He was Venice Beach, Pink’s hot-dog stand and the Hollywood Bowl all rolled into one. He was Los Angeles, the sound of summer, the poet laureate of the Dodgers — Brooklyn and Los Angeles — for 67 seasons.
We knew Vin Scully wasn’t going to last forever. It only seemed as if he might. Even in retirement, years after his final broadcast in 2016, his presence remained both 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 west from the Yankees’ booth (2002-2004). “The best who ever did 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 trading deadline suddenly and sharply gave way to a heaviness in the still of that night, when the Dodgers announced that Scully had died at 94. Baseball’s cycle of life, distilled into one day: new starts and sad ends. Scully had been in declining health in recent months, and those who knew him well had been bracing for the phone call. But when it came, it still was a good punch.
“It doesn’t make it easier because we lost a friend,” said Rick Monday, the former outfielder and longtime Dodgers broadcaster. “Whether we actually met Vin Scully or not, he was our friend.”
Like the best of friends, he was full of wonder, joy, humility and surprises.
“When I was in college, I wrote for The Times, so you probably saw my byline,” Scully said eagerly 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 a recent corner. “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 an interleague game at Angel Stadium early in the 2013 season, some news media members were awaiting a press-box elevator to head home for the evening when Scully joined them for the ride down. He was wearing a brace on his left hand and wrist, the result of a bout with tendinitis.
“I was telling somebody earlier that I should just tell people I’ve gotten interested in falconry and 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.
“He was so well read,” Monday said. “He also owned the English language. When you listened to Vin, you felt like you should go back to school immediately. But he never spoke down to anyone, ever. He was amazing.”
In what was one of his final public acts, Scully wrote a letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Era Committee to support Hodges’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame — a letter that was said to be very influential. But the ever-humble Scully refused to believe he had enough clout to sway the voters and, moreover, did not want any credit.
“Even when I wrote it, I had my fingers crossed that it would not be made public to an extent where suddenly I’m trying to step into the same spotlight because I didn’t want that at all,” Scully said this summer. “Yes, I did write the letter, and it was true as far as I know in every facet. But I don’t want to dwell on it at all.
“I’m extremely sensitive now that I’m retired. I just don’t want to do anything where I might appear to be out of place.”
But Scully’s “place” was everywhere, a friend welcomed by all, beginning with his warm invitation at the start of each broadcast to “pull up a chair.” And for nearly seven decades, from the mansions of Bel Air to the blue-collar neighborhoods around the Southland, on the Dodgers’ behalf, he created an incredible extended family.
Monday grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., with a single mother who fell in love with the Dodgers when they moved west in 1958. Every time they were in the car when the Dodgers were playing, Monday recalls, Scully was their companion.
“His voice was like a gentle hand placed on our shoulder saying, ‘Hey, things are going to be OK. Whatever’s going on in the world, whatever’s going on in your life, for these next three hours, I got you’,” Monday said. “That’s the feeling we had.”
Millions of others experienced similar emotions over those Iron Man-esque 67 years.
“I was mesmerized by this game and mesmerized even more by Vin’s voice and the way he presented the game,” Monday said. “His description of the uniforms, the field, how fast a guy was running, how hard a ball was hit, a diving catch that was made. When Vin was doing a game, it wasn’t just the plays of the game, it was the pageantry of the game.”
Monday was the No. 1 overall draft pick 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,” Monday said. “It’s my seventh year in the bigs, and my mom heard Vin Scully mention 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 before that, the late, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray made the case that Scully was the most important Dodger of them all. Little has changed since.
“Vincent Edward Scully meant as much or more to the Dodgers than any .300 hitter they ever signed, any 20-game winner they ever fielded,” Murray wrote in a column published in August 1990. “True, he didn’t limp to home plate and hit the home run that turned a season into a miracle — but he knew what to do with it 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 has been so improbable, the impossible has 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.
His sense of timing, history and the moment was impeccable, whatever 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 a conscience, he was all that we would hope was right with the world. And more times than not, he was.”
Steiner continued: “Los Angeles is a city of stars. Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, you name it. I’ve long felt Vin was the biggest star of all because of his longevity. Nobody has ever done it better, and nobody ever said he stinks. He was comforting, parental, angelic. He had a brilliant, spotless mind.”
After the Dodgers-Giants game Tuesday night, Monday said he was up in his San Francisco hotel room until 5 am turning over the memories in his mind, alternately smiling and tearing up. When he and his wife travel somewhere, he said, his wife often kiddingly says the place wasn’t as good as the brochure. “Vin Scully was better than the brochure,” Monday said.
He recalled Scully’s final Dodger Stadium broadcast in 2016, when the icon beautifully serenaded the sellout crowd by singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” when the game was finished. The utility man Charlie Culberson had smashed a storybook walk-off home run a few moments earlier. What is easy to forget is that it wasn’t Scully’s final broadcast, the Dodgers finished that season with three games in San Francisco.
There, Culberson had the now-famous bat with him. When he wasn’t sure what to do with it, Monday suggested he have Scully sign it. Culberson was shy, Monday asked and Scully said he would be “honored” to sign it.
Monday escorted Culberson upstairs to the San Francisco press box where they met Scully.
“It was unbelievable,” Monday said. “It was like two kids at a park examining this magical wand of a bat. Vinny signed it, and they were about to say goodbye when who walks into the booth but the man Vin always said was the greatest player he ever saw — Willie Mays.
“Charlie and Vinny had already had tears come down, 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.”