100 Years Ago Today, They Watched Baseball Play by Play at the Bijou Theater in Evansville

Actually, I’m not sure if it was 100 years ago exactly today.  It might be 100 years ago today ± a couple of days. But I’m going to take that liberty here.

The Evansville (Ind.) Courier-Press, like many newspapers, occasionally publishes a feature article in which they recall items that ran in the papers on that day 100 years ago, 75 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago, etc.  I say “papers” because they were separate newspapers on this day 100 years ago. They entered a JOA in 1938 in which they continued publishing as separate papers except as a joint edition on Sundays, before fully merging into an everyday single paper in 1988.  I don’t know whether the item in question ran in the Press or in the Courier, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is what was published on this day in 1915:

Knowing the great interest in the Evansville baseball team, we have decided to try the experiment of producing the out-of-town games on a new baseball board which we have leased. Today’s game will be reported play by play over a direct wire from the Wheeling ball park to the Bijou theater stage. If the additional patronage at the theater justifies the expense, all out-of-town games will be reproduced in this manner. The ball will hardly have left the pitcher’s hand in the Wheeling ball park before the life-sized baseball at the Bijou will reproduce this movement on the mimic diamond. Play by play, every movement of ball and players, will be shown almost instantaneously. Crowds are hypnotized by the fascination of the game shown on this board.

The Evansville team at the time was the River Rats, who played in the Class B Central League along with the Wheeling (W. Va.) Stogies.  It was an eight-team loop stretching from … well, Evansville to Wheeling, with six other clubs in between.  The 1915 edition of the River Rats featured four former major leaguers, none of whom had much more than a cup of joe in the bigs. (Punch Kroll had the best career among them.)

But even if the team was populated by has-beens and never-would-bes, they were still so popular in town, even as a third level club playing in a Class B league, that it was considered worth the expense by the local newspaper to set up a telegraph line and baseball board and charge admission for locals to sit inside a presumably non-air-conditioned theater in southern Indiana during the summer to take in the remote action live.

I don’t know for how long this service continued on in Evansville, but however long it did, it started 100 years ago today, and more importantly, it’s a good example of the only way ballgames at the time could be “broadcast” live to an audience, since consumer-based radio broadcasting wasn’t quite yet a thing. This falls within the purview of our mission to report on how the media cover baseball as an event, and that’s why we’ve posted here.

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