I always thought that Vin Scully, like baseball, was forever.
I was wrong. Scully — baseball’s pre-eminent announcer/laureate – died Tuesday at 94.
The season of “The Boys of Summer” is finally over. The journey from Ebbets Field to Dodger Stadium is complete. Now Vin Scully is ready for the “Field of Dreams.”
Scully’s unprecedented 67-year career stretched from Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn “Bums” to Clayton Kershaw’s Los Angeles multi-millionaires in Dodger blue.
Scully was really the last link to baseball’s golden age and a far different America. Radio was the dominant medium in the spring of 1950, when Scully announced his first game in Brooklyn.
Baseball was the dominant sport in the U.S. at that time. The 1950s’ Brooklyn Dodgers became a metaphor for a country about to endure social change in the post-war era.
Roger Kahn detailed those Dodgers and their impact on America in his remarkable book, “The Boys of Summer.”
Jackie Robinson was baseball’s first Black player of the modern era, and became a symbol in America’s civil rights movement.
Scully told a story about Robinson playing a game in Cincinnati during the early 1950s.
“It was a Sunday afternoon. Big crowd in the ballpark…What made it different is on the rooftop of old Crosley Field, there were sharpshooters…There were many police officers in the stands and near the field.
“The reason: A most threatening letter was sent to Jackie Robinson and everybody took it very seriously.”
Scully then told of a tense meeting in the Dodger clubhouse before the game. A player named Gene Hermanski suddenly broke the silence and got up and said: “I’ve got it. We’ll all wear No. 42 (Robinson’s number).
“It was not much of a surprise, nor was it a disguise,” Scully said, adding: “In 2004, a long time from those days in Cincinnati, the commissioner of baseball decided there would be a Jackie Robinson night throughout the game…He decided that everyone should wear No. 42.
“So the words of Gene Hermanski uttered in the early ‘50s to try to relieve the tension and the pressure, will come back every year since 2004. ‘It’s easy’ he said, ‘we’ll all wear No. 42.’”
Such were the tales spun by Vin Scully, baseball’s master storyteller. The stories were born of experience.
Scully not only witnessed the exploits of Robinson – and teammates like Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snider. He called their games and made them come alive to listeners invested in the team and the game.
The Dodgers finally beat the New York Yankees in 1955, to win the World Series. Three years later, the team moved to Los Angeles, and Scully started a new tradition in a new city in a country destined for change.
Scully was there in 1988, when Kirk Gibson’s famed walk off homer won a World Series game. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” Scully said at that moment.
He was there in 1986, when Bill Buckner’s 10th inning error cost the Red Sox a World Series game against the New York Mets. “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words,” Scully told the TV audience.
He was there when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record in 1974. “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the State of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.
“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”
Scully was there until he retired in 2016. When I think of Scully, I’m reminded of the baseball speech by James Earl Jones in the film, “Field of Dreams.” It goes like this:
“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.
“But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: It’s part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
Vin Scully was baseball’s constant. He marked time. He marked change. He linked us to our past. And he stays with us, like the Grand Old Game itself.
When Scully retired, he offered these words to his listeners.
“You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you’ve needed me, and I’ll miss our time together more than I can say.
“But you know what—there will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured it will be time for…baseball.”
Tony Violanti covers arts and music for Villages-News.com. He wrote a nationally published book on baseball, “Miracle in Buffalo” (1991 St. Martin’s Press).