Great one gone

The greatest sports announcer in history has finally left the stadium.

Legendary sports announcer, and voice of the Dodgers for a record-setting 67 years, Vincent Edward “Vin” Scully, 94, peacefully at his home in suburban Los Angeles.

I grew up listening to Vin. Summer hasn’t been the same since that awful day when he hung it up in 2016 and left the broadcast booth. I’ve heard a lot of sports announcers over the years. Blessed to have come of age with Dick Enberg doing L.A. football, Chick Hearn doing the Lakers, and Vin for the Dodgers. Now, all gone.

Scully wasn’t just the best of those three legends, he was the best of all time, and I do not say so lightly, nor merely out of home team pride. He did everything for everyone, and did it well, but it was baseball he loved above all, and baseball he made richer for calling the play-by-play. Not just for the Dodgers, but for every player and team he ever watched.

You couldn’t watch a home game at Dodger stadium for most of my lifetime without hearing him on 40,000 radios from home plate to the bleachers. He was that good. If you went to a game, you took a radio to listen to Vin, because he was going to tell you more about what you were looking at firsthand than any five other guys, if you gave them a week to rehearse.

Any late spring to late summer night, after sunset and before dusk, the summer heat fading away, and his voice was the soundtrack to life, a lullaby while lounging in a backyard hammock as the night sky deepened from indigo to starlit black, and an under-appreciated feast for the ears, anywhere from the pre-game show to the post-game wrap-up.

He called Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. He called Hank Aaron’s 715th homer. And he called this golden baseball moment, one for the ages. Listen to it, and watch, as I did as it happened, and imagine hearing this for up to 162 games for 67 years.

Well said. And what a moment it was, too; I’ve run this one here myself, and was watching on the TeeWee when it happened just as Aesop was. The whole Game 1 saga was a pluperfect example of what made baseball worth following, over and above all other sports—precisely the kind of magic that only baseball could produce, magic which Vin Scully understood and appreciated better than anybody before or since.

It was late here on the East Coast when it all went down; when Gibson took his winning swing, it was one of those instances where absolutely every true baseball man watching immediately knew in his gut that that ball was departing Dodger Stadium for sure and certain. Despite having been a lifelong Braves fan myself and therefore having nothing invested in who would come out on top in that year’s Fall Classic, I nonetheless leapt out of my easy chair with a lung-scarring shout of purest joy that brought my slumbering girlfriend rushing out into the living room, frightened witless that something terrible, something awful, had just happened.

To the contrary, something extraordinary, something truly wonderful, just had. It was well after midnight here; I had to be at work at 5 the next AM, and cared not a whit that I’d be paying all day for the lateness of the hour. Kirk Gibson had just provided all the world with one of those exhilarating, unforgettable baseball moments that every baseball fan lives for, but somehow never really expects. Gibson’s Miracle Shot discombobulated and demoralized Tony LaRussa’s heavily-favored Oakland A’s so badly that Tom LaSorda’s underdog Dodgers ended up taking the Series in just five games, against all odds and expectations.

And who but the incomparable Vin Scully could possibly have done a better job of calling it for us? A blow-by-blow summation of the whole incredible thing:

Unknown to the fans and the media at the time, Kirk Gibson was watching the game on television while undergoing physical therapy in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. At some point during the game, television cameras scanned the Dodgers dugout and commentator Vin Scully, working for NBC for the 1988 postseason, observed that Gibson was “nowhere to be found”. This spurred Gibson to call for Mitch Poole, the team ball boy, to set up the tee for him to take some warm up swings. After a series of warm up swings, Gibson told Poole to go get Lasorda for an evaluation. After a brief stint to get Tommy’s attention, Pool informed Lasorda that Gibson was taking practice swings in the clubhouse, where Lasorda went back for the evaluation. Shortly there after, Gibson was seen in the dugout wearing his batting helmet Along the way, NBC’s Bob Costas could hear Gibson’s agonized-sounding grunts after every hit.

A’s closer Dennis Eckersley came on to pitch the ninth to close it out for (A’s ace hurler Dave “Smoke”) Stewart. After retiring the first two batters (Mike Scioscia and Jeff Hamilton), Eckersley’s former A’s teammate Mike Davis, batting for Alfredo Griffin, walked on five pitches. During Davis’ at-bat, Dave Anderson initially entered the on-deck circle to hit for Alejandro Peña. Eckersley pitched carefully to Davis because the A’s remembered all of the home runs he hit for the A’s a year earlier, not because the light-hitting Anderson was on deck, as popularly believed. After Davis walked, Lasorda called back Anderson and sent up a hobbled Kirk Gibson to the plate, amidst cheers from the Dodger Stadium crowd. Gibson bravely fouled off Eckersley’s best offerings, demonstrating how badly he was hurting. On one foul, Gibson hobbled towards first and prompted Scully to quip, “And it had to be an effort to run THAT far.” After Gibson fouled off several pitches, Davis stole second on ball three. On the next pitch, the 8th of the at-bat, Gibson, slammed a backdoor slider into the right field bleachers to win the game. The footage of Gibson hobbling around the bases on both hurt legs and pumping his fist as he rounded second became an iconic baseball film highlight.

Gibson would never bat again in the Series, and his walk-off homer in Game 1 marked the first time that a World Series game ended with a come-from-behind home run. In a somewhat forgotten detail of this game highlighting the teamwork that was this Dodgers team’s trademark all season, Gibson’s heroics still would not have been possible without the earlier home run by the man replacing Gibson in the line-up, Mickey Hatcher.

Gibson became the second player ever to record a walk-off hit with two outs and his team trailing in the bottom of the ninth inning of a World Series game, following Cookie Lavagetto in the 1947 World Series. Only one other player, Brett Phillips in the 2020 World Series, has since accomplished this feat.

A bona fide miracle indeed, one that will shine forever in the pantheon of America’s Pastime. And how profoundly grateful I am that the great Vin Scully was on hand to do the play-by-play in his own inimitable style. Aesop’s note-perfect finale really says it all.

Imagine being so good you could shut up for over a minute on live TV after one of the greatest moments in sports history, and just let the microphone tell the story. You don’t have to imagine it. Vin just did it.

Annnnnd bingo. Full props to color man Joe Garagiola as well, Scully’s partner in the booth that night and a damned fine announcer in his own right, for being astute enough himself to just keep quiet and let this most beautiful of baseball moments speak for itself.

Rest thee well, Vin Scully, and thanks so very much for all you gave us. You shan’t ever be forgotten.

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