Vin Scully is a legend in Southern California, where for nearly seven decades he served as the official announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Like a lot of baseball fans, I grew up listening to Scully call the play by play — his voice cascading over the speaker every time a player hit a homer or made an exceptional catch.
The authority and passion with which he spoke increased my love of the sport, and even inspired me to pursue a career in broadcasting.
In fact, Scully influenced generations of baseball fans. Among his many honors, he received The Presidential Medal of Freedom, The Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with the retired announcer about his legacy, how coronavirus could impact the World Series, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson and an upcoming auction of Scully's baseball memorabilia.
Paul Vercammen: You've jumped into Twitter and Instagram at the age of 92. How are you enjoying social media as a mode of communication?
Vin Scully: I don't devour it by any means. But I wanted to stay in touch with the fans. You might want to know who's the best right-hand pitcher you ever saw? I would say the recently departed Tom Seaver. And you might say, 'who's the best left-hand pitcher you ever saw?' I say, well, that would be Warren Spahn, who won over 300 games, and Sandy Koufax, who won 165 with four no hitters, one of which was a perfect game. So that's the kind of stuff the fans will ask and I'll try to help and maybe tell a story or two once in a while.
PVC: If they had the modern era of surgery we have now, could you imagine them sort of fixing Sandy's (Koufax) ailing arm and what he could have done beyond what he accomplished?
VS: I guess all of us wish something like that, about an (medical) advancement. But life goes the way it goes. I think Sandy realizes that. His arm just suddenly couldn't go anymore and that was the end of it. I don't think he's ever thought to my knowledge, "My gosh, I wish I could have pitched another year or so." He's accepted it. I believe that's the way it is in sports. Sandy said to me, "My arm, the left arm is shrinking. I can't extend it. I want to play golf the rest of my life. I can only pitch one more year." So that was his reason. He thought my future belongs in swinging a golf club.
PVC: You're auctioning off some items including artwork, scorebooks, photos and championship rings. One of the items is your 1988 World Series ring.
VS: You can see this bare hand. It wore that '88 ring right here. The reason I'm doing all this, you started by mentioning 92 (years old). I'll be 93 in November. We have a large family. We have five children, 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. So I'm hoping that the auction will bring in some money. I'll give part of it to UCLA (neuromuscular research). Then the rest of it will go to the children, trying to educate the 16 grandchildren. I would rather do it while I'm alive and watch them enjoy the money as opposed to them receiving it while I'm in the grave. Or in heaven, I hope.
PVC: Arguably, your most famous call came when the underdog Dodgers beat the Oakland As 4-3 in game one of the 1988 World Series in the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs on a home run by Kirk Gibson. You stayed silent for over a minute and then quipped: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!" Was that an ad lib?
VS: Oh yes, completely. I have often said my best lines, I believe firmly, had to come from the Lord. I back off. I listen to the crowd, and sometimes I get a good line. That's probably the best line I ever received. But it did make the point. I'm so glad that it did. In fact, I kid people and I tell them when I had that 1988 (World Series) ring on my finger, if you held it up to your ear, you'll hear all about Kirk Gibson.
PVC: About the World Series. We're going to a neutral site World Series this year, as well as some playoffs. How do you think that will play out?
VS: I do know that the course of the baseball season, the Dodgers might spend 10 days on the road (at a time then return home). But under the current system, as far as the World Series is concerned, the Dodgers for instance could play 25 games on the road. They would play in an American League stadium outside of the first three games, It's so complicated (because) 25 days is a long time, so you can understand they'd like to bring their families. That means more restrictions and more tests constantly. It's going to be very difficult, but I think baseball has thought it all out. I just pray for the fans who love baseball that we get through it without any mess.
PVC: It's been, I think, cathartic for many of those fans to have baseball back in their lives.
VS: I agree completely. Slowly but surely, we'll be back to a lot of sports, which I think people really crave. Anything to get their minds off Covid-19.
PVC: As you watch the National League now with a designated hitter, and some of the permutations in the new rules, what do you think of these changes?
VS: I would say number one, it's a little awkward. For an old-timer like me to have the 10th inning start with a runner at second base, perhaps that will speed things along. But it's not infallible. Early this year the Dodgers played a game in Texas with the runner at second base starting in the 10th inning. The game went 13 innings and the time of game was four hours and forty-four minutes. So it's not definitely a cure-all, but it's kind of interesting. I'm just wondering if the fans will like it. I would think Monday through Thursday, a fella sitting in the grandstands and it's going to go into overtime. He looks at his watch. He's going to work tomorrow morning and he wonders just how long will I stay? Well, I believe this would give them an opportunity to see a reasonable ending at a reasonable hour. So it remains to be seen.
PVC: I know you're not going to dip your toe into any controversy, but you knew Jackie Robinson. This is a time of great contentiousness in America. What do you think Jackie Robinson would say, to perhaps calm this country when we have so much divisiveness over so many issues?
VS: I'm not dodging the issue, but I'll quote somebody who said something that has had a great deal of meaning for me: "We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." So there's a lot of people who are not speaking up or not telling the right things. And I hope eventually, I pray that eventually everyone would start talking together. And maybe we can work this thing out. God help us if we don't.
(Robinson) spoke out, he was not a silent friend.
Did I ever tell you about the time I went ice skating with Jackie? While we were lacing up our skates, Jackie said to me, "When we get out there, I'll race you." I said, "Well, Jack, I mean, I'm a pretty good skater. I'm not an Olympic skater, but I can certainly beat somebody who's never been on skates." And Jackie very seriously said, "But that's how I'll learn then." That was the competitive spirit. We went out on the ice. He was walking on his ankles as you do if you've never been on ice, and we lined up and had pictures taken as if it was the beginning of a race That was just a little insight into Jack.
PVC: How are you feeling and what would you like to tell your fans?
VS: Thank God I'm feeling fine. I'm also very happy that we're up with social media. The door is open for us to welcome as many fans as possible. We'll try to tell stories like Jackie (Robinson) on the ice skates. Every other day maybe answer a question. It will all be for the fans, and I will love every minute of it. When I was leaving Dodger Stadium, my last day at the stadium, I hung a big sign out of the door of the window of the booth and it said, "I'll miss you." That's how I felt about the fans.