T.J. Simers of The Los Angeles Times has an almost unbelievable column today (and trust me, I’m using “almost” deliberately – some of them are unbelievable), which quotes a Dodgers’ season ticket-holder as saying he’s received a survey from the team asking him (and presumably others like him) to grade the performance of Vin Scully.
While that sinks in, let me regurgitate some basic facts. Vin Scully joined the Dodgers early in the season of 1950. He has been connected with that team so long that two of the eight National League franchises the day he got there, have since moved, and a third has moved twice. Four of the other five have each twice replaced their ballparks. Between expansion and relocation, two-thirds of all the big league clubs are newer at this than Scully is. The late Bob Sheppard, considered an institution at Yankee Stadium since time immemorial, started the year after Scully did, and retired three years ago. He has broadcast Dodger games under twelve U.S. Presidents. Scully has been with the Dodgers for 100% of their seasons in Los Angeles and is generally credited with personally selling the sport and the franchise in its new home. If he isn’t the game’s all-time greatest announcer – if he isn’t sports’ all-time greatest announcer – he’s no worse than second or third.
And the unceasingly tone-deaf Dodgers are asking their fans if he’s any good, in the way that – well, I don’t know, maybe the way ESPN would have asked its viewers after I did the one and only game I ever did (or am ever likely to do) as a major league baseball play-by-play man, in 1993:
On a scale of 1 to 5, “They wanted my opinion of Vin Scully in the following eight areas: 1. Knowledge of baseball; 2. Knowledge of Dodgers organization; 3. Objectivity; 4. Accuracy of calls; 5. Storytelling ability; 6. Focus on the game; 7. Style; 8. Overall performance.”
Simers infers (and I think it’s a reasonable assumption) that somebody in The Fortress Of Solitude On Elysian Park Avenue must be seriously thinking using the poll results against Vinnie. Seems unlikely they’re going to give him an award or a bonus based on whether Steve From Pasadena has given him a 4 or a 5. More likely this is an anti-Scully move in the making, either in an effort to get him to retire, or perhaps in contract negotiations. Either way, it’s madness. Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela have their enduring legacies but you could add their reps together to those of Don Drysdale and Steve Garvey and pretty much any other fan favorite, and the cumulative weight still wouldn’t reach up to the top of Vin’s ever-polished shoes.
Moreover, if anybody actually attempted to run Vin out of his job before he was ready, the Dodger faithful would rise up with righteous wrath and run the McCourt ownership group out of town faster than you can say “Bankruptcy Referee.”
I am reminded of something that happened years ago. And I put this in this context: I was so nervous about meeting him that I couldn’t screw up the courage to even attempt it until I’d been on television and radio in L.A. for two years. When I finally did, Vin said “I thought maybe you didn’t like me, and it’s funny, because I listen to you every afternoon on KNX. Where on earth do you get those ‘This Day In Baseball History’ facts?” I blurted out my admiration, and my sources, and I’m proud to say he has been dropping these delightful nuggets into his broadcasts for the last 25 years.
Anyway, more recently than that, maybe ten years ago (or about a sixth of his career ago), I found myself in the extraordinary position of sharing one of those priceless “Let’s Complain About Our Bosses” sessions – with Vin Scully! The bosses were two branches of the same octopus (I worked for Fox, and the Dodgers were owned by them) and Vin couldn’t understand why the team suddenly wanted to make changes in his telecasts without consulting him. “I think, just by accident, I probably have a good idea what these viewers want from us, after fifty years. I mean, just humor me and let me go on thinking that!” Why, he wanted to know, did Fox insist on making his game telecast look just like that of the Pirates? “I love Pittsburgh. No offense meant to Pittsburgh. But why should my broadcast look like Pittsburgh’s? Or Pittsburgh’s, like mine?”
The Dodgers defended the poll to Simers by saying they ask their fans about lots of stuff, including all the announcers.
Which brings me back to a version of Scully’s question from 2001:
When you’ve got Vin Scully, why would you want him to be exactly like anybody else? Why would you even reduce him to being compared to anybody else?