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The voice of L.A.

May 14, 2013|Doug Smith | Doug Smith is data editor at the Los Angeles Times
  • What is the true sound of Los Angeles? It is not the plaintive howl of coyotes or the somnolent lap of surf. It is Vin Scully.
What is the true sound of Los Angeles? It is not the plaintive howl of coyotes… (Los Angeles Times )

My young colleague, Ben Welsh, who hails from Swisher, Iowa, by way of Columbia, Mo., and Washington, D.C., quickly caught on to what we native Angelenos know subliminally.

Los Angeles has its own distinctive voice.

It's not the plaintive howl of coyotes in the hills, the frightening screams of the Santa Ana winds or the somnolent lap of surf.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 17, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 17 Editorial Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Scully: A May 14 Op-Ed about Vin Scully said he had quit traveling with the Dodgers. Although he has cut back on his out-of-state travel to away games, he still goes to those in California and Arizona.

Our city's voice, as Ben observed, is a singular human one: Vin Scully's.

Its timbre is like no other. Hear a single syllable and, as surely as Billie Holiday is Billie Holiday, Winston Churchill is Winston Churchill and Billy Mays is Billy Mays, you know it's Vin.

I think Scully could have been mayor if he'd wanted. Not one of our recent mayors would be recognized on a radio broadcast by more than a few of the citizens who voted for him. And none has ever once spoken in unison to 50,000 people who were at that moment watching the very spectacle he was describing.

He's so trustworthy he would have made a great pitchman had he been so inclined. To see what I mean, listen to the commercial he recently made for the new movie "42," about Jackie Robinson. I'm glad his only pitch has been baseball.

The closest competition I can think of for the title of L.A.'s voice is Randy Newman. For decades Los Angeles pined for its own song. Then Newman, seemingly without even trying, provided it for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The panoramic imagery and gritty detail of "I Love L.A.," even its irony, are truer to the city it celebrates than that maudlin anthem claimed by our northern neighbor.

But that's another genre, and Scully, remember, had been speaking to Los Angeles for 31/2 decades by the time Newman wrote his tune.

Now, if it seems I'm being gushy, I note in defense of my argument that I came to it through a painful transformation. When the Dodgers came to Los Angeles in 1958, Vin Scully was the voice of the enemy.

For anyone who relocated to Los Angeles after the Dodgers arrival, it would be hard to understand how a native could be a lifelong Pirates' fan. You'd have to know that in the 1950s, before Los Angeles had the Dodgers, it hosted two minor league teams, the Angels and the Stars.

The Stars were a Pirates farm club, and I was a Stars fan. My heroes were first base slugger Dick Stuart and double-play magician second baseman Bill Mazeroski. I followed their careers to the majors through the most memorable World Series of baseball history, when the Pirates beat the Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra New York Yankees in seven games, capped by Mazeroski's walk-off home run.

Though I still maintain that Roberto Clemente was the greatest right fielder of all time, I ever so slowly came to accept that Vin Scully is the one and only voice of baseball.

Of all his attributes, the most important is pace. Listening to his play-by-play is like following Beethoven's 6th Symphony on a warm night in the Hollywood Bowl.

He shows excitement -- "Gone!" -- but never without the buildup: "Going, going." Scully sets up every play as if he is channeling the manager's mind, going over the subtle adjustments on the field before the pitch, explaining why and foreshadowing what might happen next.

In the 1950s, nothing was more important to a young lad than the knowledge of baseball. And Scully had the market cornered. I've forgotten volumes of history since then, but I'll always remember the difference between the hit-and-run and the run-and-hit.

I was alarmed recently when my friend Ben pointed out that Scully, though far from "gone," is at least on his first "going." He no longer travels with the team, which means we hear less of him these days. Ben thinks we should be hearing more.

We kicked around a few ideas. The one we liked best was having Scully record that voice at LAX that tells you the white zone is only for unloading.

Another idea I had was to have Scully's voice answer the city complaint line. Wouldn't " Por Espanol, marque el numero uno" sound terrific in Scully's fractured but dulcet Spanish?

Listen up, Bank of America! I've spent way too much time talking to your unctuous robo-voice recently. The experience would have been much more palatable if it had been Scully saying, "OK, tell me why you called?"

But you'll have to find someone else. Vin Scully belongs to Los Angeles. And we'd better get in step to make sure he stays here, always.

As far as I'm concerned, the voice of L.A. should be heard every day in some public place. So tell me, where would you want to hear Vin Scully?

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doug.smith@latimes.com

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