Down the Left Field Line: The Vin Scully Effect

There is a troubling trend in baseball broadcasting lately. It wasn't until recently that I noticed it and now that I have noticed it I haven't been too happy about it. Let me explain....

As a kid I used to listen to John Buck and Mike Shannon call the Cardinals games during the summer from the little town in Southern Missouri that I lived in. Then right about the time I started Jr. High school we moved to Minneapolis, MN. We only lived in Minnesota for about eighteen months so I don’t quite remember the names of the broadcasters but I do distinctly remember there were two of them. Our move to North Carolina was akin to moving to baseball purgatory because there was no local major league team and certain nether-regions of the universe would have to freeze before I ever did a tomahawk chop and cheered for the Braves. However, once I went to college in Chicago I quickly picked up the Cubs on the radio and at started listening to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo.

As I grew up the sound of baseball was always two broadcasters describing the game. Not too long after I had lived in California a coworker, who happened to be a Dodgers fan, tried to convince me of the mystique of the one man (i.e. Vin Scully) booth. He talked about how much Vin allowed the game to unfold without needless chatter and that the sounds of the ballpark were enhanced because a booth partner didn't take up dead space. He told me how Vin would eloquently paint word pictures of the game unfolding before him so that it was if you could see it right in front of you. He tried to convince me that the greatness of Vin would be diminished if there was anyone else to give campy anecdotes or worthless (i.e. Tim McCarver) stats. All we needed was Vin to tell us about the game in his slow, robotic like drone and drawl.

I wasn’t quite sure I bought it mainly because of the impact of Hughes and Santo. Why wouldn’t you want two, friendly, entertaining, and captivating individuals in the booth describing the game we listen to every day?

It seems, however, that the powers that be in the world of professional baseball broadcasting are drinking from the putrid cup I like to affectionately call the Vin Scully Effect. As someone who listens to baseball frequently via the modern technological wonder of and an iPhone I’ve noticed this phenomenon more and more lately: one broadcaster, and only one, describing the game in the booth during an inning. It might not be the same person for the entire game, but lately I’ve noticed only one person doing the majority of the talking during a baseball game radio broadcast. The Giants lately have been using John Miller only with little snippets and an occasional inning from Dave Flemming. The Royals have a horrendous four-headed monster of a staff that splits time between Denny Matthews and Steve Physioc. As I was driving home from dropping my family off in Kansas City I turned on a game and was forced to listen to the not-so-sober-by-the-first-pitch Cardinal's broadcaster Mike Shannon. For some reason they let Mike call the first inning alone but he was so incapable of doing it that John Rooney had to come in and help him along. When they got around to letting Mike have a return to the solo mic in the fifth he barely was able to tell me what was happening on the field.[1]

My point is this; I think Vin is a fine man. He’s certainly been doing this in baseball for a very long time. He deserves respect and accolades for his tenure as a broadcaster. But, by no means should baseball media conglomerates try and replicate the method of the Dodgers and Vin Scully. Vin, by himself, does have a charm and way of bringing the game to life. Steve Physioc by himself is no more tolerable than scrapping your nails on a chalkboard. I suppose there is a small minority, such as John Miller, that I could easily listen to all alone. But baseball on the radio for me was defined by pairs. Buck and Shannon, Hughes and Santo, Kruk and Kuip. Listening to one person do it will never satisfy me. I want to be there between friends hearing their debates, analysis, passions and thoughts on the game. I want to enter a conversation with them and disagree with one while agreeing with the other. I want to hear small sideline talks about their lives, their observation of the crowd and players and the game. I want to hear friends tell me about baseball not a professor monologue about his observations of a game. I want two voices, not one.

  1. At this point some will say I’m biased against the Cardinals and everything to do with them. I will admit I have am not fond of the Cardinals but you must remember, I grew up listening to Mike Shannon and when you are incapable of telling me about the game because you are reading your advertisement and rambling about it so much that you fail to tell me about an entire at bat, I lose respect.  ↩