The most universally loved, trusted and respected person in Southern California is not a political, religious or entertainment figure. The most dominant, unifying individual in this vast geographical and population region is broadcaster Vin Scully, who is retiring this weekend after 67 years with the Dodgers. He is by far the chief asset of the Dodgers organization. The most personal link that fans in greater Los Angeles have with the beloved Dodgers, is their esteemed broadcaster. To maintain market dominance, the Dodgers organization will have to work zealously.
Vin Scully is irreplaceable. If his replacement is a typical play-by-play broadcaster, Dodgers' popularity and revenue will suffer.
When the Dodgers left Brooklyn to move to Los Angeles in 1958, it was Vin Scully's voice that introduced the new team to Southern California. As a boy, I listened to him day after day, often falling asleep with my transistor radio on the pillow for night games. Only a few games were telecast into the market each year, mostly with the key rival, the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers did a marvelous job of marketing in Southern California and selling the concept of going to a game. They had Boy Scout nights, Little League nights, Kiwanis nights, and it didn't matter who the Dodgers were playing or who was pitching, the idea was to come for the experience. Radio was the vehicle to cover Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties -- and Scully delivered a qualitatively superior broadcast.
He broadcast the games neutrally, although he loved the Dodgers. He was not a "homer." He was a master storyteller -- we learned the background and history of every opposing player. He broadcast as if you were sitting next to him in the booth. He did not engage in inane banter or jokes with a color man that were all self-advertisement. We did not know or care what he was eating. He painted a vivid tableau that pulled everyone into the game experience.
His voice was warm and comfortable. He educated his audience. He was an exemplar of decency and values. We grew up with him, like a Walter Cronkite, you knew the world was still fine because Vinny was on the air -- for 58 years in Los Angeles, and nine before that.
Several generations grew up with him as our mentor. Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills gave way to Steve Garvey and Ron Cey and then Kirk Gibson, Mike Piazza and Eric Karros. Today the Dodgers have a new generation with Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez. The players changed but there was one constant -- Vin Scully.
The Dodgers negotiated a multi-billion dollar broadcast deal with Time Warner several years ago. They have never been able to make a deal with the majority of cable systems since then. This means that the majority of the market has not seen the Dodgers games except when carried by Fox or ESPN nationally. This is self-destructive. The Dodgers will lead the majors in attendance again -- averaging 45,000-plus a game. Dodgers memorabilia and collectibles dominate the market. The team will head to the playoffs for the fourth straight year. They have played inspired baseball, losing Clayton Kershaw and 26 others to the injury list.
The Dodgers are facing a gargantuan challenge that has nothing to do with the team on the field. The front office has done a laudable job of filling multiple holes. Dave Roberts has been terrific as manager in his first year. The glue that has helped hold the Dodgers grip on Southern California is Vin Scully.
The Dodgers clinched their division title Sunday with a dramatic walk-off home run. It was a Hollywood moment. The players in the midst of celebrating turned to honor Scully in his broadcast booth. Roberts said, "This is for you. We love you." Scully spoke of his appreciation for the fans and asked the fans and players to stand for his favorite song, "The Wind Beneath My Feet." In jaundiced Los Angeles -- people wept. And Vinny went off in the sunset. His successor faces a daunting task.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.