Vin Scully may be gone, but I’ll cherish those memories (and voicemail) forever

The news broke Tuesday night, and I immediately called friends and colleagues, sharing stories and memories, trying to comfort one another.

Vin Scully, the beautiful, soothing and powerful voice of baseball, and one of the most gentle, gracious and compassionate human beings you’ll ever come across, passed away.

It was hardly shocking. Scully was 94 years old. He was in failing health, rarely leaving his home, and wasn’t quite the same after Sandi, his beautiful wife, died 1 ½ years ago. He knew the end was near, and had stopped taking phone calls the last 10 days.

Still, the news brought us to our knees.

“This was inevitable,’’ said Charley Steiner, the radio voice of the Dodgers, “and I knew it was coming, but this is painful. It’s a tough one. This takes a chunk out of my heart.’’

It was during my 20-minute conversation with Steiner that it suddenly hit me.

The voicemail!

Do I still have that voicemail?

I recently changed phones, is it still saved?

I scrambled, went through my voicemails, and there it was: May 2, 2016, at 4:16 p.m.

It was from Vin.

It was just a 45-second message, but here he was, thanking me for an article I wrote about his legacy. He said he wanted to write a letter, and apologized, saying he didn’t have my address. So, at the least, he wanted to call me.

I’ve never been so happy to miss a call in my life, knowing I would keep that voicemail, and forever treasure it.

Can you imagine?

Here is Vin Scully taking time out of his life to personally thank me for interviewing him before his 67th and final season of his iconic career.

He was not only the greatest broadcaster in baseball history, but sports history. You turned on the radio just to listen to Vin. The Dodgers could be losing 11-3, out of the race by June, but always there was that soothing voice to let you sit back, relax and forget about your troubles.

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If you knew Vin, if you even met Vin, if you just listened to Vin, you loved Vin.

I felt privileged to know him, and whenever I called his cell phone or home phone number, he greeted me as if I was his best friend from his childhood days, never once acting as if he was more important than anyone else.

He was a living, breathing, walking, talking, saint.

Go ahead, try to find anyone in the world who didn’t feel blessed just to be in his presence.

I’ve spoken to him thousands of times, interviewed him hundreds of times, but the time I remember the most was interviewing him on back-to-back days on a road trip.

I spent 20 minutes, maybe 30, talking to him on my tape recorder, only to realize later that day there was no sound on the tape. Nothing. I was devastated.

Well, I ran into Scully that evening, told him what happened, and he acted as if it was somehow his fault that the taper recorder malfunctioned.

He told me to call him in the morning in his hotel room.

He shared more stories, offered even further insight, and when the story ran, profusely thanked me again.

That was Vin Scully, a beautiful human being who made the world so much better simply being in his presence.

I’ve known him  for nearly 35 years, and never once did I ever see him in a bad mood. Not once. Sure, there were times of emptiness and sadness. His first wife, Joan, died in 1972, from an accidental overdose of cold medicine. His 33-year-old Michael, a engineering supervisor, died in 1994 in a helicopter crash. Don Drysdale, his broadcasting partner, passed away in 1993 on a road trip in Montreal. His closest friend with the Dodgers, Billy DeLury, joining the Dodgers together in 1950 as the team’s traveling secretary, died in 1985.

Still, he would never share his pain, the emptiness, wanting to make sure everything was good with you and your family.

He was such a proud man, and after his wife passed, with his health failing, he didn’t want anyone to feel sympathy. He stopped all public appearances, fearing he would fall down, and leaving that as a lasting memory.

He could have stayed as the Dodgers’ broadcaster as long as he wanted, but he left still atop of his game after the 2016 season, not wanting anyone to think his brilliance was slipping.

The Dodgers asked him to come out to the Sandy Koufax statue unveiling two months ago, but Scully gracefully declined. He told Koufax that he’d be there in spirit, and called Steiner to let him know he’d do a wonderful job as the emcee of the event.

“Outside of my dad,’’ Steiner said, “he was the most important man of my life. I was five years old, listening to that voice on the radio doing Brooklyn Dodger games, and that’s who I wanted to be like.

“We must have had over 1,000 meals together. We talked about everything, not just baseball, but life, movies, theater, politics, but never about the announcing business.’’

My personal favorite story with Scully was about his friendship with Jackie Robinson, and the time they went ice-skating together.

Well, let him tell the story.

“We were pretty good friends, and it’s in the winter time, and the Dodgers asked me to go to Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskill Mountains. I was a kid (24), and I brought my ice skates to skate. Who did I bump into in the parking lot, Jackie and [wife] Rachel. She was like seven months pregnant. Jackie saw me with my skates and said, ‘My gosh, you going to skate? Ok, I’ll go with you.’

“I went with Jack to put on our skates, he’s lacing his skates and he says, ‘Vin, when we get there, I’d like to race you.’ I said, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t know you skated?’ Jack said, ‘I never put on skates in my life.’

“That’s when I learned that the competitive fire was so entrenched in him. They took a picture of us lined up like we were going to race, but we never did.’’

And, oh, there were those calls:

The Sandy Koufax perfect game.

The ball rolling under Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series.

The Kirk Gibson 1988 World Series home run.

But my favorite, and the most historic, was the night he called Henry Aaron’s 715th record-setting home run on national TV.

“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.’’

It was perfect, just like Vin.

“It was the most IMPORTANT homer, and you can put that in capital letters, that I ever saw,’’ Scully told me. “It was more than just a home run. More than a game-winning home run. What it did was provide a lift to the whole country.’’

Scully, with a voice like Frank Sinatra, and powerful as Winston Churchill, stood tall to the end.

In the last interview I did with Scully two years ago, he talked about his faith, his life, trying to encourage while picking up the sagging spirits of a nation.

“I believe with all of my heart and soul,’’ he said, “this is the greatest country God put on earth. Being great, you have to have problems that are equally great. It’s really hard right now, but I’m just so confident that with the greatness of the country, and the greatness of people, we can take a few knocks and keep on going.

“It’s like baseball. We’ve been knocked down, but like all good hitters, we’re going to get back up, brush ourselves off, and get back to playing ball. This country is too great not to get it done.’’

Vin may be gone, but his voice will never be silenced, his legacy forever cherished.

“He was the love, heart and soul, and consciousness of the Dodgers, and all of baseball,’’ Steiner says. “He’s the best who’s ever done it. He’s the best who will ever do it.

“How lucky are we that he was a part of our lives?’’


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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vin Scully dies at 94 but legend’s voice will be cherished forever