Vincent Edward Scully, 1927-2022

Bob Timmermann, Senior Librarian, History & Genealogy Department,
Vin Scully, circa 1955, at Ebbets Field
Vin Scully, circa 1955, at Ebbets Field as radio and television announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Herald Examiner Collection

The recent passing of Vin Scully has resulted in innumerable obituaries, most of which will be far more eloquent than what this one will be. For someone who held the same job for 67 straight years, 59 of them in the same city, you tend to have a well-known reputation.

For those who listened to Vin over the years (my favorite method of listening to him was with a transistor radio underneath my pillow while pretending to sleep, a method which my mother tacitly accepted) you would know that while he always kept the action on the field foremost in his work, he was a master at filling in the many pauses that baseball has with discussions on topics that would cover a lot of topics. And there would be numerous literary references from people as diverse as John Milton and Ernest Hemingway. Sometimes Vin Scully was referred to as “the poet of baseball,” but that was because he frequently did quote poetry.

Dylan Thomas probably received the most references with the line "Do not go gentle into that good night," frequently used when a team was making a late-inning rally. When a good pitcher had a bad night, you could hear the line "Even Homer nods," which is how part of "Horace’s Ars Poetica" has been translated over time.

One of the greatest gifts of poetry to me from Vin Scully was his frequent use of a line from Emily Dickinson, "Hope is the thing with feathers." While Vin used the line usually to refer to the fleeting nature of good fortune in baseball, that might not have been what Dickinson was going for, but somehow I’d like to see Vin and Emily having a chat in a drawing room in Amherst about life and poetry.

Back on June 1-3, 1966, Charles Maher of the Los Angeles Times wrote a three-part profile of Vin Scully, who had quickly become a Los Angeles institution. In part two, Vin proudly showed off a bookcase full of books on what were then his two favorite topics: famous trials and World War II histories. (Every year on the anniversary of D-Day, Vin would give a remembrance of the events of June 6, 1944. The poem he reads in the video link is titled "Little Ships," and its author is unknown.) But, he also loved reading the novels of Ernest Hemingway and James Michener, apparently choosing between the two depending upon how much time he had to kill.

Scully’s obsession with trials must have remained dormant until 2016, his final year on the job, when the Arizona Diamondbacks came to Los Angeles with a player named Socrates Brito. Everytime Brito came to the plate there was information on the Trial of Socrates. Watching the video of the discussion of Socrates, hemlock, all while describing a baseball game, was a masterwork.

His other major love was the theater, and he saw nearly every major Broadway production for years, even after moving out to Los Angeles. This led to a larger than normal number of references to Elaine Stritch during Dodger game broadcasts, as well as the Dodger Stadium organist playing a lot of show tunes, which Vin would frequently discuss coming back from commercials.

It’s unlikely that any other announcer could pull off a style like Vin Scully’s today. Modern television sports production does not lend itself to announcers dropping in references to poets and playwrights. It’s not easy to pull off, and maybe Vin Scully was that lone person who could do it. We were fortunate enough to be served by Vin even though we just stood and waited.

“Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent” by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Yes, Vin Scully did love to drop in his John Milton references. Even if he just used it to kill time during pitching changes.

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

"Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas - 1914-1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.