By Mark Langill
Special to The Tribune
If Vin Scully had the chance to broadcast the news of his own passing, there’s no doubt he would try to comfort his audience with a greeting along the lines of “It’s only me. I’m just like everyone else. There’s a final out in everyone’s ballgame.”
His death at age 94 on Aug. 2 was the second and final goodbye for his legion of fans and admirers. In 2016, Scully retired from the Dodgers after 67 seasons with Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
When he walked away from the booth, Scully still had his fastball — the ability to describe the action in the manner an artist would start with a blank canvas and paint for nine innings.
This farewell, however, was different. His post-Dodger life included quietly nursing his beloved wife as she battled ALS, the slowly degenerative disease named after baseball player Lou Gehrig. Sandra Scully’s death in January 2021 left her husband in a reflective mood; grateful for the past and not afraid of the future.
In my case, being the “team historian” for the Dodgers since 2002 always carried a caveat. It’s fine to have a business card and official title, but let’s be honest. If you had one phone call on the trivia show, or any historical question in general, are you calling the historian or Vin Scully?
Our relationship spanned 50 years, although Scully wasn’t aware of it until I became a reporter for the Pasadena Star-News in the early 1980s. When I joined the Dodger front office in January 1994 as a broadcasting and publications editor, it was a golden chance to watch The Great Oz work his magic behind the curtain. Every night, Scully arrived in his booth with binders filled with information about the Dodgers and their opponent. Yet he used less than 1%, the research was always a spice, not a crutch.
It’s a surreal experience to become friends with your boyhood idol. Growing up in South Pasadena, Scully was the equivalent to Robert Preston’s “Music Man,” character, using his words and personality to generate pageantry, excitement and fun during the six-month baseball season.
I’m happy to report that his on-air personality was always present when the cameras weren’t rolling. Scully was a man of great faith. His biggest regret was the time away from his beloved family, the price of broadcasting more than 9,000 baseball game with the Dodgers after his graduation from Fordham University in 1949.
At age 8, Scully penned an elementary school essay outlining his desire to become a sports broadcaster. It was a unique goal, especially because television hadn’t been invented. But Scully grew to love the roar of a crowd while sitting underneath an oversized radio perched on a tabletop at home. Scully said the sound rushed over him like water flowing from a shower. And every milestone event narrated by Scully was followed by prolonged periods of silence because in his words, “I knew when to shut up.”
One of my mother’s favorite lines is, “Does Vin know you used to sit in the closet and pretend you were broadcasting Dodger games as a kid?” There is a recording of my revisionist version of the 1974 World Series in which my favorite player — outfielder Jimmy Wynn — leads L.A. to a victory over Oakland in the decisive seventh game. In real life, Oakland beat the Dodgers in five games to clinch their third consecutive Fall Classic. The kid with the high-pitched voice dutifully follows Scully’s playbook, including side stories and a commercial for Olympia Beer (“make sure to have a glass!”).
During the final week of the 2016 season, an invitation arrived to take a photo with Scully in his booth. A double-edged sword indeed. Instead of the predictable “I’ll miss you” banter, I needed a distraction. Something to break the mood.
On the computer, I ordered a replica 1936 New York Giants cap — the year Scully first became aware of baseball when he walked home from school and noticed a hand-written World Series line score taped in the window of a laundry. The New York Yankees walloped the Giants that October day by an 18-4 score. The lopsided result made Scully embrace the perceived underdog.
When I strolled into the booth for the photo, we posed with the cap and he asked, “Why is it blue?” The Giants wore that powdered-blue style cap in the 1930s, something Scully wouldn’t have known reading the black-and-white newspaper. After giving a brief history of his favorite team’s color scheme of the 1930s, he turned to his wife and said, “Sandi, let’s put this in a safe place!”
My somber mood suddenly turned to delight. Silently I thought, “I didn’t give you this cap. … Oh my God! He just stole my cap! This is great … why are we honoring this man?” In reality, my hero could’ve asked for my car keys or gallbladder, and I would gladly comply.
The following Sunday, I flew to San Francisco for Scully’s final game. The Oct. 2, 2016, date was the exact 80th anniversary of Scully walking past that laundry. About an hour before the game, team photographer Jon SooHoo texted an image with the message, “He brought it with him.” Next to Scully’s scorebook was the blue cap, a reminder of home. In the third inning, Scully told the story on the air of the cap with the team president of the Giants in the booth. “I’ll bet Larry Baer didn’t know the Giants wore blue, but Mark Langill knew …”
My eyes suddenly well with tears when staring at this previous paragraph on the computer screen. The composure I displayed the past week was in part because of advance notice a 94-year-old man was nearing the end of a remarkable life.
I offer these confessions because a half century later, the news of Scully’s death caused a flood of condolence texts messages like a true member of the family. Now imagine, because of that business card, being asked to appear on television and radio and putting in perspective what Scully meant to the world. You don’t need a historian to tell what’s already in your heart.