One of the things I don’t like about my fifties is the way pieces of my youth keep dying.
Vin Scully was the greatest. I was lucky to grow up listening to him in the 70s and 80s, when Phoenix was a minor-league city and there was no internet. We could get KNBR at night, if the weather was right and nobody touched the radio, but mostly we listened to the local Dodgers affiliate. I have no idea how many hours of his broadcasts I have listened to in my life, but it must be in the thousands.
The last twenty years or so have been a Golden Age for sports fans in general, and for baseball fans in specific. We get so much more than fans ever have—more broadcasts, more statistics, more camera angles, more behind-the-scenes stories, more minor-league and international news, more ways to watch and listen to and read about the games. It really is a wonderful time to be a fan, and we should probably take some time to appreciate that. But it’s also a frustrating time to be a baseball fan. There’s a lot of negativity. It seems like many people around major league baseball dislike the game—the ownership particularly, but also some of the announcers, the writers, the players and even the fans. In particular, MLB doesn’t (to my mind) celebrate the thing that is unique to baseball among major sports, certainly among team sports: the long season of daily games. Baseball is not a Sunday thing, or a twice-a-week thing, or month-long Olympics... it’s day after day, week after week. Baseball is the everyday sport.
And the thing about Vin Scully, in my memory at least and I understand that I was listening to him as a kid, was that he made that aspect of baseball appealing—it wasn’t just that he sounded like he was delighted to be at the ballgame every day, or that he could get excited about a play or a situation that he must have seen a million times, it was also that he was there, year after year, and that even when I was a kid he had been there forever, and that he kept coming back.
Of course, he wasn’t just a baseball announcer; he started as a football announcer and broadcast football for decades, too. But he was the sound of baseball.
I’m not sure I could tell you what made him a great announcer. He was, of course, knowledgeable and meticulous. His voice was clear (he enunciated well, which one would think would be true of every sports announcer, but alas) and friendly. He took the game seriously, but as a pastime—he could amp up the intensity of a close game, but mostly gave the impression that there was nothing in life more delightful than being at a ballgame with a big crowd, under the lights or out in the sun, cheering for a player or a team that you liked. I have clicked through a few of the ‘iconic calls’ today, and many of them are wonderful (the Hank Aaron call is particularly great) but in truth it’s not those moments that are the best way to get at Vin Scully’s greatness. It’s the bit at the start of an ordinary game, maybe on a Tuesday evening in June, not a pennant race or a milestone of any kind, but just—time for Dodger baseball.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,