When I recently met one of my childhood heroes, it made me reflect on why he remains a hero; and why we all need heroes. In 1958 when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles my life changed. As a ten year old boy, nothing compared to LA now having its own team, especially the Dodgers with their great history. Vin Scully, the Dodger broadcaster since 1950 was now part of my life. He is a master story teller who has an exceptional ability of speaking to each listener personally. No matter what happened that day, he was always consistent, greeting each of us to the game with his most welcoming salutation “Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good (afternoon/evening) to you wherever, you may be.” At 84, he is filled with youthful energy and dignity always wearing his sport coat and tie which reflect the respect he has for himself, others and his profession.
Though the world of the 50’s quickly transformed into the turbulent 60’s and the decades that would follow which have been marked by wars, assassinations, domestic and international upheaval as well as the vicissitudes of my own life, one could always turn on the radio and allow Vin (Some people call him Vinny, he does not like Vince and certainly not Mr. Scully) to enter your living room or backyard and you could count on to remain, consistent, calm, reassuring and even handed. In the world of 2012 filled with so much noise, it is in Vin’s voice that we hear a steadfast beauty that allows us to slow down and just take in a few minutes or hours of a game.
The voice of the Dodgers was and has remained Vin Scully His voice is just a lens into a man with integrity, great mastery of language; incredible insight into life and drama a keen sense of humor; and a remarkable knowledge of literature, life and baseball. In so many ways, he is larger than life. And yet Vin is also so very human having lived though his own personal tragedies: the death his first wife when she was 35 and his oldest son at the age of 33. These experiences did not lead him astray from his core values that have kept him positive and optimistic:“As long as you live keep smiling because it brightens everybody's day.”
Many of my heroes have been political figures, human rights leaders, artists and activists; they each have a role. I know nothing about Vin’s politics or outside interests but what I do know is a man who lives with integrity and paints magnificent portraits with his voice. His eloquent and insightful use of language uplifts an ordinary baseball game into something with much greater meaning.
Vin is much more than the one of the greatest sportscasters ever: he is an artist who has distinguished himself with his poetic use of language, his gracious and dignified demeanor and his dramatic calls of some of the greatest moments in baseball history. As Aristotle said: ‘The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.’ Vin has a remarkable ability to paint a picture of the actual game and through his piercing insight into the game and human nature to guide us to the inner meaning.
Like any great artist, he works extremely hard at his craft, spending hours learning about players and their lives, preparing in every way possible for the curtain to rise and the play to begin.
April 18, 1958: I will never forget listening to the Dodgers first home game in Los Angeles. I was in bed with my transistor radio and my newly acquired score book and pencil. The resonance, timbre and modulation of his voice gave life to his expressive words that made me part of the game. Like so many of my generation, we desperate needed someone who could allow us to dream and hope and open our eyes to the world. He provides that hope as well as great comfort.
May 3, 1959: I was there at the Coliseum in Los Angeles for Roy Campanella night. This was a night of tremendous emotion as Roy was wheeled out to mound (after suffering a terrible automobile accident the year before) by Pee Wee Reece. We were all on our feet (93,103), and Vin gave eloquent expression to that powerful moment: “The lights are going out in this final tribute to Roy Campanella, and everyone at the ballpark … are asked in silent tribute to light a match,” he said. “The lights are now starting to come out, like thousands and thousands of fireflies, starting in center field, glittering around to left, and slowly the entire ballpark.” Then: “A sea of lights at the Coliseum.” I will never forget the glistening sky that night filled with candles of human hope.
September 9, 1965: I recall like it was yesterday listening with baited breath as he gave life to a most poignant moment in Sandy Koufax’s perfect game when with one out in the ninth; he commented: “I would think that the mound at Dodger Stadium right now is the loneliest place on earth.” Indeed, there are many lonely moments in life and Vin that night joined each of us in the lonely times we all face as we make challenging decisions, and have the courage to act in a way that we know is just and humane.
October 15, 1988: He described that dramatic moment in the 9th inning of the first game of the 1988 World Series when Kirk Gibson, barely able to walk, came up to pinch hit. He then hit was of the greatest home runs of all time and Vin captured it with: “In a year that has been so improbable….the impossible has happened.” What a great lens into life. Life filled with so many twists and turns, so many improbabilities….there is always the possibility of the impossible. Like Gibson we may limp up to the plate but in each of us is the potential to hit it out of the ball part.
Each and Every Game: Ninety nine percent of the plays Vin has described are ordinary ones: A routine grounder to second; an easy fly ball to right field; a strike out – but it is in these calls is the real reason I admire him so much. He is able to take the routine play and give it life. He is able to transform the ordinary into something that transcends time and space. He allows us to appreciate what takes place all the time in life and he captures the routine with the same eloquence and dignity as on rare occasion when the magical moment takes place.
Vin, thank you for being so human in a world where we often forget what it is to be humane. Vin, thank you for all that you give through your voice to bring so many people some joy. Thank you for allowing me to see in life that even in the ordinary there is always the potential for the extraordinary.
We all need heroes - Men and women with integrity who do their work skillfully, artfully and with pride. We need heroes who allow us to bring the best out in ourselves. We need heroes that are human like the rest of us but remind us that we can live lives that are sacred and meaningful. Thank you Vin. Keep up your great work.
Rabbi Lee Bycel is the President of CedarStreet Leadership (www.cedarstreetleadersip.com), works with individuals and organizations on the art of leadership and a devoted humanitarian, having made several trips to East Africa.