears of my own. I’d already cried enough that afternoon!You can tell me all you want about sports being silly, or about how dumb it might be to idolize another person. But, I can tell you that Vin Scully — a man I’ve never met, whom I feel I know incredibly well — puts the lie to all of that. He’s brought families together, given so many people refuge from the daily battles in tough times, and given so many people even more joy at the best times.
This is what Vin has meant to me, to us — to all of us who have been a part of those 67 years calling the Dodgers. Home, family, love, learning, life, winning, losing — and how to handle it all with grace and dignity.
Thank you, Vinny. While we’ll miss you, we’ll always have you in our minds and in our hearts — where, forevermore, it will be time for Dodger baseball!