The ambient sounds of baseball – the melody of good commentary, the arrhythmic spikes in a crowd’s murmur – is studio music. It brings warm weather through open windows, and renders surfaces particulate. I spend several nights at home each week listening to baseball as I work. A few years ago Vin Scully, who has called games for the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles every year since 1950, renegotiated his contract and began limiting his evenings on-air to home games and games nearby (San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, and Anaheim). -So, around one hundred evenings this year, beginning in May.
Today was the last day of the regular baseball season. Vin’s an eighty-six year-old fading ginger Irish Catholic with a dulcet baritone. As I finished dinner and prepared to write, he noted that this is the first year four clubs from California will qualify for the playoffs – but mistakenly referred to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as “Seattle,” twice.
I broke into a grin at my table as I worked with my materials. It’s an increasingly common thing with Vin, the missed calls, and absolutely no one cares. Two or three years ago, someone employed by the company licensed to broadcast Dodger games noticed Vin’s fondness for babies, and began encouraging Vin’s affections by panning the crowd. Parents in the stands now lift their babies in the air between innings as if the Pope were passing, hoping to catch a camera. It has been argued, I think successfully, that Vin Scully isn’t the most popular sports figure; he’s the most loved public figure in the history of Los Angeles.
Vin backs away from the thing he’s looking at. His silence is legendary; he claims to be agape, he claims to retreat into the crowd. You can hear him looking. It renders surfaces particulate. He says his reticence is a result of experience teaching him “knowing when to shut up,” and of the respect he has for the difficulty of game, having discovered the limits of his own talent as a middling minor leaguer, in the nineteen-forties.
It’s only when the game becomes an afternoon event, bereft of drama, that Vin takes the liberty of enlarging anecdotes into personal, historical events. When the game slows down, Vin will tell you about bizarre personalities in sepia or black and white, forgotten managers with silly or legendary names, the time he met Babe Ruth in the upper deck at Ebbets Field, how many hats a man has, and why.
He prepares his own notes on the day’s players and enters them into a black, leather-bound three-ring binder of his own design, an external pocket stitched to the front cover in the shape of his wallet. He put my father, who kept a radio under his pillow, to sleep when he was a boy; this was when my mother-in-law, a girl with glasses on a wheat farm east of Regina, could no longer hear him call Brooklyn Dodger games on the pickup truck’s radio for her father, as he worked the thresher.