08/05/09 6:12 PM ET
It's time for Dodger Baseball
A night in the booth with Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully
By Eric Neel / Dodgers Magazine
You don't think of Vin Scully as a baseball announcer. You think of him as a fixture. You think of him as the tie that binds you to the game, the team, and the great sprawling city you call home. You think of him as a treasure, a secret you keep with others dressed in blue. You think of him as a character in your own story, a star by which to navigate and a cure for what ails you.
And you're right to think these things. They are and forever will be true.
But if you could look over his shoulder, if you could sit behind him up in the booth tonight as he put on his headset and lifted his eyes to the field, if you could see things the way he sees them, you might also think Vin Scully is just a man at work, a man who feels blessed to be there, a man who loves his job, one pitch, one inning, one game and one night at a time.
If you could look over his shoulder you would see him look down at home plate before the game begins and wave to the umpiring crew as they doff their caps up in his direction, a tradition that began more than 30 years ago when longtime National League ump Bruce Froemming once spontaneously saluted Vin on the first night of a series at Dodger Stadium.
You'd see him read through a clipping from the morning paper, an article on the Dodgers' struggle to hit for power so far this season, slip it between the pages of a black three-ring binder full of stats and stories he keeps on the home team, and then flip open the black book he's compiled on tonight's opponent in search of a point of comparison.
You'd see him stand and clap for the little tike down on the field who nervously declared, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" before the first pitch. This is a tradition inspired by his own words that have been branded in the minds of baseball fans of all ages.
And in the moments before he came on the air, you'd notice him take a short, centering breath as his director Boyd Robertson counted him down by holding up 10 fingers and then folding them down one one by one.
If you could look over his shoulder you would spy his scorebook, bound in a black leather portfolio, the corners of which have been troubled by years of fidgeting thumbs. A fly ball out to left is a "7" and a slash. A single to right is a hashmark and a "9." Keep the boxes clean and simple. Keep extra pens at the ready. Mark pinch-hitters in red ink and everything else in blue.
You'd see the way he sits on the front edge of his chair, as if he can't wait to see what happens next.
You'd hear him explain to the audience at home that they can follow the Dodgers on Facebook and Twitter, and then laugh off the air, marveling at how much time has passed between live spots for Schaefer back in the Ebbets Field days and announcements for Twitter in the souped-up here and now. What a world. What a gas that I'm still in it.
And as the Dodger starter made his way through the first couple of innings, you'd see Vin extend his right hand, silently asking for a pitch count, and in an instant you'd see an index card with three numbers -- total pitches, strikes, and balls -- written on it, and the card would almost fly from Brian, the statistician, to Boyd, to that extended right hand of Vin's. Just like that the numbers would become facts entered into the record, part of the story of the young hurler's efforts to harness his stuff and find the groove.
If you could look over his shoulder you would spot him opening his tarnished gold glasses case, taking out one of a handful of Jolly Ranchers stashed inside, and popping it in his mouth between innings. Gotta keep the whistle wet.
You'd see him lean way back in his chair and stretch his arms out wide as the pitcher breaks off a "biiiiiig slow curveball" that just misses, as if Vin were bending through time and space with the pitch, as if it were the sun moving across the sky, as if he were yawning to greet the break of day.
You'd watch him get up and dance a little soft-shoe something as the stadium sound system plays "My Blue Heaven," and try to goad Robbie, the cameraman, into cutting a rug with him.
And as the night began to warm up, you'd see him hang his blue sport coat on a special hanger decorated with red and blue miniature plastic baseballs, caps and bats, a special gift made for him by the wife of James Mims, who works security at the press box that now bear's Vin's name in perpetuity.
If you could look over his shoulder you would see how, when he starts to wonder about what a player must be feeling -- about the way the success of one brother might weigh heavy on the shoulders of another, about how a young shortstop battles back from dashed hopes, or about what it's like for a spray-hitting left fielder to be on a hot streak -- he swivels around to talk to Boyd, Robbie, and Brian, because the game isn't only in the scorebook, it's also on the tongue and in the ear, a conversation.
You'd hear him (no joke) sing along with The Who's "My Generation" when it came blaring out of the bank of speakers beyond the center-field fence. "I'm not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation. I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation."
You'd see him get ready to go on camera for the "This Day in Dodger History" segment in the fifth inning. Smoothing down his hair as Boyd says, "Smooth down the hair," and fluffing up his pocket square as Boyd says, "Fluff up the pocket square." And having a laugh at how his looks are holding up these days, urging Robbie, who points the camera his way, to please, "Do miracles!" And you'd feel the warmth of the ritual in it, and you'd know that it's Vin's show but it's a family affair, too.
And later on in the game you'd see that some of the best stories he tells -- like the one about Maury Wills getting his first shot in the big leagues when Don Zimmer couldn't play with a broken big toe even after the team trainer cut a hole in his cleat to ease the pain from the swelling, or the one about a young Dodger pitcher way back when who tried to surprise a hitter with a screwball despite the fact that he didn't actually have a screwball in his arsenal and paid the price with a home run that went roughly 107 miles -- are off the cuff, inspired by video montages on the big screen, by curious developments on the field, by some bit of some player's bio. And when you asked how he catalogued it all, he'd tell you the game triggers memory, that memories you don't even know you have are rattling around in your head just waiting to spring to life.
If you could look over his shoulder you would see how he was trained on the monitor until the pitcher went into his windup, and then Vin looked up to follow the ball as it was put in play on the field.
You'd see him read names of pinch-hitters and late-game defensive replacements off a big piece of poster board with the rosters of both teams hand-written on it in black permanent marker.
You'd watch him hustle through game notes, scattered on the table in front of him in the late innings like pointed leaves at the foot of an oak tree in October, to find how James Loney has done against the opposition's reliever in the past.
And then, when the game was over, and he'd given the final totals and invited the audience back to watch and listen again tomorrow, you'd see him put his pens and scorebook back in his soft-sided black leather briefcase, take the sport coat from the hanger, put it on, bid the boys in the booth adieu, and head for home.
And you would reflect on the comfort and simplicity in what you had seen, on the way the evening flowed like a stream moving over smooth rocks in a riverbed. And you might, for just a moment, mistake that simple flow for something unremarkable.
But then you would remember that it has been going on for 60 years now, steady as she goes, night after night.
You would remember that Vin is as poetic and precise at 81 as he was at 21.
You would think of the rhythms and rituals, finely tuned over years of practice, that make a complex process seem utterly instinctive and without design.
You would consider, as if for the first time, what his voice, coming out of that booth and into your television or car radio, and residing as it has seemingly forever in the deepest channels of your memory, has meant to you.
And you would think then that what you had seen this night was magic, a kind of miracle.
And you would be right to think these things. They are and forever will be true.
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.