I first heard Vin Scully’s voice on the Redwood Creek Ranch, in northern California. My grandfather, who once told me that his only other aspiration in life had been to play professional baseball, had a Dodger’s game playing on the radio in the horse barn. I remember that moment because there was something in the voice that seized my interest, and continued to hold onto it, and even shape it, for the next five decades. News of Vin’s death hit our household like that of a close relative, because Vin had always been calling games in the background of our lives together, and there was something comforting, something familial in the way he narrated a baseball game and made the game itself a passionately shared family heirloom.
None of us knew him, of course, though over a few decades of listening we began to think we did. And it was that thing, that seemingly effortless talent for sharing, oozing with integrity and confidence, that translated best over the airwaves and into our hearts and minds. The stories are countless: young kids who put their transistor radios under their pillows and listened to him late into the night, or had their radio on their desk and finished their homework, or sat in a truck with their grandfather in the desert drinking margaritas and watching a corral full of bulls on the fight. Vin was always everywhere and nowhere, always calling the game, and always a friend.
Vin Scully called his first World Series at 25 years old, narrated Hank Aaron’s 715th homer, the ecstasy of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, the agony of Bill Buckner’s boot down the first base line against the Mets, and the utter triumph of Kirk Gibson’s home run and desperate hobble around the bases after spiking the unhittable Dennis Eckersley. Those were some of the famous moments, but what made him great was the grind, the day in and day out storytelling during baseball season, in the heat, in the rainouts, in bad seasons and in good ones. These were seasons of our lives, too, and every player knows they don’t always end with a pennant. What we found in Vin’s perfect timbre, which only improved as he aged, was comfort, and reliability, and consistency, and always a story told with class and limitless imagination. Because Vin was baseball. And baseball is a reflection of the nation we think we are.
I like to think of Vin as a kind of ancient bard telling the story of Ulysses around a campfire. He was a master scene-builder, and could seduce a listener into the story of a young pitcher, just called up from the minors, making his debut. He would make that story something like your own, epic and inspiring and familiar, so that you felt a growing kinship with the struggling kid out there on the rubber. And then he would talk about the moon over Chavez Ravine, and tell a story about Jackie Robinson, and back again to the next 3–2 meatball served up by the kid out on the mound, and then he would take you into the dugout where you could almost feel the grimace on Tommy Lasorda’s face, and then to a story about Branch Rickey having a tantrum over a cobb salad at a restaurant in Kansas City, and then back again to the way Steve Sax was wearing his stirrups. Vin took you into his voice, embraced your imagination, and then he carried you into the ballpark, into a human narrative being written on the grass and the dirt between the chalk lines, and he kept you there, eager for more, leaning into the game.
Vin transcended the game because even if you disliked the Dodgers you loved Vin, and you loved that he also knew when to shut up, to let the sound of the crowd, the vendors, the crack of the bat, the explosion of fireworks, do the talking for him. You recognized a master of his craft who knew precisely when to ease back from the campfire and let the listener fill in the gaps.
Vin Scully meant something to baseball, and therefore to our entire nation. But he meant something a lot more to those of us who became his devoted followers. On his last broadcast my wife and I cleared the decks and cancelled our appointments, the way some folks might for a presidential address, to tune in and listen and enjoy the ride with the bittersweet knowledge that an era had slipped out of our grasp forever.
For decades Vin Scully had been our guide, a pathfinder through the great story that is every baseball game, and every baseball season, and so also our lives as Americans in the long campaign of a complicated country. And when he was good, when he had great stuff and the story unfolding on the diamond simply demanded excellence, he was so good, so perfect, that you never wanted it to end.