Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully will retire at the end of the baseball season. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

He sounds friendly, genial in the way Ronald Reagan did, and quietly brilliant, in the way of your favorite teacher. His voice — a blend of his street-smart native New York and the unhurried Southern California of the region’s long-lost languid past — carries no edge. Compared with other sportscasters, he comes off as a bit proper. But he is no stuffed shirt. He describes baseball games and tells stories as if he’s settled in with you on the porch for a long evening when there might be surprises and the man who will understand them best is sitting right next to you.

Vin Scully, who called the games of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers on the radio and then on TV for 67 summers, will work his last game Sunday. The scorebook will close on a cultural icon who earned trust in a way that is hardly seen anymore — not just through longevity but by trusting his audience back.

He did not question plays or players just to gin up a reaction. He didn’t utter undeserved accolades or excuses for the home team just because he was its employee. He didn’t engage in hype or hopped-up controversy. He trusted that his audience would appreciate an intelligent, measured account of the game, laced with knowledgeable analysis and a never-saccharine icing of erudition. When appropriate, he might even quote a Greek classic or a bit of the Bard.

To explain Scully’s stature, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci compared him to Walter Cronkite as one of the nation’s most-trusted media personalities and to Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor as one of our most beloved storytellers, and certainly there’s truth in those comparisons. But Scully is neither a reporter nor a fiction writer. He belongs more to a category that includes Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Barbara Walters and the pre-scandal Bill Cosby — avuncular, wise truth tellers who entertain, accompany and win our trust because they believe they can connect without hype, hysteria or superheated energy. The key ingredient here is grace, an element that’s so sorely missing from our politicians, who — especially this year — try too hard or hide too much, relying on artifice and exaggeration because they refuse to believe that we might respond well to something genuine, honest, imperfect.

Even after decades on TV, Scully started each game doing three innings on the radio, and he worked alone — no sidekick, no color commentator. Radio was his enduring love, his intimate connection with the fan in the car, the kid with the transistor radio tucked under his pillow in bed, the people hanging out on the stoop. His departure comes as baseball nears the century mark in its symbiotic relationship with radio — the game lends itself uniquely to the aural painting of pictures.

Scully never claimed to be anything fancy; he could summon poetry and history when the moment was right and stick to the bare basics when the action was mundane. When a pitcher delivered a ball right down the pike on a 3-0 count to give up a home run, he was serving “a lamb chop to a lion.” When Sandy Koufax, the great Dodgers pitcher who inspired some of Scully’s best work, was three outs away from a perfect game in 1965, the announcer paused between pitches to name all nine Dodgers on the field, the men Koufax would depend on to ensure his perfection, the men whose one tiny mistake would guarantee infamy for the rest of their days. They were, Scully said, “the boys who will try to stop anything hit their way,” and then he added, “And there’s 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies.”

“I’m not a military general, a business guru, not a philosopher or author,” Scully said at his alma mater, Fordham University, in 2000. “It’s only me.” This was no showy false modesty. Scully, who turns 89 in a few weeks, started his career in 1949, calling a Boston University vs. Maryland football game at Fenway Park , and since then, he’s narrated 20 no-hitters, three perfect games and more than 9,000 contests altogether. The great majority of them were Dodgers games, heard only in Southern California, but he also broadcast more than two dozen World Series nationwide, split between radio and TV, and spent most of the 1980s handling NBC’s nationwide “Game of the Week” TV broadcast.

But Scully stood out far more for how he narrated the most ordinary of meaningless matchups on a lazy July night. He understood something essential about why people spend absurd amounts of time caring about games other people play. He understood that it was all about communing with others, about sharing a belief and a passion, about being part of something bigger, something that could disappoint or elate, but something that, either way, could connect strangers to each other.

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Radio was Scully’s natural medium. Even in his later years, when he mostly broadcast on TV, he essentially presented a radio product, a complete play-by-play, with beautifully crafted sentences that let you know what the action looked and felt like, even though you had seen it with your own eyes.

Radio lends itself to nostalgia, to a pining for the innocence of a summer’s night listening to baseball from a far-off city, the signal fading in and out, the crack of the bat sometimes lost in the sizzle of static from a distant lightning bolt. But that static has been cleaned up by modern technology, replaced by the hollow sound of digital satellite broadcasts. The handheld transistor radio, its tinny tones filling sidewalks and playgrounds, has been replaced by the private soundscape of smartphones and earbuds — community cacophony displaced by solitary satisfaction. Still, baseball — self-consciously marketed with a healthy dose of nostalgia — thrives on the radio as no other sport.

