In the world of American sports broadcasting, Vin Scully is a larger-than-life legend. For more than 60 years, he has told the story of the baseball club, the Dodgers, starting in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles. He is probably the most admired man in his profession. He is associated with a sports team that has won many championships and has had many star athletes, but Vin Scully is probably the most loved, respected and appreciated man ever connected with the Dodgers.
All of this is for good reason. Vin Scully is simply great at what he does. Hearing him describe what happens on a baseball field is not only to understand perfectly the action on the field, but Vin also has a way of weaving history, poetry, culture, humor, common sense and just plain life wisdom into his work in a way that is winsome and attractive.
I know this because I have listened to Vin Scully for literally my entire life. He started his career with the Dodgers before I was born. Since my father has been a long-time Dodger fan, I probably heard the voice of Vin Scully over a transistor radio while I was still in the womb with my twin sister, Diane. I also respect Vin Scully as a communicator, and as a preacher, I feel that I have a lot to learn from him.
Here are a few thoughts on what preachers can learn from Vin Scully.
Starting at a young age took courage and the willingness to take on the challenge, but Vin Scully started broadcasting for the Dodgers when he was only 22 years old. His long and current excellence was helped by the fact that he started young and put in the necessary time it takes to master a task. The same is true for preachers. It may be true that the first 200 sermons anyone preaches aren’t very good, so it’s great to get those 200 sermons out of the way when you’re young.
Vin’s work habits are legendary. He has the talent and experience to just show up at the ballpark and do a good job. Yet he arrives early (always in coat and tie) and gets down to the work of preparing for each evening’s game. He always has something to say because he works hard at preparation. Preacher, are you getting this?
Know Your Subject, Past and Present
Having listened to Vin Scully all my life, I can tell you that the man knows baseball. He doesn’t just know the game today; he knows its history. When Vin effortlessly weaves compelling, relevant and fun stories from the past into his work, he isn’t making baseball interesting: He shows that it is interesting. Preachers need to remember that we don’t make the Bible interesting, but when we know our Bibles well, we can more easily show the Bible is interesting.
When it comes to professional baseball clubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers are among the most famous teams. Many people think that Vin Scully is the most famous and beloved Dodger of all, even though he has never played for them. Yet, when the Dodgers are playing badly, Vin will tell you. He loves his team, but he is honest about them. Preachers need to be honest about their team – the church, the people of God – yet all the while showing they love God’s people.
For much of his career, Vin Scully’s work was on the radio and not on television. For the radio, Vin developed his skill of describing the action in wonderful detail. Vin doesn’t imagine things that aren’t there; he has simply learned to describe what is there. Effective preachers know how to study their Bible to simply notice what is there. We don’t try to imagine what isn’t in the text; we want to notice and describe what is there.
It’s Ok to Use Silence
Some of Vin Scully’s most famous moments as a broadcaster include times of significant silence. The moment is significant enough to speak for itself, and words can even get in the way. Vin will let the action on the screen and the roar of the crowd tell the story. I think many of us preachers should take advantage of bits of silence in our speaking, where we let a word or a thought sink in.
Don’t Live in a Bubble
It’s not unusual to hear Vin Scully quote Shakespeare, give bits of Japanese culture, refer to an ancient philosopher or say the lines of a hit song from an old Broadway musical. Vin loves baseball, but you can tell that he reads and thinks outside a baseball bubble. It’s easy for us as preachers and teachers to forget that there is a whole world around us that can illustrate and help us explain the Bible and the Christian life.
Enjoy What You Do
When you listen to Vin Scully, it is plain that he loves what he does. He never complains, and there is always a sparkle in his voice. There are times when the game itself is stressful, but you never get the sense that Vin is stressed. He can communicate the intensity of the game without seeming nervous or troubled himself. It is always good when the preacher can communicate the sense that they love what they do.
Love Those Whom You Speak To
I know it sounds strange, but Vin Scully has a remarkable gift in communicating the sense that he genuinely cares for and respects his audience – that he loves them. His audience loves him, and he loves them in return. The application for preachers is obvious, and we have even greater reason and motivation to love those to whom we speak and to display that love.
This will be the last baseball season for Vin Scully, and it truly makes me sad. This man has brought so much entertainment and wholesome pleasure to my life, and come the last Dodger game this year, I won’t hear him as the soundtrack of my summer. I’ll really miss that, but I will remain grateful for more than great entertainment; Vin Scully has given me more than a few thoughts on how to be a better preacher.