It seems quaintly odd in this era of steroids, Spygate, and the myriad sports detritus that routinely appears on the police blotter that the most influential lessons I learned about integrity as a kid were taught daily by Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.
Everyone in L.A., it seemed, listened to Vinny, the celebrated poet laureate of the diamond, who kept us rapt with attention as he painted pictures with words that took us to faraway, mystical places long before cable turned magic into overexposure. We listened and drifted along, spellbound in our personalized visions of hallowed ballparks with euphonious names: Forbes Field, Connie Mack Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and of course Wrigley Field.
We were diehard Dodgers fans and reveled as they slew the giants, and The Giants, with their throwback version of little ball-- a disciplined, patient, even studious approach to winning adopted by the team that couldn't hit. It was a bygone style of play based on pitching, defense, speed, guile, and the all-important sacrifice. A typical rally for the 1965 World Series Champion Dodgers consisted of Maury Wills eking out a walk, stealing second, advancing to third on a Junior Gilliam fielder's-choice groundout to the right side of the infield, and coming home on a sacrifice fly by either the #3 batter, Willie Davis (sporting a .238 average on the season), or the cleanup hitter, "Sweet" Lou Johnson, who clouted-- I use the term loosely here-- a team-leading 12 home runs on the year. It was a thing of beauty and Vin Scully showed us how to appreciate every subtle nuance of it.
So compelling, so artistic were his broadcasts that he created a dependency in which fans attending games at Dodger Stadium simply could not watch without their transistor radios annotating the experience with Vin Scully's narrative. And the thread that stitched his narrative together, game after game, season after season, was that baseball was more important than his employer and our team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Scully never missed an opportunity to call the game through the perspective of both teams, insisting through gentle persuasion that we appreciate the efforts, skill, and ambitions of our opponents, and that, moreover, we respect them. (Click here to visit a site where you can listen to Scully delivering the essence as he calls Hank Aaron's home run that broke the Babe's record.) In a city known for its superficiality, Vin Scully crafted a culture in which opposing pitchers who'd thrown a gem would routinely receive ovations from Dodgers fans when they came to bat in the late innings or had to be removed for a reliever, a culture in which we didn't like Pete Rose but respected Charlie Hustle for running out his walks.
Now, don't get me wrong. Dodgers fans could boo and heap verbal abuse on the umpires with the best of them. But the partisanship rarely veered out of bounds and when it did it was not for long, tempered as it was by Scully's unflagging civility and depth of character, a temperament with which Dodgers fans identified as best they could, whether they knew it consciously or not.
Vin Scully recruited and initiated Dodgers fans from every walk of life, even the conservatory crowd. I'll never forget the night I was forced to attend a symphonic concert at the Hollywood Bowl. As the audience poured out of the Bowl and headed to the refreshment stands at intermission, several pulled out their radios to get an update from Vinny on the Dodgers-Cubs game. Like wildfire the word spread: Sandy Koufax had a perfect game going. Hundreds of concert goers pushed and shoved their way to get close to someone with a radio. None of us returned to the theater and as Koufax struck out Harvey Kuenn to complete the perfecto, we let out a roar that must have addled the orchestra, who had to be wondering where half their audience had gone.
I bumped into Vin Scully by accident several years ago on the island of Lanai, where we were both vacationing. We passed in a hotel hallway, but I said nothing because I never intrude on a celebrity's private time. Instead, I wrote him a short note, thanking him for the impact he'd had on my youth, and asked the front desk to deliver it to him. Several weeks later I received a handwritten letter from Scully on Dodgers stationary, humbly, and appreciatively, trying to deflect my words of gratitude. I'm glad to report he didn't succeed, for without him baseball would have been just a game to me, devoid of the lessons in life Scully mined from its play.