Remembering Vin Scully: Legendary Dodgers announcer, occasional philosopher and devout Catholic
Like most Dodger fans of good will, I do not care for the San Francisco Giants. I do, however, find myself paying attention to how they’re doing, because sometimes it matters in the standings. Not this year, mind you, where they are 20 games back of the Dodgers (💅💅💅). But sometimes.
One such year was 2012, when Giants pitcher Matt Cain threw a perfect game en route to their World Series championship. When legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully described Cain’s performance, he delivered one of countless drop-the-mic moments in his 67-year career. There were days when every pitcher could be touched for a hit or a run, Vin noted, “but today, Cain is able.”
Vin Scully tossed out that sort of biblical allusion effortlessly. Scully, whose death Tuesday at the age of 94 has sent Los Angeles into mourning and occasioned tributes and remembrances from around the world, had a breadth of religious and cultural knowledge that spanned far beyond the limited range of your usual play-by-play man. To be fair, it spanned far beyond that of most priests, politicians and professors.
Do you remember Raul Mondesi? Vin Scully once took a minute or two between batters to compare him to the Apollo Belvedere.
Do you remember Raul Mondesi? The 1994 National League Rookie of the Year, Mondesi called himself “The Cannon” for his powerful throwing arm, and he was twice the size of your average right fielder. Vin Scully once took a minute or two between batters to compare him to the Apollo Belvedere.
If it’s been a few years since your art history survey course, the Apollo Belvedere is a second-century marble sculpture of the Greco-Roman god Apollo, depicted moments after shooting an arrow. Over seven feet tall, the statue was hailed in the 18th century as the perfect example of the Hellenistic aesthetic ideal of an athletic male. It remains on display today in the Vatican Museums, its reputation somewhat tarnished by recent generations of art critics but its influence visible throughout the world in painting and statuary. And, for that matter, in the casual observations of one play-by-play man.
Vin liked to wax philosophical during at-bats as well. When he told us that Chicago Cubs star Andre Dawson had bruised his knee, he reported that “he is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” He is also often quoted for his analogy on aging: “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star game and an old-timer’s game.”
Vin Scully: “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star game and an old-timer’s game.”
When he wasn’t on the air, Scully sometimes revealed the worldview behind the public persona. “Being Irish, being Catholic, from the first day I can remember, I was told about death,” Scully told columnist Bob Verdi in 1986. “Death is a constant companion in our religion. You live with it easily; it is not a morbid thought. That has given me the perspective that whatever I have can disappear in 30 seconds. And being out on the road as much as I am, I realize I am killing the most precious thing I have—time. You never know how much of it you have left.”
Scully’s second wife, Sandra, died last year after a long battle with A.L.S. His first wife, Joan, died in 1972 from an accidental overdose, leaving Scully with three young children. In an interview with The National Catholic Register in 2013, Scully reflected on the tragedy:
When my wife, Joan, died in 1972 at the age of 35, I was devastated, as were our children. We didn’t stop praying, though. The worst thing you can do in times of trial is to stop praying. The tough moments are when you need God the most. He’s always there and more than happy to give us His help; we need only ask for it.
Scully was a devout Catholic (a Fordham man!), and spoke openly in that interview about his prayer life. “There are so many good things about the church, but that might be the most essential thing I’ve learned from it: the importance of continual communication with God,” he said. “That’s what all the kneelers, candles, incense, stained-glass windows, holy water and other things are about: directing our minds and hearts to God.”
“Don’t be sad that it’s over,” Vin said. “Smile because it happened.”
Of course, he had an impish side as well—this was a fellow whose favorite catchphrases came from poker. No Angeleno will ever hear the phrase “deuces wild” and not think it’s a two-and-two count to the batter. Vin had a vivid take on modern baseball’s reliance on sabermetrics and exhaustive statistical analysis as well. “Statistics,” he said, “are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”
Every Dodger fan—maybe every baseball fan—has his or her favorite Vin Scully quote. Back in the day, it didn’t even matter if you were at the ballgame: You still listened to Vin on a transistor radio, trusting him more than your own eyes. My favorite line is one shared by many: Scully’s simple coda after Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series, delivered after two full minutes of silence: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
Over the decades, it wasn’t just Vin Scully’s quick wit, easy erudition and pleasant demeanor that made him a legend: It was the voice itself. When I was in college, I got to meet him once at a benefit dinner where I was working as a waiter. I snuck up to his table and introduced myself (he was charming), and suddenly there it was: The Voice.
If you grew up hearing it, he could describe the most mundane things imaginable and you’d listen with half a smile. You don’t believe me? Well, get out a hanky because if you go here on Youtube, you can listen to Vin Scully read a grocery list.
On his last day as a Dodger announcer in 2016, Scully paraphrased Dr. Seuss in a quote that many a mourner should take to heart today. “Don’t be sad that it’s over,” Vin said. “Smile because it happened.”