By Jon Weisman
Vin Scully apologized, unnecessarily of course, for being two minutes late to his press conference today to discuss his return to the Dodgers in 2016, citing an accident near De Soto Avenue on the Ventura Freeway.
Then came the words that made everyone who adores him slam on their brakes: that 2016 would likely be his last season.
“I would say realistically, and I don’t want any headlines, but I would say next year would be the last one,” Scully said, in a tone that was neither emphatic nor hesitant. “I mean, how much longer can you go on fooling people? So yeah, I would be saying, ‘Dear God, if you give me next year, I will hang it up.'”
Trying to minimize the impact, as if he could, Scully put his departure in historical context.
“Let me put it this way,” he said. “I saw Mel Allen leave the Yankees. I saw Red Barber leave the Dodgers. I saw Russ Hodges leave the Giants. I saw Harry Caray leave the Cubs. I saw Jack Buck leave the Cardinals. And you know what? Not one of those teams missed a game. They kept on playing, and the fans kept on going. And I will just go along where they are, and be very happy and privileged to be in that company.
“I know I can be replaced. They’ve all come and gone, and I will join that same group.”
Scully said the Dodgers winning a World Series — or not — would not alter his decision.
“I don’t think of going out on top or going out on bottom,” he said. “What the team does on the field will have absolutely no effect on my life or the decisions that I make. No, no. I’d be very happy for them, but it really would not change my life in any way, shape or form.
He added that he wanted no farewell ceremonies (good luck with that).
“I don’t want that,” he said. “As you know, I don’t travel with the team. We haven’t determined how much I’ll do next year as far as leaving Dodger Stadium (and doing road games). But the last thing I would want is to have one of these glorified ‘Goodbye, it’s been great.’ No. In fact, as God as my judge, I’d have been thrilled if they had announced I was coming back last year, this year, in the notes.”
Aside from the shock all Dodger fans will feel, amid the recognition — as much as we’ve been happy to deny it — that this day would inevitably come, the news was stunning because it came moments after Scully talked about how much coming to Dodger Stadium meant to him.
“One of the many reasons why I pray to God I will come back next year is if you look around here, and look at each other, that’s what I enjoy,” Scully said. “I really enjoy coming to the ballpark not to see players, but to see friends…. And just to collectively pick all these people up and say goodbye? Because when I leave, I will leave. I will not be hanging around. It’s really a monumental thought: How can I leave all these people? Whether you know me or not, you have meant a great deal to me over the years. So that was just one of many considerations that I have, and one of the big reasons I am so grateful to be here, even though I am two minutes late.”
Scully also had seemingly reconciled his personal view that his performance has declined.
“I’m not 30 years old,” he said. “So each year, you’re not only getting older, you begin to suspect yourself. … As a player gets older, let’s say he’s a center fielder and he’s saying to himself, ‘I don’t quite get the jump I used to get. I’m not quite as sharp as I used to be.’ And maybe he knows he’s a little later on that fastball.
“So as a human being, I look at myself, and I say, ‘My gosh, you’re doing the best you can. What’s that old joke? ‘I’m still throwing as hard as ever — it’s just taking a bit longer to get there.’ Well, that’s basically where I am. I’m trying very hard for one more year, and God willing it will come about.”
In his literate fashion, Scully almost even seemed defiant about giving up his work.
“I don’t know poetry at all,” he lied, “but if there’s one little bit of poetry that I’ve always remembered, it’s that line from Dylan Thomas, and most of you probably know the same thing, where he wrote, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ And I guess in a way that’s what I’m doing. I’m raging against the dying of my career, which has to be around the corner now. But at least for the God-given time I have left, I’ll be raging.
“Because I’ve never minded getting older. In fact, when you get to where I am, you’re very grateful that you’ve gotten to be older. But I never wanted to be old, ever.”
The familiar worry of what he would do during retirement also crept in — and certainly influenced his decision to come back next year.
“When I thought about (retiring), I had a lot of people say, ‘Please, don’t retire.’ I don’t mean they’re baseball fans … just people saying to me, ‘You don’t want to retire.’ And I had my doctor say to me, ‘Do you enjoy doing what you’re doing?’ And I said, ‘I love it.’
“‘Do you still do it reasonably well?’
“‘I love it.’
“‘Well then, why would you give it up? Whatever you do, you retire, and a year from now, you’ll be an old man. And that kind of scared me a bit.'”
But apparently, there comes a time. And Vin Scully anticipates that October 2016 will be that time, as much as that thought might make us want to rage, rage.