There are still three more games remaining in Vin Scully's 67 year broadcasting career, but the retirement party was a week early. This weekend marked the final games at Dodger Stadium for the soon to be 89 year-old. Not only were there plenty of scripted moments with ceremony and celebration, but how about a few surprises like a division title and a walkoff homer?
Friday was Vin Scully Appreciation Night. The 45-minute pregame ceremony was aired in Los Angeles, but not nationally. Highlights included a speeches from Sandy Koufax (a fairly reclusive legend who hates the limelight), actor Kevin Costner (the star of the movie For the Love of the Game with Scully, who was the announcer in the film), and a long thank you address by the man himself. There were political presentations, and John Williams conducted the LA Philharmonic for the playing of the national anthem. The Dodgers won.
Saturday night, pitcher Clayton Kershaw did his thing, Josh Reddick hit a grand slam, and the Dodgers pounded Colorado 14-1, which allowed more time for Scully to do his thing. Scully, who hates to talk about himself and you cam tell it's genuine, did get in a couple of stories of the early days of his career in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The man, who is humble to a fault, also failed to notice that players like Joc Pederson were pointing to him from the field before they came up to bat. Scully said Pederson was acknowledging someone in the crowd, when he was actually pointing at Scully. All the players would do that the next day, and Scully had to be told that he was the one they were pointing at. That night, the Dodgers clinched a tie for the division title.
That set up Sunday. Superstitious baseball players and coaches will often refer to the 'baseball gods', and maybe if you didn't believe in them before, maybe you will now. With the MLB Network carrying the Vin Scully telecast so that the entire nation could watch, the tide turned. For the Dodgers to win the division on Scully's final home game, the Dodgers would have to win, or the Giants, who were in San Diego, would need to lose. Late in the day, the opposite was happening. Scully, who can call two games at once better than any other broadcaster can call one, was keeping us apprised of the game in San Diego while the Dodgers were down to their last out in the ninth, trailing. Corey Seager hits a home run, and the game goes to a tenth inning. In the tenth, Charlie Culberson, who has no home runs on the year, hits one into the left field seats to win the game and the division. Scully's last call at Dodger Stadium would be a game-winning home run.
The players parading on the field and the champagne celebration in the clubhouse would follow, but not yet. The crowd, and the players, wanted more from Vin, and boy did they get it.
“I am terribly embarrassed”, said the grandfather of 16, and great grandfather of one, opening his address from the booth. “I was hoping the team would win the game 10-0, there'd be no tension, and it would be a nice easy day, because I have a very, very small modest contribution, on my last day.” Scully went on to explain that he had recorded himself singing Wind Beneath My Wings for his wife Sandi years ago, but wanted to play it for the crowd because that's how he felt about them. With Sandi by his side and players looking up from the field, the song was played. With all his talents and knowledge, and other saintly qualities, who knew Vin Scully could sing? As the music faded and the applause roared, the division championship celebration began.
Scully has said it often, and he said it again on Sunday while thanking the crowd, “Believe me when I tell you, I've needed you more than you've needed me.” With all due respect, Mr. Scully, we disagree.
Crying out loud: Dodgers radio broadcaster Charley Steiner had a great radio call of Culberson's home run, and even mentioned Scully as the ball was headed over the wall. In recapping the game, though, Steiner lost it for a moment, loudly sobbing when he mentioned Scully's name again. Color commentator Rick Monday interceded, allowing Steiner to compose himself. Steiner apologized later and also said he never recalled crying on the air before.
Reality check: While California baseball and many other parts of the nation were celebrating Scully, Florida fans were devastated to wake up to the news that Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. Fernandez, who was born in Cuba, and tried to defect to the United States several times as a teenager, was finally successful and settled in the Miami area, and was well known and loved by both English and Spanish Speaking fans. He also was on his way to being one of the best pitchers in baseball. Fernandez was 24.
A much younger grandpa: Scully, of course, isn't the only one retiring this season. Broadcasters Dick Enberg and Ken Harrelson are calling it quits, but so are players like David Ortiz and David Ross. The 39 year-old Ross, the backup catcher for the Cubs affectionately known as 'grandpa', was removed by manager Joe Maddon during the middle of Sunday's game with the Cardinals so he could get an ovation from the crowd. Fans and players love Ross, who had already taken a curtain call for a home run hit earlier in the game. Ross, who once played for the Dodgers by the way, may be the most loved backup catcher ever.