With Vin Scully’s last broadcast on Sunday, baseball loses a great voice and personality. His dulcet tone will live on via Youtube clips or old grainy VHS copies of Dodger games. The man who ingrained himself to American popular culture and baseball history as deep as Babe Ruth will be hard to replace. With how much has changed in media’s culture, especially in sports play-by-play, many think there will never be another Vin Scully. While it’s true that he is a unique snowflake that cannot be replicated, there is so much to learn from Scully.
Many aspiring play-by-play announcers are enrolled in broadcasting programs, all trying to be the voice of their favorite team or network. A decade ago I was in the same situation.
It was my dream, then, to be the voice of network baseball. In the back of my mind, I wanted to have the respect that people like Scully or Dick Enberg earned. I studied their approach to the games and tried to model my tone to theirs. Growing up during the rise of SportsCenter and the idea of being part broadcaster, part standup comedian, I never associated with that style.
It is true that baseball announcing has evolved since Scully started nearly 70 years ago. With the added analysts and the almost obligatory dugout interviews in the fourth inning, it is a far cry from Scully and his peers flying solo for three hours. Though the job of play-by-play announcing is still the same.
There’s a lot one could learn from Vin Scully on being a great play-by-play announcer. He was a master of the little things about being a great broadcaster. Rather than just insert a ton of links from an interview with Roy Firestone back in 1990 about his career, it would be easier to just watch the whole show.
Give Firestone a lot of credit, he did plenty of prep before doing this interview. That corresponds with the first tip. As Scully was asked if he ever scripted stories to use during a broadcast, he merely attributes it to simple memory recall and plenty of preparation. A play-by-play announcer should never try to plan stories unrelated to the game’s narrative. It needs to flow organically, especially in a game like baseball.
Even with lots of preparation and a good read on plays, even the best broadcaster is bound to make a mistake. As Scully recounted of his on-air error in the 1987 NLCS, it is easier to admit the wrongdoing than try to cover it up. A play-by-play man is narrating the events, but even then, no one is infallible.
To keep with the narration theme, Scully, in his distinct style is not afraid to let the pictures do the talking. Even in his days of working on the radio he was no stranger to making a call in a big moment and letting the sound of the crowd heighten the emotion. While doing the 1955 World Series, calling the final out of the Dodgers win, he let the cheer from the crowd accentuate his subdued call. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world.” Then he went silent, allowing the fans tuning in to take in the atmosphere. It was a great moment to shut up and let the scene take over.
As Joe Davis takes over, he will have huge shoes to fill. He’s a pro and knows he cannot be Scully, let alone try to imitate him. Joe Davis can only be Joe Davis. While we think we can be Vin Scully, we are not.
Vin Scully created his own voice, his own persona because that’s who he was, himself. As an aspiring play-by-play man develops his skills, tone, and persona, one has to be genuine. Scully does not have multiple personas, he is always Vin Scully. Audiences do not tune into a ballgame to hear impressions or “announcer voice.” They want an honest narrator.
Being genuine goes back to an earlier point of being organic. A play-by-play announcer should not oversell a play or try to force an emotion onto the audience. Scully, despite his critics, always approached the moment for what it was. His vocabulary and descriptions were organic since that is his own voice. To take it from another sport, it the reason NHL announcer Mike Emrick uses multiple synonyms for pass, it’s the very make up of his style or flair.
As Scully departs the broadcasting landscape, new broadcasters will take over. It is a simple yet demanding job. If there is one thing to take away from the long, illustrious career of Vin Scully, there are a few key skills to master. Be prepared. Never be afraid to admit you are wrong. Learn how to use silence. Be yourself. It’s as simple as that. Scully was a master of them all.