I went to my first baseball game at age five. My dad’s friend, who had taken it upon himself to make me a baseball fan, led me up the many steps to the Reserve Level of Dodger Stadium. For what felt like miles, all I could see were the backs of fans filing into the stadium. Before the turnstile, he turned to me and waxed poetic: it might take a lot of walking to get there, but the baseball diamond is a magical space, a sanctuary, an escape. A few minutes later, the sea of backs parted. I stood in the stadium concourse, looking out. I saw emerald green grass with a tan diamond, framed in 16:9 cinema perspective by two large pillars and the grandstand of the upper deck—a near-panoramic view of the field’s expanse, from foul line to foul line.Baseball is all about framing. Baseball’s graphic representation is the box score, which organizes statistical information and game summaries into frames for newsprint. Catchers frame pitches to make them look closer to the strike zone than they actually are. Innings, the sport’s basic temporal unit, are also called frames. There is one man who has been framing the game for Dodgers fans for over half a century. That man is Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. Scully, an Irish Catholic born in the Bronx, started calling Dodger baseball in 1950 when the team was still based in Brooklyn. He moved with the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957. When the Dodgers first came to LA, they lacked a proper stadium. The team played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, originally built for the 1932 Olympics. The space was so large and so improperly configured for baseball that fans began to bring transistor radios to the ballpark, both to learn about the players on their newfound home team and to aid in comprehending the action on the field. Vin Scully introduced Los Angeles to its Dodgers.
Scully calls the game both for radio and television. He frames the lives of his listeners, bringing continuity to LA’s disjointed spaces of work, car, and home. As Robert Creamer explains in Sports Illustrated, “When a home-rushing driver bogs down in a classic freeway traffic jam, he finds that nothing else is as soothing as Vin Scully’s voice describing the opening innings of a Dodger night game just getting under way. A man who drives home from work, his suit hanging on his shoulders listening to an exciting game is not about to abandon it when he reaches his house. As a result, millions of southern Californians have Vin Scully with their supper.”
Scully is rarely seen from the waist down. At the beginning of every Dodgers broadcast, we’re graced with the same shot. The camera captures Scully’s cherubic smile. A pocket square peeking out matches his well-pressed shirt. He stands in front of the emerald green, framed in 16:9 cinema perspective, the near-panoramic expanse of the stadium as his backdrop. He has the best seat in the house, as if he’s right there in the concourse, one fan among many, yet still above the rest. He is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ omniscient narrator.
Every night he welcomes us: “Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.” And with that, he begins the next chapter in the Dodgers’ story. In his study of nationalism, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson links the origins of nationalism to the development of the novel. According to Anderson, the form of the novel presents a type of storytelling that allows for simultaneity, an experience of time that connects otherwise disconnected peoples. The novel hinges on the use of “meanwhile,” the use of juxtaposition to tie many strands into one larger picture. Substitute fandom for nationalism, and Vin Scully’s narration becomes the backbone of baseball as novel.
Indeed, Scully has the rare ability to turn a game into a literary work. He constantly interrupts narratives with statistics or description of the action. There’s no set length for an at-bat in baseball; they can last anywhere from twenty seconds to ten minutes. Scully has mastered the art of fitting an entire story into a flexible timeline. He does this with an expert use of “meanwhile.” He juggles and weaves the stories of the hitter, the pitcher, their history together, the batter on-deck, the runners-on-base, and the coaches standing behind them. A continuous flow, interrupted only by the breaks between innings. An excerpt from the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game:
Here is Joe Amalfitano to pinch-hit for Don Kessinger. Amalfitano is from Southern California, from San Pedro. He was an original bonus boy with the Giants. Joey’s been around, and as we mentioned earlier, he has helped to beat the Dodgers twice, and on deck is Harvey Kuenn. Kennedy is tight to the bag at third, the fastball, a strike. Oh and one with one out in the ninth inning, one to nothing, Dodgers. Sandy reading, into his windup and the strike one pitch: curveball, tapped foul, oh and two. And Amalfitano walks away and shakes himself a little bit, and swings the bat. And Koufax with a new ball, takes a hitch at his belt and walks behind the mound. I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world. Sandy fussing, looks in to get his sign, oh and two to Amalfitano. The strike two pitch to Joe: fastball, swung on and missed, strike three. He is one out away from the promised land, and Harvey Kuenn is comin’ up. So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date, September the ninth, nineteen-sixty-five, and Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn. Sandy into his windup and the pitch, a fastball for a strike. He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and that’s gone unnoticed. Sandy ready and the strike one pitch: very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That’s only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off — he took an extremely long stride to the plate— and Torborg had to go up to get it. One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready: fastball, high, ball two. You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while Kuenn just waiting. Now Sandy looks in. Into his windup and the two-one pitch to Kuenn: swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch: Swung on and missed, a perfect game.
