At the end of baseball’s regular season, Vin Scully stepped down as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. His departure has Bill Littlefield thinking about the job Mr. Scully did so well.
Baseball’s most memorable play-by-play guys have to stick around a while. You come to know them over time, to begin to feel the guide in the booth is your neighbor, your friend... a friend who’s grateful that he has a great job, but would never gloat about it.
Vin Scully, who stuck around for 67 years, has that quality, which is why lots of Dodgers fans are unhappy that he’ll no longer be telling them about what the Dodgers are doing on a daily basis throughout each summer.
"A bad play-by-play guy talks a lot without saying much. A good one talks less and communicates more.”
The world is smaller than it used to be. “Local” doesn’t mean what it used to mean now that baseball fans can watch any game anywhere on their phones.
But it’s still more fun to listen to your friend and neighbor describe the action. And that friend and neighbor’s more fun when there is no action to describe, too, which is often the case in baseball.
It might be a stretch to say there’s an art to broadcasting baseball, but it might not be, and it feels to me as if anybody who’s listened to several summer’s worth of ballgames is likely to nod when I say that.
If you’re going to broadcast baseball well, you can’t pretend to find drama where there is none. If it’s late August and the club is 16 games out, you can’t peddle suspense. Your listeners know better, and those who are still tuning in are there not for the final numbers, but for the rhythm of the end of the season.
Because fans aren’t stupid about baseball. This is why good play-by-play announcers don’t say things like, “He doesn’t want to walk this guy.” Fans understand that except under unusual circumstances, pitchers don’t want to walk anybody. They don’t have to be told.
A really bad play-by-play announcer will say, “He really doesn’t want to walk this guy.”
Come on, pal. Tell us he’s pawing the rubber as if he thinks there might be a bone under there.
A bad play-by-play guy talks a lot without saying much. A good one talks less and communicates more.
Ned Martin, who worked for the Red Sox during the 60s, 70s and 80s was one of the best. He sometimes communicated a great deal by saying, “mercy.” He knew that fans would understand why he was saying it, because he’d been doing his job, and they’d been listening.
Vin Scully earned that trust from fans of the Dodgers, and now those fans have my sympathy, because play-by-play announcers who can do that don’t often come along.