An easy call: Vin Scully as Sports Person of the Year for SCNG
In early October, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Corona updated the “welcome” message on its street corner marquee. In addition to reminding worshipers about the times for the Sunday services, the clip-on letters spelled out a reminder:“Be Like Vin Scully … Notice And Praise The Good In Everyone.”It was as if God just dropped the mike. There may not be another perfect thing to say, write or preach about our choice for the 2016 Southern California News Group Sports Person of the Year.It was a year so improbable for nominees very well deserving of our annual recognition for the person, place or things that made the most news, good or bad, in our circulation area. ‘VIN AND WILLIE WERE HOLDING HANDS’During Scully’s final broadcast in San Francisco as the Dodgers ended the regular season on Sunday, Oct. 2, the long-time rival Giants unveiled a plaque in the AT&T Stadium press box to commemorate the site of his final call after more than 9,000-plus games.Willie Mays, whom Scully said was the best player he ever saw as a broadcaster, was part of the ceremony. Knowing that Mays was all but blind these days at age 85, Scully gently took Mays’ hands, led him over to the plaque on the wall, and ran Mays’ fingers across the raised letters as he read them aloud.Rob Menschel was with Scully in the press box that weekend as part of the production crew. The special moment he saw came the day before, on Saturday, when Mays met with Scully before that game. Menschel was shooting video.“When I looked in my camera viewfinder, I noticed something that was truly beautiful: Vin and Willie were holding hands,” said Menchel. “I focused on their hands. They continued their conversation for another five minutes so Vin could return to his game preparation.“In a 10-day span that was filled with highly emotional and unforgettable moments too numerous to name, that one topped them all for me. Vin was seated at his position at the announcer table, leaned toward me with eyes wide and in a voice barely above a whisper, said just three words: ‘Willie Mays. Wowww!’ It was said with all the reverence of a young boy who had just seen his idol Mel Ott up close for the first time.”As Scully and his wife, Sandi, flew home Sunday afternoon, a line of firefighters were on the runway at Van Nuys Airport as the plane taxied to stop on the runway. The trucks then turned on their hoses and honored him the traditional retirement spray of water.“I was already very emotional from that day,” Scully said, “but to see that, I almost broke down again.”MORE TRIBUTES AS THEY COMEIt’s just been about three months since he said his last words on the air. In addition to an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” these things also happened:• Near the end of the Nov. 20 episode of the iconic Fox series “The Simpsons,” a message filled the screen: “We’ll Miss You, Vin Scully.”Executive producer and head writer Al Jean claimed responsibility, thanking Scully for all the years that, whenever a baseball broadcaster was included in an episode, Harry Shearer channeled his inner-Scully as the cartoon voice.“Harry has done a terrific impression of Mr. Scully all these years and he has been very gracious about it and an inspiration to me and baseball fans everywhere,” said Jean. “In our small way we wanted to honor his retirement.”Added Shearer: “He’s one of the few exceptions of my general rule — that I only do characterizations of people of whom I have a critique. I grew up in L.A. with Vin Scully, he was with me when, as a child, I liked baseball, and he was all around me in the years since, when I couldn’t have cared less about it.“But regardless of my feelings about the game, my feeling about Scully remained the same throughout the years — a master broadcaster, a master storyteller. I’ve known a few of the guys at his level in various sports, and Scully was the gold standard in every way.”• He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from President Obama during a ceremony at the White House.“It’s not like I discovered penicillin,” Scully said.“When he heard about this honor, Vin asked with characteristic humility, ‘Are you sure? I’m just an old baseball announcer’,” Obama remarked to the gathering. “And we had to inform him that, to Americans of all ages, you are an old friend.”• While in Washington, D.C., Scully appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” as host John Dickerson broke away from the usual politicans-in-the-news format to do a five-minute piece with him.