Friday, June 19, 2009

Good summer reads

Despite being the public voice of Dodgers baseball for more than six decades – entertaining and educating tens of millions along the way - Vin Scully is an incredibly private man.

Which is why, the man behind the mike has turned down request after request after request to collaborate on a book about his remarkable career as the finest sportscaster of all-time.
Curt Smith, the voice of authority on baseball broadcasters, was among those who attempted to convince Scully to tell his story for posterity. The broadcaster respectfully declined, but Smith refused to give up.
Without Scully’s biography there was a huge void in the written history of baseball broadcasting, and Smith was determined to fill it.

So, despite Scully’s polite protestations, Smith put fingers to keyboard and the result is a wonderful tribute, published last month, titled, Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story.

It is a book worthy of Scully, whom Smith calls “the Roy Hobbs of broadcasting – the best there ever was.’’

And it is appropriate that Smith would do the honors of writing about Scully because my friend and former presidential speechwriter is the Roy Hobbs of baseball broadcasting chroniclers.
“Not having a biography about Scully would have been like writing about popular music without mentioning Sinatra,’’ Smith told me recently. “The library of baseball broadcasting would have been woefully incomplete.’’
The thing I’ve always admired about Scully and other old-time broadcasters, such as Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Buck and Ernie Harwell, is that they were storytellers.

Unlike too many current-day broadcasters, such as Yankees play-by-play blowhard John Sterling (“It is high, it is far, it is . . . caught.’’), Scully paints a word picture, puts us in the ballpark. We can smell the hot dogs. We can visualize the pitcher wiping his brow, the hitter gripping his bat more tightly. We can feel the drama, the tension of the moment. We are there.

And as Smith demonstrates throughout this page-turning homage, the thing that separates Scully from all others is his lyrical use of the language. He is a poet who’ll tell us: “It was so hot today the moon got sun-burned.’’ Or he’ll compare a poor fielder to the Ancient Mariner: “He stoppeth one in three.’’

Pull Up a Chair is a wonderful read and a fitting tribute to an 81-year-old broadcaster who hasn’t lost anything off his fastball; who’s still showing listeners why he is the best there ever was.

While I’m on the topic of baseball books, I’d like to throw a plug in for The Final Game: A Fan Says Goodbye, written by Jeff Fox.

Last September 21, Fox, a professional photographer and life-long Yankees fan, spent the entire day chronicling the last game at the old Yankee Stadium. What makes Fox’s book distinctive is that he took his pictures from the perspective of a fan. There are shots from under the elevated subway tracks outside the stadium, inside the crowded concourse, from the far reaches of the steep upper deck and in the parking lot following the game.
I was there that day, so the book provides me with a wonderful keepsake of a very emotional moment. Anyone who cares not only about classic ballparks but historical landmarks will enjoy this book.

Lastly, I'd like to encourage you to head out to Frontier Field tomorrow morning (weather-permitting) for the 17th annual Challenger Baseball World Series.

You won't be disappointed.

Challenger is a program, in conjunction with Little League Baseball, that brings together boys and girls who are mentally and physically challenged. It's their chance to experience the thrill of wearing a uniform, swinging a bat and journeying around the bases - even if they are in a wheelchair.

I've been involved in the program for all 17 years and I've always come away feeling uplifted.

Kudos to World Series director Tony Wells, Red Wings GM Dan Mason and all the volunteers who make the event so special.

Tony tells me there will be more than 200 players, representing programs in Greece, Fairport, Webster, Batavia and the Fingers Lakes region. Come out and cheer on these kids. There's no admission charge, and the event is open to the public.


Barney said...

Hey, I took your book advice on The Final Game and I absolutely loved it. Thanks, hope to see more posts from you!

Steve Butabi said...

Thanks for the book advice!