Getty Images

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

10 Comments

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.

 

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.