Vin Scully seemed to have a story for everyone.
And everyone seems to have a story about Vin Scully, though none can tell theirs as eloquently as he could.
While the sports world continues to mourn Tuesday’s passing of the iconic Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster at the age of 94, the memories continue to be told across the country of the master storyteller for whom baseball was the mere backdrop of his unmatched ability to connect with listeners.
His greatest hits as a national sportscaster will play forever – the call of Kirk Gibson’s home run for the Dodgers in 1988, Hank Aaron’s record-setting home run in 1974 or even calling “The Catch” by San Francisco 49ers receiver Dwight Clark in 1982.
But for many, his legacy was in the ability to make personal connections – whether he knew he was doing so or not.
“He could tell a story and make you feel like you were the only person in the world he was talking to,” said Josh Suchon, the Albuquerque Isotopes play-by-play announcer. Suchon worked for the Dodgers radio team with Scully from 2008 through 2011 doing pre- and postgame shows, postgame interviews and a postgame call-in show.
Suchon recalls climbing onto the Dodgers bus outside the team hotel before a game with the San Francisco Giants in either 2008 or 2009 and jumping at the chance to take a seat next to the legendary broadcaster.
Scully, born in the Bronx, New York, told Suchon of collecting Coke bottles as a kid and turning them in for a nickel a piece once he found 11 of them because bleacher seats at the old Polo Grounds where the Giants played were 55 cents. Being left-handed, the young red-headed boy chose lefty Mel Ott as his favorite player and tried to always get seats in right field in case Ott hit a homer there.
“I remember he told me that story and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing,'” said Suchon. “And then I remember I heard him tell that story to somebody else years later and I thought, ‘Yeah, he told me that one a long time ago’ and that felt pretty cool.
“Then I heard it somewhere else and I was like, ‘OK. He’s told this story a lot.’ But you would have never known by the way it stuck with me when he told it to me that day.”
His ability to humanize those he covered and paint the scene of a game with his words remains unmatched, says Robert Portnoy, the current voice of UNM Athletics who grew up in grade school in California listening both to Scully and the late, and also highly respected, Dick Enberg, who called Angels games.
“I sort of learned what a broadcast is supposed to sound like from him,” Portnoy said of Scully, whom he met at spring training in 2009 while Portnoy was working for 101.7 KQTM-FM radio. “He is the model, literally. I loved him growing up and then just grew to revere him. He’s the greatest of all time at what he did, that’s for sure.”
Scott Galetti, Albuquerque-area broadcaster for 101.7 FM and Proview Networks, says his father once asked him shortly before his fourth birthday what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Even then, the story goes, the answer was easy: A broadcaster like Vin Scully.
Galetti, a longtime journalist in California, including 15 years covering the Dodgers for a Los Angeles-area radio station and getting to share a press box with Scully, said he was in tears Tuesday night when he heard the news.
“I had the extreme pleasure of idolizing the guy and then getting to know him a little bit and being able to watch him do his craft,” Galetti said.
“… He’d walk through the press box in the game (Scully would call innings 1-3 and 7-9 on radio in those days) and most of the time he’d be singing a song – whatever song was on his mind. He knew everyone by name, asked us how we were doing or walk by and wink. He was always very, very nice. I call him the ultimate gentleman.”
The connections of course were made with others besides those in front of a microphone.
The impact Scully had on Isotopes general manager John Traub, who also grew up in Southern California, hit home a little more than a decade ago – years before the Isotopes became the Triple-A affiliate of the Dodgers – while watching a Dodgers game on television at home.
“I remember the game being on and I said to my daughter Sophie, who was 6 or 7 at the time, ‘Do you hear that man’s voice?'” Traub recalled. “She said, ‘Yeah.’ And I told her, ‘That’s the man that put me to sleep at night when I was your age.’ And she says to me, ‘That man was your baby sitter?'”
Traub chuckled Wednesday as he told the story like he did when she asked her question.
“In a lot of respects, yes he was,” he told her.
After sharing that story a few years later with Scully when Traub met him at Dodgers Stadium, Scully smiled back and said, “John, I put a lot of people to sleep in my day.”