A framed poster is prominently displayed on my living room wall. It is a minimalist rendering of Dodger Stadium, lights protruding above the iconic hexagonal scoreboard. The scoreboard shows that it is the top of the ninth inning and the home team has managed just one run on one hit, however that is one more of each than the visiting Cubs have produced. Number 32 is pitching and batting ninth. The count is two balls, two strikes, and two outs — the deuces are wild. Not pictured, just out-of-frame no doubt: a million butterflies.
I liked the poster so much that I bought another for my uncle (a fellow massive Dodger fan) for Christmas. I didn’t tell him the moment on the scoreboard when he opened it; I wanted to see how quickly he would figure it out. Almost instantaneously, he began reciting Vin Scully’s call of the final pitch of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game from memory: “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup and here’s the pitch. Swung on and missed, a perfect game!”
I grew up near Los Angeles, and my extended family made sure I was a Dodger fan from a young age. My earliest Dodger Stadium memory was with my grandfather when I was six years old. He passed away a few weeks later, and our connection with the Dodgers and baseball as a whole is my clearest memory of him. After he passed, my family would watch Dodger games at my grandmother’s house on most Sundays, with Scully always there with us on the call. My other family members would occasionally bring me to games as well, equally amused by my knowledge of the game and my ambition to get on the big screen (I never did).
When the glorious occasion of our once-or-twice per year Dodger Stadium visits came to pass, we’d always bring a radio so we could hear Vin Scully calling the action. I don’t think they were technically transistor radios at that point, but the intent was the same as it was for all of those famous stories of Scully calling games in the 50s and 60s. We wanted to hear him describe what we could see. That’s how much it added.
The 90s and early 00s were not a particularly great time to be a Dodger fan from an on-the-field perspective, but for the first twelve years or so of my life, I don’t remember much of that ineptitude. I just remember Vin. Those memories followed me across the country as I became an adult, whether it was keeping a lonely college freshman company in my first weeks in the dorms as the Dodgers went 4+1, or as I drifted off to sleep with his voice on my computer as a young professional, or him narrating the Dodgers in my first years attempting to write about baseball as I failed to describe the game in the manner he made look so effortless.
These memories are a common bond with my family that we will always share. My uncle’s childhood memories of Scully calling Koufax, to my own memories of listening to Scully simulcast innings on the cheap plastic stereo in my bedroom 30 years later, to the baseball memories of my younger cousins. It is a thread which links multiple generations of baseball fans. Most Dodger fans have similar stories.
Vin Scully was a real-time poet. He had the uncanny ability to create a phrase in an instant more eloquent than most writers could create in a lifetime. These phrases defined Scully’s most iconic moments as a broadcaster. A million butterflies. The impossible has happened. Throw it to the sky. Public enemy number one. Scully witnessed many of the most memorable moments in baseball history, and his prose will last forever with them.
However, when I think about what Scully means to me personally, it’s not really about those iconic moments. The Dodgers didn’t have many of those moments for most of my life, and certainly not in my formative years as a fan and as a person. Even if they did, those moments aren’t what makes baseball baseball. 99% of baseball games don’t have a no-hitter, or World Series walk-offs, or more than one or two pivotal moments.
Instead, Scully used his innate poetic ability to keep his listeners engaged, and that is where he was truly special. There may never be another broadcaster who could keep you so captivated as the Dodgers were losing 8-3 to the Marlins. Scully’s ability draw focus in those moments was the difference between turning off the game or listening through to the end. It was the same skill which created his most iconic calls, but nobody has ever applied those skills so masterfully to both baseball’s loud moments and its quiet ones.
Scully’s ability to make an 8-3 loss to the Marlins interesting from start to finish embodies one of the most important things about baseball: it showed that baseball is like life. Not every day is a win and not every day has a moment which changes your life forever, but if you work at it, every moment can be interesting. That lesson is why baseball is still the soundtrack of my summer, and likely will remain so for the rest of my life. Without Scully, I don’t think that’s a lesson I would have learned on my own.
When the Dodgers announced Scully’s passing on Tuesday evening, my first reaction was not to seek out videos of his iconic calls. Those are burned into my memory — I can recite them like my uncle. I instead sought out Scully talking about the little things. The things that made those 8-3 losses to the Marlins worthwhile. Thousands of those moments will be lost to time, but many more will live on, and they show Scully’s invaluable skills as a broadcaster better than more words in this tribute ever could.
On bird poop:
On the importance of dirt:
On his scouting prowess:
On the hot foot:
And, finally, calling two games at once, something he did many times:
Rest in peace, Vin Scully. There will never be another quite like you.