Scully then goes silent for a full 38 seconds, letting the crowd do his job for him. In an article for Salon, Gary Kaufman calls it “the best piece of baseball writing [he’s] ever seen,” made all the more impressive because, “it came off the top of his head, at a moment when, like the man whose feat he was describing, he knew he had to be at the top of his game.” Scully, like other great narratorial voices, has stylistic signatures: tight metaphor and a haunting use of silence. Bob Gibson “pitches like he’s double parked.” Tom Glavine is “like a tailor: a little off here, a little off there and you’re done, take a seat.” Statistics “are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.” His use of language is clean and efficient, drawing from a tradition of radio broadcasting where it was necessary to paint a vivid image for an audience removed from any view of the field. He never lets linguistic flare get in the way of the moment, always backing away from the microphone when many broadcasters would seize the moment as an opportunity to define their own careers. After Koufax’s no-hitter, Scully let the crowd make the call. After Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series, Scully stayed mum as Gibson went all the way around the bases. When he finally spoke again, the words he chose carried so much weight that they’ve become, perhaps, his most notable: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Scully’s past few years have seen a slight reduction in both workload and linguistic accuracy. When Matt Kemp and Jeff Kent batted back-to-back in 2008, Scully had particular trouble enunciating and distinguishing the two names. He no longer travels with the team east of the Rocky Mountains. Scully may no longer be as sharp, but he’s just as witty, carrying enthusiasm for new knowledge and technology in even greater proportion. During catcher A.J. Ellis’ sixth inning at-bat in a game against the Rockies on August 3, Scully launched into a passage about the new things he’d learned over the course of the season:
You know this year, more than many years, I have a great deal of gratitude for the all the folks listening on radio and watching on television. Pitch in for a strike, one and one. For instance, earlier this year I learned about a soul patch—that little bit of beard. One ball, one strike. That’s a strike. One and two. Then of course, the great discovery. [Rockies shortstop] Troy Tulowitzki‘s hairdo: a mullet! Boy, that, that really put me in line. So now I know about a soul patch and a mullet. And then the other night, talked about a—a “tweet,” only I called it a “twit,” but I-I-I thought it was a “twit,” since it’s Twitter. A drive to the gap in left-center. There’s nobody there. It will drop for a base hit, and holding with the single is Ellis. So anyway, I’m really up to date now on Twitter. But I do think for all of you folks who are tweeting out there, you gotta get something TRENDING. WHOOOOA. So maybe we ought to get something trending about A.J. Ellis. And if you do that, you know what? I’m cool. I’m really cool.
Dodgers fans responded to the call to action, and by Ellis’s next at-bat in the seventh, Scully let us know: “They’re trending, twittering, tweeting A.J. Ellis all over the US and to be honest they told me to say that. Ah, he’s a nice boy.” Ellis hit a home run on the next pitch. In Scully’s words:
Manny Corpas, a veteran reliever, will now become the fourth pitcher for Chicago, facing A.J. Ellis of Twitter fame. Manny Corpas has certainly been around. Corpas inherited fourteen runners this year; four have scored. Manny is from Panama City in Panama. He’ll be thirty, December the third. Big man, six-three, lean, about one seventy-five and a slider hit to right center and deep. On his horse and watching it go over the wall is DeJesus. A.J. Ellis! He’s really got something trending!
A few days later, Scully attempted to lipread a tirade from irate Rockies manager Jim Tracy, converting it into TV-appropriate language on the fly: “He caught the ball,” Jim says. “He caught the blinkin’ ball.” “He caught the darn ball.” [Tracy gets ejected]. Uh oh, he’s gone. He is gone. “That is blinkin’ fertilizer.” I’m doing the best to translate. “You’ve gotta be blinkin’ me.”
The 2013 baseball season will be Scully’s 64th and final season calling Dodgers games. He plans to retire at the end of the year, and even though this is his third attempt at retirement in as many years, the sense is that this year he’s for real. The past few years have been disappointing ones for the Dodgers, as they’ve suffered while Frank McCourt dragged the team through bankruptcy court, slashing payroll and fan confidence as he went. This year is the first full year for the Dodgers under a new ownership group, one that has drastically increased the payroll and improved talent, renewing the team’s commitment to a fanbase lost by the penny-pinching and pocket-lining of the McCourts. Scully came back to see the Dodgers contend. In Scully’s last year, he faces a steep task: bring a disenfranchised baseball community back to Los Angeles, where basketball and the possibility of a new football team reign supreme. If anybody can accomplish this, it’s Vin Scully, who once strung together a fanbase in Los Angeles where there previously was none.
Baseball is a particularly difficult game for many in our generation to embrace: it moves slowly, sometimes not at all. It’s modernity’s pastime, but we’re in the information age. If the NBA has taken so well to Twitter, it’s possible that baseball is still stuck in the newspaper box score. Frequently I’m asked, “Why do you like baseball?” Invariably, I have two answers. First, the 16:9 cinema perspective, the view from the top, the place where I go to freeze time in three-hour increments every summer. And the man who turns players into characters, seasons into stories, and makes me equally proud to be an Angelino and a Dodgers fan. It’s impossible to imagine anybody else greeting the fans on a breezy Wednesday in May: “Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.”
TRISTAN RODMAN B’ 15 pitches like he’s double parked.