Better listen while you can
Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers for 56 years, won't be around forever.
It hits you now as you sit there, alone in a room except for the sound of his voice, that warm, distinctive, almost lyrical voice.
Although Vin Scully, at age 77, is still going strong, his play-by-play calls as velvety smooth as ever, the rich storytelling and wonderful descriptive phrases spilling out as easily as your morning orange juice, he might actuallyretire one of these years.
As much as Farmer John, as well as the rest of us in sports-happy Southern California, hate to consider the possibility, it will happen eventually.
That's why you're silly if you don't take the time now to listen as much as you can. You have to understand, this is a piece of history we're being treated to here.
This is the Babe Ruth of baseball broadcasting.
Some day, you'll want to tell your grandkids. They'll be all excited about some new announcer they like, and you'll smile and shake your head and give them the only answer you can:
"Ah, but you should have heard Vin Scully. He was as much a poet as a broadcaster ..."
To fully appreciate Scully, you had to be growing up in the greater Los Angeles area in 1958, when he and the Dodgers first came to town.
Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges arrived like heroes from another era, their fading skills leading to a new wave of bright, young stars in a town that wasn't sure what to make of this sport played in a facility built for anything but major-league baseball.
The Coliseum was a joke, but Scully wasn't. He bridged the gap from Brooklyn to L.A., from Ebbets Field faithful to movie-star cool, from New York hotshots to Los Angeles Moon Shots.
He was as much professor as he was announcer in those days, patiently teaching the nightly nuances of the game to a town that had been only mildly interested in the old Pacific Coast League.
"Pull up a chair and stick around awhile," he would say, and millions were glad to comply.
Radio was king then. The games weren't televised on a regular basis as they are now, so everybody had their trusty transistor.
How many people have told you they used to go to bed listening to Scully on their tiny radios, hidden under the pillow so their parents wouldn't know?
I was one of those kids. So was everyone I knew.
Scully defined those summers in the late 1950s and into the '60s.
His crackling voice was the backdrop of your life. In your backyard, under the stars. In Dad's garage, amid all his equipment. On the beach, between dips in the foamy Pacific. In your car, whizzing along on freeways that weren't always snarled by traffic.
Best of all was at the ballpark, at the Coliseum and later Dodger Stadium, where Scully had so transfixed the average fan that everyone brought his transistor to the game. It was almost as if he were being piped in over the public-address system.
Scully would crack a joke, and the whole ballpark would erupt in laughter, often startling the players on the field.
It was great. You'd go to get a Dodger Dog, and you'd never have to miss a beat, because Scully's voice was echoing throughout the place, describing every pitch.
It is 3:45 Monday afternoon, and the man who has been doing this for a remarkable 56 years has arrived as he usually does, settling into his booth in the Vin Scully Press Box, his computerized homework in hand, about to prepare for another night of the job he does better than anyone in history.
"How do you do it?" he is asked. "How do you manage to stay so fresh and on top of things after all this time?"
"You know, I really, truly love the game," he says. "I've done football and golf and even a little tennis. But I really believe this is an incredible game.
"The other thing, I think, is the roar of the crowd. It still stirs the adrenaline in me. It still gives me goosebumps."
He talks of his days as a young boy growing up in New York, where his family had what he describes as a four- pillar radio.
"I used to sit directly underneath it, with a glass of milk and saltine crackers and listen to games, and the cheers of the crowd felt like they were right above me," Scully says.
"To this day, the crowd still affects me."
The Scully of today does a few innings of simulcast, but mostly television. No loyal partner. No Jerry Doggett or Ross Porter. Just him. Just Vin.
For the full nine innings.
Anyone else might sound monotonous. But not Scully. Not even after all these years and all those innings.
He can be plugging one of the team's many giveaway nights, this time for free Dodgers noisemakers for kids, then pause and say: "There's something redundant about giving noisemakers to youngsters under 14 years of age."
Or he can be reciting one of the team's weird batting orders of late, full of Repkos and Bakos and Rosses, then quickly mention: "It's a far cry from the lineup that opened the season."
Honesty always has been as much his trademark as those natty blazers and color-coordinated ties. If the Dodgers stink, he'll tell you, but not in the sardonic way the late, great Chick Hearn would in commenting on the Lakers. Scully is more subtle.
Hearn, the only one who came close to Scully's popularity in L.A., was creative and entertaining, more rat-tat-tat in his delivery.
Scully, with his perfect phrasing and precise imagery that lends itself so well to baseball's conversational style, is more soothing. The game might go extra innings, but you never tire of listening to him.
These days, the "R" word comes up a lot in his conversations.
"I know eventually retirement will happen," Scully says. "But I don't want to set a timetable. I've got another year on this contract, then Frank McCourt and I will probably sit down and talk.
"The thought (of retiring) is frightening. Some day I'll have to face it. But as long as I'm happy, healthy and still thrilled about this game, why walk away?"
Scully has friends who have warned him not to retire.
"But at the same time," he says, "I don't want to work until I drop."
In the end, he falls back on one of his favorite sayings.
"If you want to make God smile, tell him your plans," he says, grinning.
So even with a team most people can't recognize anymore, even with a club that will need some breaks to hang in the division race until August, Scully continues to ply the trade that has made him the most famous Dodger of them all.
"I've been so blessed," he says. "It's scary how blessed I've been."
No, Vin. You've got it wrong.
It's those of us who've had the pleasure of listening all these years who have been truly blessed.