The decade I spent early in my career living in the Los Angeles area included countless afternoon hours driving home from work on Interstate 10.
It’s easy to complain about the traffic in LA, where every hour is rush hour, but two much-more pleasant memories stand out to me about that commute: watching the sun set in the western sky and listening to the soothing voice of Vin Scully on the radio.
The great ones have a way of transporting you from wherever you are to some place better, and that was Scully’s gift. As the play-by-play broadcaster for Los Angeles Dodgers, Scully did it longer than anyone – and unprecedented 67 years – and he also did it better.
He’s well-known for iconic calls like Kirk Gipson’s walk-off home run in 1988 or Henry Aaron’s 715th home run, but he spoke poetically, insightfully, and conversationally even in the most mundane games of the long baseball seasons.
So when the hall-of-famer passed away recently at the age of 94, countless tributes to his life and legacy followed. It occurred to me as I read some of those tributes that Scully embodied the values I’ve come to see as essential to transfluence – the transformative influence of great leadership. And I wondered if he had somehow magically helped me learn and practice some of those values by simply listening to him each evening. He didn’t talk about them; he lived them out while going about his job.
There’s no doubt Scully was gifted with natural talents for storytelling and for timing. He could pivot conversations on a dime and come back to the same story five minutes later as effortlessly as sunshine warms the day. And he was quick to give credit where it was due for those talents.
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“I’m not only getting this job to do a sport that I love, but then God’s charity allowing me to do it for 67 years,” he once told Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. “It’s overwhelming. I mean, I have a big debt to pay in heaven—I hope when I get there—because the Lord has been so gracious to me all my life.”
The humility in that quote was at the heart of Scully as a person. It also was central to his success – to his ability to bring out the most in those God-given talents. And I believe it is central to the success of all leaders.
Perhaps you think humility merely made Scully a likeable guy, which helped him get along with coaches, players, and owners, and helped him endear himself to his audiences. That would surely be accurate.
“What made Vin the voice of summer, not just baseball,” Verducci wrote, “was the natural ease of his manner. His unselfishness in a business that wreaks of ego and privilege.”
But humility also motivated Scully to do the work he needed to do so that he could master his craft. That natural ease was a byproduct of preparation and hard work and a deep desire to make good on the opportunities for which he was given. When Verducci asked Scully how he could be so good for so long, Scully borrowed a line from Sir Lawrence Olivier: “The humility to prepare, and the confidence to pull it off.”
Scully’s humility made him a better broadcaster, and listeners picked up on it, as I did while driving down the 10 and watching the sun fade it the distance. It made listening more enjoyable, for sure, but it also influenced me to appreciate humility and to seek it in my life.
I don’t know about the debt Scully owes to heaven; that’s between him and God. But it seems to me that he made pretty good on it while he was here. He recognized his gifts. He made the most of his gifts. He shared his gifts. And anyone who listened to him for very long was the better for it.