Vin Scully was on the phone yesterday, sounding and acting so much like Vin Scully that it was as if someone were doing a convincing impression of Vin Scully.
That’s the way it is with iconic public figures who, after decades in the spotlight, become so familiar that they begin to seem less like real people and more like stylized versions of themselves.
Scully knows that, which is why as he enters the final two weeks of his 67-season run calling Dodgers games, he is doing his best to help the rest of us keep him in perspective.
Not easy. Not when there are people now in their late 70s for whom Scully’s calls are a fond childhood memory.
Not when Scully, 88, just can’t help telling memorable stories and effortlessly coming up with memorable lines even as he insists that all he did was describe the accomplishments of others for two-thirds of a century.
Scully was on an hour-long call with reporters when I asked what it has been like to spend the season being showered with admiration as he prepares to bid farewell after the Oct. 2 regular-season finale in San Francisco.
“First of all, I attribute it to one thing and one thing only: God’s grace to allow me to do what I’ve been doing for 67 years,” he said. “To me, that’s really the story. It’s not me. I’m just a vessel that was passed hand to hand down through all those years. So I don’t take it to heart as some great compliment.”
He added, “It is a little embarrassing, to be honest. I’m uncomfortable with it. I’ve never wanted to get out in front of the game. I mean, gee whiz, Giants and Dodgers tonight. I don’t want people to think: Oh, this is Vin’s last whatever. I just want people to enjoy the Giants and Dodgers.”
Scully has resisted all pleas to add to his regular duties this season, including joining Fox at the All-Star Game in San Diego or working Dodgers playoff games next month.
“Then it would be even worse,” he said. “I also didn’t want to say goodbye like they do in grand opera; they say goodbye 25 times in 15 minutes. I’ll be saying goodbye to the people here in Dodger Stadium. I’ll be saying goodbye to baseball in general when I leave in San Francisco.
“I couldn’t possibly think, then I’m going to say goodbye from, let’s just say Washington or New York, and I’m doing radio in the playoffs. It just didn’t work right for me. To me, we’ll tie the ribbon on the package in San Francisco and that will be it.”
Finishing up with a Dodgers-Giants game has resonance for Scully beyond the ancient rivalry that he experienced growing up in Manhattan and attending Fordham.
The poet in Scully loves the fact that his final game will be on the anniversary of when he first became a fan of the sport and of the Giants.
On Oct. 2, 1936, he was walking home from grammar school when he saw the linescore of Game 2 of the World Series in the window of a laundry.
The Yankees had beaten the Giants, 18-4, at the nearby Polo Grounds.
“As a little boy, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, the poor Giants,’ ” he said. Soon he began attending Giants games, years before working with their hated rivals.
His finale, he said, “will be exactly 80 years to the minute from when I first fell in love with the game. So it seems like the plan was laid out for me, and all I had to do was follow the instructions.”
Scully has many more stories of how he found and pursued his life’s work, including sitting under the radio as a child absorbing the rumbling sounds of crowds at college football games in far-off places such as Alabama and Michigan.
“I would just be covered in goose bumps,” he said. “I would listen and eventually I got into ‘gee, I would love to be there.’ ”
He wrote newspaper columns in high school and college and thought he might follow that path, but at Fordham, he found himself at the radio station, and the rest has been broadcasting history.
The rest of the world has acknowledged as much this season, with players and managers making the long trek from the visitors’ clubhouse at Dodger Stadium to see him in his booth, and umpires waving to him in tribute before games.
Scully is grateful, certainly. But he is more concerned with being gracious. And remembering his role.
The Dodgers will spend this weekend honoring Scully during their final home series, against the Rockies. What will his emotions be like?
“I think I’ve got them in check, but you never know,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to stress anything about me. I will try to just do the game. I will concentrate on Denver as if they’re challenging the Dodgers for first place.”
When a reporter followed up with one of the many heartfelt tributes Scully received from question-askers on the conference call, he said: “I’m deeply touched by that remark. I’ll put it aside and maybe I’ll think about it as I gaze at a flower or something during my retirement.”
Scully has been around long enough to know that the games will go on without him, as it always has.
“I can remember Mel Allen leaving the Yankees, and I thought, ‘The Yankees can’t play without Mel Allen!’ ” he said. “And Russ Hodges leaving the Giants and Jack Buck leaving St. Louis and Harry Caray leaving Chicago. Red Barber leaving Brooklyn.
“All these were: ‘Oh, my gosh, it’ll never be the same.’ But you know what? In a year or so or however long it takes, you’ll be history, and I know that, and someone else will hopefully ride and have a great career in your place.”
Scully, who has 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said how he is remembered as a man matters far more to him than how he is remembered as a play-by-play man.
“That sportscasting? That’s fine if they want to mention it,” he said. “But that will disappear slowly . . . The sands of time blow over the booth. But the biggest thing is I just want to be remembered as a good man, an honest man and one who lived up to his own beliefs.”