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October 6, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight

Speak Of The Week: Vin Scully’s Goodbye

In 1949, less than one million households owned a television set (about half of one per cent).  By 1959 it was 88% per cent, and by 1970, it was 96%.  We live in a visual age.  Whenever possible, it seems we would rather show, than tell.

Today, the web is by far the most dominant medium of mass communication, and it’s also predominantly a visual medium.  And while this technology provides us with a stunning array of tools with which to inform, entertain, and connect with one another, it was not so long ago that we were mostly an aural culture.

Ever since we started gathering round the fire, storytellers have sought to create worlds within the imaginations of their listeners; to populate the theatre of their minds using nothing but words; to bring listeners into a story and to make them believe.

There is a modern, specialized form of storytelling known as “calling” a baseball game, and the demands placed upon its would-be practitioners are daunting.  You must first have an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its sometimes arcane and byzantine rules.  You must have all the relevant facts at your fingertips: who’s on first; where the team is at in the standings; how long the relief pitcher been on the disabled list, etc.  You must also understand the unique personalities of the team, and be able to share anecdotal stories about their lives and their individual journeys to “The Show”, so that over the course of a season, listeners get to know and love players they may never actually meet.  And finally, you must be capable to bringing to life a game that can sometimes consist of long stretches of inactivity, punctuated by bursts of explosive action that are over in the blink of an eye.

This week, Vin Scully, the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, retired after 67 years as their play-by-play announcer.  His career  stretched back to their days in Brooklyn in 1950, a mere five years after the end of World War  II.

“Beloved” does not begin to describe how generations of baseball and Dodgers fans feel about this man and his enormous storytelling gifts.  Season after season, pitch after pitch, every moment of this storied baseball team’s efforts were made manifest by his mellifluous voice and pleasing, chatty demeanour; first on the radio, then for decades over their TV broadcasts.  It appears impossible that anyone will ever come close to achieving Vin’s career longevity.  To do so, if they started today, they would need to retire in 2083.

We chose Vin’s retirement, and his heartfelt “goodbye” following his final broadcast as our Speak of the Week, to honour and celebrate a true artist who was a master of his craft, and who used his voice and his words to bring America’s Pastime to life better than anyone else ever did, or ever will.