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COVER STORY

Inside Vin Scully

The Most Familiar Voice in Los Angeles Speaks in a Way You've Never Heard Before

April 26, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE | Bill Plaschke is a Times sports columnist

Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good morning to you wherever you may be. It's a beautiful morning here in Pacific Palisades, the sun shining, a soft breeze sneaking through the trees. Glad you could join us; let's set the scene: The man voted the most memorable personality in Los Angeles Dodger history is on his knees, sleeves rolled up. This most memorable personality is giving infant Jordan Kyle Schaefer a bath.

And oh, what a marvelous time they are having. He washes behind his ears . . . rinses his hair . . . pulls him out of the tub . . . sits him up on the counter . . . and begins massaging his little back while the baby shakes his head, giggles and says something that sounds like "hee-hee-hee-hee."

Friends, at 8:15 in the morning on this sweet spring day, you are looking at more than a baseball announcer, more than a baseball legend. You are looking at a grandfather. * Hello, this is Vin Scully . . . . When calling on the phone, even to people he has known for 25 years, the voice of our city fully identifies himself. Never presuming a familiarity that exists with millions. Never taking their admiration for granted.

"That's all you need to know about Vin," says close friend Dan Cathcart. "When he calls you on the phone, he always gives you his full name when, really, all he needs to do is just say hello."

*

Hello, this is Vin Scully . . . .

*

For 40 years in Los Angeles, have any five words been more comforting? Returning travelers turn on the car radio after arriving at LAX, hear those words, know they are home. The lonely turn on their TVs, hear those words, know that they still belong. The Dodgers have a new owner, an ever-changing stadium, increasingly distant players, and yet people throughout Southern California have turned on their radio this month, heard those words and known that it is spring. The sky may be falling, Tommy Lasorda has retired, Peter O'Malley has been bought out, but Vin Scully is talking, so it is spring.

*

Hello, this is Vin Scully . . . .

*

That's how he greets this longtime acquaintance on my answering machine, to talk about an interview. For once, I am glad I am not home. I now have the voice on tape, without static or organ music or applause, just Scully talking to me in that soothing tenor. "Please," I announce to everyone within two square miles. "Do not erase this message."

One problem about the interview. The longtime Dodger announcer--who also happens to be the best announcer in baseball history, no question, don't even think about it--doesn't do these kinds of stories. He hasn't done one in 13 years, to be exact.

After 49 seasons of sitting gracefully in the easy chairs and front porches of our homes and lives, to say nothing of the time he's spent riding shotgun in our cars, Scully has become an intensely private man. Few people, not even 22-year partner and friend Ross Porter, have been to his home. He is almost invisible with the ballclub on the road, preferring to spend his spare moments reading--most recently "The Perfect Storm," by Sebastian Junger, and Tom Dyja's "Play for the Kingdom," a novel about a sandlot baseball game between two Civil War regiments. "Call me in the hotel," he'll tell friends from home. "I'll just be sitting there, killing time."

Scully talks about the Dodgers and baseball and life with such elegance that it sounds like a concerto with words. Yet he is wary of talking about himself. "I know myself to be a very ordinary man, really I do," he says. "I would just as soon go quietly."

That is the worrisome thing, that "go" part. He turned 70 in November. Even though last season was arguably his best ever--when the Dodgers collapse, their lead announcer only gets stronger--he increasingly worries about the time spent away from home. He says he still gets "goose bumps" when he hears the crowd; he is inspired enough to broadcast games for the next 20 years. But while he still does all the TV games--88 this year--he is giving more of the radio innings to Porter and Rick Monday. While he says he is excited about working for the new Fox Group owners--whew, admit it, his premature departure was everyone's biggest fear--there is a sense that these are his final years.

Next season will be his 50th. The year 2000 would mark the beginning of his sixth decade as a Dodger play-by-play man. Maybe he will retire then. Maybe he will wait until some later moment that he deems, with his impeccable sense of timing, to be dramatically correct. No matter. When Vin Scully retires, it will not be quietly. After listening to him for all these summers, this town will finally put down its foot and say, "Listen to us." There will be tributes, parties, retrospectives, and no matter what Scully says, he will be too darn polite to turn any of it down.

Before that happens, though, it would be nice to collect some snapshots. Nothing big or deep or pretentious, just a few pictures of a legend silhouetted against the late afternoon.

*

Hello, this is Vin Scully . . . .

*

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