Lessons from The White House with Vin Scully
“The game of baseball has a handful of signature sounds. You hear the crack of the bat… you got the crowd singing in the 7th inning stretch…and you’ve got Vin Scully.” So said President Obama in his final Presidential Medal of Freedom Award Ceremony on November 22nd in the White House. Like the President, I honestly didn’t grow up in a place where I heard once of those signature sounds on a regular basis. Crack of the bat? Sure. 7th inning stretch? Yes, sometimes annoyingly (excuse my cynicism). Vin Scully?
Not so much.
(But so Los Angeles residents are blessed. I guess it’s a trade-off. They deal with traffic, they get Vin to listen to in the car. I deal with the subway, I get…the latest single by Mariachi Band #4?)
So, if I never got to listen to Vin Scully much in my lifetime, what do I think when I hear his name?...Let me get back to you on that.
A short history:
1927: Vincent Edward Scully was born in the Bronx – the year the infamous “Murderers’ Row” lineup took the Yankees to the World Series. Lindbergh flies across the Atlantic. Some other stuff happens that I didn’t listen to in history class.
My apologies, I digress. Moving on.
1949: Vin graduates from Fordham University after helping found its FM radio station WFUV. Truman Doctrine proclaimed. Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier.
1986: Vin calls the World Series on television for the tenth time. Bill Buckner forgets the thing my little league coach tried, valiantly, to impress upon me. The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes upon launch. Pixar opens its doors.
2016: Vin receives the PMoF Award…and I am in attendance.
There are few men in history who have seen so much history. There are even fewer men in history who have conveyed so much history. And I witnessed one of these men be awarded America’s highest civilian honor in the White House last week.
At the risk of stating the obvious, my first observation was that the White House was old. Like in-constant-need-of-renovations old. The ceremony was held in the East Room, which has been refurbished a total of nine times over the years. The walls are decked in gold paint and adorned with portraits of George Washington, Abigail Adams, and William McKinley among others. It serves many purposes, functioning as a place for dances (think Princess Di with Travolta) as well as for press conferences.
Packed to the brim with reporters, family, friends, government officials, and, of course, the recipients themselves, the East Room was bubbling with excitement. The honorees walked in and, boy, did Obama out-do himself this time. Actors, basketball legends, singers, scientists, and, of course, everybody’s favorite baseball announcer were selected for this year’s ceremony.
But, as Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing said “In this house, when the President stands, nobody sits.”
And, believe me, everybody stood.
President Obama then proceeded to deliver his remarks about each of the honorees, eloquently explaining why each of them deserved a place on the dais. Apparently, for Vin, this took some extra clarification. “When [Vin] heard about the honor, Vin asked with characteristic humility, ‘Are you sure? I’m just an old baseball announcer,’” the President explained. “And,” the President added to much applause, “we had to inform him that to Americans of all ages, [he is] an old friend.”
When we caught up with Vin after the ceremony, he again displayed this humility. “I’m a baseball announcer sitting there thinking,” Vin told us, “I’ve broadcast the accomplishments of others, but I’ve never felt that I’ve done any major accomplishment.” Such modesty is a rare quality these days, and even rarer in the big-personality world of TV and radio. Although when we hear Vin’s voice over the airwaves we are reminded of summers that have faded into fall, I’d argue that it should also remind us that, to steal a phrase, no matter where we are or wherever we may be, to never forget who we are. We all start out somewhere, and it’s easy to forget sometimes as we roll from one punch of life to the next that we must always hold on to the empathy that is so critical to functioning as a society – as people, even. I think that’s my lesson from Vin Scully.
Alright, right now you might be saying “I thought this was an article about baseball and the White House and medals…not a shoddy Dead Poets Society rip-off.” Okay, enough speechifying from me.
I’ll leave you all with Vincent Edward Scully’s award citation, dated November 22nd, 2016:
With a voice that transcended a sport and transformed a profession, Vin Scully narrated America’s pastime for generations of fans. Known to millions as the soundtrack of summer, he found time to teach us about life and love while chronicling routine plays and historic heroics. In victory and in defeat, his colorful accounts reverberated through the bleachers, across the airwaves, and into our homes and imaginations. He is an American treasure and a beloved storyteller, and our country’s gratitude for Vin Scully is as profound as his love for the game.
Click below to listen to all of President Obama’s remarks on Vin Scully in its entirety.