A Jesuit education can feel like a hall of mirrors.
You read and report back, sure. But if you study philosophy, the priest can easily spend an hour talking about The Simpsons. And how can you study New York City without knowing the economics of the slave trade, or understanding the birth of disco?
Jesuit classrooms don’t preach mastery; they acknowledge mystery. If every person is God’s unique creation, we must discern each action, because the sum brings us closer to God. Exhausting work that never ends, accomplished through prayer (if you like), consultation with people who aren’t like you, and appraising from angles you haven’t dreamt of yet. Do it right and you don’t just learn why a thing occurred, or what it did; you understand what it will do.
Vin Scully, graduate of Fordham Prep and Fordham University, might have been the best ambassador for Jesuits outside the Pope. He was tireless and exacting; for years he was with the Dodgers all week, then did national broadcasts on weekends. You never knew he had another job. Every game was exactly as he wanted it — a conversation between old friends.
He called the game, first of all. That sounds self-evident, but lots of broadcasters cede the play-by-play to pictures and graphics. The game is an excuse to talk about their wives, or the ballpark food, or advertisers, or simply collect a check while reciting the media guide. With Scully you never lacked the who, what, where, when, how, and why.
But between pitches — with seconds, even split seconds to spare — he changed the rhythm and timbre of his voice to tell stories that defy description.
Scully didn’t call games so much as perform magic acts, transforming himself hundreds of times from newsman to sage and back again. He discussed Shakespeare, the Bible, musical theatre, Greek myth. Brooklyn, the Bronx, or a bench player’s hometown. Ballpark babies inspired tales of youth and old age. He gave us fresh tales of legends, and long looks at players who nobody bothered with before or since.
Most stories illuminated the action somehow, even if you didn’t immediately know it. But they all asked deeper questions; why do we sit together night after night? Why do we crave a game that’s often slow and based in failure? What’s it take to play baseball?
He was a poet — “Today the crowd is like wallpaper” — catcher Duke Sims “runs like a lumbering beer truck” — “A player listed as day-to-day — aren’t we all?” But he was also a screenwriter. In moments of high drama, he didn’t need metaphor; his play-by-play and storytelling skills merged so perfectly that he seemed to speak for you. Consider the transcript of Scully calling the 9th inning of Koufax’s perfect game. You know what’s going to happen, but you don’t care. You see it. You’re gripped. It’s great writing, made more so for not being writing at all.
He said his life in baseball was nothing but blessings, but he understood it can destroy players, and said so. The game took him away from his first wife, who died of an accidental overdose in 1972; he credited it with helping him grieve for his son, who died in a helicopter crash in 1994. Like a good Jesuit — or an artist — he knew the truth was somewhere in the dark between these things. “I’ve always needed you much more than you’ve needed me,” he told fans.
I believe him. You may have considered Scully to be your erudite uncle, but he also had that rare quality of the best teachers: the restraint to let you add two plus two, and the humility to know that he too was still figuring things out.
Anyone can do the cold truth of balls, strikes, and 27 outs. But Scully’s gift was guiding us into baseball as metaphor for questions that have no answer. No priest gave him this, but they identified it, refined it, helped him never forget that people are interconnected — like it or not — and endlessly fascinating. They taught him to reflect this to the world.
The Jesuit term is magis — “more.” Scully researched like a beat reporter. He loved and understood Yasiel Puig when few others did. He talked the same way to interns, elevator operators, and Sandy Koufax. He was a proud Catholic, but was never sanctimonious or bigoted. He bent over backward to help young people. For 67 years, he was an exemplar of empathy, generosity, good humor, and learning.
He embraced imagination and doubt — qualities so basic, vital, and humane that they’re easy to deny or forget. He was a “man for others,” and we thank him for his joyful service. We’ll do our best to pass it on.