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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Simers' Best Column, Ever

At last, T.J. Simers has found a man even he cannot sarcastically belittle: Vin Scully. Sorry, T.J., but for posterity, such as this same is possible on the Internet:
I spent time with Chick Hearn chatting before games about rings, kids and the Grocery Store Bagger, sat next to Red Smith in Fenway Park covering the Bucky Dent playoff game between the Yankees and Red Sox and talked well into the night at Billy Goat Tavern with my inspiration, Mike Royko, the great Chicago newspaper columnist.

I also had the privilege of dining, listening to his stories and working alongside Jim Murray at a couple of Super Bowls.

Sunday was another day for the memory bank.

It was a lucky Sunday, beyond the weekly opportunity of spending time with the daughter who these days prefers to be called Miss Radio Personality, because on this Sunday Vin Scully agreed to appear on the father/daughter radio show on XTRA Sports.

Scully, I'm told, almost never makes himself available for these kinds of interviews, but right from the start, after asking Miss Radio Personality to send him an 8x10 glossy, he was as gracious, engaging and funny as you might expect, talking about Barry Bonds, Murray, his reluctance to write a book about himself, chair covers, and the nickname his family has given him, "Clouseau," you know, he said, "Inspector Clouseau, because that's my ability around the house."

Right to the heart of the matter, when asked about the possibility of retiring, he said, "I have two years to go, this year, '05, and '06, and I always remember a wonderful line: If you want to make God smile, tell him your plans. My contract goes through '06, and after that we'll just see."

But would the only voice that most Dodger fans know — with apologies to Rick Monday — ever really consider retirement?

"I don't think I could retire," Scully said. "After all these years it would be pretty hard to turn the key in the ignition and just shut it down…. There's an old story, when you're sitting in a hotel room you can actually hear the meter of your life ticking away and you say to yourself, 'What the heck am I doing in Cincinnati?'

"So those are the things that haunt you as the years go by, but at the same time I don't think I could ever just sit looking out the window guessing whether I'd see a Ford or Chevrolet."

Miss Radio Personality, obviously her father's daughter, then asked, "Do you think the McCourts can keep paying you? Because there are a lot of questions about their money," and Scully said, "Bless your heart, Tracy and T.J., it was wonderful talking to you."

Sure was, but then why no book to bring it all together?

"I feel after all these years I've said enough," Scully said. "I just feel I've emptied out pretty much and don't have anything else to say. In fact, the older I get, the more relaxed you get, and the more I've realized the only thing I want to do is follow the ball between the lines. Whatever opinion I might have I'd just as soon keep it to myself."

Scully and Murray were pals, of course, and Scully once introduced Murray by saying if he ever had to be stranded on an island with a man, he would have probably liked it to have been with Murray.

The daughter then asked, "So if you were stranded on an island with a woman, who would it be?" And Scully said, "Well, of course, with my wife. You knew that, Tracy." I would've been a little worried had he said Salma Hayek. I don't need competition like that.

"Jim Murray gave me one of the great compliments of my life," Scully said. "They were publishing a compilation of his columns and he asked me to do him a favor and write the foreword. I said, 'Oh no, Jim.' And he said, 'You promised,' and so I did.

"The whole foreword was a salute to Jim Murray and his incredible ability to handle just about every emotion and every scene. Vic Hunter was a mutual friend and he asked me twice the same day to play golf with him, and I couldn't do it. That day at Riviera he dropped dead on the second hole. Jim Murray began his column: 'Yesterday my friend Vic Hunter picked up on No. 2 at Riviera.'

"That was the punch line of my foreword, and they sent me a letter telling me the foreword was wonderful, they published the book and I couldn't wait to read the foreword. I get down to that knockout line, and somebody changed it and the line said, 'Yesterday my friend Vic Hunter picked up a No. 2,' which meant absolutely nothing.

"When I saw Jim after that, I said I tried to write for years, I was a correspondent for the [New York] Times, when I was in college I was the sports editor, but I never felt like a writer until they damaged that great line."

There were some more stories, not enough time, but lots of laughs after I reminded him he owed me $957 for advising me to go along with the wife and paying for chair covers for Kelly's wedding to the Grocery Store Bagger.

"Tracy, are you listening?" Scully said. "When the day comes, be sure to give me a call."

WHEN HE hung up, the calls began coming in from folks who wanted to share their warmth for Scully, the way he broke the news to them of Don Drysdale's death and how important it was to hear his voice year after year.

And a caller named Mike offered this interesting tidbit: "When Vin came here he challenged himself not to call them the Brooklyn Dodgers, and charged himself a quarter every time he did. And he did for about half the season, and what a class guy, he paid the money to a charity, something like $470, I believe."

I'll give him that, and deduct the charitable contribution as a good deed, but then he still owes me $487 for the chair covers.

What a great column! With all the negativity around, it was a pleasure to read such funny and warm anecdotes. I don't mean to say I want you to give up criticism when warranted, but the mood change was very welcome.

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