On Vin Scully, and the World Series pick


The Los Angeles Dodgers are returning to the World Series, which begins Tuesday, and some of their fans wanted announcer Vin Scully, who first paid attention to the event when a young Joe DiMaggio manned center field for the Yankees, to come with them.

More than one online petition appeared last week as the Dodgers closed in and won the NL pennant, beseeching the Dodgers to permit Scully to get back behind the microphone. The petitions were well-intentioned, if misdirected, and collected as many signatures as needed, save one: Scully’s.

Scully broadcast his first Dodger game in 1950 and his last in 2016, which spanned most of Jackie Robinson’s career, all of Clayton Kershaw’s and everyone in between. (As Bryan Armen Graham tweeted last October: “Either Vin Scully or Connie Mack has worked in professional baseball every year since 1886. Their lone overlapping season was 1950.” Think about that. This was the first season without Mack or Scully in an official capacity since 1885.)

Scully was as good as it gets in describing a baseball game, and he could make three hours of the Dodgers sound like a classic novella. He knew when, like musical accompaniment, to be louder, when to fade out, and when to be the background noise to the main event. Scully was so good he knew not only what to say, but when he shouldn’t say anything.

But he will also be 90 in November, his vision isn’t as good as it was, and maybe he doesn’t want to be in the booth as much as the fans want him there.

Scully, according to the Orange County Register, by email last week: “I honestly don’t feel I belong there and I would not want anyone to think I was eager for a spotlight.”

There’s humility in Scully’s words, whether on air for all these years or declining to be one more time, and it’s part of his charm. But perhaps it’s more than that.

We love the way things used to be precisely because we can remember them how we want. We’re nostalgic for the euphoria we idealize and we’re blank on the trials and tribulations we forget.

But as much as we want preservation of our best memories, they’re just that. The Dodgers don’t play in Brooklyn any more, as much as their fans in the borough wish they did. The World Series isn’t played at night any more, as much as some fans think that’s why the sport is losing fans.

And Vin Scully retired, after 67 seasons, because that’s what he wants, not what we want. Maybe he wouldn’t call a game this week the way we remember how he used to.

The jazz vibraphonist, Gary Burton, went out on tour last winter and said it would be his last one, even though he had just turned 74 and was in possession of his faculties and his talent.

Burton explained why to the Miami Herald: “Everybody ages some. You learn how to compensate. People like me who’ve been playing for decades, we know every trick in the book to cover up frailties, the mistakes, whatever. There are ways of covering the mistakes, so that the audience doesn’t notice it. Other players don’t notice it at first. At first, only you know you’re goofing in places. Eventually, the guys on the stage with you begin to notice it. And eventually people in the audience.”

Maybe Scully knows what of Burton speaks. Anyone old enough to have watched the 1973 World Series can remember the sad spectacle of Willie Mays. A generation earlier Mays had, with his back to home plate, effortlessly run down Vic Wertz’s fly ball more than 400 feet away. In 1973 Mays stumbled in Game 2 after the most routine of plays. Phil Pepe in the New York Daily News the next day: “What you can say is that he looked every bit of his 42 years and had people feeling sorry for him as he floundered around under two fly balls in the sun.”

Mays fell, got back up and his single in the 12th drove in the go-ahead run. It was the last hit of his career, and only eased the pain of the afternoon. It didn’t erase it.

(Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, fortunately, was memorable for reasons other than Mays’ foibles. After the A’s tied the game with the help of Mays’ misplays in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets took the lead in the 12th on Mays’ hit and added three more runs on two Mike Andrews errors. The A’s committed five errors in the game and owner Charlie Finley committed one after it, making Andrews say he was hurt when he wasn’t, intending to replace him on the roster. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn interceded and forced the A’s to put Andrews back on the roster, at which point Finley ordered manager Dick Williams not to use Andrews. Williams, who had decided he wasn’t returning to the A’s, disobeyed Finley and used Andrews as a pinch-hitter in Game 4, which infuriated Finley, though not as much as it would have if Williams used Andrews as a defensive replacement. Williams probably wished he had. Somehow amidst all that turmoil, the A’s won the last two games of the Series to win in 7.)

Of course Scully is welcome in the booth, if he wants (Fox’s Joe Buck said, “If someone can hypnotize him and make him say ‘yes,’ I will drive and pick him up myself.”) But maybe Scully doesn’t want to because maybe Scully, like Burton, has noticed mistakes either we haven’t or haven’t mentioned. And maybe the best way to honor Scully is for the Dodgers to invite him to throw out a first ball, applaud him and let him watch and listen to someone else.

  • The pick: Is it better to have strived for years to make the World Series, like the Dodgers who have made the playoffs five straight years, or leap into it in your second attempt, like these Astros? Is it better to coast through your first two rounds, like the Dodgers who are 7-1 in the postseason, or scrap through a seven-game series like the Astros?  Who knows. This is the first matchup of 100-win teams in the World Series since 1970, when the 108-win Orioles dominated the 102-win Reds in five games. The Dodgers won 104 games this season, the most since the 2004 Cardinals won 105. A lot of good it did those Cardinals — they were swept by the Red Sox (last year’s Cubs and the 2009 Yankees each won 103, and each won the Series). The Astros won 101 and won’t be hurt much when they lose their DH, since Carlos Beltran, who had more than 500 plate appearance mostly as one, isn’t  good (.666 OPS). The Astros will need more of a contribution from reliever Chris Devenski, who has a .588 career OPS but faced just five Yankees in two games. The Dodgers routed the Cubs in five and will be better in the Series with the return of shortstop Cory Seager, who may not be as good as Carlos Correa but is a lot closer than Charlie Culberson. The Astros led MLB in runs scored, and they handled left-handed pitching (Correa, 1.066 OPS; Jose Altuve, .977; Alex Bregman, 974; George Springer, .972), which they’ll see a lot of. The Dodgers’ Game 1 and 2 starters (Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill) are lefties and their Game 4 (Alex Wood, if not Kershaw) might be. Maybe it’s 2004 Red Sox bias, since Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stole the most important base in that franchise’s history. But he’s also managed the Dodgers deftly over the last two years, has the Series’ better closer in Kenley Jansen, and isn’t hesitant to use him for more than three outs at a time. A shaky vote for the Dodgers in 6. 

 

 

 

 

 

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