Sporting Voices

Vin Scully

65 years. And counting. That is how long 86 year-old Vin Scully has been the play-by-play commentator for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Scully had already begun his career of commentating for the Dodgers before they waved goodbye to Brooklyn and traded the Atlantic coast for the Pacific in 1958, when Major League Baseball finally decided it was time to head west. Up until then, the most westerly city hosting a team had been St Louis in the Midwest.

In the same year, another New York team, the Giants, would abandon the Big Apple for San Francisco, leaving New York with just the Yankees until the Mets were formed four years later. (The footballing Giants would remain in New York, thereby creating the anomaly of two cities separately hosting Giants franchises. Similarly, the Cardinals of Arizona once shared the city of St Louis with its decidedly more successful baseballing cousins.)

Scully was well received in Tinsel Town, and he even made cameo appearances on the famed 1960s Hollywood series’ Mr Ed and The Fugitive. His Hollywood association would continue decades later when one of the two main characters in the hugely successful X Files series was named after him.

Unusually, Scully insists on commentating alone, providing his own colour, and the reverence with which he is treated in the States is such that his broadcasts are used for both live television and radio simultaneously during the baseball season.

I thought of Scully immediately when I heard the news of the passing of James Alexander Gordon, the voice of the classified football results.

Football fans of all ages will fondly recall the quintessentially BBC voice of Gordon as he exquisitely read the football scores every Saturday afternoon at the commencement of the Sports Report programme- announced by Hubert Bath’s wonderfully anachronistic Out of the Blue theme tune since inception in 1948. (Incidentally, Bath composed the musical score for ‘The Informer,’ the 1929 British adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s novel, remade 6 years later by John Ford and starring Victor McLaglen for which both won Academy Awards.)

Gordon’s own inimitable manner of pronouncing team names before their respective score meant you found yourself predicting the result of each game regardless of whether or not you’d any interest in the teams playing.

There are faces and voices that, through longevity of service, come to define sporting practices, events and teams, providing a certainty through familiarity which can be reassuring.

A few years ago, the legendary voice of the GAA, Micheal O’Muirchertaigh, finally retired from radio commentary after a distinguished broadcast career which began with an RTE radio commentary of a Railway Cup match in 1949 and didn’t end until 2010.

I grew up with Bill O’Herlihy, Eamon Dunphy and Johnny Giles providing analysis of the Republic of Ireland team’s progress through numerous qualifying campaigns and tournaments on RTE. O’Herlihy announced his retirement earlier in the summer after 49 years with the state broadcaster. I’ve no reason to begrudge the man a long, healthy and enjoyable retirement, but the ending of an era is always tinged with a degree of sadness.

Another little reminder that life really has few certainties.

O’Muirchertaigh put it best when reflecting upon his decision to retire: “There’s only a while in everything.”