Remarks by Lisa Nehus Saxon, July 16, 2017, Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California
Hi everybody, and a pleasant good afternoon to you.
Thank you for coming here on a lovely Sunday when you might otherwise be at the ballpark. Frankly, I’m humbled that I’ve been asked to share a few stories about our good friend, Vin Scully, and to accept his induction in the Shrine of the Eternals.
And if you can promise to keep this just between us, if Vin were here right now, the man who was the voice of the Dodgers for 67 – yes, 67 – wonderful years would thank the Baseball Reliquary for this honor. And he’d surely tip his hat to Charlie Brown and to Bob Uecker, his fellow inductees in this, the Shrine of the Eternals’ class of 2017.
Then I suspect that Vin being Vin, would insist that he should be thanking each of us for allowing him to be a part of our lives, saying it was a privilege he never took lightly.
Vin, if you choose to believe that, that’s fine. I happen to have a different perspective based on our relationship, which began nearly 50 years ago.
Vin taught me – and I suspect a lot of us here – many lessons. Today, I’ll share a few of the things I’ve learned from our dear friend.
I honestly can’t recall who won that game between the Rays and the Dodgers a few years ago, but I do know that rays have the largest brains of the 32,000 species of fish that have been identified – and that the fastest fish are the sail fish, the sword fish, and the marlin. How do I know this? Vin told me so.
He taught me about beards and about pirates. During one game on the Fourth of July, he provided what can only be described as a dissertation on the history of the American flag.
Now you might be interested to know that I was sitting in the left-field pavilion the day that Rick Monday saved the flag at Dodger Stadium. As the scene unfolded in front of me, I only could make sense of it because my transistor radio was on – and Vin, as always, was there, whispering in my ear.
It surely won’t come as a surprise to many of you that when I think about that day, or Fernando’s no-hitter, or Aaron circling the bases, or Gibson limping around them, it’s Vin’s voice that I hear. He has narrated some of the best baseball memories that I own.
He was whispering in my ear when I was sitting in a sixth-grade English class at St. John Baptist de la Salle in Granada Hills, Calif., and trust me when I say that the static radio broadcast of the baseball game I was monitoring was much more interesting than the day’s assignment.
With the radio concealed in my pocket and the earphone tucked beneath my mane of brown hair, I thought no one knew what I was doing. It wasn’t until a classmate passed me a note demanding an update that I realized that the jig was up.
Now that I’m a teacher myself, I suspect that Sr. Mary Gabriel knew what I was doing. She is the first person who encouraged me to pursue a career in writing. On this day, instead of confiscating my radio, she gently asked me what kind of writer I wanted to be.
A baseball writer, of course.
She laughed. So did my mother. And so did my high school teachers.
But when I dreamed, Vin never laughed. Without knowing it, he was my constant companion. He kept teaching me, heck, teaching all of us about baseball, weaving in metaphors and similes, and alliterations and allusions that encouraged this so-called tomboy to explore Dickens, Steinbeck, and Broadway tunes.
I honestly don’t think I would have set out to become a baseball writer if not for our dear friend, Vin.
I was eight years when I fell in love with the game that he so sweetly described. Some 16 years later, when I found myself questioning whether there really would be a place for me in baseball, Vin again whispered in my ear. This time, he emphatically told me that, yes, I belonged, and that I owed it to myself to live my life in an authentic way.
I doubt Vin ever gave a second thought to that brief conversation we had on the team bus in Cincinnati during the first week of August in 1984. I know I’ll never forget it.
At the time, I was working for the Daily News of Los Angeles, and I was one of three women assigned to cover Major League Baseball. At the All-Star break, I became the only woman assigned to a team in the National League. Now, that’s an important distinction.
Back then each team individually decided whether credentialed female reporters would be admitted into the clubhouse. In the American League, all the doors were open. In the National League, all the doors were open – except when they were slammed in my face.
One day in Cincinnati, I decided enough was enough, and I walked into the Reds’ clubhouse. I was interviewing a pitcher when a clubhouse attendant told me that I had to leave. When I didn’t immediately comply, I was picked up and carried out.
