Last Sunday, Hall of Fame sportscaster Vin Scully retired. His 67 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers offered a model of civility too often missing in our nation. What made him, in addition to his upbeat and warm persona, a prototype for American political and societal behavior?
Certainly, you’ve got to be good to broadcast for one team over 67 seasons. Vin, a native New Yorker, came to Brooklyn Dodger baseball in 1950 at age 22. Harry Truman was president. I remember his broadcasts fondly. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Vin went west. Angelinos took to him immediately. So many fans at the ballpark listened to him on transistor radios that his voice carried across the Coliseum then, starting in 1962, Dodger Stadium.
Objectivity set Vin apart. Although paid by the Dodgers, Vin was never a “homer.” Yes, he wanted the Dodgers to win. But his broadcasting was impartial. He freely gave credit to opposing players and never covered over Dodger mistakes. Season after season, he remained gracious and respectful to everyone.
Interestingly, Vin worked alone long after “color men”—mainly former ballplayers—invaded the broadcast booth to root for the home team and tell fans what an announcer should know about the game. Vin knew a lot. Yet he never intimated or stated outright, as many color men do, that he knew things his audience didn’t.
The consummate professional, Vin kept listeners and TV viewers up to date on the game, avoiding the obvious for the TV audience while providing strategic insights as required. He never rambled on about extraneous matters as do so many announcers today. His stories always related to the players and baseball. Vin also understood when to remain silent and let the crowd paint the picture.
Consider his eloquent call on April 8, 1974 in Atlanta when Henry Aaron of the Braves broke Babe Ruth’s longstanding home run record. While Aaron, a black man, rounded the bases and the crowd roared, Vin said nothing. Then, after teammates mobbed Aaron: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. This man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South while breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol… What a marvelous moment for Henry Aaron.”
Civility well describes Vin’s relationship with baseball fans and everyone around him. He never put down opposing players. He never complained about bad calls. And making an incredible gesture, he retired at the end of the regular season so that the Dodgers, not Vin Scully, would be the focus of the upcoming playoffs.
Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale University, wrote a wonderful book, Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1998). His thesis: People should treat each other with respect even when they have very real differences on serious issues. While civility—call it good manners—may sometimes seem contrived, it remains critical to maintaining democracy and extinguishing sparks that can flare into violence.
If our major presidential candidates—and I particularly cite Donald Trump—practiced the civility exhibited by Vin Scully, we’d likely feel much better about the upcoming election.
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