Last Sunday Vin Scully called his final game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He called play-by-play for the Dodgers, starting in Brooklyn in 1950 and ending, perhaps appropriately, calling the game against the Dodgers greatest rival, transferred from the borough of Queens to San Francisco, the Giants.
The Dodgers were sill in Brooklyn when I was born, so I don’t remember listening to Vin until the early 1960’s, there are pictures of me attending Dodger games at the LA Memorial Coliseum, where the team played for four years while Dodger Stadium was being built.
Growing up, I learned several things from Vin Scully. First, I learned baseball. I was one of the kids who sat with a scorecard and followed along and scored the game as Vin (and back then his partner Jerry Doggett) called the game. Even on the rare occasions when I could go to the stadium (with a $5 bill I could take the bus to the stadium from Hawthorne for 50 cents, buy a $1.50 ticket, and have, and have $2.50 for a Dodger Dog, a coke, and bag of peanuts, but in those days a Lincoln was a rare commodity) I and most of the people in the stadium still had a transistor radio and listened to his broadcast. I learned the intricacies of the game, the rules, the plays, what should be done when and why.
The other thing I learned was how to speak and the importance of the “word picture.” Growing up I had a rather profound speech impediment (I was in speech therapy through junior high) and listening to games taught me how to speak properly. I imitated his voice (badly), pretended to call games, and learned how to describe things. I learned that a breadth of experience was essential to create good exposition. Bringing examples from a Broadway show, or a classical piece of music, or a piece of American history; all of those can help describe and explain a scene. That was the great thing about Scully, how he explains in words something you couldn’t see, but you could see it. You could see the big bouncer over the mound over second, speared by Wills who makes an off balance throw on a bounce, dug out by Parker to end the inning. You could hear the crack of the bat and the towering fly ball hit by #25 that goes back, way back, it’s gone, a long home run by Frank Howard. You could see Willie Mays flat on his back in the dirt of the batter’s box after being knocked down by a Don Drysdale side arm pitch.
You could feel the sheer power of a Koufax fastball as even greats like Stan “the Man” Musial or Mickey Mantle swung and missed.
So, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with the theme of this blog? To my mind quite a bit. With all of the emphasis in expository preaching on exegesis, and aorists, infinitives and a host of grammatical concepts 90% of your congregation has no idea about, and teaching sound doctrine (all of which are vitally important) way too many pastors either ignore or even disparage the vital need to connect with the audience. Can you describe a passage, painting a word picture in such a way that it is both clear and memorable? Will your congregation remember your messages with clarity 50 years later or are you just hoping for 50 minutes? There is obviously talent in people like Scully that only come along every so often, you cannot duplicate that. But you can get better than you are. Some preachers, even those acknowledged as great, are simply “word machines” or speakers, not orators, not wordsmiths. What’s the difference? Close your eyes, no looking at the text. You’ve got a transistor radio to your head. As you hear the words can you “see” the passage? As the sermon is developing, is the grass emerald green, are the San Gabriel Mountains glimmering with the sun in the background, as the ball is whacked into the gap in left center can you see Willie Davis run it down? Can you see the clarity of the passage, the same way we could see Johnny Podres call up the magic one more time to beat the hated Yankees in 1963 to send the series back to LA up two games to none?
When you can learn to do that, and it takes practice, practice, practice; you will be a much better preacher than you are today.
I would add one other personal note. It was my privilege in another life to meet Vin Scully on several occasions and an even greater privilege to have him thank me for a personal service I was able to provide. Vin Scully, is singularly the one of nicest people I have ever met. I never heard him describe a game with anything but honesty and respect for the players on the other team. He could describe Bill Rigney, the manager of the Giants, throwing his hat to the ground, his grey hair glistening in the light and after the argument the Dodger manager Walt Alston walking back to the dugout like a Philadelphia lawyer who had just won his case, describing it all in such a way that enabled you to understand the feelings of both and respected each of them. I never heard a single disparaging comment in the thousands of games I heard Vin Scully broadcast.
Too much preaching today makes enemies of the opponents instead of respected rivals; ridicules those who disagree instead of seeing them as those who simply play small ball instead of going for the long drive. Naturally cheaters and dirty players are called out because there’s no place in the game for that; their offenses detailed with an unsurpassed understanding of the game and desire for fair play. But, there’s always room for redemption, someday Juan Marachal, the Giant pitcher who intentionally hit Johnny Roseboro with his bat, may take the mound for the Dodgers; Sal “the Barber” Maglie, hated pitcher of the Giants, may move from Queens to Brooklyn and help the Dodgers get to the World Series.
Thanks to Vin Scully for a lifetime of enjoyment and life lessons learned.