Imagine doing the same job for 67 years. Then imagine it’s a job allowing you to be around a game you’ve loved since you were eight. And then imagine it’s a game you still love as a soon-to-be 89-year-old. You’re imagining Vin Scully, the Los Angeles Dodgers announcer who’ll be stepping away from the microphone this Sunday.
You don’t need to care a whit about baseball to appreciate the extraordinary career of Vincent Edward Scully who began in 1950 as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers and since 1958, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has unquestionably demonstrated that older people can excel and be productive in their work — and do it with joy.
When Scully reached the traditional retirement age of 65, he simply zoomed past and never looked back. Heck, when Scully signs off Sunday in San Francisco, when the Dodgers take on the Giants, he will be a quarter century older than the average 63-year-old retiree.
Mathews jokingly suggested his state create the Vin Scully Phased Retirement Plan where employees would work out a modified schedule with bosses.
And through 67 years on the job, he hasn’t missed a beat.
A Vin Scully Retirement Plan for the Rest of Us?
In fact, Sacramento Bee columnist Joe Mathews this week called Scully the model of “phased retirement.” As he aged, Scully pared back his play-by-play in other sports in the off season, dropped doing national broadcasts and then cut back on travel to concentrate on Dodger home games.
Given the aging population in California and the nation, Mathews jokingly suggested his state create the Vin Scully Phased Retirement Plan where employees reaching the traditional retirement age would work out a modified schedule with their bosses. That, he said, could slow down the massive brain drain caused by the flood of retiring boomers leaving the work force and taking their knowledge and experience with them.
When the regular season ends Sunday, Scully — a long time idol of mine — will have worked just shy of his tenth decade. I asked him what he’d tell people in their 50s and 60s about working past the typical retirement age.
“The key to anyone’s career,” he said in an email, “is that you are happy doing what you are doing. If you love what you do and enjoy going to work each and every day, that is certainly a great recipe for working beyond retirement age. I fell in love with broadcasting and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 67 years with the Dodgers. I wish [people in their 50s and 60s] happiness in whatever profession they may pursue.”
When Scully Fell in Love With Baseball
Last week, listening in on Scully’s 50-minute farewell conference call with reporters (leading up to Vin Scully Weekend at Dodger Stadium), I couldn’t help but be impressed. The photographic clarity with which the Bronx-born Scully recalled precise moments from his six decades behind the mic was something to behold. One of my favorite parts was when Scully talked about first getting smitten by the game of baseball and its significance to him now:
“I was not quite nine years old. I was walking home from grammar school, I went by a Chinese laundry. And in the window was the line score of the World Series game, that would be October 2, 1936 and the Yankees beat up the Giants 18-4. And as a little boy, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, the poor Giants!’…My last game, with the Giants, will be October 2, 2016. That will be exactly 80 years to the minute 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’s storybook career had a storybook ending during his final home game last Sunday afternoon. He couldn’t have scripted it any better: “High fly ball to deep left field…would you believe a home run and the Dodgers have clinched the division and will celebrate on schedule. Leave it to the Dodgers.”
This is a man, after all, whose silky delivery lent itself to reading a grocery list during a game 40 years ago.
His Greatest Single Break
My love of baseball began with my grandfather, sitting on his lawn chair, listening to Curt Gowdy call the Red Sox games on his transistor radio. I would listen past my bedtime with the transistor hidden beneath my pillow. The transistor provided a special connection between Scully and Dodger fans, too. They listened to him from their stadium seats and learned about players they might not know, as well as about the plays unfolding before them.
“The greatest single break — and my life is just full of breaks — the greatest single break was the transistor radio….I’ll always remember the worst pun I ever gave…Joe Torre was the catcher, he caught a foul tip off his hand and had to come out of the game. The next day, he was playing third base, and I was just talking to the fans, and somehow this came out. I said, ‘Well, there’s Joe playing third. If he does not ever put the gear back on behind the plate, he will forever be known as Chicken Catcher Torre.’ The groan from the crowd of 50 or 60 thousand [many listening on their transistors] was something I will still remember to my dying day.”
Scully’s Connection to the L.A. Fans
Humble to a fault, Scully contends the only reason people have been making such a fuss about him is that he’s been calling ballgames for so long. But Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke thinks it’s not solely about longevity. He wrote that for the residents of Los Angeles, America’s second largest city, Scully “is not merely the announcer of baseball games, he is the soundtrack of our lives, the dignified and graceful accompaniment of endless sandy summers, a daily harmonic reminder of the Southern California dream.”
In a video tribute at Dodger Stadium last weekend, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas asked viewers, “How could you not miss someone who’s been speaking to you for the past 67 seasons? The guy with the soothing voice, who wishes us ‘a very pleasant good evening.’ The storyteller who invites us to pull up a chair, the artist who paints pictures with words.”
For Scully — a husband, father of five, grandfather of 16 and great-grandfather of three — no matter how sharp he remains or how healthy he is, he knows the sand is running through the hourglass. He told Plaschke, “I don’t have any doubts, I know this is the time to retire. I am going to be 89 in November and I thought, ‘Gee whiz, how can I be doing the games next year, looking forward to my 90th birthday?’ Something just doesn’t sound right there.’
A Gentleman to the End
How lucky would any of us be to have a 67-year career that binds one generation to the next — fathers who introduce their kids who then introduce their kids to a storyteller extraordinaire, a national treasure.
Ever the gentleman, Scully is nothing but grateful. He even recently wrote a thank-you letter to Dodger fans.
“God has been so generous to allow me all this time,” he told Plaschke, “when I look back and think, ‘I’ve had so many yesterdays, but I’m not sure how many tomorrows. I feel it’s best to see if I can enjoy whatever tomorrows are left.”