Vin Scully: A Pure Voice Goes Silent

This commentary appeared in the Sunday Roanoke Times on September 25, 2016.

It was circa 1970. I was a 12-year-old boy who had recently moved to Southern California from Indiana. Dodger Stadium overwhelmed my senses and Vin Scully was music to my young ears.

“Grab a Dodger Dog,” he’d say, “made by our friends at Farmer John.” As I recall, a Dodger Dog, a 10-inch pork and beef frank, was about a buck. I liked mine with yellow mustard and real onions — raw and coarsely chopped. I gobbled it down as we watched batting practice from the long, beige bench seats in the left-field pavilion.

Los Angeles was a big, exciting place for this Indiana boy. It was an hour drive to the sprawling city and Dodger Stadium from our new home in Palmdale on the edge of the high desert. In those days, locals called traveling to LA from the Antelope Valley going “down below.” We took 14 to I-5, exiting at Stadium Way and then winding up the hill and through the canyons to Chavez Ravine.

From the moment we entered the gates, the sounds at Dodger Stadium were unmistakable: the perky organ that musically narrated the action, the insistent cries of the food and drink vendors roaming the stands, the loud crack of a wooden bat in the hands of a big leaguer and, of course, the silky voice of Vin Scully.

“It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.”

The Dodger home uniforms were as white as sea gulls, trimmed in “Dodger” blue with red numbers. Wearing those magnificent uniforms in 1970 were, among others, Maury Wills, Willie Davis, Wes Parker, Bill Buckner, Steve Garvey, Manny Mota, Don Sutton, Claude Osteen and Charlie Hough. Walter Alston, nicknamed “Smokey,” was the manager. Wills was the highest-paid Dodger that season by a wide margin. His salary was $88,000.

I don’t recall seeing the best National League teams such as the rival Cincinnati Reds. I do recall seeing cellar dwellers like the San Diego Padres. That made it easier to get into the game — and to find a prime spot in the left-field pavilion. We always arrived early, an hour or more before the first pitch. We watched the teams take infield and batting practice. Occasionally a baseball would fly deep to left and clear the wall. A scramble for the precious souvenir ensued.

Once the game began, I stared a hole in the back of whomever played left field. I studied the long warm-up tosses of the outfielders between innings. Sometimes they looked our way and acknowledged our cheers. And sometimes fans heckled the opposing players. The left-field pavilion was also the place to peer into the Dodger bullpen. I remember Hough, the knuckleballer, and others loosening up their arms and hearing the rhythmic thud of the catcher’s mitt.

In later years, when I was in my twenties, Vin Scully was my companion on drives between San Diego and Palmdale. On hot summer nights, with windows rolled down, he talked me through Temecula, Riverside, San Bernardino and over Cajon Pass and onto the high desert. By that time I was no longer a true-blue Dodgers fan; I just loved listening to their announcer rhapsodize about baseball on a summer evening. I was still a Vin Scully fan. I’ve always been a Vin Scully fan.

That voice going silent after this, his 67th year broadcasting Dodgers games, saddens me. Whether in a ballpark or another walk of life, there are few voices as pure and enduring as Vin Scully’s. How can we afford to lose him?

The Problem and Necessity of Email Clichés

“I delete 95 percent of the PR emails I get within seconds of opening them.”

That’s senior associate editor Julie Beck of The Atlantic in a piece titled “Thank Heavens for Email Clichés.” It’s good. I should read it once a week.

Beck goes on to say, “I couldn’t possibly read them all thoroughly—let alone reply to them all—and still get any work done, but sometimes I do feel bad, because the senders clearly spent so much time writing them.”

Sound familiar?

I both write and receive these types of emails, hoping mine get opened and instantly deleting ones I receive.

Email is so out of control. Beck mentions a colleague who reported that the average person writes a novel’s worth of emails every year, or more than 40,000 words!

Is this not insanity? Writing so many words that so many others will delete within seconds?

With so many emails to write and send, we resort to “shortcuts,” Beck says, clichés such as “I hope you’re doing well” and “Best.” (I plead guilty to this. I could do a life sentence for all the times I’ve trotted out those two.) But wait. She says they’re not all bad because they represent a kind of email decorum, even though they lack spark and personality.

Beck gives examples and offers alternatives, but closes with this admission about email clichés: “They get the job done without taking too much energy. And unless the email firehose lessens its pressure, we need them.”

