LOS ANGELES — Maybe this was the baseball equivalent of the Irish wake. We grieve, but we also celebrate the good times.
Dodger fans mourned Vin Scully on Friday night, at the opener of the first homestand since the legendary broadcaster’s passing Tuesday at the age of 94. But they remembered the high moments, so many of them, in his 67-year association with the ballclub, 59 of them as not only the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers but as pretty much the voice of Southern California, period.
There was a growing collection of flowers, balloons and heartfelt, hand-drawn signs surrounding the sign at the Sunset entrance to the ballpark, the one that lists its address as 1000 Vin Scully Avenue.
There were more flowers throughout the ballpark, sprouting up next to many of the exhibits already celebrating Scully, including the commemoration of his Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame a few steps from the entrance to the Dodger clubhouse, his plaque among the club’s retired numbers on the club level down the left field line, and the framed baseball card posters of Scully at the entrance to the Vin Scully Press Box behind home plate.
There was a video narrated by Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner and accompanied by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s memorable version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts ran the crowd through a chorus of Scully’s famous line, “It’s time for Dodgers baseball.”
There were clips on the video board of his most memorable calls, but the greatest hits – Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965, Henry Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run in 1974, Kirk Gibson’s World Series home run in 1988 that was as improbable as it was memorable – only scratch the surface.
To get the true measure of Scully as the greatest broadcaster ever – you can argue otherwise, but you won’t win that argument in this region – you might have to go deeper, searching YouTube for those middle-of-the-season, middle-of-the-road games where Scully would tell stories about the history of the Dodgers or the game, or about the personalities involved.
Like the night he recalled Madison Bumgarner’s experience with a snake. Or the night he discussed beards. Or the night he recalled the Beatles’ appearance at Dodger Stadium, and the way they finally snuck out of the stadium amid the crush of their fans.
The proof that Scully was a master storyteller? He always wrapped up the anecdote before the third out. Or he would save the good stuff for when the broadcast came out of a commercial break, like the night he described the final game at Ebbets Field in 1957 and organist Gladys Gooding’s response: “I think she was takin’ a nip here and there as she played the organ. By the time the game was over, it was the most depressive night you’d ever experienced.”
Do you want to know who has been scouring YouTube, listening and learning? Joe Davis. The current TV voice of the Dodgers has continued what has become a Dodger broadcast tradition, weaving stories into the play-by-play, and he has done so while also accommodating a color analyst, which Scully didn’t have to do.
In fact, while working with several different analysts on Dodger games this season, plus with John Smoltz on Fox national games, Davis makes all of them look good.
“Thank you for saying that,” he said Friday evening. “It means a lot. I think that a big part of the play-by-play person’s job is that, to make the analyst the star. You know, they’re the ones whose opinion the viewers care about. So how can I draw that out of them? How can I take them where they want to go? How can I make them be the best they can be.”
As for the stories, Davis does his homework, and has delved into Dodger history and baseball history as well as researching the back stories of current players. He said he’s read books about storytelling, “and really tried to be a student of the art of it. And there is no better class than just listening to Vin tell stories.
“… I recognized that Vin’s storytelling was a big part of what made him so special for so long. And while acknowledging I’ll never be half the storyteller he was and I’ll never be the announcer he was, I’ve tried to embrace that part of his broadcast. And part of the responsibility, I think, of being the guy to follow him is incorporating that element into what we do. So I’ve taken a lot of pride in trying to incorporate that.”
Even in his seventh season in this job, Davis will go into YouTube, find a random Scully game and study the master, all the while remembering the advice Scully gave him when he joined the crew in 2016 to do road broadcasts. It was the same advice Red Barber gave the young Scully all of those years ago: Be yourself.
“It sounds like, duh, right, like a simple thing,” Davis said. “But I think in this business it’s not that simple. We try to be like the people that we admire and we try to be like the people that have paved the way.
“And in my case, following the greatest to ever do it, I think human nature is to try and be like the guy who’s the greatest ever to do it. And his point was, be you. And so I try to take so many things from him while reminding myself of that advice all the time. Let yourself be yourself.”
His takeaway, from watching those Scully broadcasts of more routine games?
“He was on top of it,” Davis said. “He was on top of the storylines. It wasn’t just stories. He was nailing the important storylines for both teams, for every player that came up. … Of course, I’m going to continue to incorporate the stories. But also this is really cool to hear him doing some things that I think (are) totally within my power to do, and that is, be totally on top of the facts, totally nail the storylines and really take charge in setting the table at the start of a game and through a series.”
Scully, the master, the best there ever was, will never be forgotten in this community, nor should he be. But the job is in very good hands.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism