This clip was sent in by reader Karl Schindl, a regular reader who has several old time baseball radio clips, and shared this one as an example. The quality is decent, with play by play announcer Earl Gillespie clearly heard with good timbre, although there is an audible hum in the background on the recording.
It’s the bottom of the 11th inning, with the Braves hosting the Cardinals at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Rookie Billy Muffett is on the mound working his third frame for the Birdos, and Red Schoendiest, serving the first full year of his exile from St. Louis, opened with a flyout to center. Johnny Logan slapped a single to center field, with the big guns coming up. Eventual Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, who’d already knocked home a run with a double to tie the game in the seventh, failed in the clutch this time around, just getting under a pitch to hit a high flyout, again to center. Aaron, already 2-for-3 with two walks and a run scored, knocked the first pitch he saw from Muffett out of the park to secure the win, and the pennant, for the Bravos.
Yesterday we posted a 1932 article published by the Sporting News revealing the results of a poll the paper took of their readers as to the latter’s feelings about broadcasting games live on the radio. Almost 260,000 votes were cast, with the Sporting News concluding that public opinion in favor of live broadcasts was “practically unanimous”.
This overwhelming fan sentiment did not prevent eight of the sixteen teams from banning broadcasts of their games by local radio stations the following season. (In fact, the Indians ended up dropping radio in 1933 before picking it up again for the 1934 campaign.) But eventually the teams and the leagues did come to see the light, and that light led them to enter into the Major League Broadcasting Agreement just prior to the 1939 season.
So, what did this Major League Broadcasting Agreement actually look like? What were its provisions, and what practices did it allow and forbid? Fortunately for us, this is something we can see for ourselves, thanks to the miracle that is the Internet. Goldin Auctions, a company that conducts auctions of sports memorabilia, had conducted one consisting specifically of baseball documents this past August, and which included a signed copy of this 1939 broadcasting agreement, complete with original signatures from representatives of all 16 clubs, including many club presidents who are still well-known today.
However, the best part about all of this is that there are .JPG files for each page of the document on that web page. You can go there and peruse the entire agreement if you like—or you can simply click on the images below to see and read the document.
Having read the agreement myself, I am struck by how short and simple it is by today’s standards. Even allowing for names of the participating parties and for definition of terms, it looks like they were able to bring in the entire agreement under 2,000 words. By contrast, the iTunes Store terms and Conditions yawns on interminably for over 20,000 words.
Secondly, there are several interesting aspects to the agreement that I think are worth mentioning here:
The agreement prevented a team from broadcasting its games on any radio stations located within fifty miles of any other team’s stadium.
In two-team cities, the agreement prevented one team from broadcasting any of its games as long as the other team was playing a home game, at least until that other team’s game had concluded.
The New York Giants and New York Yankees together constituted a two-team territory, but the Brooklyn Dodgers, only about a dozen miles away and even then technically located within New York City for the prior 40 years, constituted its own one-team territory. So, if the Giants were away and the Yankees were at home, the Giants could not broadcast its away game (and vice versa, of course). However, if the Giants and the Yankees were both away, the Giants could broadcast its away game even if the Dodgers were playing a home game.
The agreement specified that ball clubs could broadcast only between 550 and 1600 on the AM band, but specifically forbade broadcasting on shortwave or other “high frequency” stations. (FM was not contemplated because the first FM station in a major league city did not sign on until that November.)
The agreement defined “broadcasting” as including not only radio, but telephone.
After this agreement was signed onto, no baseball team ever again refused to broadcast its games live for any reason other than financial. (As it happens, both the Giants and Yankees did not air their games during the 1941 and 1943 seasons due to inability to sell broadcasting rights for what they deemed to be their minimum asking price).
Click on any of the images below to open them in a new tab. Enjoy!
Among people who have read up on the history of baseball broadcasting, it’s pretty well known that putting games on the radio was a very controversial topic during the first decade-plus of the practice. Many owners believed that broadcasting live games, especially home games, would cost them at the gate. This opinion was prevalent especially in the crowded Northeast corridor, where fandom extended generally to the ends of the transit lines needed to get to the ballpark. The Midwestern teams (as well as the Boston clubs) were the first to regularly broadcast starting in the late Twenties. By contrast, the three New York teams entered into a formal agreement in 1934 placing a moratorium on all game broadcasts. This agreement remained in place until the major leagues signed the Major League Broadcast Agreement just before the 1939 season (more on that in a post tomorrow).
