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The craft of Vin Scully

An appreciation of a legend’s way with words

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I feel odd writing about Vin Scully because everything that was great about him can’t be captured on paper. He is a wordsmith but his skill and agility with language is all tone and cadence. It’s music and to read the words he spoke—still speaks—is on par with reading the sheet music of The Beatles.

His famous delivery of “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn…” is maybe the most simple delivery of information possible in terms of baseball play-by-play. It is the count and the batter. It is the situation at its most basic, but the way he delivers the information is poetic. It’s first stressed syllable falling into an iambic rhythm; or how he starts at a slightly higher register to illustrate the tension of the moment…

Well, to my point—don’t read about it, just listen. You just have to listen to Vin.

But I can’t help myself! I’m a lesser man and have to wax poetic about one of the greats.

Brady shared this video in his write up of last night’s San Francisco Giants game, but this call of Bumgarner and the jackrabbit is a perfect example of Scully’s skill. How he transitions from baseball to narrative and back so seamlessly. The anecdote doesn’t interrupt the action—its not dead air that Scully is trying to fill, nor are the quick breaks to call the pitches to Justin Turner getting in the way of the story he is trying to tell. It’s all part of the same narrative. Bumgarner working through command issues to Turner, frustrated by the strike zone of the umpire, Turner patiently laying off outside fastballs, loping sliders inside—Scully ties them all in by eliminating himself from the equation. He frames the at-bat and he frames the anecdote by offering up the authorship back to Bumgarner: You know, Bumgarner tells a story that…

Scully speaks but it’s Bum who pitches. It’s Bum who’s on the mound, who’s holding the ball and it’s his story. Vin just humbly ties this nondescript sequence of pitches to this epic allegory of survival and perseverance and grit.

Turner walks. Bumgarner ambles off the back of the mound, the camera expertly holds on him as Scully describes the fierce will of the jackrabbit to survive after being swallowed alive by a snake, cut from its stomach an inch from death, then nursed back to health.

Howie Kendrick singles on the next pitch. Two on, no outs, The Dodgers threaten a big inning and Bumgarner is in the belly of the snake. He is both rabbits and the story isn’t over. Will he be the one who dies in the animal or the one who survives?

Another example and everything I wrote above applies here. Analysis more succinctly put on my end—but anyone who can make a Jonny Gomes at-bat this compelling deserves a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

As much as I love and envy his eloquence and sound—Scully can speak better than I can write—what I appreciate most about his craft are his silences.

Here I am over-explaining, overwriting, overcompensating, just making desperate noise in a hopes that my audience understands what I am trying to say—but Scully’s humility, coupled with awareness, allowed him to just step away from the mic. In moments in which all of us would be tempted to capture the moment, Vin let it be.

After Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, Scully stepped back and got a cup of coffee. Aaron will forever round the bases to white noise. Static. The screams of the crowd. That moment is beyond language and Scully recognized that. One articulate voice can be powerful, but it’s nothing compared to the cry of thousands.

If this all comes off as broadcasting common practice now, it’s because it is and that’s because of him. Every person in the booth today are descendants of Vin Scully, practitioners of his craft.