If there were anyone in the press box who didn’t know what had happened, he became aware of the incident just before the first pitch when the Reds’ public relations director made his way down to the first row of seats. A former baseball writer himself, Jim Ferguson screamed at me, called me a troublemaker, and assigned an intern to follow me wherever I went for the rest of the series – even when I needed to use the restroom. I was humiliated. Nonetheless, I put on my game face, and I made deadline.
The next day, I called my editor and asked him to intervene on my behalf. His reply: “You’re a big girl. Take care of it.”
I was 24 years old. I didn’t have any mentors, and now my own boss let it be known that he didn’t want to go to bat for me. Absorbing blow after blow, I felt like a human punching bag.
Although the hotel was just a few blocks away from old Riverfront Stadium, I decided to take the team bus that day because the load I was carrying seemed heavier than usual. Plus, I really didn’t want to run the risk of having a security guard deny me access to the stadium.
Sitting on the bus, I felt invisible until Vin Scully asked if he could sit alongside me.
Now, who’s going to turn down an invitation like that?
He asked me a two-part question: If I could be anyone in the world, who would I want to be, and why? Between us, at that moment, I really just wanted to be one of the guys, someone who could walk into a clubhouse without causing a stir. So, I told Vin that I wanted to be like Gordie Verrell, a respected baseball reporter who seemed to make everyone smile wherever he went.
Vin replied, “I’m sorry to hear that, Lisa.” He went on to explain that, try as I might, I would never be as good at being Gordie as Gordie is.
Moreover, if I tried to be like someone else, I might be limiting myself. Vin asked, “What if you could be better than Gordie?” Honestly, that’s a question I’d never considered. Remember, at the time I was struggling every day just to prove that I belonged.
While encouraging me to be the best version of myself every day, Vin said something that I’ll never forget, that what I was doing was important and remarkable – yes, he used that word. Remarkable.
I embraced the advice he gave me, and kept moving forward. Most days, there was a bounce in my step and a smile on my face.
Thank you, Vin Scully.
Over the years, we’ve seen each other outside of the ballpark from time to time. More often than not, we meet at church. One day, he asked me to sit alongside him. I balked, explaining that I wanted to respect his privacy, his time to pray.
He told me that it would be easier for him to pray if I sat next to him. He took my arm and off we went, to his sweet spot in the church.
Let’s just say, I was never so popular during the sign of peace.
For the next several years, we’d sit together at church whenever our spouses did not join us. One day, the priest was midway through a homily when he mentioned that he would like to get tickets to the Dodgers’ home opener, telling the congregation that he knew that one of the parishioners could make that happen.
With that, several people looked toward Vin, who turned to me and whispered, “Lisa, I think he’s talking to you.”
You think? I’ll get the angels right on that, Vin.
As you can see, the time I’ve spent with Vin is sacred.
Last April, I went to the baseball cathedral we all know as Dodger Stadium, so I could wish my friend well. As we parted ways, Vin said, “God has been very good to me.”
Me, too, Vin. Me, too.
I don’t know what he’s doing today, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that, at some point, Vin will thank God for his many blessings, this wonderful award included.
I’m also confident that every person here today has an endearing memory or two – or three hundred – about our dear friend. That’s the kind of man Vin Scully is. The good Lord gave him a beautiful voice, and Vin chose to use that gift to entertain us, to console us, and to teach us what kindness, goodness, and humility look like – and what they sound like.
He is, in a word, remarkable.
Thank you, Vin. And on behalf of everyone here today, here’s wishing you a pleasant good afternoon wherever you may be. Good afternoon, everybody.
A trailblazing sportswriter, Lisa Nehus Saxon was one of only three women in North America who covered Major League Baseball full-time from 1983 to 1987. While working as a beat reporter and sports columnist for daily newspapers in Southern California for more than two decades, covering the Angels, Dodgers, Raiders, and major college football and basketball, Saxon steadfastly fought for equal access and equal pay, paving the way for women who followed her. She is currently an adjunct professor teaching sports media at Santa Monica College and just finished her sixth and final year as the journalism advisor at Palisades Charter High School, where she will return this fall as the assistant athletic director.