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The Voice of Spring Blooms

Sports: The sound of Vin Scully heralds the arrival of the sweet season of baseball dreams.

April 04, 1999|ZEV YAROSLAVSKY | Zev Yaroslavsky is a Los Angeles county supervisor

Like the first sign of greenery on our trees or the sweet smell of night-blooming jasmine in our neighborhoods, the familiar voice of Vin Scully, resonating from our radios, heralds the arrival of spring in Los Angeles.

As we turn the clocks forward, as we celebrate the varied festivals of spring this week, and as the baseball season begins anew, let us salute the man who for half a century has regularly painted a verbal picture that contains as much richness, depth and color as any Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a baseball broadcaster just like him. I used to take my dad's reel-to-reel tape recorder, set it up in front of our black-and-white television and tape my own play by play. I never quite lost that ambition. A couple of years ago, I was sitting in Dodger Stadium with a cellular phone and called a friend in New York. They weren't home, so I decided to broadcast 90 seconds of a Dodger-Giant game to them on their answering machine. The next day they called me back and said, "You sounded great, but your problem is you have to get your own identity; you sound too much like Vin Scully." I thought to myself, "They could have said worse things."

Vinny's excellence doesn't come by accident. A couple of years ago, I was in the press box during a no-hitter when I saw him thumbing through a baseball encyclopedia while off the air. I asked, "What are you doing?" He replied that during a no-hitter, everyone is focused on the pitcher, some are focused on the catcher, some on the fielders. Then, he added what was obvious to him and no one else: "But no one pays any attention to the home plate umpire and the pressures on him. He is as consequential to the no-hitter as anyone, yet no one knows anything about him."

I was dumbfounded. I had never thought about the umpire either, but Scully was going to take care of that for me and the rest of the fans. We were going to know the history of that umpire, how long he'd been in the league, how many no-hitters he had previously umped, where he lived, his wife's name, how many kids he had and an assortment of other details.

What is the hold that Vin Scully has over us? What is it about Vinny that could induce me to play hooky from my own father's Hebrew school class so I could hear the final game of the 1959 playoff series between the Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves? That was the game that ended with Scully exclaiming, "and we go to Chicago." (My father was not impressed by my reason for my being late).

What is it about him that could tempt me to take a prized book off my parents' shelf, slice out the middle of the pages to hide my transistor radio in class so I could surreptitiously listen to Vinny's account of the World Series through the book's cover?

What is endearing about Vin Scully is that he speaks to each and every one of us, one to one. He is a friend. He is decent, fair and objective. He calls them as he sees them, and over these many decades has built up an unprecedented reservoir of credibility. For Vinny, hope springs eternal. Whether the Dodgers are in the heat of a pennant race or sweeping the National League cellar, he subtly reminds us that baseball is not just a game. Baseball is a way of life and a metaphor for life. That's why each spring, his voice resonates the hope, optimism and expectation of the season.

Vin Scully is the only sports broadcaster I know who is at once a journalist, color commentator and teacher. Los Angeles is the beneficiary of his professionalism and wisdom. So, Vinny, as my sycamores sprout new green leaves and as the blue jays rebuild their nest in my cypress tree: Here's to you and the new season.

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