Vin Scully has seen baseball play through World War II under orders from President Roosevelt to serve as a salve for an anxious country. He has seen it return from divisive labor stoppages, including one that wiped out the World Series. He has seen it return from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 after a week of shock, anxiety and mourning. At age 92, and while recuperating from a fall at home, Scully would like to see the restorative powers of baseball again, this time from a shutdown of unprecedented length because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just feel very sad,” Scully told me by telephone from his home in Southern California. “I’m not angry. I know people are trying to solve this issue.
“I think of baseball right now as a national thermometer. People are hoping for baseball because if baseball comes back it’s the first true sign that we are on the comeback trail. It’s our national thermometer.”
Scully was hospitalized five days last month after falling in his driveway. He said he is nearly fully recovered from multiple injuries suffered in that fall.
“No more headfirst sliding,” he joked. “I’m feeling better and doing okay.”
Never before have we missed so much baseball. Saturday marked the 59th day of the baseball schedule lost to the pandemic, replacing the 58 days lost to the 1981 player strike as the longest in-season shutdown in the sport’s history.
Not even Scully has seen anything like this. No one matches Vin as a first-hand witness and chronicler of history, as well as the quality of his work. He began his broadcasting career in 1949. He joined the Dodgers’ booth in 1950 and remained there through his retirement after the 2016 season.
At Fordham Vin played against George H.W. Bush, then a Yale first baseman, and covered Vince Lombardi, then an assistant coach at Fordham. As a broadcaster he discussed the merits of a well-executed rundown play with Branch Rickey, who was born in 1881, was friends with Jackie Robinson, enjoyed an audience with Pope Pius XII, and in 1955 practically invented the technique of “laying out,” in which the announcer goes silent in deference to the aftermath of a dramatic moment. In that case the inspiration was the last out of the only World Series won by the Brooklyn Dodgers.
At 3:45 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1955, after first baseman Gil Hodges clutched a throw from shortstop Pee Wee Reese, Scully announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are champions of the world.” Then he said nothing.
“If I said another word,” the humble Scully once said, “I would have broken down and cried.”
Two of his more memorable moments of oratory happened when baseball returned from hiatus. A player strike in August of 1994 forced the cancellation of the World Series. When baseball returned the following spring, Scully allowed, “It made me realize if I retired I’d be bored.”
Upon that first game back in 1995, Scully said on air to baseball and his beloved fans, “I’ve come to the realization that I need you more than you need me.”
In 2001 baseball shut down for six days following the terrorist attacks. When it returned on Sept. 17, the Dodgers played a video message from President Bush at Dodger Stadium. Scully followed the president’s remarks with his own address from the press box. It was played both over the air and on the Dodger Stadium video board. So timeless was his eloquence that the same words could accompany a return by baseball this year:
“All of us have lost a lot. We have lost thousands of lives. We have lost some of our self-confidence. We have lost some of our freedom. And, certainly, we have lost a way of life.
“The President of the United States has said it is time to go back to work. And so, despite a heavy heart, baseball gets up out of the dirt, brushes itself off, and will follow his command, hoping in some small way to inspire the nation to do the same.”
Now as Vin makes his own comeback of sorts, he is rooting again for baseball to fill a small but significant role in the nation’s recovery. I asked Vin what he would like his many fans to know about how he is faring these days.
“Despite my fall I’m doing okay,” he said. “I am as interested in the game as I ever have been, and I pray and hope that it gets started again soon.”