Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Goodbye to all that

Sometimes the cosmos just lines up, despite what you may have heard.  The acolytes of chaos theory be hanged, there is order to the universe after all, a certain  neatness not often found in nature -- particularly in, say, the bedrooms of  teenagers.

And so, welcome to Los Angeles, everyone.

Where tonight Kobe Bryant plays the last game of an NBA career of rare depth and substance. And where, in another part of town, an 88-year-old man settles in behind the microphone in the first blush of his own sunset walk.

That man would be Vin Scully, and if there is a singular Voice of Baseball he is it, if not the voice of an entire American epoch. When he began calling Dodgers games 67 years ago, Jackie Robinson was still playing, Dem Bums still played in Ebbets Field and Harry Truman was president. The Korean War hadn't happened yet. Vietnam hadn't. And the current president wouldn't be born for another dozen years.

Now Ebbets Field is long gone, and Jackie is, and whatever passed for both American innocence and American civility has vanished. Buffoons and lunatics vie for Harry Truman's office now. Demagoguery is celebrated rather than hooted off the stage and back to the dark corners where it belongs. And still Vin Scully calls balls and strikes and evokes endless summer, having outlasted 11 presidents and the Soviet Union and responsible discourse in American politics -- but not, alas, racial inequality, divide-and-conquer fear-mongering and the unceasing drumbeat of war.

Here's something else Vin Scully hasn't outlasted, thankfully: The notion that for all the technological advancement in presenting the game, baseball's best medium remains radio.

It is a game the mind's eye has always seen clearest, and it is the Vin Scullys who have always been its best guides. The porch-swing rhythms of the game are perfectly paired with the porch-swing rhythms of those voices murmuring from the radio on a summer afternoon or night. They are the voices we fell asleep to, and the voices we listened to on the sly on October afternoons, transistor radios tucked away from the prying eyes of the commandant at the front of the classroom.

Vin Scully was that voice then if you were a Dodgers fan, and he is still that voice. He is the bridge that spans Jackie and Yasiel Puig, the connective tissue that binds Carl Erskine to Sandy Koufax to Fernando Valenzuela to Clayton Kershaw. He is the background music that played while America went from Korea to Vietnam to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the fall of the towers on 9/11.

Vin Scully's journey spans all of that. What he has seen, from his perch high above the changeless geometry of the diamond, very few people have been privileged to see.  And when October comes and he signs off for the last time, entire eras of history will sign off with him.

The silence, needless to say, will be deafening.

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