Needing and Feeding Vin Scully

“Will you still need me/will you still feed me/when I’m 64,” warbled Paul McCartney, a little more than midway through the Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Los Angeles Dodgers have decided they will still need and feed Vin Scully for a 64th season in the booth.

To hear Scully say it, it was a halfway meeting between the new ownership’s determination and Scully’s heart’s desire that secures Scully for 2013. “I’m really grateful, more than anything else, I should be on my knees every day,” he said, “giving thanks for the opportunity to do what I love to do, and to do it for so long.”

Flanked to his left by then-partner Jerry Doggett, Vin Scully calls the last Dodger game played in Ebbets Field . . .

To put it in perspective: Scully has already broadcast longer than enough of the Boys of Summer with whom he began probably lived. The remaining living members of the 1950 Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom Scully premiered on Red Barber’s broadcast team are reserves: Bobby Morgan (3B), George (Shotgun) Shuba (OF/PH), Tommy Brown (OF). Or, righthanded pitchers: Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine , Ralph Branca, Joe Landrum, Pat McGlothin.

Dodger pitchers have thrown 23 no-hitters over the franchise’s history. Scully has called thirteen of them, including two by Carl Erskine (both in Ebbets Field) and all four by Sandy Koufax. If you want to look at the progression of Koufax’s no-hitters as proof that practise makes perfect, you could look at Scully’s broadcasts of those games the same way.

The Dodgers have had seventeen no-hitters thrown at them in the franchise’s history, too. Scully’s called seven of those. Including Don Larsen’s World Series perfecto plus perfect games by Tom Browning and Dennis Martinez, not to mention Nolan Ryan’s fifth career no-hitter, breaking Koufax’s lifetime mark; and, not to mention that fine day in June, when six Seattle Mariners combined to no-hit the Dodgers.

Scully’s called a number of unforgettable home runs, too. They didn’t begin with that fine Atlanta night, in 1974, on which Hank Aaron squared up Al Downing:

. . . and once again, a standing ovation for Henry Aaron . . . (crowd noise) . . . So, the confrontation for the second time, Aaron walked in the second inning. He means the tying run at the plate now, so we’ll see what Downing does. Downing at the belt, and he delivers—and he is low, ball one. And that just adds to the pressure, the crowd booing . . . Downing has to ignore the sound effects, and stay a professional, and pitch his game. One ball and no strikes, Aaron waiting, the outfield deep and straightaway . . . Fastball—it’s a high drive into deep left center field, Buckner goes back to the fence—it is gone! . . . (nearly a full minute and three-quarters of crowd noise and fireworks) . . . 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 a record of an all-time baseball idol.

Or, with Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series-opening game winner:

You talk about a roll of the dice, and this is it. So the Dodgers trying to catch lightning right now . . . fouled away again . . . (interjections from colour man Joe Garagiola, crowd noise, by the time the count gets to 3-2) . . . the game right now is at the plate—high fly ball into right field, she is gonnnnnne!!! . . . (crowd noise as Gibson all but forces himself around the bases on his battered legs) . . . In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!

Or, with the 2006 night four Dodgers, one after the other, Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin, and Marlon Anderson hit four into the seats against the San Diego Padres:

And a drive to center, going back is Cameron, to the track, at the wall, and gone! So Jeff Kent comes up with a home run, leading off the ninth, his fourth hit of the game . . . and another drive, to deep right center, and that is gone! Whoa, was that hit! So now, it is 9-7 . . . a drive into left center by Martin, that ball is carrying—into the seats! Three straight home runs! . . . and another drive into high right center, at the wall running, that one will go out, believe it or not! Four consecutive home runs, and the Dodgers have tied it up again . . .

And, they won’t end with the manner in which he called Adrian Gonzalez’s Dodger premiere this weekend, and on the second pitch Gonzalez saw in a Dodger uniform:

. . . And Adrian is wearing the old number he wore in San Diego—he drives one into deep right field, right down the corner, down the line, three-run home run! Welcome to the Dodgers! . . . (crowd noise) . . . and it’s four to one—Dodgers . . . (more crowd noise) . . . I mean, can you believe that that could happen in his first at-bat, after getting a standing ovation, Adrian Gonzalez homers down the right field line.

Told puckishly by a Fox Sports interviewer that the news of his return went viral so far, so fast, it was tweeted out from the North Pole, Scully chuckled. “I hope it was Santa Claus,” he said.

Scully can afford to poke fun at himself, as he does often enough. (He’s been charmingly self-effacing over his latent education on the Internet.) But it isn’t Scully but his followers who have performed something of an annual retirement dance, from Opening Day until that day at last when they will learn Scully will, after all, come back for one more season. Without meaning it to be that way, it’s Scully’s doing.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he said Saturday. “I go from year to year on purpose, I’m really never sure what’s on the horizon, or around the corner. But I was so impressed, after I got to know the new ownership, I wondered, when they first took over, were they talking more than they really meant.

The Voice—For a record 64th year, it’ll be time for Dodger baseball.

“Then I found out, no, they’re here to win, and it’s very obvious what they’ve done,” Scully continued. “So I decided, you know what, this new ownership is gonna take this ball club to new heights. And I’d kind of like to hang on and go with them. So I think, more than anything else, I was so impressed with their attitude . . . I’m gonna hang on with both hands.”

You’d think the new Guggenheim Group ownership took Scully more than literally the first time they heard his familiar opening croon, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”

It isn’t always well known, and Scully is not a man to wear his private life on his sleeve, but there have been times when hanging on with both hands is precisely what he’s done just to keep from dissipating. Most profoundly, in 1972, his wife died of an accidental medical overdose. Though he remarried happily, he was battered in 1994, when his oldest son was killed in a helicopter crash.

A devout Roman Catholic, Scully credits his powerful faith with keeping him in shape to continue working through such tragedies. But he also credits his family. If he’d ever received a single indication that his wife or children might object, Scully might have given up his throne. When he was widowed, and after his remarriage (his wife brought her own two young children into the clan), he was more conscious of the time away. In the past decade, Scully scaled himself back to a certain extent. He does all Dodger home games and, in California and Arizona alone, road games.

He’s awfully tempted to join the team for their interleague play trip to Yankee Stadium next year, since he’s never seen the Yankees’ toddling playpen, “if my wife, Sandy, promises to go with me.” But the Scully clan probably knows better than to interfere too greatly with the love affair between baseball and the Voice, even if he would likely call it a career if his family asked. In 2008, he made no bones about returning for 2009 after getting Mrs. Scully’s “clearance.”

But Scully only thinks it’s his love affair with the game. He still doesn’t get that it’s, well, over 64 percent, and probably more, the other way around. Do they still carry portable TV sets into Dodger Stadium, turn down the picture, and listen to Scully even if they’re at the park? I still remember the first time I saw that phenomenon, when I lived in southern California. That’s how beloved Scully is. Even in the box seats right on the field, they won’t believe what they’re seeing until or unless they hear it from Scully.

“More than anything else, it’s a love affair that I’ve had with baseball and sport itself ever since I was a little boy,” he continues. “You can’t have a love affair with a woman and say I’ll love her on Monday and Thursday, but I don’t really care for her on the weekend. A true love affair is seven days a week. And that’s exactly how I have felt about the game. I don’t need those rare moments to still love the game.”

Nor does baseball need them to still love him. Baseball still needs Vin Scully to feed it, and baseball will still feed Vin Scully. When he’s 64, in broadcasting years, and beyond.

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