“It’s a business.” We’ve heard that a ton lately, because it was trade deadline time in MLB. Any fan of any sport has heard that a million times or more. At the end of the day, we’re told, it’s just a business, which is generally meant to excuse all sorts of shitassed behavior by owners and front offices. But Vin Scully proves that though it may be about making money in the long run, it’s certainly a different kind of business. Certainly to the fans, who may be seen as customers by those holding the keys but don’t feel like themselves. Vin Scully isn’t being lionized today if sports were just some business.
While owners may only view us fans as mobile wallets, being a fan of a team and/or a sport is so much more than just being a patron. There is so much more you take on in addition to merely consuming the product — watching the games, going to the games, buying the jerseys and hats, etc. And it’s not just investing your emotions in your team’s fortunes or letting just a great game wash over you and feeling appreciative for a day or two that you got to witness it, in the same way, seeing a great movie or show does.
When you become a fan, through pretty much nothing more than osmosis you take on the traditions, the history, the shared feelings of all the fans of the team currently and all the ones in the past. Back when I was a Cubs fan, I wasn’t alive for all 108 years they didn’t win a World Series. I only took on about 30 years of it as an active fan. Plenty of teams have 30-year gaps in championships. It’s not a huge deal. But once you’re a fan and you sink deeper and deeper into it, you take on all that’s come before. You feel that 108 years, because of the fans that took on their shift before you, and the ones that came before them (and the ones that came before them). That 108 years weighed on us in the same fashion as fans who were 30 or 40 years older than us, because we all shared in it. If you’re going to be a Cubs fan, this is part of it.
It applies to so many other places. Yankees fans, other than a small percentage, now are unlikely to have ever seen Mickey Mantle play. But that doesn’t mean that Mickey Mantle doesn’t mean a ton to a 25-year-old Yankees fan. You absorb that history and his place in it. It’s what makes being a Yankees fan different than say a Pirates fan. They had Mantle once, Pittsburgh didn’t. But the Pirates have that Mazeroski homer. I was -21 years old when Mazeroski hit that homer, but I still know its importance, and I’ve spent all of three days in Pittsburgh. Pirates fans, if there are any left, treat that with the same reverence as those who were there. That becomes part of your identity as a fan, even if you can’t fully experience it as those who were there at the time. It’s Pirates history, it’s Pittsburgh history, and it’s part of your identity.
That’s the treat of being a fan of a team, why they are, or should be, more public trusts than mere corporations. They string us together through the years and decades. It’s something European soccer holds far more dearly and protects much more passionately than over here, that these are institutions serving the public rather than vacuum dollars (though that’s changing more and more every year obviously, with no little help from American ownership). These clubs or teams are part of the fabric of that city or town or state, and knowing and appreciating those moments or players are as much a part of being from a place and its history as the art museum or a famous food.
The wonderful thing about Vin Scully is that he was that connection to so many generations of fans, and they could all experience it first person. There was no absorption or osmosis. Vin was there; you could hear him. Dodgers fans in 1961 have the same memory as those in 2011. The sun setting behind the Pacific, glowing teasingly over the hills, and “Time for Dodger Baseball!” in their ears. Vin’s tone was the same every night, that Southern California ease and cool that always told you, “Hey, how bad can it be? We’re both living here, right?”
Of course, Vin spread to more than just Dodgers fans. Maybe you were introduced to him on NBC’s game of the week, or with, “BEHIND THE BAG!” Maybe you were in a Hartford hotel room watching him let Kirk Gibson’s homer play out with no need to insert himself (I seriously was, having just watched the Whalers pound the Hawks at the Civic Center. I’ll be getting my walker soon).
Or maybe you came to him when the MLB Extra Innings package became part of your life, and like thousands of baseball fans every night you ended your day with Vin from Dodger Stadium. Didn’t really matter who the Dodgers were playing, Vin was your landing gear for the day, bringing you in safely and calmly, the last cocktail to take the edge off, if you will.
One favorite memory or quote comes from 2006. One night, Greg Maddux was able to channel his Cy Young form for that disaster of a Cubs team, holding the Dodgers to one run over eight innings in a game that took about 47 minutes. After a strikeout of some jamoke, Scully swooned, “So Maddux strikes out Schmendrick on a change-up that dies of exhaustion on the way to the plate…” Scully was getting as much of a kick out of one last masterpiece from an old master as we were. But Vin found that pretty much every night.
I got to experience Vin from both sides, here at home late at night, or as a Los Angeles resident at a very unstable time of life, and letting his voice assure me that it could be OK, at least for a few hours. Yeah maybe I was broke and directionless, but Vin was on the radio or TV and it was 72 degrees and damn didn’t this place look cool at dusk… I could make this work. I know I wasn’t the only one Vin did that for. But there’s no baseball fan who doesn’t have something like that about Scully. It’s a testament to his longevity, but you only get that longevity if you’re that good and that loved. None of us had to imagine what it was like, we all got to be there.