‘Getting to Zero’: David Brooks on Ernest Hemingway

In April, while in Havana, New York Times columnist David Brooks visited Ernest Hemingway’s house. Brooks filed a column that focused on Hemingway’s later years, which he characterized as a sad and prolonged decline.

And yet despite his flaws Hemingway still managed to produce some of the same magic prose that made him a world-famous novelist.

Brooks wrote:

When you see how he did it, three things leap out. The first is the most mundane — the daily disciplines of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count. Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.

Second, there seem to have been moments of self-forgetting. Dorothy Sayers has an essay in which she notes it’s fashionable to say you do your work to serve the community. But if you do any line of work for the community, she argues, you’ll end up falsifying your work, because you’ll be angling it for applause. You’ll feel people owe you something for your work. But if you just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done — then you’ll end up, obliquely, serving the community more. Sometimes the only way to be good at a job is to lose the self-consciousness embedded in the question, “How’m I doing?”

Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity.

Read the entire column.

Oakmont Is Cage Fighting in Fashionable Clothing

The 116th U.S. Open tees off on Thursday at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The USGA’s course setup man Mike Davis was “giddy” about course conditions at Oakmont Country Club heading into the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“I am truly giddy the whole week that I’m here. It’s just so good,” Davis said. “In fact, it’s perfect [and] it’s been that way the last five days we’ve been here.”

And it’s fair to say that Davis is also very pleased heading into the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

This is not necessarily good news for the men who must actually play Oakmont for 72 holes over four days. When the USGA man declares his love for Oakmont, that it’s a firm and fast test for the world’s best golfers, you just know there’s going to be trouble—and lots of it.

Here’s what I know about Oakmont after watching the boys play it since the late 20th century: It will seriously mess you up. It will blacken your eye and bloody your nose. It will spit in your face and kick you in the groin. It will beat you up, take your lunch money and steal your identity. Oakmont is cage fighting in fashionable clothing.

If you have a bag and 14 sticks, Oakmont doesn’t like you. If you come near it, it will try to destroy you. Oakmont is Lee Van Cleef in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and Clint Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Oakmont is Alien, The Terminator and Predator.

Oakmont does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, gender, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, or political beliefs. Man, woman, child—Oakmont doesn’t care. It whips all comers.

If you complain, whine, or cry about it, Oakmont gets stronger. If you talk to yourself, toss your club in disgust, or berate your caddie, Oakmont gets stronger. When—not if—when you make bogeys, double bogeys and “others,” Oakmont gets stronger.

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Oakmont is permanently in a surly mood, and has been dating back to 1973 (if not longer). That’s when golden boy Johnny Miller slipped by Oakmont without so much as a tear in his patterned slacks or a scuff on his red, white and blue patent leather golf shoes. Johnny walked away with a 63 and the U.S. Open trophy, and he’s been reminding people about it for the last 43 years.

Oakmont has been taking it out on golfers just as long.

Godspeed, men.

Writing a Corporate Newsletter That Has a Human Touch

Corporate newsletters go stale. It seems to happen sooner or later.

Last year I was called upon by a Seattle agency to write an eight-page quarterly newsletter for a large national paper company. This is a good project for me. I like writing long-form copy and am adept at putting together interesting articles even when the input isn’t the best.

The assignment started with a teleconference that included the agency’s account director and the paper company’s director of corporate communications (the client).

I asked about goals. What are you trying to accomplish?

The client shared three:

1. Communicating the company strategy throughout the newsletter articles.
2. Motivating and inspiring people in the company.
3. Bringing their customers’ perspective into the stories.

Then, another question: Was the content right but the presentation wrong?

Yes, the content was OK but the newsletter was flat. She wanted the newsletter to be more engaging and bring a human interest element into the stories. And so, with the agency creating a new design and me writing the articles, that’s what we’ve done.

This is always a fun challenge for me: Write about what can be boring company news and make it come alive, including the people who work there.

See a sample issue on my Portfolio page.

Allenby: ‘5 Most Important Metrics in Annual Giving’

At the Annual Giving Network, Dan Allenby writes, “Measuring the results of your annual giving effort can be daunting …. While it’s tempting to take a deep dive into the details, you should always start with the five basics. They are, quite simply, the most important metrics in annual giving.”

Those five basics are revenue, donors, participation, retention and leadership giving.

Read more here.