Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #3: Vin Scully calls his final game

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Most teams have had a broadcaster who was deeply loved by local fans. Mel Allen or Phil Rizzuto in New York. Red Barber in Brooklyn. Ernie Harwell in Detroit. Jack Buck in St. Louis. Harry Caray in Chicago. Harry Kalas in Philly. Bob Uecker in Milwaukee. The list — almost exclusively consisting of announcers who called games before the advent of the Internet and 1,500-channel cable television plans — goes on and on.

Nothing I say here about Vin Scully takes anything away from any of them, as one cannot truly quantify or judge fans’ connection to the voice of their team. Heck, Scully would be the first to say that he was no better than the equal of those men and would likely list a dozen others to whom he looked up while downplaying his own accomplishments. But I do think it’s fair to say Vin Scully was a bit different than them, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, he had a greater national profile than a most of those guys, having done nationally-broadcast games for years and years, including NBC’s Game of the Week, which brought him into more households than his peers.

For another thing, he simply outlasted most of his contemporaries. Uecker still does Brewers games, but despite the tenure of broadcasters being exceptionally long, only a handful of broadcasters have been calling the same team since the 1970s. Scully, in contrast, called Dodgers games for 67 years. Harry Truman was the president when he started for crying out loud. At some point, tenure matters, and Scully’s unmatched tenure behind the mic entitles him to some kudos.

Ultimately, though, a broadcaster’s work is a matter of subjectivity. And in my subjective view, there was none better than Scully. Not because he handled any specific part of broadcasting a game better than anyone, but because the way he called the game matched the way I prefer to experience a game perfectly.

It was relaxed. It was comfortable. On some level Scully knows that we all have lives full of important and stressful things and that, baseball, however wonderful it is, is a diversion, not the most important thing in our lives. As such, he did not treat his broadcasts as destination viewing or listening. He did not act like the game he was calling or the fact that he was calling it was the most important thing going on at that moment. No phony superlatives. No unwarranted hype, hot takes or artificial intensity. He never, ever, pretended that he had any superior insight into the game than you the fan did, even though he obviously did. He simply talked about what was happening in plain terms and let you know things that he knew that might make the game more enjoyable for you. He didn’t style himself some baseball expert. He took ample time during breaks in the action to tell us interesting and amusing stories and make our diversion pleasant in any way he could.

On October 2, a Sunday afternoon, Scully called his last game for the Dodgers. It was simulcast on TV and the Dodgers radio feed. As I wrote at the time, I started watching the game on TV. By around the fifth inning I had to do some household chores and then started making dinner, so I switched to the radio feed on my phone. The inferior sound quality of the phone to the TV was, in some ways, preferable. It made me feel like I was listening to Scully on some transistor radio the way so many Dodgers fans in Los Angeles did in the 1960s during which their love for Scully grew and during which his legend was forged. Both baseball and Scully were made for the radio.

The game was a blowout. The Dodgers, who had already clinched the division and were resting regulars, were listless and the Giants, who had to win to clinch the Wild Card, rolled easily. It was just one of over 2,400 other baseball games each season, important for the Giants’ playoff hopes, but not in and of itself indispensable for any other reason.

I listened to the game as I folded laundry. I listened as I chopped vegetables and cooked dinner for my family. At times I lost track of the count or how many runners were on base but Scully would always get to that after coming to a stopping point in one of his stories. Scully also realized that there were stopping points in the game which gave him room for those stories. Indeed, at one point, as he was in the middle of a good one when a Giants batter fouled a ball away. Scully tipped his hand and said “good, that gives us a chance . . .” and went on and finished the story when the batter stepped out and a new ball was rubbed up by the pitcher. Scully knows, and has always known, that what happens when there is no action in the game can be just as important as what happens when there is action.

The rice on my stove finished cooking in the top of the ninth inning. It was only then that, for a few brief moments, what was going on at AT&T Park was far more important than what was going on in listeners’ lives. Rather than call the kids down for dinner right at that moment, I stopped and listened to Scully’s last half inning as a broadcaster. As always, it was the perfect blend of baseball and something else, seamlessly and calmly mixed together:

I’ve always thought it was attributed to Dr. Seuss, but apparently not. It’s still a good line, and it’s one certainly I’ve been holding onto for, oh, I think most of the year — here’s Barnes, and Romo ready, and the first pitch for Austin, taking first strike.

“Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.” And that’s really the way I feel about this remarkable opportunity I was given, and I was allowed to keep for all these years.

0 and 2 the count.

I said goodbye at Dodger Stadium; I’ll be saying goodbye here in San Francisco shortly. My little, modest message and wish for you will be right after the game.

The inning wore on.

For the Dodgers, Turner had a hit with two out, Gonzalez had a hit with two out, Grandal had a hit. That was the run. And they didn’t have another hit until here in the ninth, 13 in a row had been retired.

Segedin takes low.

This crowd is bursting at the seams right now. Two balls, two strikes, two out. Boy, 489 consecutive sellouts here at AT&T Park.

All right, big pitch coming out. Romo out of the stretch, and the 2-2 pitch on the way.

Sergio deals a slider hit in the air to left center, coming over is Pagan — he puts it away!

And the Giants are the wild-card team. The city is going wild, appropriately enough, and they are heading for New York.

No runs, one hit for the Dodgers, who managed to leave four men on base because they were the only four they got on base. The Giants in the Western division are 45-31, the Dodgers are 43-33, so inside the division, they certainly were the better team.

That was awfully nice. The umpire just stood up and said goodbye, as I am saying goodbye. Seven runs, 16 hits for the winning Giants, 1-4-1 for the Dodgers. The winner, Matt Moore, the loser, Kenta Maeda. I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.

Scully came back after the break with some final words and they were, of course, eloquent:

You know friends so many people have wished me congratulations on a 67-year career in baseball and they wished me a wonderful retirement with my family and now, all I can do is tell you what I wish for you:

May God give you.
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know in my heart I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me. And I’ll miss our time together more than I can say.

But you know what? There will be a new day and, eventually, a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, oh, rest assured, once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball.

So this is Vin Scully, wishing you a very pleasant good afternoon – wherever you may be.

Touching stuff to be sure. But as Scully so often made it clear, he did not like being the center of attention. He was more than entitled to that final signoff, of course, but I will always remember this last half inning and his quote about not being sad that it’s over, but smiling because it happened as Scully’s true farewell.

Not because it was so poignant, but because it mixed in Austin Barnes falling behind Sergio Romo on an 0-2 count. The baseball elevating the words from Vin Scully and Vin Scully elevating baseball. As he always did.

 

Jeffrey Springs, Rays agree to $31 million, 4-year contract

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Left-hander Jeffrey Springs became the first of the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration salaries with their teams to reach a deal, agreeing Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year old was among seven Rays who swapped arbitration figures with the team on Jan. 13. He began last season in the bullpen, transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts. He is 14-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 76 outings – 51 of them in relief – since he was acquired from Boston in February 2021.

Springs gets $4 million this year, $5.25 million in 2024 and $10.5 million in each of the following two seasons. Tampa Bay has a $15 million option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout.

The 2025 and 2026 salaries can escalate by up to $3.75 million each based on innings in 2023-24 combined: $1.5 million for 300, $1 million for 325, $750,000 for 350 and $500,000 for 375. The `25 and ’26 salaries also can escalate based on finish in Cy Young Award voting in `23 and ’24: $2 million for winning, $1.5 million for finishing second through fifth in the voting and $250,000 for finishing sixth through 10th.

Tampa Bay’s option price could escalate based on Cy Young voting in 2025 and 2026: by $2.5 million for winning, $2 million for finishing second through fifth and $500,000 for sixth through 10th.

Springs would get $45.25 million if the option is exercised, $52.75 million with the option and meeting all innings targets and the maximum if he meetings the innings targets and wins two Cy Youngs.

Springs’ ERA last season was the second lowest in franchise history for a pitcher working a minimum of 100 innings. Former Rays ace Blake Snell compiled 1.89 ERA on the way to winning the 2018 AL Cy Young.

In addition to finishing sixth in the AL in ERA, Springs allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of 25 starts and two runs or fewer 17 times. He joined Tampa Bay’s rotation on May 9, gradually increasing his workload over his next six appearances. Springs was 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Arbitration hearings start next week and the Rays remain with the most players scheduled to appear before three-person panels.

Springs had asked for a raise from $947,500 to $3.55 million and had been offered $2.7 million. Tampa remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam, Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.

Tampa Bay also agreed minor league contacts with catcher Gavin Collins and right-hander Jaime Schultz, who will report to major league spring training.

Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Joe LaSorsa also were invited to big league spring training.