|Black Ink||Batting – 6 (358), Average HOFer ≈ 27|
“Black ink” are times leading the league. in anything. Six times, Vlad? Hmm. What were those career numbers?
I’ve had nearly the entire calendar year to internalize the impact of Vin Scully’s retirement.
It’s different than when an athlete opts to end his playing career. Kobe Bryant & Derek Jeter received the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar treatment with tours, gifts, roasts, etc.; others, such as Barry Bonds or Allen Iverson, are forced to abandon their ride into the sunset. Magic Johnson, Barry Sanders & Bo Jackson are examples of retirements that were shocking in their suddenness. Each fantastic playing career carries specific moments over a generation – or if the athlete was particularly transcendent, generations plural – and defines a city, an era, a specific way of playing the game; something that entrenched the athlete in the milieu to the extent that their retirement itself was notable.
But for many Dodger fans and Los Angeles natives – and for me, specifically – the career of Vin Scully is inextricably intertwined with Life in L.A.
There was Vin when I was doing my homework in Mrs. Saunders class in first grade. There was She Is Gone. . .In a Year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. There were the sombreros being thrown to the sky when old friend Pedro Guerrero made the last out (a GIDP) of Fernando’s no-hitter. There was Vin in Spring for Henry Rodriguez’ four-homerun game. Vin was there when I came home from my first JV game as a 14-year old sophomore. It was Vin, as my Dad would kick back on the floor with his Golden Retriever, Doc, the two of them laying with the screen door ajar, letting the dulcet tones of Vinny complement the perfect San Fernando Valley summer breeze.
Vinny introduced me to Mike Piazza. Hideo Nomo. Ramon and Pedro Martinez. Omar Daal. Ismael Valdes. Vinny was serenading me as Eric Gagné, the mediocre starting pitcher morphed into Eric “Game Over” Gagné, still the most dominating pitcher I’ve seen, asterisk or not. Vin was in love with the O-Dog. Vinny ushered in Mannywood. Yasiel Puig became The Wild Horse.
In recent years, Vin was not there for the playoffs; first because of organizational ineptitude in the 90’s and subsequent Fox era, but mostly because of the Business of Baseball, which precluded ‘local’ broadcasters from doing much of the TV postseason work. Also, Vin’s age (the voice is truly timeless; humans, even a Saint, are not) demanded that the rigors of a baseball travel schedule were simply too much and the road games were increasingly narrated by Rick Monday, Ross Porter, Steve Lyons. Or Charley Steiner. Eric Collins. Recently, L.A. legends Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra have seen more TV work as Vin only works home games and the occasional trip to San Francisco. And Joe Davis, The Man Who Has to Follow in Scully’s Shoes, does a great job – but he’ll forever live with the moniker he’s no Vin Scully. So there’s less Vin now than ever.
And that’s okay. I’ve become busier. We all have. My son, Felix, is nearly 3 years old. And besides, “baseball is too slow.” But maybe that’s a good thing? When I do get to hear Vin, which I did about 30 times this season, I’ve flashed back to those serene summer nights in Sepulveda. I’d get off of a three-way call on my parent’s landline, run out to do a cannonball in the pool, careen back in the house, grab some Cap’n Crunch and Get Back to This One. You could always Pull Up a Chair, but if you couldn’t, that was okay. Vinny was going to see you again tomorrow night.
I really began to appreciate Vin and think about the dreadful and imminent end of Scully’s magical run a few years ago. I wondered if I’d enjoy Dodger games, or the Dodgers, or honestly, baseball, as much when he was gone. I didn’t want to find out, but knew it would happen. And when Felix was born, I wanted him to be able to hear and recognize Vin’s warm voice and that musical cadence. We sit and listen to games – a few innings, in Felix’s case, and I’m always sure to emphasize Vin Scully. He’s not likely to remember these nascent memories, especially of some old broadcaster, but I’m glad that I did have these years to share, and pass down the tradition.
Vin Scully is the narrator of this City I Love. Vin Scully is not just the voice of Los Angeles, he is Los Angeles. He came west as the city was just finding it’s sea-legs, a post-Baby Boom bastion of suburbs and planned communities that required you to have a car. No, really – that was a novel concept in 1958, and it’s exactly why Vinny became Los Angeles. You were, and still are, in a car all the time, and Vinny was painting games nine months out of the year. Until he’s not. And then what? Life goes on. L.A. will be here, Vinny and my Dad will hopefully live well into retirement, and the Dodgers will continue drawing 3 million fans per year. Baseball will certainly move forward. So will I, so will Felix.
But it will be different, an impact unknown. There may be a void, there will definitely be a ripple in the fabric of my fanmanship. But I do know that Vin Scully’s retirement will be more poignant and powerful than any I’ve experienced in sports.
I sent a letter to Vin during the first Dodgers season after Felix was born. I didn’t expect nor receive a response, and was told that he actually receives more mail than anybody in the organization. Maybe he read it, likely he did not, but the copy is below and the sentiment still holds.
Because Vin Scully really enhanced my life. And proud Los Angeles native or not, I’ve never said that about any type of celebrity before. And I certainly haven’t said it about an athlete. I do have a sombrero, but I’m not going to throw it to the sky, Vin. I’m just hoping that I can enjoy and cherish your five remaining telecasts and maybe, just maybe, the Baseball Gods will reward you and the fans whom you’ve impacted with one more improbable October.
