There are two outs now, bottom of the ninth here under a full moon at Dodger Stadium. The bases are still loaded, and the Dodgers still trail by a run. And, well now, it looks like Lasorda is calling back Steve Garvey. This is a surprise. The Dodgers are going to send up a pinch-hitter to face Warren Spahn. And it looks like, yes, it’s going to be Vincent Edward Scully. Well, they say strange things happen on nights when there is a full moon, and this is certainly strange.
Vin Scully, well, there’s certainly no need to tell you much about him. He has been with the Dodgers since they were in Brooklyn a few million years ago. Everything about him is familiar, even in this most unfamiliar of positions. Two outs. Bases loaded. And the Dodgers trail by a run.
Spahn winds up and delivers. Screwball just outside for a ball. Scully bats left-handed, of course, and there is a theory that left-handed batters have a better chance against the Spahn screwball because the ball breaks toward them instead of breaking away. But you know what the French biologist Jean Rostand said about theories. He said, “Theories pass. The frog remains.” And the Spahn screwball is the frog.
Scully steps out of the box to consider the moment. What must be going through his mind? He was born in the Bronx back in 1927 or as he likes to say, shortly after the discovery of fire. He has seen this situation countless times. But he knows too that this will be the last time. What must he be feeling?
Juan Marichal begins his windup. There’s that famous high-leg kick and the pitch is in there for a strike at the knees. Scully might have thought that was a bit low, but he has been around this game long enough to know there isn’t much value in saying anything to the umpire now. He goes back to fiddling a bit with his batting glove.
Scully, you already know, longed to be a sports announcer ever since he old enough to dream about such things. When he was 8 years old and in elementary school, Sister Virginia Maria asked all the students in class to write a paper about what they wanted to be when they grew up. The girls, Scully says, all wanted to be teachers and nurses, the boys firemen and policemen. Vin Scully wrote in his paper that he wanted to be a sports announcer.
The count is one and one and Bob Gibson glares in to get the sign. There is nothing in baseball quite as intimidating as that menacing Bob Gibson stare. He could scare one of the knights of the roundtable with that stare. Gibby likes to say he is not trying to intimidate anyone and stares like that because he doesn’t wear his glasses on the mound and he just can’t see the signs clearly. I would say most of the hitters in the National League would prefer he wear his glasses. Here’s the windup and the pitch — high for ball two.
Look at that moon. Can you believe we put a man on it?
It is a good situation for a hero. Jackie Robinson is on third, Pedro Guerrero on second and Adrian Gonzalez is on first. The Dodgers trail by a run. You know that Robinson would love nothing more than to steal home right here. And you also know that pitcher Tom Seaver is well aware of that as well — Seaver is keeping a close eye on Robinson. He’s not about to let Jackie get too frisky out there. Seaver is ready now. Here’s the wind and the pitch — swing and a miss for strike two. Blew the fastball right by him. Scully shakes his head like he remembers a time when you couldn’t throw a fastball by him.
Like I said earlier, this is a good situation for a hero. Scully has always been fascinated by heroics. When he was a kid, he says, he used to take a pillow and crawl under the radio in the family’s fifth-floor walk-up apartment. There was no baseball on the radio in those days, but there was football and the young Vin Scully would lie under the radio, wait for a big moment, a touchdown or an important tackle, and then soak in the cheers of the crowd. He so loved those cheers. He says they would just engulf him like water spouting out of a shower head. He would sure love to hear some of those cheers now and 45,983 here at Dodger Stadium would love to give them to him.
Two and two to Vin Scully. Greg Maddux checks the runners. He looks so professorial on the mound, Maddux does, with his glasses and that incisive look on his face, like he is planning to teach Chaucer after the game. In an age of fireballers, Maddux manages to get people out with his mind as much as with his arm. Maddux into his windup, here’s the pitch, fastball, and Scully barely fouls it back to stay alive. The crowd leaps and then sighs.
You already know this will be Scully’s final season. And it has been a marvelous career. There are so many statistics we could use to describe his unfathomable baseball life. This is his 67th season with the Dodgers, which means he has been around for 12 different managers from Burt Shotton to Dave Roberts. He has survived 18 different Dodger owners. How about this one? The Dodgers have played 145 different people at first base since Vin Scully joined the Dodgers. There are many more but I fear in passing along statistics like this I will be, as Scully himself says, using statistics the way a drunk uses a lamppost … for support rather than illumination. The people of Los Angeles have made clear how they feel about Mr. Scully again and again and again, as they do now.
Deuces wild on the scoreboard, two balls, two strikes, two outs. Randy Johnson checks the runner at third, and he steps off the rubber to gather himself. You could hear the crowd exhale, couldn’t you? You probably know that Randy Johnson, at 6-foot-10, is the tallest pitcher in Major League Baseball history but do you know who was the tallest pitcher before the Big Unit came around?. That’s one that might stump your friends: It was a pitcher named Johnny Gee who pitched for Pirates and Giants in the 1940s. He was 6-foot-9, and he won seven games in his career. Ol’ Johnny Gee — people didn’t know what to call him. Some naturally called him Long Johnny Gee. But others called him Johnny Gee Whiz.
Johnson’s ready now, he delivers the 2-2 pitch and, it’s outside for ball three. And here we are, everyone is on their feet. It’s a full count to Vincent Edward Scully with the bases loaded and the moon dangling over Dodgers Stadium, and the Dodgers trailing by a run. A funny thing, when you see a rookie take the field for the first time, so full of life and energy and hope and wonder, you never think it will end. When you see someone in the prime of their career, in the prime of their life, doing the sorts of thing that make your heart soar, you never think it will end. But end it must.
And here we are at the end for Vin Scully. Madison Bumgarner nervously kicks at the dirt like a kid getting ready to ask a girl to the prom. Now, he looks up, and Scully digs in. The windup. The pitch.
It is midnight in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California, and Vin Scully, whose name will always remind you of the way baseball can clutch your heart and make you float a few inches above the ground, rounds the bases, and he lets that sound, that wonderful sound he has chased all his life, engulf him one more time, like water from a shower head.