If you’ve had it with worrying about North Korea, Iran or what’s becoming of our country, here’s a suggestion for a pleasant diversion, especially if you’re a baseball fan.
Baseball historian Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, has written a marvelous book about the life of legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully, now, incredibly, in his 60th year of broadcasting Dodgers games, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles It’s titled “Pull Up a Chair,” the customary invitation issued to listeners by Scully at the beginning of each game. This marks the prolific Smith’s 13th book and I highly recommend it. It is the first biography of Scully, taking the reader on a wonderful journey through the life of this broadcasting icon.
You don’t have to be a Dodgers fan to appreciate Scully. He is simply paramount at what he does, much like Frank Sinatra in popular music or Fred Astaire in dance. He is not only the best baseball announcer ever, but probably the best in any sport. In his broadcasting craft he is like both a painter and a poet. He faces the start of each game as an artist does a blank canvas. Armed with a pallet of eloquence, insight and resonance, he applies verbal brush strokes of color and texture throughout the game until another masterpiece has been created.
His poetry surfaces often, as when he described a base runner on second base hoping to make it home, with a nod to “Death of a Salesman,” as a “tiny ship” seeking “safe harbor,” or when he referred to a cheap base hit as, “a humble thing, but thine own.” He once had this fly ball description: “He catches the ball gingerly, like a baby chick falling from a tree.” And as the afternoon receded toward the end of a game, what he observed inside the stadium was, “twilight’s little footsteps of sunshine.” They are words unlike those spoken by mere mortal announcers, delivered in a rich voice that remains as vibrant as ever despite Scully’s 81 years.
Announcer Hank Greenwald once observed that while football and basketball carry the announcer, the announcer carries baseball. Scully carries it to new heights.
His description of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Chicago Cubs in 1965 has been dubbed a classic. Writer Gary Kaufman said, “It had tension, rising and falling drama and great turns of phrase. And it came off the top of his head at a moment when, like the man whose feat he was describing, he knew he had to be at the top of his game.” Author Smith has described Scully as “baseball’s Laurence Olivier.” Smith says he “proves that it isn’t necessary, even in today’s culture, to dumb down a product to lure an audience. Scully lures through skill, work and an extraordinary affinity for language.”
If there were a Mount Rushmore for baseball broadcasters, Scully’s face would be on it. His life story has been beautifully sculpted by Curt Smith in “Pull Up a Chair.” It makes for great summer reading.
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