It’s not as though the fans kept their thoughts on the matter to themselves, though. The Sporting News conducted a poll on the question in 1932, in conjunction with a vote for the most popular baseball broadcaster (won by Arch McDonald, then at WDOD calling Chattanooga Lookouts games) and a contest paying cash prizes (up to $25!) for the best-written letters sent in. In the words of the paper, the results of the poll were “practically unanimous”: fans demanded the “continuance of radio broadcasting of baseball games”, with a “remarkable number of women” responding “showing an increased interest in the game by the fair sex” and revealing that, directly as a result of the broadcasts available at the time, interest was “particularly empathic from the small hamlets, where baseball enthusiasm apparently (ran) higher than in the larger cities.”
The article, shown below in its entirety, featured several of the winning letters sent in by respondents, some of whom confirmed that were it not for the broadcasts, they would scarcely be aware that the major league baseball even existed, and that listening to the games only whetted their appetite to see games live at the ballpark. According to the article, a staggering 259.865 votes were cast in the poll which concluded that only five percent of respondents would have rather listened to the game on radio than see the game in person.
One interesting revelation is that fans wanted all games broadcast, both home and away—except for Saturday and Sunday games, since “the fans usually have leisure on these days to attend the games and that the radio should not be a substitute for attendance on those days.”
This article ran in the issue of September 29, 1932, a season during which only nine of the sixteen major league teams were broadcasting their games. Click on the article to open it in a new tab, then click the article in that new tab again to see it in full size. Yes, we know the very bottom of the article is practically illegible.
Very few of us reading this article ever heard an actual re-created baseball game on the radio, but game re-creation was the norm for away games for nearly every team broadcasting their games on radio from the dawn of broadcasting well into the 1950s. Almost all of us knew that already, but if you didn’t, you know now.
But even though we know, intellectually, that this was the state of the baseball broadcast art, probably very few of us have thought very deeply about how this art was executed. We perhaps don’t often close our eyes and imagine what a re-created baseball game would sound like, and the effort that went into making it sound like a real, live baseball game.
Committee member Bob Barrier has, and he wrote a nice little piece a few years ago about, as he terms it, the aesthetics of re-creating a road ball game on the radio for a team’s fans to enjoy at home. While the whole idea of re-creating a baseball game from a telegraph wire might sound a bit like a silly exercise to undergo, sending broadcast equipment and an announcer on the road was prohibitively expensive at the time, and besides, teams usually had room to house only one broadcast team, obviously for the home team’s broadcast (which probably explains why the Brooklyn Dodgers re-created road games even at the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds, less than 15 miles away). But the fans still wanted and needed to hear their own team play even when they were playing on the road, and thus: the re-creation.
Barrier’s piece is reproduced in full below, having first appeared in the tome entitled Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2006-2007. Especially illuminating is his interview with Nat Allbright, little known today but widely considered the “king of the baseball re-creators” throughout the Fifties, having worked some 1,500 Brooklyn Dodger road games for the Mutual Network from his studio in, of all places, Washington D.C. During the interview, Barrier asked Allbright to simulate a baseball re-creation for him, and … well, I invite you to just read it, below.
Only the Game Was Real
The Aesthetics and Significance of Re-created Baseball Broadcasting
Robert G. Barrier
The huge success of XM Satellite Radio’s Major League Baseball broadcasts the past two years has highlighted a truth almost forgotten. Even in these days of high-definition television, streaming Internet video, and play-by-play graphical Web sites, baseball on the radio still remains the most compelling, imaginative, nostalgic, and personal way to participate as a “spectator” from a distance. Indeed, radio announcers maintain the seams of nostalgia, and in their different ways make the listener a daily participant in the game. But for some of these listeners, particularly those who lived in the rural South and Midwest from the 1930s to the 1950s, the imaginary stadiums constructed for them came from announcers re-creating the actual games from Western Union tickers miles away from the actual game. The re-created games, which often relied on recorded crowd noises, audio clips of bats hitting the ball or the ball hitting the glove, were also embellished by the imaginative patter of word artists, such as Red Barber or Graham McNamee, who created broadcasts in many instances under the illusion that listeners were hearing a real game from a real stadium.
Early on, electronics connected the nation of fans with largely factual accounts devoid of creative imagination. The earliest commercial radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, broadcast scores during the summer of 1921 and carried the first live broadcast on August 5. The
following year, RCA-Westinghouse broadcast the 1922 Series from the Polo Grounds, arranging for famous sportswriter Grantland Rice to report to an audience, which was called by the New York Tribune “the greatest audience ever assembled to listen to one man” (qtd. in Tygiel 65). Even competing stations in New York went silent so that listeners could hear the broadcasts. But for all of Rice’s brilliant poetry, the creator of the famous image “the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” failed in on-air reporting. He simply described what happened in “a little flat, atonal voice somewhat awkwardly modulated and unmistakably Southern.” Of this experience he would later report, “The broadcast officials wanted me to keep talking. But I didn’t know what to say” (qtd. in Tygiel 68).
