'Love of people' brings Vin Scully back
LOS ANGELES -- Habits are formed easily in baseball.
Spend any time around the game, and your daily routine sort of comes together organically, without your even realizing it. The clubhouse opens to the media at the same time every day, and the manager meets with reporters at the same time every day. Same with batting practice. And so, by extension, you eventually find yourself going to bed around the same time every night, getting up around the same time every morning, doing pretty much the same things every day before coming to the ballpark.
Sixty-two seasons in the broadcast booth has a way of cementing those routines. Thanks to that, Vin Scully's nightly routine has intersected with mine on countless occasions over the past few years, and that is something for which I will forever be grateful.
Every night, when the last pregame news story has been filed and the starting lineups have been entered by hand into the scorebook, a handful of us kill the final half-hour or so before the game by gathering around a large table in the press-box cafeteria and scarfing down a quick dinner. On most nights, at some point during that meal, Scully will emerge from the executive dining room in the back and, with a few minutes to spare, pull up a chair at our table and regale us with a story, never the same one twice.
And then -- his sense of timing as impeccable as ever -- just before he is due to go on the air, the legendary play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers will scoot his chair back from the table, say something to the effect of "Well, duty calls," and off he will go.
I missed out on this ritual before Friday night's game, in which the Dodgers scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to steal a 6-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies in front of 38,960 at Dodger Stadium and Matt Kemp became the second player in franchise history to go 30/30. I was late for dinner and the table was full, but there was Vinnie, as always, standing over everyone with a big smile on his face and a good story flowing from his lips.
During the game, though, I learned that there will be plenty more chances to hear these stories, because Scully announced on the air in the fifth inning that he has decided to return to the booth for a 63rd season in 2012. It was a simple declaration, really, one he began by holding up a couple of chocolate-chip cookies and, of course, telling a short story about them, that story ending with Scully saying he was going to hang around for another year.
He didn't even wait to find out the results of that ridiculous survey the Dodgers sent to some of their season-ticket holders asking them to rate the team's announcers.
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Another staple of Scully's nightly routine is that he makes a quick exit after the game -- the price of being arguably the most popular figure in franchise history -- one elevator always held for him, to whisk him up to the parking lot. But this time, he invited a handful of the same reporters he sits with minutes before almost every game to join him on that elevator, all of us wanting to ask him what was behind his decision.
Almost on cue, he referenced those nightly sit-downs with us.
"Over the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking more about [coming back]," Scully said. "I think part of it, too, was thinking, 'What else would I do?' I was talking with a few of you guys before the game tonight about how much I really enjoy being around the people. I really like newspaper people."
We can presume that by newspaper people, he meant website people, too. But I digress.
"Doing the games is a plus," he went on. "The wins and losses never bother me. I'm not going to let that happen. But I think it's just a love of people."
The whole thing was dramatically different from last year, when there actually was some speculation that Scully was going to retire, and that speculation turned to high alert when team officials let it be known one morning before a day game that Scully would be holding an informal news conference in the press box to announce his intentions. Turned out his intentions were not to retire, but to return.
This time, in the same manner his former friend and neighbor Ronald Reagan used to do, he took his message directly to the people.
"I just didn't want to make a big deal out of it," Scully said, the elevator now stopped on the basement level and the operator dutifully holding it there until all of our questions had been asked and answered. "I tried not to be Brett Favre."
There was one similarity to last year's announcement. For the second year in a row, when asked whether he still enjoys the games themselves, Scully mentioned goose bumps.
"My barometer has always been goose bumps," Scully said. "When someone makes a great play, do I still get goose bumps? Tonight, you saw [Rockies third baseman Kevin] Kouzmanoff make two great plays, and this was a meaningless game, but I still get goose bumps, still get thrills, over those great plays. I don't know why that is still there, but as long as it's still there, OK."
And then, just as he does every night in the dining room, Scully, the man who always seems to come up with the perfect words, came up with the perfect closing.
"Last year, I came into the press box and met with reporters," he said, about announcing his return. "This time, I thought I would talk to all of you in an elevator."
As long as he keeps talking somewhere -- whether to a bunch of reporters gathered around a dinner table or to a legion of fans on television and radio -- somehow, everything seems right with the world.
And no matter what is going on with the rest of this literally bankrupt organization, everything will now seem right with the world for at least one more year.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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