The Greatest Baseball Broadcaster Ever
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this man’s singular style will never be seen again.
By Adam K. Raymond
In mid-April, those lucky enough to catch the Dodger home opener were treated to a classics lesson that would have been wildly out of place on any other baseball broadcast. But Vin Scully, the longtime voice of the Dodgers, is known for his digressions, and Diamondbacks outfielder Socrates Brito inspired him.
In the first inning, Scully provided a short bio of the Greek philosopher after whom Brito was named. It included what may have been the first-ever mention of epistemology during a Major League broadcast. A couple innings later he recounted the story of Socrates’ death, which came after drinking hemlock in an Athenian prison. A short botany lesson followed: “For those of you that care at all, [hemlock] is of the parsley family and the juice from that little flower, that poisonous plant, that’s what took Socrates away.” Finally, in the ninth, when the 23-year-old Dominican laced an RBI triple into right field and put his team up 3-1, Scully put a bow on the story. “Socrates Brito feeds the Dodgers the hemlock,” he said in his trademark lilt.
Scully’s ability to pinball between ancient Greece and the modern ballpark is one of the many reasons to cherish every inning he has left. His clever turns of phrase, poetic phrasing and refusal to react to big moments like a foam-fingerer fan are among the others. “He’s got this gift of being able to paint a picture with words,” says Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which inducted Scully into its hall of fame in 2009. “He’s so steeped in knowledge and versed in so many different topics that he’ll drop these commentaries that, to tell the truth, are probably above the head of most baseball fans, including me.”
You’re silent, listening intently while he tells stories about ice skating with Jackie Robinson or recounts the harrowing tale of a Cuban player escaping the island for his shot in the majors.
Unfortunately, he won’t be doing this much longer. After 67 years in the broadcast booth, the 88-year-old Scully will step down after this season. Given his preference for sleeping in his own bed, Scully only calls Dodger home games now, although he will travel to San Francisco for the team’s final three games of the season against rival Giants. That means baseball fans have around 35 more chances to listen to Scully. Take advantage of them. Because once he’s gone, baseball will not only have lost the greatest broadcaster to ever call a game, but a man whose singular style will never be seen again.
He’s already the only broadcaster to go it alone. Every other team employs a play-by-play guy and one, maybe two color commentators in their booth. When the Dodgers go on the road, they do too. But at Dodger Stadium, when Scully is at work in the Vin Scully Press Box, he’s the only man with a microphone. That makes watching a Dodger home game different from watching any other sporting event. Rather than hearing a trained broadcaster yuk it up with a retired player, then throwing to a spritely young reporter standing somewhere in the bleachers, there’s just you and the poet laureate of baseball having a conversation. And like any conversation with someone as experienced as Scully, it’s one-sided. You’re silent, listening intently while he tells stories about ice skating with Jackie Robinson or recounts the harrowing tale of a Cuban player escaping the island for his shot in the majors. The way Scully weaves together the game and its stories provides context that stats cannot. Not to say he’s missed baseball’s statistical revolution. You may not find him providing a pitcher’s xFIP, but he’s mentioned BABIP a time or two.
Even when he’s not spinning a yarn in that smooth baritone, Scully calls a game better than anyone else. He punches up the mundane with trademark flourishes (“deuces are wild” is a personal favorite) and remains excited about the game and its best players even after seeing so many cycle through the clubhouse.
Given the popularity of the MLB Network and baseball’s streaming service, MLB.tv, Scully is easier to listen to today than ever (although some in L.A. might disagree). Any fan of baseball, sports generally or the English language should go out of their way in the next couple of months to listen to Scully call a game. If, like me, you live in the Eastern time zone, this is a special treat. Dodger home games start at 10 p.m., as the world is getting quiet, making it easy to shut out distractions and do as Scully has always implored fans: “Pull you a chair and spend part of your evening with us.”
- Adam K. Raymond, OZY Author Contact Adam K. Raymond