It was a very pleasant afternoon at the White House on Tuesday, when President Obama presented Vin Scully with the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Scully, who retired last month after 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers, sat between Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen during the ceremony. In all, Obama presented 21 recipients with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Scully was visibly moved as Obama placed the medal around his neck. The citation that accompanied the award saluted Scully for “a voice that transcended a sport and transformed a profession … he found time to teach us about life and love while chronicling routine plays and historic heroics.”
The citation concluded: “He is an American treasure and a beloved storyteller, and our country’s gratitude for Vin Scully is as profound as his love for the game.”
Obama offered his thoughts on each of the recipients, a group that included architect Frank Gehry, architect Maya Lin, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, actors Tom Hanks and Robert Redford, and basketball icons Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan.
Obama’s remarks on Scully:
“The game of baseball has a handful of signature sounds. You hear the crack of the bat. You’ve got the crowd singing in the seventh-inning stretch. And you’ve got the voice of Vin Scully.
“Most fans listen to a game’s broadcast when they can’t be at the ballpark. Generations of Dodgers fans brought their radios into the stands, because you didn’t want to miss one of Vin’s stories.
“Most play-by-play announcers partner with an analyst in the booth, to chat about the action. Vin worked alone, and talked just with us.
“Since Jackie Robinson started at second base, Vin taught us the game and introduced us to its players. He narrated the improbable years, the impossible heroics, turned contests into conversations.
“When he heard about this honor, Vin asked with characteristic humility, ‘Are you sure? I’m just an old baseball announcer.’ And we had to inform him that, to Americans of all ages, you are an old friend.
“In fact, I thought about him doing all these citations, which would have been very cool, but I thought we shouldn’t make him sing for his supper like that.”
The citation that accompanied Scully’s medal:
“With a voice that transcended a sport and transformed a profession, Vin Scully narrated America’s pastime for generations of fans. Known to millions as the soundtrack of summer, he found time to teach us about life and love while chronicling routine plays and historic heroics.
“In victory and in defeat, his colorful accounts reverberated through the bleachers, across the airwaves and into our homes and imaginations.
“He is an American treasure and a beloved storyteller, and our country’s gratitude for Vin Scully is as profound as his love for the game.”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin