I have a confession to make. Following the news of the day for much of the last week I have been on the edge of tearing up and I hadn’t known why. I’m one of those news junkies who reads three papers a day with the cable TV news on somewhere in the house spewing a constant stream of calamities in at least one ear all the time. I’m usually inured to it all. As a reporter I have trained myself to document with dispassion everything from planes falling out of the sky to whole communities torched by wildfire. So why am I welling up now?
As I began to pay closer attention to my uncharacteristic behavior I realized there was a trigger to my tearing up. And the trigger had a name – Vin Scully. Altogether surprising to me because Scully was never a conscious hero for me growing up. I was a pitcher in little league and throughout high school. Sandy Koufax was my man. Scully was just there, every night, in my ear in the darkness of the still summer nights transporting me into the action.
Even when my dad took me to Chavez Ravine for a live game, there was Vinny’s voice in a thousand transistor radios around me backfilling what my own eyes failed to see just happening, with favor to his team, of course, but with malice toward none. Like so many others, I was hypnotized by his almost rhyming prose that raised you up, even when your team lost because, as Vin often said in so many eloquent ways, there is no defeat in baseball, only setbacks. “There is always next year.” And another chance to make it home.
My conscious mind had no idea that so many “next years” later I would still be hypnotized by the soothing voice of Vin Scully, and drawing me to tears at the sound of it again. Only when I focused on that voice suddenly flooding back to me with all the eulogies of his recent passing, did I realize what was triggering such an emotional response in me. His friendly demeanor and calming presence had woven into endless summers more than just the soundtrack of my youth. His life affirming attitude had wormed its way into my inner self like a kind and faithful friend who patiently advises and abides without judging.
Vin Scully was that faithful friend who brought us all together over more than just baseball. Using baseball as a metaphor he showed us a way forward. Through the humility and civility of his commentary, he showed us how such a disparate melting pot as LA could come together in peace. Proof of that was his ever-widening circle of friends. Scully had the uncanny ability to speak directly to each of us personally through his play-by-play commentary, even though most, like me, had never met him. That feeling of a personal connection to the Voice of the Dodgers made him as popular to fans as the players themselves. If there was an award for how many friends you have when you die, I’m sure Vin Scully would have nailed that award too.
But the loss of Vin Scully’s abiding presence goes beyond the silencing of one more centering voice of tolerance amidst a headwind of intolerance gripping our national conversations today. In our seeming race to the bottom in political discourse, in civil restraint, even in personal courtesies toward others, who out there in the present ethos is giving new voice to the friendly outstretched hand Vinny extended to all through his microphone? My melancholy over the loss of that centering voice is tinged with an unsettling fear of what will replace it? My tearing up at the very the sound of that voice in recent weeks, it seems, is as much a lament for the fading of human civility as for the loss of the man himself. Civility is not just a nice idea, it is a fundamental requisite to the survival of a republic composed of many peoples trying to find equity and order in their daily lives.
As Vin often said from his high perch behind home plate ( which my father would then repeat to me on the playing fields of my youth) the umpire is also human, and he doesn’t always make the right call. But the game goes on. We continue to play by the rules. Maybe next time the break’ll go your way.
In his 67 years of preaching baseball and teaching life Vin Scully only made one promise to us, that tomorrow the Sun will shine and somewhere a baseball game will be played. In other words, life goes on. Just as his dulcet tones remain in my brain triggering remembrance and loss, no doubt they have triggered random acts of kindness as well. And so his influence on our lives beyond baseball lives on too. We can only hope there are others out there touched by Vin’s voice who are ready to take a few pages from the Scully playbook and make his voice of calm and reason their own. As for me, in my notion of a cosmology I’m pretty sure when my last season is up, and I am approaching the eternal gates, my father will be there, glove and ball in hand, ready to play some catch. But I’d also like to think it will be Vin Scully’s voice I will hear, announcing “Welcome home friend.”