Carols precede Christmas, birds welcome the dawn, and the voice of Vin Scully heralds the spring. The longtime Dodgers announcer, who passed away earlier this month at age ninety-four, marked the start of every baseball season of my childhood, just as he had for my father and grandfather. For sixty-seven years, Vin was the voice of the Dodgers—a voice that chronicled the move from Brooklyn to L.A., from a barely integrated league to an international one, and from radio to the internet. He spoke to us of a game that is much more than just a game.
When we heard Vin’s voice crackle through the radio, wishing a “very good evening to you, wherever you may be” to each of us, we could exhale. The world was on time, the sun was shining—at least somewhere—and the world was spinning around a center that seemed sure to hold.
Vin’s calls were beautiful because baseball is beautiful. You can see the beauty in the shape of the field, in the speed and grace of the ball players, in the history that people treat with such reverence, and in the smell of the leather and grass. But it’s also beautiful because it is harsh. The games are long, and the season is longer. Players face failure with crushing regularity, and advantages of showmanship quickly evaporate over the span of 162 games and the inevitable humbling of time. And let’s not forget about Lady Luck: She ruins pitchers with bloop hits and seeing-eye singles, hitters with knock-down wind currents, and fielders with bad hops and glaring sunlight. Just enduring a season is an achievement in handling adversity and failure.
When Vin called a game, he drew your attention to what mattered. Sure, he told stories—always with grace and candor—but it wasn’t a distraction from the game. He marveled at the players, but never just at their physical prowess; he’d share their personality, tendencies, and flaws as well. When the talented and undisciplined Yasiel Puig emerged as a Dodger, Vin aptly nicknamed him “the Wild Horse.” And when the ball was hit to Puig with runners on base (or when Puig was on base himself), Vin’s voice conveyed the daring recklessness that was on display. Likewise, when Vin praised someone (as in the case of former Brave, current Dodger Freddie Freeman) as a “fine young ball player,” you knew that he was telling you with good authority that this was not just someone talented, but someone with character.
I, like so many others, learned to see baseball through Vin’s eyes. He’d help you see possibilities: Maybe they will hit and run, or pitch around this batter, or try to throw inside. Baseball is tremendously complicated, and if you spent time listening to Vin, you’d begin to see it blossom. Baseball is one of those distinctly human things that the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre calls a “practice”: a particularly elevated kind of cooperative human activity. Practices (like chess or playing the piano) reveal goods internal to it; in other words, people who excel at the practice hone skills that we praise. The pitcher who can throw his fastball and his changeup with the same motion, the hitter who can hit to the right side in order to move the runner—these are “good.” When we learn a practice, MacIntyre suggests, we begin to understand what it means to have a virtue. We start to understand what it means to be an excellent person by learning what it means to be an excellent practitioner of an art. Vin showed us, in the scaled-down cosmos of the baseball field, what it means to be an excellent practitioner of the art of baseball—and thereby, helped us understand something between the foul lines that we couldn’t see in our tabloids and tablets: virtue.
The past decade has been a fine time to be a Dodger fan, but between our recent success and Kirk Gibson’s “impossible” homerun in 1988 stood about two decades’ worth of painful seasons. We were listening to Vin day in and day out while our team struggled and lost. Americans love a winner, so why did we tune in? The answer, at least in part, was because of Vin. You don’t need a happy ending to have a good time. You don’t even need to have a “good time” to have a time that is good. Aristotle said that tragedy was the genre for ethical formation: He would have had high praise for a season of listening to Vin.
When Vin Scully signed off for the final time in 2016, I wept. My oldest son, five years old, asked what was wrong. “I’m just so grateful,” I said. My wife, pregnant at the time, did not object when I told her I knew the middle name of our arriving child: Vincent. Vin was a significant part of my grandfather’s life, my father’s, and mine. It’s only fitting for a son who will never hear him call a live game to be marked by him as well.
I was watching the Dodger game on August 2 when they announced that Vin Scully had passed away. I fought back tears as the announcers struggled on, themselves shaken by the loss of a man who meant so much to so many.
By all accounts Vin Scully was a good man. He was humble. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Scully once remarked, “God has been incredibly kind to allow me to be in the position to watch and to broadcast all these somewhat monumental events...But none of those are my achievements; I just happened to be there.” It’s amazing how we noticed a man who wasn’t trying to be noticed at all.
After his retirement in 2016, Vin would return occasionally to Dodger Stadium (now located on Vin Scully Avenue) and intone one of his signature lines: “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” Sure, there was another voice in the booth, but Vin’s presence suggested that the world might still be somewhat on time. While Vin is no longer here to reassure me that the center of this spinning world holds, I can appreciate it nonetheless. I’ll miss his voice, but he left behind something even more beautiful—the world as he taught me to see it.
Jesse Cone teaches philosophy at the University of Dallas.
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