LOS ANGELES -- Of all the stadiums in all the towns and all the states on the rich final weekend of September in America, please do bring me to a humble dining room without even a view of the field. Bring me to the fifth level of Dodger Stadium, behind the press box, behind the main media dining area, to a room with four little tables done up in blue-and-white, all unoccupied in mid-afternoon save for the one in the back corner.
There, you do find a sight.
There you do find a certain Vincent Scully, seated behind a small swarm of papers and a binder and a highlighter. There you find the reminder, always useful, that even the phenomenally beloved must study. Even a man whose voice can make your ear smile and your day improve must swim amid the nuts and bolts.
He will turn 86 in November. He will start his 65th season as the voice of the Dodgers next April. He lives with the abiding love of a sprawling metropolis. He has gone from Gil Hodges and Duke Snider and Roy Campanella all the way to Yasiel Puig, whom he can cite as "a study all by himself," comparable to none, with "his unbridled joy of playing, his enthusiasm, his recklessness." Yet as another season depletes toward Game 162 and, in this Dodger year, beyond, Vin Scully still totes around a healthy fear of unpreparedness.
"Well, you can see what I'm doing and you can see all these notes, and this is a highlight pencil," he says. "And it's one of the things you have to do, because you're overwhelmed with minutiae, and so I go through all this and I highlight a few things that I want to use on the air. So that at a glance, I will see, 'Oh, I thought I would use this, so I highlighted this.' But the problem with this is you start looking and you're liable to miss a play on the field, and that of course is a killer, so in a sense you're being lured onto the rocks by the Lorelei, you know, so you try not to do that."
He still worries about missing a play, and that being a killer.
He continues: "As you can see, we have all kinds of notes, because of the computer, every team furnishes tons of numbers and notes. The first thing I do, if I can get the lineup, that's the first, write the lineup in."
He has done so.
"And then you start putting the record of the two pitchers. And then you write what the two teams have done against each other; in this instance, the Dodgers, they've won nine of 17, they've won four of eight here. You're going to mention that sometime. And, if it's a terrific pennant race of course, you're going to talk about games in front or games behind, but since they've won the division, that's superfluous now. Then you go in to check especially the visiting team, maybe somebody has a hitting streak, maybe somebody's coming off a very hot game, whatever, then you try to make notes in your book. And eventually, by the time you prepare it's about time to go on the air.
"I would say on average, I get here at 3:30, and I work somewhere close to an hour and a half. That gets it to five of five. I have to tape an opening. I have to tape a little thing they put on the board, notes on the game. I'll come in and eat. I'll be finished eating. If my wife isn't at the game, automatically at six o'clock I'll call her to let her know that I'm here and find out what she's going through at home. And then after I make the phone call, I go back to look for any late notes, whatever. I might talk with one or two of the other team's broadcasters, say, 'What's new, who's doing what?' And then, by the time you're ready to go on, you have a head full of stuff."
There's at least one more ritual.
"The one thing that I do, because I'm on the air alone from beginning to end, which means that I can't afford to have the inner tide rise so that I have to leave and go to the restroom. So I can't drink anything. So what I do, I have some hard candies and once in a while if I start to feel dry, I'll suck on the hard candy while we're in commercial, and that seems to lubricate the pipes and I continue."
Listeners often relish Scully for his storytelling. He provides living, compelling evidence that stories enthrall human beings long after the bedtime-pajama phase. So it's curious to mull the fact that Scully does spend most of his broadcasts on the mandatory rudiments.
Now, there's no one we'd rather hear explain how Zack Greinke hasn't made an error since July 2010, or outline the biography of Juan Nicasio "from San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic," including the scary August night in 2011 when a line drive hit Nicasio's head. (Scully: "The screws and plate, by the way, are permanent. There he is out there, in danger again. It's his livelihood.") There's nobody we'd rather hear call a Todd Helton first-pitch groundout, then lament that "we didn't have a chance" to read off Helton's career stats, then read those stats, then wryly lament not getting to read those stats because, "Darn it. Swung at the first pitch."
The truth is, you wouldn't mind listening to that voice read the earned-run average charts, which would come as a melody, but really, the ear seldom feels more pleased than in hearing Vin Scully say, "Wow, sunset time in Los Angeles and in Southern California, seventy-nine degrees and there the mountains are... What a view we should never take for granted."
Still, it's interesting to remember that while the storytelling helps make Scully great, he seems to spend more time making sure he's good.
"Well, I think first of all, the average baseball fan knows a great deal about baseball," he says. "I mean, he really does. He's extremely knowledgeable. And unfortunately, it's almost by rote, every day, 'Ball one, strike one, foul ball...' And I've always felt that part of the job, certainly, it's impossible to entertain (except) to a limited degree. I mean, I want to be accurate. I want to be factual. I want to be interesting. And then if I can just drop in a little something once in a while, I like to do it, and since it's hard to do, I mean I can do it once in a while, the stories, a lot of times I'm not even aware I have them in my head. Something happens and it triggers the story and it comes out, as natural as that."
