RIP to a legend: Vin Scully passes at 94

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Words cannot express how much one voice on the radio can teach a young boy about life, good sportsmanship, and even baseball. In a childhood blessed with good role models, Vin Scully stands out even in mine as a legend and a bastion of decency on and off the field.

And after having been blessed with Mr. Scully for longer than we could hope or deserve, he’s finally signed off for the last time and gone home to his reward:

Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, whose dulcet tones provided the soundtrack of summer while entertaining and informing Dodgers fans in Brooklyn and Los Angeles for 67 years, died Tuesday night. He was 94.

Scully died at his home in the Hidden Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, according to the team after being informed by family members. No cause of death was provided.

“He was the best there ever was,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said after the Dodgers game in San Francisco. “Just such a special man. I’m grateful and thankful I got to know him as well as I did.”

As the longest tenured broadcaster with a single team in pro sports history, Scully saw it all and called it all. He began in the 1950s era of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, on to the 1960s with Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, into the 1970s with Steve Garvey and Don Sutton, and through the 1980s with Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela. In the 1990s, it was Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo, followed by Kershaw, Manny Ramirez and Yasiel Puig in the 21st century.

How special was Scully as a broadcaster? People at the games in Dodger Stadium would bring their radios with them to hear Vin’s voice call the games. His play by play would faintly echo from thousands of “transistor radios,” as we called them back in the day, all across the stands. The Associated Press’ obit today informs us of the origin of that practice:

Scully credited the birth of the transistor radio as “the greatest single break” of his career. Fans had trouble recognizing the lesser players during the Dodgers’ first four years in the vast Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“They were 70 or so odd rows away from the action,” he said in 2016. “They brought the radio to find out about all the other players and to see what they were trying to see down on the field.”

That habit carried over when the team moved to Dodger Stadium in 1962. Fans held radios to their ears, and those not present listened from home or the car, allowing Scully to connect generations of families with his words.

I was born in 1963, and would have only begun noticing that while attending games in the early 1970s. That practice may have been born of necessity, but its longevity is entirely attributable to the excellence and gentleness of Scully and his performance.

For me, this is more personal than just a legend passing away. Many years ago, I wrote a piece on spec about Tommy Lasorda that never got published, in which I wrote that Lasorda taught me about loyalty and team spirit, being all-in with a team and fighting for its success. Scully, I wrote, taught me the boundaries that have to apply — fair play, good sportsmanship, and honesty. He never said a mean word about anyone — not even the Giants! — and praised the players on both teams when they performed well. In fact, his most memorable call was to hail then-Chicago Cub Rick Monday in 1976:

But Scully’s best call was in the 1988 World Series, when Kirk Gibson pinch hit with injuries to both legs to emulate The Natural and turn the momentum for the Dodgers. At the time, Gibson could only jog, and he faced off that year’s best closer, Dennis Eckersley:

Note what Scully did here, as he did so often — he used silence wisely. He let the crowd tell the story rather than talk over them.

He may well have been the greatest Dodger of all time, but Scully wasn’t a “homer.” He told the truth, even when the home team was performing poorly, but always in a gentle manner. Scully didn’t appear to have a mean or petty bone in his body. And in his gentle way, Scully showed how that is really an asset to be emulated rather than an obstacle to be discarded. His quiet determination to continue doing what he loved showed us the value of tenacity and hard work, too.

There will be plenty of richly deserved tributes from sports writers, baseball players and officials, and other announcers, all of whom owe something to Scully for his massive contribution to the game. My remembrance here will likely and deservedly get lost in the shuffle, and I’m looking forward to reading all the rest. Let me just say that it’s not just the people in Major League Baseball that owe a lot to Vin Scully — it’s also kids like me who grew up recognizing the example he set and making it a measure of how we succeeded in adulthood.

For that, I will be ever grateful and give thanks to the Lord for Vin Scully. I’ll also be praying for his family, his friends, and colleagues for their loss.