The other night Jessica Mendoza, one of ESPN’s celebrity baseball announcers, referred to Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’s brilliant left-handed pitcher, as “the best player in baseball.” That was a day or two after Harold Reynolds, of the MLB network, held forth for about ten minutes on why the Cubs’s Kris Bryant was the best player in baseball. Earlier in the week, others mentioned as sport’s best player included Mike Trout, of the Angels, and Anthony Rizzo, another Cub, and several more whom we forget. Gary Sanchez, the Yankee catcher who has been on fire since he was called up from Scranton-Wilkes Barre on August 3, has also been mentioned.
Pronouncing someone as the best player in baseball is likely to bring objection for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that the major leagues are loaded with bests.
Anyone who makes it to the majors has talent. The next level is outer-world, where the superlatives can change with the weather, the moon phase, the breakfast menu, or the injury report. Why not leave it at that?
Only one is now best
There is one best in baseball that should get no argument: Vin Scully, the brilliant Dodgers broadcaster who is retiring after 67 consecutive seasons in the booth. His last game, reportedly, will be from AT&T Park in San Francisco on Oct. 2, for the Dodgers’ game against the Giants. We say reportedly, because the playoffs are still possible for his team; although Scully has said he will not be the post-season voice of the Dodgers, there remains, in many of us, a selfish hope that he would change his mind.
To hear Scully tell a baseball game is to hear majesty at work. In his golden baritone, Scully is at once bare-bones and encyclopedic, telling us about the game as he encounters it.
His love of baseball at times trumps his love for the Dodgers, for Scully is almost stubbornly impartial. For the players of both sides we learn of their special talents, their batting and fielding averages and other vitals, but Scully never misses the extras that add to the experience ‒ on a recent evening, he gave listeners the history and tradition of Labor Day, why we have one and what it means, in the measured and affectionate phrasing of a grandfather to his family. Or he may let us know who invented the rosin bag, or why the pitcher’s mound is raised as far as it is, and other relevant bits and pieces, all to heighten the listener’s interest. Scully knows no blather, nor does he waste time cooing over the “exit velocity” of a home run or the “route efficiency” of a player chasing a fly ball, the kind of techno-twaddle that infects newer announcers like a virus as they chew through the cliches, gab in the second person, fawning ex-pros reliving their faded glory.
Scully brings us the game as it happens, with purity, honesty, and not a word or moment wasted. Soon he will leave – too soon, we think – for the broadcasting pantheon that includes his Dodger predecessor, Red Barber, and Ernie Harwell (Tigers) and Mel Allen (Yankees). At 87, Scully continues to broadcast without a color commentator – unique in the sport, but hardly surprising. He brings to the game all the color we need, vivid, clear, concise, ever the perfect match for a game that needs nothing extra.
– JOHN MARSHALL