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Lessons from a legend: Vin Scully

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Vin Scully waits to throw out the first pitch on Vin Scully Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles Thursday, August 30, 2012 (Credit: LA.com/Hans Gutknecht)

Few things in sports last long. Records get broken almost as quickly as they are established. Players fade in and out of prominence. Teams welcome and then cast aside players. Ours is the generation of the now, where every play is the greatest we’ve ever seen. Our sports memories run like goldfishes, and we’re trapped in our fishbowl of immediacy.

And then there is Vin Scully, the legendary Dodgers broadcaster for over 60 years. If modern sports is X, Y & Z, Vin Scully is A, B & C. He stands as a great counterweight to much of our contemporary proclivities for hype, sensationalism, and out-of-context soundbytes. We’ve written before about his faith, but I want to explore the lessons we can learn from how he has approached his job as broadcaster.

Sandy Koufax said, “It may sound corny, but, I enjoyed listening to Vin call a game almost more than playing in them.” The fabled Dodgers pitcher echoes a sentiment that is carried by many fans. There’s just something special about tuning into a Dodgers game and hearing Scully’s mellifluous voice narrating the action on the field. He’s the only announcer that gets to work alone, and that directness to the audience makes the experience more personal.

Most announcers feverishly work to grab the attention of the audience, and come across more as used-car salespersons. Amidst the barrage of factoids and superfluous information, you the viewer are just trying to watch the game. Scully, on the other hand, comes across as a fan rather than a professional sports salesman. He’s not trying to get you interested in the game, he assumes that because you are watching, you are already interested. One of my favorite quotes from him is about how he views the overuse of statistics in modern broadcasting: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”

Vin Scully quote: Football is to baseball... (Credit: Mark Cook) Fans are quick to point out his lyrical quality of calling the game. Like a great landscape artist, he paints the game as it unfolds before him. His favorite brush may be the analogy, where you can pack extra cargo into an otherwise simple phrase. Consider the way he described the great Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson: “He pitches as though he’s double-parked.” How about this depiction of Atlanta Braves left-hander Tom Glavine: “He’s like a tailor; a little off here, a little off there, you’re done, take a seat.”

But lest you think he might get carried away with all these metaphors, he also has the quality of speaking directly to the human nature of the game. It is a game, after all. One of his most memorable lines came as he described the status of an injured player: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day (audible pause). Aren’t we all?”

The great announcer has many lessons that apply to our lives, but I want to focus on two. First, Vin Scully teaches us about the importance of details. He is quick to note the timbre of the crack of the ball off a bat, or the beauty of the sunset, or even the smile of a young fan at the game. It is easy to slip into auto-pilot when it comes to life. You know that feeling, when you look back on the last week and it’s just a giant blur. A great announcer like Scully knows that each game is unique, and that the particularities are what give it resonance and vitality.

Jesus was quick to point out specific examples and details in his preaching. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? “Consider the lilies” (Matthew 5:28). Just a simple flower to some, but to Jesus an example of God’s care for the details of our lives. When we stop to notice the details in life, gratitude is given fertile soul in which to grow. As we think upon these details, we start to trace the patterns of God’s grace and providence in our lives. And as we do this for ourselves, joy grows amidst the gratitude, and we can’t help but share with others.

Second, Scully teaches us about living in the freedom of not comparing ourselves to others. The story goes that as he was learning the ropes of announcing back in the 50’s, his mentor Red Barber told him to be himself instead of trying to copy other announcers. Over time, he developed his own idiosyncrasies, including being one of the only announcers to commonly reference poetry in the middle of a game. He knows the importance of the distinction of learning from others instead of trying to copy them.

So much of our time is consumed in the modern era with comparing ourselves to others. We are surrounded by a social media circus that makes us all look a bit like teenagers just trying to get attention. It’s easy to move from looking at those pictures of your friend’s recent vacation to wishing you had their life. It’s hard to remember, though, that that friend has her own inner struggle with life’s difficulties. Teddy Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy”. Paul said to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18) Resolve this day to allow God’s grace to change your perspective, and in so doing, he may just use you to help steer someone else to a closer relationship with Him as well.