"So you haven't jotted down..."
"Oh no, no. So what happens a lot of times is I'll do the game, I'll get in the car, I'll start going home thinking about the broadcast, and I'll think, Gosh," -- and he claps his hands -- "why didn't I remember (a certain story)? And you could kick yourself. No, it's really all the stories, really, come out of the past and your own experiences, but what's in there, it's like a mine, you don't know until you find it."
"So they're all impromptu..."
"Yes, which makes them a little difficult. I don't want to be, what was it Mark Twain said, I don't want to remember things that never happened, which is a good line, but yeah, I'm careful. I have to think through the story to make sure it's accurate and that I can remember all the names in the story, and then I'll tell a story."
Such sustained humility of purpose stretches beyond the broadcasts.
It helps explain why his stage manager and assistant of 25 years, Boyd Robertson, recalls their first meeting when Robertson said, "Hello, Mr. Scully," and Scully "shook my hand and said, 'If we're going to work together, it's Vin.'" It dovetails with Robertson's assessment: "He wants to be one of the guys. If you come into the booth and meet him, he wants you to have a wonderful experience, he wants you to be at ease." It marries well with the understanding that while Scully gets displeased "once in a while," Robertson said, it's never loud, it never lingers and it often manifests with an utterance like, "Can we do it this way instead of that way next time?" It helps explain why Robertson would say, after 25 years, "He's a real genuine person. He flows like a river every day. That's such an asset to have. We all feel it. We all feel it in our headsets."
It helps explain Scully's approach to the ticklish human task of accepting compliments, as someone confronted with an unfathomable barrage of them, someone with a star on Hollywood Boulevard and untold awards and honors and best-ever lists, someone who just rebuffed the idea of a street bearing his name.
"I would say my big problem is, I really don't (pause)... I think God has given me so many gifts," he says. "He gave me the job that I loved at a very tender age. He's allowed me to do the job reasonably well. He's given me my health. He's given me my years. And having received all these gifts, it's pretty hard to then go out and say, 'Yes, I certainly do deserve whatever.' And so that always bothers me. And some people talk about modesty like you use it as a weapon to get more, and that's the last thing I want to do. So instinctively, I would just as soon give thanks for what I have without actually taking a bow. So I basically say, 'Thank you very much,' and move on. And I certainly don't dwell on the honor or whatever it might be. I accept it, I hope, gracefully and gratefully, and then that's it. Turn the page and move on."
It helps explain his good maintenance of his voice.
"People tell me I still sound basically the same. I'm not sure about that; I don't listen to compare," he says. "I just try to be careful, that's all. I don't smoke. I never holler. I never raise my voice, because that would be a bad thing to do. And I get tender loving care at home," which he says with a glance to his wife of 40 years, Sandy, seated next to him. Continuing: "But there are days... it's a long year. And sometimes from air conditioning you get dried out. You might have a harsh throat. Flying could affect you a little bit. But by and large I don't do anything special, but at the same time I try to avoid those things that may cause trouble."
And then, this day-to-day, do-the-job humility also helps explain why he has never really tired of -- or retired from -- baseball.
"I think I've gotten tired of sitting in the hotel room, being alone, thinking, What am I doing here? I should be home with my wife, my children, but then you say, 'Yeah, but wait a minute. This is your job, you're getting paid, and hopefully the money will go for a nice home and an education for the children, and all that,' so you kind of convince yourself that the time away is worth it but it never really is, you know. And then there are days, if the team is not doing well, where in the afternoon sometimes, once in a blue moon, you say, you know, 'I'd kind of like to stay home, and sit under a tree and read a book.' But nope, you've got to go to work, which to me is what it is. I mean, I'm sure to the fan, 'Wow, he comes in and watches games every day,' but to those of us who do it for a living, it's a job, and it's highly competitive, and you have to be prepared, which is the biggest thing of all, I think, to be prepared."
Almost three hours later, then, here comes the poet laureate of baseball, a man almost inconceivably cherished, heading through the back of the press box toward the broadcast booth, prepared. A season's wane always leaves Scully "a little sad" because some of the 25 players will depart, but at this moment half an hour to first pitch, he could be striding to business on any American avenue. Even at 85, even when everyone would forgive him for coasting a smidgen or a lot, even at the end of season No. 64 in the longest one-team broadcasting tenure in United States sports history, he looks just like a man going to work.
"Howdy," he says lightly as he passes on by and walks toward the booth with a head full of stuff.