Vinathon: Traveling through time with Vin Scully
Editor’s note: To say the least, Vin Scully comes by his gift for language honestly. In September 1965, while on a Dodger road trip, Scully wrote a guest column for the Times, excerpted below. He was a master of word and thought then, just as he is now. So pull up a chair …
By Vin Scully
PITTSBURGH — It came up rain, a gray somber rain that put a frown on the careworn face of Pittsburgh. My window was streaked with erratic wet lines that made me think of a small child crying. Rain meant disappointment to thousands of fans — and a doubleheader to broadcast — and it meant that on that wet afternoon, I was face to face with the biggest enemy on the road … TIME …
The radio hummed softly in the background and I began to pick out a few lyrics … “Lost out here in the stars … little stars … big stars …” I began to hold memories up to the light like color slides: New York — I could smell the cigaret smoke in the old Polo Grounds. I was 10 and in the bleachers and I first realized that I could see the bat hit the ball before I could hear it.
There were gamblers in the bleachers and they always sat near the sign that prohibited gambling and they would bet long range with the people in the upper deck. They had a tennis ball with a hole in it and they would holler a bet, stuff money into the ball and toss it back and forth. I remember thinking how terribly exciting it all was and once a gambler overshot his mark and I made a good catch and returned the ball and they thanked me and told me what a fine catch it was and I was very proud.
From the old bleachers in the Polo Grounds, you could lean over the wall and look into the Giants’ dressing room and in those days early arrivals would talk through the windows to the players. The Giants had a legendary figure named Tony Lazzeri, the great ex-Yankee who was finishing up his career with the Giants. He was playing that day and like every 10-year-old I asked him to hit a home run for me and he said he would.
During the game somebody hit a sinking line drive that struck Lazzeri on the leg and he had to be helped off the field. I hung over the wall as he was assisted up the clubhouse steps and for a split second our eyes met and he smiled sadly as if to say “I’m sorry.” I sat back on the hard bleacher bench and wanted to cry and then I heard a man say that Lazzeri was all washed up and I got angry and then overwhelmed by the emotion pouring over me and I sat very still waiting for it to go away.
And suddenly it was a long time later and I was in the press box behind home plate staring out at those same bleachers and the Giants and Dodgers were settling another pennant race and Bobby Thomson hit his famous home run. Directly below was the Dodger dugout and the wife of a Dodger player sat motionless watching the flight of the ball. When it was in the stands and the game and the pennant were lost, she calmly opened her purse, took out a handkerchief and spread it neatly in her lap. Then she put her purse on the ground near her feet, slipped her hands under the handkerchief and brought it to her face.
Only the convulsive shaking of her shoulders told the world of the soul-searing heartbreak she felt. And there were other people in the park who screamed with delight and those who walked tight-lipped off the field and up those same wooden clubhouse steps that Lazzeri took for the last time. And somewhere in those bleachers there must have been another 10-year-old who was thunderstruck by the sheer emotion of it all.
And today in Shea Stadium in New York, in the private dining room of Mets owner Mrs. Joan Payson, hangs a painting done in dark green and umber and it shows the old Polo Grounds and the bleachers by moonlight. The field is deserted and looming up behind the clubhouse, glistening in the light of the moon, stands the demolition crane with the huge steel ball dangling menacingly. … And somehow it seemed fitting and proper that this dowager ball park should be destroyed by a ball. … And with it would go a bridge back to my childhood …
Suddenly the phone rang and shook me from my reverie. The bus was leaving in an hour for the ball park. We were going to play a twi-night doubleheader with the Pirates. I left the quiet of the room and got aboard the noisy team bus. It was good to be with the others.
Originally published October 8, 2015