Reviews

The following is an excerpt posted exclusively on AtHomePlate.com and presented here with permission from publisher. Pull up a Chair is due today.

12  "Let us define our terms"

By 2006 almost every day was evocative of Scully's past. On October 4 New York and Los Angeles began the National League Division Series. (Mets won.) Two Dodgers were put out on the same play by L.A.-turned-Apple-catcher Paul Lo Duca. "Here comes a throw on that runner and here comes another runner, and Lo Duca is going to tag both of them out and the Dodgers become the Brooklyn Dodgers of old!" waxed Vin, invoking Babe Herman doubling into a double play. "We turn the clock back to the daffy days of the Brooklyn Dodgers." Critics went nuts. What history! What exposition! Only Scully! (Again.)

In The Making of the President 1960, Theodore H. White wrote: "By the last weeks of the campaign, those forty or fifty national correspondents who had followed Kennedy since the beginning of his electoral exertions into the November days had become more than a press corps-they had become his friends and, some of them, his most devoted admirers. When the bus or the plane rolled and flew through the night, they sang songs in chorus with the Kennedy staff and felt that they too were marching like soldiers of the Lord to the New Frontier."

To White, JFK was what some reporters wished to be, but weren't-handsome, lilting, elegant. Ibid., Vin's "admirers," swelling since mid-century. Each Irish Brahmin disliked the bogus, was sensitive by nature, and saw humor in absurdity. To Gary Kaufman, damning Scully was like knocking Shakespeare. "You can do it, but you say more about your own foolishness than anything else."

The diplomat and journalist Clare Boothe Luce said that any leader could be described in a sentence. Washington begot his office. Jackson democratized politics. Lincoln saved the union. A sentence can define baseball broadcasters, too. Mel Allen was a play-by-play celebrity. Red Barber was the Southern gentleman. Van Patrick became Falstaff behind the mike. What sentence evokes Scully?

A book of mine etched Allen's rise, ruin, and recovery. Before starting, I knew its arc: Mel had all, lost all, and, incredibly, came back. Pull Up a Chair is different. Stephen Ambrose said, "For me, the act of writing is the act of learning." I have tried here to learn how anyone could be so good, so long. Ranking baseball's all-time announcers, I once rated Vin 100 on a 1-100 point scale, his niche a gimme. "Before we talk," Plato wrote, "let us define our terms." What makes Scully, Scully?

Affinity, for one thing: what Whittaker Chambers styled "some quality, deep-going, difficult to identify, in the world's glib way, but good, and meaningful." Kaufman noted Vin's park bench lure: "the guy who enjoys reading crime novels in the hotel and goes to mass on Sundays and loves to steal afternoons in the swimming pool with his grandkids and Sandra," wiling hours "studying player bios and stats because he's never quite shaken the Catholic school sting of a nun's ruler across his knuckles"; the "lanky kid at Fordham who stood in the outfield practicing game calls, never really believing he'd get to announce in the Show. And, even now . . . the little boy from the Bronx who curled up under his parents' radio and listened to the crowd noise of college football games through the speakers."

Privacy, for another. TMZ.com and YouTube reveal more than we need to know. By contrast, Vin would woo, inveigle, but never overwhelm. "Everyone who has listened to Scully feels as if he or she knows him," Paul Oberjuerge wrote. "In fact, he reveals almost nothing of his personal life." As of 2005 Porter had not been inside Vin's home. "It's how he is," Ross mused. "Yet he makes [a fan] feel more important than he is. In all the years I was with him, I never saw him rude." George Vecsey would see Scully, "knowing, but not knowing, him. Always polite, but you wouldn't get into a conversation."

The Dodgers' 1990-2001 broadcast director remembered a day game in Chicago. "We're on Michigan Avenue after dinner," said Brent Shyer, "people coming up. 'Oh, hi, Mr. Scully.' 'Can I take your photo?' Always, 'Hello, sure.'"

A man admitted to "hearing you for years."

Vin brightened: "Oh, you should get a medal!"

An Angeleno confessed to falling asleep to Scully.

"Sure," he laughed. "I've put most of this city to sleep over the years."

Hospitality hid the loneliness of the long-distance speaker. In 1999 Sammy Sosa homered 63 times and led the league in strikeouts. "He pays the bill for those home runs," Scully said, knowing baseball's. "The fact that you're working three hours talking on television doesn't touch that [loneliness], doesn't do a thing." Vin's public-unboutique, largely middle class-grasped his refusal to confide or whine. In turn, under perfect fit, he grasped its injury and reticence-nobility, above all.

Reserve bred proportion. The 2005 Dodgers hosted Cincy. Preface: "A beautiful sunset coming now. Seventy-three degrees at the start of the game." Backdrop: Ohio was a sauna. "Earlier we were talking about playing in the heat, back in the days before air-conditioning. They say the old-time ballplayers would sometimes go back to the hotel at night and take water and pour it all over the bed and then sleep on a wet mattress." At Milwaukee's Schroeder Hotel, "everyone slept with the doors open, and a lot of guys, I remember, slept on the floor, with their pillows and heads in the doorway, just hoping to catch a bit of air coming down the hallway." Who else could tie the icebox and postmodern world?