There was a time back in the 1990s, when I was doing a daily radio show at WFAN in New York City and the Dodgers were in town to play the Mets. I had been at Shea Stadium the night before and done what I always did when the Dodgers were in town, and made sure to spend some time before the game with Vin Scully. And I asked him, dreaming big, if he might want to come to the studio the next morning in Astoria, Queens, and spend an hour with me, chatting and taking calls.
“I’d love to,” Mr. Scully said, to my great and grateful surprise.
So there he was the next morning -- impeccably dressed as always, seated across from me -- telling stories about the old Dodgers, filling this morning now, instead of all the baseball days and nights, with one of the lasting voices our country has ever produced, in baseball or everywhere else.
And what I realized that day, fully and in real time, is how much Scully and his voice meant to the people who had listened to him, all the way back to the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Pull up a chair,” he’d always said at the start of Dodgers broadcasts. On this day, he’d pulled one up across from me, and when the calls started coming in, a flood of them, the people wanted to tell how much his voice, and his company, had mattered to them.
“I never thought of them as listeners,” he said when we finished that day. “I thought of them as friends.”
They were his and he was theirs. And for 67 years, they shared each other’s company. When it came to the business of baseball, there was Vin Scully -- out of Fordham University and Ebbets Field and the Boys of Summer and finally the man who was the one who really introduced baseball to Southern California -- and there was everybody else.
Bob Costas once interviewed Ray Charles on NBC, and when they were finished, Charles said to Bob, “You know who I’d like to meet?”
Costas remembered thinking, "Wait, you’re Ray Charles, you can meet anybody you want."
“Vin Scully,” Charles said. “For me, it’s all about the sound. And his sound is like beautiful music.”
They used to call Frank Sinatra “The Voice.” But in baseball, there was only one, the way there finally became just one voice when he was doing Dodgers games until he finally stopped six years ago.
“I have said enough for a lifetime,” he said in October 2016.
It was another time in baseball, of course, when you remembered all the unforgettable moments across his baseball life to which he provided the soundtrack, the voice-over, the context. It was a day to remember perhaps the single most eloquent extended moment in all of the history of sports broadcasting, at the end of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965, when he spoke of 29,000 people in attendance and “a million butterflies” until he was finally facing Harvey Kuenn at the end:
“Sandy backs off now, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries in on his pant leg. All the while Kuenn just waiting …”
And here was the great Vin Scully after Koufax had struck out Kuenn to end it:
“On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 in the City of Angels … and Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flurry. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that K stands out more than o-u-f-a-x.”
He was the man for this moment the way he always was, in baseball moments big and small, the way he was after Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 homer off Dennis Eckersley in 1988, when after Scully’s voice, at perfect pitch again, rose to say, “She’s gone” he captured what we all had just seen and felt by talking about how in a season of the improbable, the impossible just happened.
“Vin Scully wasn’t just a once-in-a-generation broadcaster,” Bob Costas says. “Or once in a lifetime. He was once in forever.”
Later, Costas was one who wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to lend his own voice, and support, to Scully being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he finally was, in the last such ceremony over which Obama ever presided.
After Scully retired, I would still email with him from time to time, to an email address that simply began this way: “Red.” Most often he would sign off by saying, “Blessings. Vin.” The blessing, to be sure, was all mine, just because I was still in contact with him, still imagined him telling me, in that perfect baseball voice, everything he was putting into words.
One day last December, I was about to write a column here about Sandy Koufax’s birthday on Dec. 30, a date he just happens to share with Tiger Woods and LeBron James. I wanted Mr. Scully to tell me what it was like watching Koufax pitch when he was young, not just on the night of his perfect game in the City of Angels, but all of them.
This was his response, fittingly enough in capital letters:
“AWESOME……BREATHTAKING….TOTALLY IN COMMAND.”
Vin Scully, gone now at the age of 94, could have been describing himself. Mostly, across all the years, he was in command of the memories he created, for everybody. Pull up a chair to those today.