Gerald Ford once told a reporter, “I watch a lot of baseball games on the radio.” What sounded like a malapropism of Yogi Berra proportions made perfect sense to me because like the late president, I, too, have “watched” a lot of baseball games on the radio through the years. And I can thank some really gifted broadcasters for being my eyes.
The best baseball announcers—Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Red Barber, Jack Buck, Mel Allen, Jon Miller and Bob Costas come quickly to mind—have always been riveting storytellers. They paint word pictures, put us in the ballpark. We can smell the hot dogs and the beer. We can visualize the pitcher wiping his brow, the hitter gripping his bat more tightly. We can feel the drama, the tension mounting. We are there.
I bring this up because Scully— the best there ever was—called his final Los Angeles Dodgers game Sunday, ending a 67-year career unparalleled for its eloquence, elegance and longevity. To provide some perspective, Joe Davis, not yet 30, joined the Dodgers broadcast team this season to call road games. To match the 88-year-old Scully’s duration in the booth, he’d have to still be broadcasting games in the year 2082.
Scully began his marvelous career calling Brooklyn Dodgers games back in the “Boys of Summer” days, when Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider gave a borough with a massive inferiority complex something to rally around. The Bronx native continued broadcasting Dodgers games when they headed to Southern California after the 1957 season and played a huge role in helping popularize Major League Baseball there.
One of the things that separated Scully from all the others was his lyrical use of the language. He was a poet who told us: “It was so hot today the moon got sunburned.” Or he would compare a poor fielder to the Ancient Mariner: “He stoppeth one in three.”
Unlike so many announcers in love with their voices, Scully knew when to be quiet and let the fans’ reaction tell the story. “The roar of the crowd has always been the sweetest music,” he said.
He also understood that the story should always take precedence over statistics. Asked about the “staturation” problem in sportswriting and broadcasting, Scully said: “Statistics are very much like a drunk using a lamppost; for support, not illumination.”
Scully illuminated like no other sports broadcaster, but he never did so in a pedantic, overbearing way. He managed to pull off the difficult double-play combination of educating while entertaining. His broadcasts were three-hour conversations, with the listener pulling up a chair to hear what Uncle Vin had to say. He was so good at it that fans in Dodger Stadium often would listen to him on their transistor radios or cellphones, as if it wasn’t really happening unless Scully was describing the action and spinning yarns between pitches.
Amazingly, the octogenarian remained at the top of his game to the very end. After close to 7,000 games, Scully had lost nothing off his fastball. In the final inning of Sunday’s final broadcast at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, he expressed his gratitude this way: “Don’t be sad that it’s over; smile because it happened. And that’s really the way I feel about this unbelievable opportunity I was given, and I was allowed to keep for all these years.”
After providing the salient details following the final out, Scully signed off with these words: “I have said everything for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.”
I am sad we won’t be listening to his melodic conversations any more. But I’m smiling that we had the opportunity to listen to him for as long as we did.
Some have suggested the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence that’s presented annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame be renamed in honor of Scully. I’m all for that, but I’d like to go a step further and have Scully considered for enshrinement in the Hall itself.
More than two years after his death, Ralph Wilson continues to have a positive impact on Western New York through his philanthropy. The original owner of the Buffalo Bills mandated that $1.2 billion he earned from the sale of his NFL team go to his foundation, with every cent of it being given away within 20 years. Wilson also stipulated the lion’s share of the money go to the Buffalo-Rochester region and Detroit, where he lived most of his life. What a marvelous parting gift from a man who already had given our area so much just by bringing and keeping the Bills here.
During his athletic heyday when Bo Jackson was a superstar in both football and baseball, he teamed with Nike on a clever and highly successful “Bo Knows” advertising campaign. The humorous television commercials showed Bo excelling at a number of sports, as well as other endeavors.
Sadly, it’s what Bo didn’t know that’s bothering him today. The man who ran for touchdowns for the Los Angeles Raiders and slugged home runs for the Kansas City Royals said recently that if he had known then what he knows now about the potential dangerous long-term effects of playing football, he would have stuck solely with baseball, like his former Auburn University teammate Frank Thomas did.
Thomas, a tight end on the Tigers football team, decided to concentrate on baseball and wound up having a Hall of Fame career. Jackson probably would have joined him in Cooperstown had he chosen the same path. He was that great a baseball talent.
Watch award-winning Rochester Business Journal columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak analyze the Buffalo Bills on WROC-TV 8’s “Inside the Buffalo Blitz” Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and following games on News 8 at 11 p.m.
9/23/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.