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Bill Plaschke

'It's not the end, I believe, or anything like that'

May 02, 2008|Bill Plaschke

I wish you could have answered my phone.

I wish you could have answered the Thursday afternoon call from a Denver hotel room and listened to a greeting that would have made you smell popcorn, taste Dodger Dogs and feel chills.

"Hello, Bill? This is Vin Scully."

I've talked to the most trusted voice in the history of our city at least a dozen times over the phone during our long working relationship, and it never fails.

When he calls me, I freeze. When that voice fills the phone, I subconsciously expect it to break into a melodic description of a summer evening or a forlorn pitcher, so I wait.

"Bill? Bill?"

This time I didn't wait long. This time it was urgent, and I actually interrupted him in mid-poetic stream to ask a question.

"Are you retiring?"

I hated to ask it, because, goodness, I didn't want to put any ideas into his forever-red head, but I didn't have a choice.

This week, for the first time in, oh, about 59 years, Scully did not rule it out.

"There's a lot of hoopla in this job, but it's lonely for the wife," he told the New York Times during an appearance in Manhattan. "So I want to talk seriously with [Sandy] about her feelings, I want to know what's in her head. We'll talk it out over the long summer and then we'll talk to Frank" McCourt."

I saw the quotes, tracked him down, called his hotel room, he answered and said he would call me back, and he always, always calls back.

So he did, and I interrupted him in hurried fear.

"Are you retiring?"

He sighed. He said that print interviews sometimes fail to capture the proper tone in someone's voice.

"It came out a little heavy handed, and it really wasn't like that," Scully said.

"So, um, ah, are you retiring?"

Scully sighed again.

"It's not the end, I believe, or anything like that," he said.

I wish you could have answered my phone, then seen me toss it high in the air with relief.

Scully's contract ends this year, but apparently his career will not.

Yes, he get lonely for his wife and bevy of children and grandchildren.

Yes, at age 80, it's not much fun to spend much of your summer reading books in a hotel room.

But that's what contract negotiations are for, and Scully plans to hold them this fall with the McCourts to work a deal that could perhaps alleviate that travel.

"You could write, 'He's going to wait until August or September and evaluate how he is feeling,' " Scully said. "I think that's smart, that's wise, just let it ride, then have a meeting with the McCourts and see what happens."

And what does he think will happen? "I sense something good is going to come out of that meeting," he said.

It should. It will.

The McCourts have already proved their devotion to Dodgers tradition, and for Dodgers fans Scully is the definition of that tradition.

"I fully recognize Vin's importance to Dodger fans, to everyone, and I'll be thrilled to do my part to help that continue," McCourt said in a later phone interview Thursday. "We're going to work it out like we've done before."

Two years ago, according to McCourt, Scully's contract extension talks took "all of five minutes. We have a good relationship, very open, Vin knows how I feel about him."

These negotiations might take longer, but they should not be any more difficult.

Scully's road work has already been reduced to trips no farther East than Denver. If he wants to spend more time with the charming Sandy -- if you met her, you wouldn't blame him -- then why not cut out his road work altogether?

Let Scully announce only the home games. It's not ideal for Dodgers fans who still wish he worked every inning of every game on both television and radio, but it's better than the alternative.

A half of a season with Scully is better than a full season with anyone else.

Now, more than ever, the drought-stricken Dodgers need him.

Now, more than ever, a city with few sports or civic leaders worth trusting needs him.

Vin Scully has the only sports voice in this town that really matters, doesn't he?

Vin Scully is this city's last civic treasure that everyone still believes, isn't he?

This is why I reacted so swiftly to his innocuous quotes. This is perhaps why we all should listen to Scully the way we've never listened to him before.

He apparently won't retire after this year, but one day he will, and it will come sooner than we think, making every syllable worth cherishing.

Did you ever wish that a batter would foul off a couple of more pitches so Scully could finish telling a story before the end of the inning?

Did you ever hope the TV cameras would leave the field and capture a malted-milk-stained child in the stands, just so Scully could say something sweet about the kid?

With Scully in their ear, Dodgers fans are the only ones in the country who wait for their baseball games to turn into a history class or a Hallmark card.

And when something truly spectacular happens on the field? The next day at work, isn't somebody always asking, "How did Vinny describe it?"

Like nothing the Dodgers do is real until we hear it from him?

So we can relax now, he says he's staying. But make no mistake, he's also leaving.

His recent comments remind us that the voice of the dawning of baseball in Los Angeles has become a deep, glowing, wondrous sunset.

We need to sit still for a while and stare at it, embrace it, cling to it in hopes of keeping it there forever.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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