July 15, 2014
Mr. Scully –
I just want to reach out and thank you for your presence within the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles. I am a second generation Los Angeles native, and recently had a son (Felix) that will be the third Lovett male to be serenaded by your voice from April to October of each year.
You are truly the voice that defines summer and provides the soundtrack to our great city. I am proud to be able to pass on the tradition of ‘listening to Vin’ to my son.
In short, your legacy and influence is immeasurable and I cherish each of your broadcasts, and I appreciate your commitment to pulling up a chair and ‘getting back to this one’ in beautiful Chavez Ravine.
Enclosed is a picture of the three of us – my father, Stu; my son, Felix & me.
With admiration and appreciation,
So if there was any question, Dave Roberts not only has put his imprint on this organization but is making it clear that this is an era where on-field management is a conduit for the front office yet still can have a major and positive impact (as opposed to being a puppet).
Removing Rich Hill yesterday during a perfect game, based on the fact that he was starting to have a little bit of “heat” on the blister finger (causing him to miss three of his last six scheduled starts), the move is objectively understandable. I would be extremely agitated if I was Rich Hill – or, frankly, any other Dodger – but the team won the ballgame and Roberts made the right move.
Roberts earnestly & honestly addressed his decision after the game (“I’m going to lose sleep” “I’ve never had a win feel like a loss”). He is clearly a team-oriented manager that understands what it’s like to be in those players’ cleats, and again, what he is done with such an undermanned, chronically injured, oddly constituted team this year has been nothing short of remarkable.
Image: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Excellent piece, Tom Verducci.
Thank you, Sports Illustrated.
Prior to 1994, I really didn’t think much about haircuts. My barber, Roger Lovett, was down the street in North Hills, and my dad would usually accompany me, as Roger was actually his barber. Good guy, old school barber shop, but really the only thing I remember was that everybody in there was older, and the place was moderately grubby. He was a good dude, and frankly I didn’t really care how my hair turned out. I was a kid.
As high school approached, and my friend Juice introduced me to his cousin, Bryan the Barber. Bryan was 24 years old and had his own shop in Reseda (nee, Lake Balboa), which he’d inherited from his father. The age proximity and my wont for independence encouraged me to give Bryan a shot at a haircut – a fade, if I remember correctly – and thus a relationship was born.
I previously never understood Barbershop Culture; in fact, I’d never even thought of the concept up to that point. But inside Russo’s Hair Styling, I found a barber that could seamlessly transition between discussions about the Lakers, Juice’s Toyota MR2 and the ongoings of the Reseda Neighborhood Council while making sure that my hair would taper just right.
As I continued my monthly appointments, our banter grew more in-depth; religion, local politics, girls – everything was on the table. And not just between myself and Bryan. The shop was always a nexus of characters, some from as far away as San Diego (“who the heck would drive up from San Diego just for a haircut,” I remember thinking at the time), some from right down the street.
Some of his clients were, like the shop itself, inherited from his father’s old client base. Dudes in their 50’s and 60’s would be mingling with collegians, and the conversation was as varied as the clientele. Blacks, whites, Jews, hispanics, Italians – men of all persuasions ambled in and out of Russo’s. Chauvinistic? Perhaps a tinge, but Cyndi owned The Back Studio, which was a shop for women tucked away in back – and the adjoining door was always open, so she made sure that conversation never crossed that line. It really is a great setup.
At times, I’d see the same people from my last haircut; other times, I’d meet interesting characters. Some sold cars or motorcycles, another played in the NFL, one ran numbers, many worked in real estate. Bryan himself was slowly entering that field as well, carefully and craftily investing in properties from Pasadena to Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks. He was always willing to share information but understood when something was private or personal. He had advice – only sometimes solicited – because he dealt with such a wide swath of the populace and had a tremendous memory that he was always able to have input on the topic. Always.
And what I liked best were that his haircuts were always on point. As my fade evolved into Timberlake-ian curls, a ‘newscaster’ adult cut and finally my closely cropped, modern look, he took care with each clip (“don’t move,” he’d have to tell me about a dozen times per cut), shave and edge. There were times the cut wasn’t perfect (“come on in, I’ll fix it – I told you you shouldn’t have been bouncing around in the chair”), but most of the time it was incredible.
And that massage. Dude had a hand massager on the counter ready to relax your neck, upper back and shoulders after each cut. I mean Bryan literally knew how to make this experience awesome. I contend that half of his clients came to him just for that luxury.
But Bryan was the whole package. Now that he is moving on into more lucrative offerings, I reminisce on the end of an era and what it means to lose my barber. My wife changes hairstylists every year or so, but I’m going on 22 years of never having anybody else touch my hair – even when I lived in Seattle, I’d coordinate my appointments with trips back to Reseda/Lake Balboa to grab a cut and some conversation at Russo’s. So yeah, I became that San Diego guy, only further. That’s how important it was to have the experience, to share the culture of a true Barbershop.
And now, as places such as Sport Clips & Floyd’s exist as ersatz Barbershops, the artifice is evident as these spots are just trying to be the local spot. But they can’t do it; it comes from years, decades, generations of experience, conversation and camaraderie that can only develop when a man has his hand on your skull for a half hour at a time.
And for me, this man was Bryan – whom I’m going to miss dearly as my barber, and I suspect I won’t be the only one. Thanks for the cuts, B.
Russo Hair Styling, still in its original location, opened in 1956 by Bryan’s great uncle. Ownership transferred Bryan’s father in 1964. It was one of the first shops to specialize in Men’s Hair Styling. Bryan began in 1991 and closed his 25th year on March 31, 2016.