The Los Angeles Dodgers have made the MLB playoffs. Normally, this wouldn’t be something I’d care too much about, but this year is special. This year it means that fans get a little longer taste of the best sports announcer of all time, Vin Scully.
Scully started as play by play man for the Dodgers in 1950. That’s right, 1950. That’s 67 years in the booth calling baseball games, though in recent years he has only done home games and nearby road trips. He’s been honored all season for his Hall of Fame work and rightly so; there aren’t many who even compare to Scully in their ability to carry the interest of people through an entire baseball game.
When we switched cable companies this summer, I discovered that my new package had the MLB Network. This was great for a baseball nut like me, and I was happy to discover the network’s many live look-ins to games, which often included the Dodgers. In doing this, it gave fans like me a chance to hear broadcasters we normally don’t, such as Scully. Anytime I saw a Dodgers game was on, I had to at least tune in for a while to hear that smooth voice telling stories and describing the action.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” In the world of sports broadcasts, this is true, though time and new talent help one get over losing favorite voices. Growing up listening to Twins games on WCCO, I heard Herb Carneal every night in the summer. Once John Gordon joined the mix in 1987, I was a diehard. Those two were magnificent together. Many a night I should’ve been slumbering, but had to stay up for at least part of a West Coast game that didn’t finish until around midnight. Carneal and Gordon kept me awake.
When I purchased some DVDs of the Twins’ appearances in the World Series, I was delighted to see that one option was to listen to the hometown call of the game while watching the TV broadcast. Once again I could hear, “Touch ‘em all, Kirby Puckett!” while reliving Game 6 of the 1991 Series. These days it’s not quite the same if I tune in on the radio. Cory Provus and Dan Gladden aren’t bad, but they had big shoes to fill.
If I’m watching on TV, I do enjoy Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven. They took some offense earlier this season when they were accused of being the biggest homers of all broadcast teams. It was hard to find much to like this season for the Twins, but Bremer and Blyleven always tried to inject hope. How else will you keep people coming back when your squad loses over 100 games?
There’s an early episode of Seinfeld where the character George is out of work and trying to figure out where to look for a new job. He decides that he’d be good as a color commentator for sports since he’s always making interesting observations during games. His friend Jerry tells him that, while that is true, those jobs often go to former athletes.
This is why you see Blyleven and Gladden announcing Twins games and various other athletes as part of broadcast teams in all sports. They have an insight the rest of us don’t, having been in the trenches and part of sports at a high level. They understand the grind of a season and can understand certain situations better than the armchair coaches at home.
But it seems like the very best of the breed never played professionally. Scully never played baseball for MLB, but he’s viewed as one of the greatest announcers of all time. Harry Carey was considered by many to be a tremendous baseball announcer, but he never got above the semi-pro level. Bob Costas might be one of the best all-around sports announcers, but he never even played college ball before he started in the radio business.
What makes these guys so good if they never played at that level? There’s something to painting a picture of what’s happening, especially for those who do radio. Any announcer I’ve listened to who is excellent does just that. It’s as if you’re watching the game, knowing which way the football is being kicked or picturing the sun shining in the outfielders’ eyes as a fly ball is lofted out there. Plus, there is a passion for the game, which is a key element. You can tell that these guys love the sport and, in their minds, have the greatest job in the world.
Sometimes people scoff at my love of sports. What they don’t always understand is that, outside the competition itself, I am watching stories unfold. The best announcers make those stories come to life. Beyond the statistics and the blood, sweat, and tears, I enjoy a good story. Even though I didn’t get to listen to Vin Scully on a regular basis, I know that the world will have less beautiful stories once the Dodgers finish their season. But I also know that others will develop to tell new stories in the years to come.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is dabster, which means an expert at something, as in, “While Vin Scully may not have dabbed well, he was a dabster in the broadcast booth.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!