I love the challenge of describing things

I enjoy turning the spotlight on people who are great communicators. One of the best is about to retire.

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Vin Scully at work. Man, I wish my office had a view like this. (Image source: ESPN)

This weekend, Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully will call his last game. Since 1950 (that’s not a typo) baseball fans — not just Dodger fans, but all of us — have fallen under the spell of Scully’s warm baritone voice.

During a celebration in his honor, Scully said, “I really love baseball. The guys and the game, and I love the challenge of describing things.”

Describing things. Isn’t that what all of us — anyone who has written a user guide or tutorial, anyone who has created technical art or instructional videos — try to do? No one does it better than Vin Scully.

In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that he’s a model for technical communicators.

Pull up a chair, and let me explain what I mean.

He knows how to reach an audience

On the air, Scully establishes a rapport with everyone from hard-core baseball fanatics to casual observers. Let’s sit down together, he seems to say, and enjoy watching the game. He knows his audience, and he’s a master at connecting with us.

He keeps it real

Scully has called some of the most memorable events in baseball history. Sandy Koufax’ perfect game. Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run. He’s done it without yelling and screaming, and with a knack for putting the event into its historical context. You might say his style is understated, and in terms of energy level it is understated. But not in terms of eloquence.

On that night in Atlanta in 1974, as Aaron rounded the bases after his home run, Scully remarked on how a stadium full of people was cheering for a black man in the heart of the old South — and how that was a very good thing.

He attends to the details

Scully has always been prepared, knowing details about baseball strategy, about the players’ backgrounds, about a thousand other things. During the last few outs of  Koufax’ perfect game, Scully took note of Koufax’ every movement as well as the size of the crowd and even the time on the scoreboard clock.

He was painting a picture for posterity. I wasn’t there; I’ve never even been to Dodget Stadium. But listening to a recording of Scully’s call I can see every detail in my mind.

He’s a storyteller

Scully has broadcast 67 years worth of games. He’s interviewed players who were around maybe 100 years ago. So, yeah, he knows some stories. And he knows how to tell them.

Former pitcher Jerry Reuss recalls a time he pitched in Dodger Stadium as a visiting player. Standing on the pitching mound, Reuss became aware, from the sound of thousands of transistor radios in the stands, that Scully was telling a story. “I can hear by his cadence, his inflection…. It just caught me,” Reuss said. He stepped off the mound until Scully finished the story, until the people laughed at the punch line. Only then was it time to resume pitching.

That’s the power of a good storyteller.

I wish Vin Scully godspeed in his retirement. And I’ll think of him as I go about my work of describing things.

Note: If you’re a baseball fan, treat yourself to this terrific Scully retrospective that was put together by the staff at ESPN. Both the Aaron story and the Reuss story can be found there.

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