Legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully called his last game on October 2, 2016 after 67 years as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For those of you who don’t know of him, allow me to wax rhapsodic not just for the man, but for the (possibly) vanishing art of storytelling in a world with increasingly shorter attention spans.
Barely a month into the 2016 baseball season, Scully had me on the edge of my seat calling balls and strikes, and it had NOTHING to do with the game. Smoothly weaving around the pitches, he told of San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s encounter with a rattlesnake while out roping cattle. Bumgarner promptly hacked the snake to bits with an axe, only to find a barely living baby jackrabbit in the snake’s digestive tract, which his wife nursed back to health.
At that point, I could care less about the outcome of the at-bat (which was a line-drive single to centerfield, by the way). I was enraptured not just by the story itself, but by the fluidity, care and precision Scully took to take me out on that field to witness the scene (tidied up with words of wisdom to boot).
Scully was a storyteller above all, and his retirement had sports journalists everywhere reflecting reverently on the irreplaceable legacy he leaves for their profession and sports in general.
His retirement prompted me to reflect on whether storytellers, like Scully, are a dying breed. Every culture in the world has a storytelling tradition and a wealth of stories passed down from generation to generation. Yet, it’s becoming more difficult to find these storytellers in a world of 140-character tweets, emojis and evaporating videos and photos. Unlike like old-school journalists, who pounded the pavement to lay out the facts, and certainly unlike new-school journalists, who report now and rectify later, the storyteller painstakingly takes his or her time to draw you in and get you invested in what they have to say. But, are we willing and able to listen.
Interestingly, storytelling is being used as a tactical tool of sorts because of its perceived novelty amidst the digital sea of tweets, texts and emails.
- rbb Communications partner John Quinn offers some storytelling tips for marketers in this blog post.
- A CEO at the recent SKIFT Global Forum pointed to storytelling as a vital component for engaging millennials to connect with his company’s product.
- The Harvard Business Review even chimed in about storytelling as a strategic business tool.
Maybe all is not lost after all, marketing objectives notwithstanding.
I know you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube with social media, and no one is asking for that. I’m just asking to take a moment to “stop and smell the roses” and not underestimate the value and importance of storytelling, even in the digital age.
In closing, let me share one more Vin Scully story with you. Although he was the voice of the Dodgers, Scully’s childhood team was the hated rival Giants. That’s tantamount to being born a Hatfield, and marrying a McCoy for 67 years. His last week on the job began by announcing his final home game in L.A. and calling an extra innings, walk-off homerun that clinched the division and a run at the World Series for the Dodgers. It ended in San Francisco, calling a final out fly ball for the Giants to claim the last World Series playoff berth.
Talk about a storybook ending for the quintessential storyteller.