“Several people who work on the show are fans of his, with executive producer Mary Hager chief among them,” said Dickerson. “But that wasn’t enough of a reason to have him on. Scully is an American icon who has brought joy and excitement to millions. For all the reasons he was being celebrated at the White House, we wanted to talk to him. “We’ve had a lot of politics this year. We wanted to do a show reflecting on the idea of gratitude for Thanksgiving. What drew us was his authenticity, his direct and sincere approach to his work and to life, and his humility. What a joy he was to talk to.”Scully, with the medal still around his neck, left Dickerson with a story that had the message: “Don’t be afraid to dream.”• Sports Illustrated included Scully in the finalists for its Sportsperson of the Year Award.An SI cover piece on Scully in May included this from writer Tom Verducci: “Vin Scully is only the finest, most-listened-to baseball broadcaster that ever lived, and even that honorific does not approach proper justice to the man. He ranks with Walter Cronkite among America’s most-trusted media personalities, with Frank Sinatra and James Earl Jones among its most-iconic voices, and with Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor and Ken Burns among its preeminent storytellers.”• For the first time in its 19-year history, the Pasadena-based non-profit Baseball Reliquary included Scully as a candidate for its Shrine of the Eternals. It is a divine place known as the “People’s Hall of Fame” to honor individuals “who have altered the baseball world in ways that supersede statistics.”Executive Director Terry Cannon explained that it was time.“One of the many reasons was our appreciation for his generosity to the Baseball Reliquary and to the Shrine of the Eternals over the years,” said Cannon. “Vin mentioned both the Reliquary and the Shrine on several occasions during his broadcasts in recent years … There has never been anyone of his stature in the world of baseball to acknowledge a grassroots, fan-based organization like the Reliquary, and that was certainly much appreciated by our members.“Should Vin be elected, it would be my pleasure to let him know that he was now an Eternal himself. And, of course, I would not have to go into a long explanation as to what we are all about, which is often the case. Vin would know exactly what the significance is of induction.”The awards keep coming. Next month, the Southern California Sports Broadcasters will bestow its first Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award, and Scully would be the first recipient. The Dodgers will honor him again at the stadium on May 3 – adding him to their ring of retired player numbers.We may be limited in finding new ways to notice and praise the goodness of Scully, but it’s an easy call. We keep trying. Such is this eternally grateful recognition as well.PREVIOUS WINNERS OF THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NEWS GROUP/LOS ANGELES NEWS GROUP SPORTS PERSON OF THE YEAR AS THE BIGGEST NEWSMAKER:2015: UFC fighter Ronda Rousey2014: Clippers coach Doc Rivers2013: Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig2012: Dodgers ownership team of Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson2011: AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke2010: New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush2009: Thousand Oaks teenage sailors Zac and Abby Sunderland2008: Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez2007: Galaxy midfielder David Beckham2006: Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti2005: USC running back Reggie Bush and USC quarterback Matt Leinart Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Stan Kroenke pulls off a move that brings the Rams back to L.A. Kobe Bryant’s final NBA season capped by a 60-point performance. Mike Trout’s second AL MVP season. Clay Helton’s USC football team going from 1-3 to a Rose Bowl berth with quarterback Sam Darnold. Lorenzo Ball’s dynamic transition from Chino Hills High to UCLA. The Sparks’ WNBA title sparked by Nneka Ogwumike. The return of California Chrome.And now, did the impossible just happen – Scully, who turned 89 just after last Thanksgiving, has also dropped the mike?He gave Los Angeles ample warning that his 67th Dodgers’ season would “realistically” be it for him. Those of us with separation anxiety or fears of abandonment thought he could change his mind once the season began.From the moment he appeared before an adoring crowd as part of the team’s Fan Fest in January at Dodger Stadium, to having the stadium’s address changed because of the street leading into was named for Scully, through his final memorable call in the Dodgers’ final home game on Charlie Culberson’s walk-off homer, Scully took more selfies and shook more hands – and perhaps granted more wishes – than Santa Claus.So many well-wishers would come up to the broadcast booth in the course of the season that a security guard had to make sure you were on the list. A Scully appreciation night in late September, with a memorable speech delivered by Kevin Costner, will be forever kept on the DVR.