By T.J. Simers
It was his mantra: “Leave them wanting more.” And I want more.
Vin Scully died, and it was just a few days ago I tweeted that I missed him. I know how hard he took the death of his wife, Sandy, and without his chance to connect with the Dodgers faithful most nights, I can only imagine the loneliness.
I have his personal phone number listed under, “Red,” and my dad’s nickname was “Red.” Scully heard all about my dad’s life, and maybe he didn’t give a rip, but he never let on.
When he wasn’t working, he wasn’t listening to baseball or watching it. It was the fans that kept him going when he was behind that microphone, the roar of the crowd and the reason why whenever he called a big moment like Henry Aaron’s home run, he would just shut up.
He walked to the back of the pressbox when Aaron hit No. 715 so he wouldn’t be tempted to muck up the moment. He didn’t say a word for several minutes as the fans cheered.
But when he finally did speak, it was Scully poetry: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.
“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met a home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother.
“He threw his arms around his father and as he left the home plate area his mother came running across the grass, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for all he was worth.”
I sat down with Vin in the pressbox named for him to have him tell me what he was thinking when he called the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. It is genius, every word uttered like it has been scripted for months and months of rewrites, while just rolling off the top of his head.
He was a kid who grew up sticking that head under the family radio to feel the thrills of the game, and so good for all of us he never got a big head and got stuck under there.
I wrote about Scully’s call of Koufax’s perfect game a few years ago and he said, “I almost felt like it was an out-of-body experience. I was so mesmerized; I almost felt everything he did. All of a sudden I was sweating on the mound…”
He explained it all, every phrase and butterfly description, while saying the first time he saw the skinny Koufax in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, he said to himself, “This guy will never make it.”
I asked if he had gotten the chills that night while calling Koufax’s perfect game, and he said, “I’m getting them right now talking about it.”
What a gift, the ability Scully had to laugh at himself. No one ever felt small in his presence, Scully saying he saw a replay of his call of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series, “and I was terrible.
“If you asked me what I said during the ninth inning with Larsen? No idea.”
He listened to show tunes on his drive to the ballpark and fancied himself a decent singer in a barbershop quartet. I thought I had him when I asked him to sing for the crowd while on stage with Wooden He stood with a grin on his face and led everyone in the place with “Take me out to the ball game.”
He seemed to always have that grin on his face, except when asked about the death of his son, Michael. Michael died in a helicopter accident in 1994 and Scully said how tough it was to even mention it while preparing for his night with Wooden.
The losses are mounting. Wooden, Lasorda and now Scully.
Scully gave me one of the best sports memories in life during the early moments of Wooden & Scully for the kids. Scully and I had joined Wooden at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum earlier in the week and Wooden looked like a dead man slumped over in a wheelchair.
Scully was deeply concerned the night scheduled for the Nokia Theatre would be a disaster. We met at a Padres game in San Diego to discuss how it might be salvaged, Scully figuring he would have to be both guest and moderator.
I was a rube as a broadcaster, and while Scully knew it, he was kind enough not to mention it.
Off to a shaky start, after the first commercial break we brought a youngster from Mattel Children’s Hospital on stage. The youngster had lost the lower part of one leg from bone cancer, but Wooden pounded on him in joy. He tried to get out of his wheelchair to show him how to put on his socks and shoes as he had done Bill Walton. He put the sock over the kid’s prosthesis while offering a few wisecracks about Walton to the audience.
Wooden came to life and there was no shutting him up. What I witnessed next was the greatness of a man, and in this case, I’m not talking Wooden. Scully noticed Wooden enjoying himself and visibly stepped back to give Wooden his night, at the end of the show wheeling Wooden out to center stage and stepping back so the crowd could applaud the coach one last time.
It was just Scully making sure everyone got all they could get from Wooden.
I cut the show sort, the rube broadcaster thinking they were signaling me to wrap it up when they really wanted the show to go on. Back stage, Scully loved that, noting that I left people wanting more.
Now before the show Scully had insisted on a contract being drawn up that called for the show never to be repeated. I guess he really was afraid it would be a disaster.
But as soon as it ended, he asked if it would be possible to get a tape of the night and when Wooden passed, he suggested showing the event on TV once again.
I tweeted earlier in the evening about our get togethers in the pressbox bathroom, knowing I could get to Scully without someone interrupting for an autograph. I knew his routine, so I would be there and I’m happy to say Scully never called the authorities.
He was the best, and I’m not talking broadcaster, giving me one of the best quotes I ever received.
I asked him while reliving Koufax’s perfect game, what he did after the game?
“I got in the elevator and went home,” the man just doing his job over a lifetime to the benefit of so many.
Yup, I already miss him.