The welcome news arrived Friday afternoon, inspiring exaltation in every corner of the baseball world: Vin Scully is returning to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games in 2014.
I've never met Vin Scully. And it's occurred to me, if I ever do, that I'd probably say something to him no different than he's heard, again and again, through his 64 seasons, and will countless additional times in his 65th, about how much his work has meant to me and to my family.
But I think it's worth taking a closer look at just what having Scully on broadcasts featuring Mickey Mantle and Yaeiel Puig, along with everyone in between, has done for generations of baseball fans.
I am from a New York Mets family, but before the Mets existed, we were a Brooklyn Dodgers family. My father was born in 1946; when Vin Scully began calling games in 1950, he wasn't yet four years old, nor old enough to be particularly conscious of baseball games. So by the time my father engaged with Jackie Robinson, and Duke Snider, and Gil Hodges, Scully was already there. He was a significant part of the Dodger experience already. When my father was nine, he saw the Dodgers win a World Series, and Vin Scully shared the moment with him.
And that's the thing with baseball announcers, too: they're part of your life for 162 games, or nearly half the days in a calendar year, more if your team makes the postseason. How many family members and friends do you talk to at least once every two days? Not many, right? Now narrow that down to how many you hear for at least three hours each time you do. Right: It's your spouse, your children, or your parents, depending on how old you are. That's it.
But as we all know, things changed for the Dodgers in 1958, their first year in Los Angeles. My father found the Mets, and blamed O'Malley (though he's changed his stance now, leading to family arguments about the relative culpability of Robert Moses). But I remember the reverence with which Scully was held in our house. So when I was six years old, my first year conscious enough to care about baseball in a larger sense than just enjoying the field and that hot dog, of course the team we rooted for won the World Series. And of course, at that iconic moment when the ball got by Buckner, Vin Scully described it in his elegant, poetic way.
Still, the through lines between my father's baseball experience and my own became fewer with each passing year. We went to visit Duke Snider, his favorite player, at a baseball card show when I was eight years old. But Snider had been retired for decades by then, and he's gone now, as are so many of those 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers I learned about from him, and from grainy videos I'd watch again and again when I'd seen enough of "1986 Mets: A Year To Remember" -- and on fortunate occasions, stories Scully would tell on the NBC Game of the Week, or the World Series.
By the time I finished college and started writing about baseball, there wasn't much in the way of living monuments to my father's start as a baseball fan, or even the players he rooted for with his adopted team. Vin Scully, however, wasn't just alive, around for wonderful interviews: he was still doing exactly what had made him the finest broadcaster ever.
Scully doesn't just stay and chat a while, every day, for six months. He tells you things you didn't know, and in a singularly interesting way. The Mets happen to have excellent announcers on both the radio and television sides -- and still, when the Mets go to Los Angeles, I learn things about them I haven't heard all season.
Accordingly, my father and I were both early adopters when MLB Real Audio came along, dealing with the buffering inherent in using RealPlayer and a 56K dialup connection. Scully calls three innings on radio to this day. But the big prize, MLB.tv, meant watching full Vin Scully broadcasts whenever the Dodgers played.
Neither of us particularly cared about the Dodgers. No one my father rooted for was even still a part of the organization. This wasn't about a team, though, but about experiencing baseball in the best possible way, and at the same time, in the way he first experienced it. Tradition doesn't usually marry excellence for so long.
I know we're not alone. Through the years, I've heard so many people, in this industry as well as fans, who subscribe to MLB.tv to maybe watch their favorite team if out-of-town, but really for the same reason I would, even if I had some other job: because you get Vin Scully, anytime you want him, broadcasting baseball. I've gotten no shortage of emails through the years, late at night, from my father, noting something Vin Scully said. I've sent plenty, too.
When my wife began carrying our first child in the summer of 2009, we were inundated with books, classes, advice. My primary concern, beyond health and wellness of mother and child, was when the baby could hear. Gloriously, that coincided with a Dodgers playoff run, the ability to get MLB.tv on my phone for portability, and thus: My daughter, weeks before she existed in eating, diapering form, heard Vin Scully talk about baseball, through ear buds my ridiculously patient wife allowed me to place within presumed baby earshot.
Part of my urgency in doing this stemmed from not knowing how much longer I had to share him. And since my daughter was born, it's gotten exponentially harder to even listen to Scully myself, with early-morning care often limiting my endurance for 10:10 PM start times here. It always feels like turning away family when I turn off Vin Scully at night, one of what has to be a small number of remaining chances to listen, wasted. Someday, I know it won't be possible to listen to Vin Scully broadcast a game, or to send my father an email about it.
Scully isn't gone, or even really slowing down. Still, there's an acute understanding on our parts that Vin Scully could retire tomorrow, and no one would have the right to complain, or even to be surprised. There's no precedent for Vin Scully's career, so no one knows precisely how long it is supposed to last, how much longer he'll be telling stories, taking us into the future together while simultaneously serving as a living monument to the past.
Baseball is so often about generations comparing their stars. Jackie Robinson and Jose Reyes, Willie Mays and Mike Trout. But there's no new Vin Scully, not now, not ever. There's just Vin Scully, telling us all about Robinson and Reyes, Mays and Trout. He's seen them all, he's observed them more intelligently than anyone else, and he's still sharing those observations with us.
My daughter is three now, turning four soon. I've been taking her to baseball games since she was a few months old. She's begun to move past the excitement of simply seeing mascots, and understanding what's happening on the field. Soon enough, she'll be hearing Vin Scully not as a soothing voice I sometimes played for her when she was an infant and had trouble sleeping in the middle of the night, but the way I do, and my father does. That is the incredible gift Vin Scully has given my family, and I am awed by the chance to experience it for yet another season.