Sunday, October 2, 2016
A very pleasant good life to you
I have read dozens of tributes to Vin Scully in the last month. But the tributes didn't start there. No, I've read tributes to Scully in newspapers, in magazines, in the commemorative program for the 1980 All-Star Game, ever since I was a kid.
Even though I didn't grow up in Southern California and listened to few of his Dodger broadcasts before the advent of the MLB Network, I have always known Scully was considered a legend in his field. I remember him receiving the Ford Frick Award for broadcasting and giving a speech at the Hall of Fame way back in 1982.
I waited until after Scully's last game to issue my farewell to the man. Anything before his final broadcast seemed like naming the field after the guy while he was still coaching. So now that the game is done, his career is over, it's time for my reflection and an attempt to say something that hasn't already been said by a thousand testimonials, many of which are from people who know him.
I arrived at my appreciation for Scully relatively late. Unlike many who first knew him as the voice of Dodger baseball, I first knew him as the voice of NBC's Game of the Week during the 1980s. I was aware of his work with the Dodgers, of course, but as an east coast kid, this was the first time hearing his voice, his style.
I didn't like it. I was used to the team of Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek. Garagiola's humor and Kubek's criticism and commentary. They worked well together and it was what I knew. I didn't like seeing Garagiola relegated to the color guy. And this Scully, he was too proper for me.
I was a teenager, you have to understand. My brother and I would poke fun at Scully's signature lines ("pull up a chair") and nicknames (calling Glenn Hubbard "the bearded wonder."). They seemed hokey and old-world to us. We didn't understand what this grandfather figure was trying to convey.
But NBC's Game of the Week thrived under the Scully-Garagiola pairing (Kubek was reassigned to the backup game with Bob Costas), drawing some of its highest ratings during the 1984-89 period when the two worked together.
It wasn't until I started working as a sports journalist, not long after he signed off of NBC, that I started to grasp what Scully was doing, and what he meant to people. Much like a writer attempting to connect with a reader, Scully was connecting with his listeners by painting pictures, relaying information and doing it in a concise, intelligent manner. This was just about everything that a writer is taught to do, what I was trying to do. And when I was most proud of one of my stories, it was always because I provided information, but also painted a picture, in an intelligent, thoughtful way. Scully is known for his preparation, his research, and these are trademarks of well-written stories. I value research more than just about anything else I do when writing a story. It's obvious that Scully does, too. And it's not a surprise to me that he wanted to be a writer before he got into broadcasting.
He has those writing traits. The knack for choosing the right word. The ability to pick the right moment. The knowledge of what is interesting and what is not. What to leave in and what to leave out.
His gift is his voice, of course, and his brain, being able to draw on all of that research for so many years and convey that information, that story, as if he had waited 30 years for the right moment to come along.
One thing that has interested me in all of tributes is that the sources are so varied. They come from broadcasters and sportswriters, obviously. But they also come from a wide section of internet media, many of whom would normally criticize someone who has been so established in baseball for so many years. The middle-aged man who grew up during those first days of the L.A. Dodgers and the 20-year female college student writing for a Dodger fan site have something in common: an appreciation for what Scully has done for the game for so many years.
But why is that? Why so many tributes from so many different kinds of people?
Several reasons, I think. First, when you got it, you got it. Vin Scully has the talent and for 67 years, and it's impossible to argue that without coming off as contrarian. Secondly, Scully is a pleasant man. I've read a couple of accounts that stressed that Scully was no saint, and, of course he wasn't. You can't broadcast a major league baseball team objectively and be a saint. But he is overwhelmingly pleasant, gracious and personable. That draws people.
But there's another reason, I think, and this is something that I haven't read anywhere, I think people are mourning the loss of a bygone era in their praise for the man. Although Scully is unique in his talent, he was also like a lot of other great broadcasters who are no longer with us. Barber, Allen, Harwell, Brickhouse, Nelson, Kalas. Broadcasters who built their craft on radio. Scully symbolizes that period, that style of broadcasting, that style of listening and appreciating baseball. He was the last one left.
And finally, people are mourning the loss of someone so gracious, easygoing, humble, generous, devoted (to his family and his audience) and faithful (he is a religious man) on a visible stage. The loss of someone who is honest, in word and deed. They don't see someone like him that much anymore.
So when people say, "there will never be another Vin Scully," that is true. No broadcasting company will ever hire anyone who behaves on the air like Scully. An entire generation of ESPN announcers has made certain that will never happen again.
But to me, "there will never be another Vin Scully," means more than his broadcasting. It means there will never be "another person in baseball like Vin Scully." He was the last of his kind, and a one-of-a-kind.
So, long Vin.
I admit I pulled up a few chairs.