Early in the 20th century, baseball broadcasts became the model for how to connect with a mass audience. The style that developed was something new, a one-to-one intimacy in which the announcer dropped the formal, stilted language from the era before microphones and took advantage instead of radio’s connection to the listener’s imagination. The important thing was not just the score but the rhythm of the announcer’s voice, the poetry he created out of silences and crowd reactions.

Dramatic embellishments were part of the act from the beginning. Ronald Reagan got his start in showbiz doing “re-created” baseball broadcasts, a common practice in the early decades of radio in which an announcer sitting in a windowless broadcast studio delivered play-by-play action by mixing pre-recorded sound effects of crowd noise and cracking bats with liberally extrapolated stories of what was happening on the field of a distant game. All the announcer had to work with were skimpy updates that the Teletype machine delivered at irregular intervals, sent by fans who were paid a pittance to sit in out-of-town stadiums and report the action in telegraphic brevity. When reports from the ballpark got gummed up or were painfully sketchy, announcers would offer flights of fancy about a fight in the stands or a dog on the field. One famous Texas baseball re-creator narrated an epic — and entirely imagined — at-bat in which the heroic batter fouled off 58 pitches before the Teletype finally spit out the next bit of actual news.

As late as the 1960s, baseball was primarily a radio sport. TV broadcasts reached much of the nation only on Saturday afternoons, in the network game of the week. In the pre-ESPN era, fans rarely got to see any game on TV that didn’t involve their home team. Baseball, therefore, existed in good measure in the mind’s eye, re-created through the accounts and descriptions of a tiny brotherhood of broadcasters who, as the only game in town, could spin their own reality. So in Milwaukee, games were a jolly string of yuks courtesy of Bob Uecker, and in New York, oddly, some of the sport’s best Southern storytellers, Mel Allen and Red Barber, built the Yankees’ mystique. In Detroit and Chicago, Ernie Harwell and Harry Caray came to embody the character of their franchises and the hopes of their teams’ fan bases.

Those legendary voices, like Scully, stayed with their teams for decades on end. The most enduring of the voices that accompany summer are pleasant, good-humored, loyal. Scully was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame 34 years before he finished his work, and in 2002, on the 40th anniversary of Dodger Stadium, fans voted him their favorite Dodger of all time, by a healthy margin. But the deep connection to generations of parents and children is based on more than mere accuracy or amusement.

Scully provided perspective that none of his colleagues could match. He could compare a rookie phenom to first glimpses of Koufax or Mickey Mantle because he’d been there to see them. He never felt the need to opine on every fleeting controversy that provides life-sustaining oxygen to the sports blogosphere and the 24/7 sports radio talk stations. Scully didn’t need to resort to fantasy; his memory bank overflowed with riches.

These days, someone who opts out of hot takes is all too likely to lose his job. The baseball announcer of the next generation who comes closest to Scully in talent and approach is Jon Miller, who delighted Baltimore Orioles fans for 14 years with riveting yarns and uncanny impressions of other great announcers before the team’s owner, Peter Angelos, let him go in 1996 because he wanted “more of an advocate” for the home team. In 2010, Miller was also removed from his post calling games on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” replaced by a talented game-caller who tells few stories. Miller has returned to San Francisco, where he calls Giants games on TV and radio in the place where he grew up listening to them.

The beauty of radio, Miller once told me, is that “it’s all in the mind. We could tell a story about a player’s house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and on the radio, the listener goes to that house. On television, you tell that story and you don’t go anywhere, because you see things that don’t match the story — the third base coach flashing signs, the pitcher getting ready. On TV, I caption what’s being shown. On the radio, it’s my story. As Ernie Harwell says, on TV, you get the movie version. The game on the radio is the novel.”

Miller, like Scully, understands that calling a game both creates a one-on-one, intimate relationship with the listener and provides that listener with a sense of belonging to something larger.

In that 1965 call of Koufax’s perfect game, Scully retained a critical distance, even in the excruciatingly tense final moments. “I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place in the world,” he said when Koufax was two outs away. Even then, Scully’s place was with the listener, not the player. When the pitcher threw a disturbingly high ball to the potential final batter, Scully put it straight: “That was only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Koufax threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard, his hat fell off. . . . Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it on his left pants leg.”

Scully had secured enough trust that he was free to be objective. He declined to pretend that he was just another fan. He would be the credible, reasonable, trusted authority. In a healthy society, there is a balance between freedom and authority, and a need for just the right doses of each. Scully found that sweet spot. For a society to work, Edmund Burke wrote, its people must recognize what it is that they have in common. Those bonds can be big concepts such as liberty and democracy, but they can also be small things, single voices that remind us of who we are and what we care about. He only told stories about a game, yet Vin Scully fulfilled that role.

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