The tradition of the personalized broadcast began in 1923 with Graham McNamee’s conveying the atmosphere and the imagination of on-air baseball. A singer brought to New York to develop his talent, he “understood pacing, style, and performing for an audience, even one he could not see” (Tygiel 69). Whereas the Western Union operator was expected to remain, “perfectly cool and collected, no matter what happens … and would be chided by the manager if he did bring in personality,” McNamee recognized that the new medium required a different approach: “to avoid dead silence, I found myself more than ever falling back on general description. And that is where the imagination comes in” (qtd. in Tygiel 69).
Though sportswriters groused and criticized the showmanship, McNamee successfully made every listener a spectator, enabling them “to use their eyes” by “paint[ing) word pictures that other minds could feast upon…. Very little imagination was required … especially when the announcer turned his microphone on the roaring, booing and cheering crowd” (Tygiel 71). Very soon teams in the Midwest began regular season broadcasts, especially in Chicago, but not in the eastern cities where there were larger population centers as well as many more major newspapers. In more scattered areas of the Midwest, broadcasts could extend the drawing area to 100 miles or more. Even the Sporting News, self-described as “baseball’s bible,” criticized broadcasts because of economics—fans wouldn’t pay for what they got free. Essentially, radio coverage democratized Major League Baseball, making it more accessible and intimate to those far away from the stadiums; as Jules Tygiel observes, “the process had become more familial or individualistic, replacing the communal experience with a more isolated one” (72).
As the listening audience expanded, so too did the need for announcers like McNamee who approached the game with a showman’s view. Many of the most popular announcers of the 1940s and 1950s were southerners, including industry legends like Red Barber, Mel Allen, Arch McDonald, Ernie Harwell, and Russ Hodges, all of whom made famous peculiar southern expressions and maintained a narrative rhythm reminiscent of the southern oral traditions of local color and humor. Perhaps it is this storytelling tradition—and their professionalism—that enabled so many of these broadcasters to approach baseball games as story, humor, and spectacle while maintaining the reportage narrative that was their main duty. Harwell, recently retired after 56 years of broadcasting, accounts for the distinctive southern voice as a natural result of the southern oral tradition, so many stories told at evenings on the porch or in the kitchen (Kaufman).
One might trace this loquaciousness back to Mark Twain and the southwestern humor tradition, but there remains a significant difference. Whereas the point of a Simon Wheeler or a Eudora Welty character is to stray far afield from the initial conversational subject, southern baseball announcers restrained themselves to commentary between pitches (Harwell says he never told a story he could not finish within the inning and he insisted upon giving the score as often as possible). It was a studied but natural patter of talk, not an extended yarn. And also there was the distinctive southern accent:
Ernie Harwell still sounds like old radio…. His style is conversational, sure, but he’s not just talking. He’s broadcasting…. People talk about his Southern lilt, and you can hear it on the air if you’re listening for it, but more noticeable is the precise, clipped diction of a 1940s radio man who has to make himself understood through the static and noise of a distant Philco (Kaufman).
Likewise, southerners also played a significant role in the lost art of re-creating live baseball games for later broadcast. In the first radio recreated games, which date to 1921, a reporter telephoned details of the action to a radio announcer, who in turn dictated the game to a very limited audience. Many re-creators made no bones about the fact that they were re-creating but others went to great lengths for the illusion of reality. Willie Morris, in North Toward Home, praises McNamee for making each game an epic contest and recounts how he won money from his childhood acquaintances by predicting upcoming events in re-created games after he had heard the real games earlier via shortwave. And even though, according to Dodger re-creator Nat Allbright, the law required re-creator announcers to make a statement that the game was re-created at both the beginning and the end, most listeners thought the games were real. In the ’30s and ’40s, almost all teams—major and minor—re-created games,with most teams re-creating only away games to save money. Many older fans recalled how they preferred the created game to the actual, since the re-creator had a 10 to 30 minute lead time, except that occasionally the teletype would fail. Ronald Reagan, who did Cubs games throughout the Midwest, had to invent, on more than one occasion, marathon foul balls, fights, or power failures.
Perhaps the most popular of the studio broadcasters, Allbright led the second largest network (next to Mutual’s Game of the Day) –26 states and 117 stations—out of Virginia from 1950 to 63. Allbright
calls what he did a science, using both high and low technology. High-tech resources included tape recordings of “background roar” and “excited crowd” noises; a recording of each stadium’s separate singing of the national anthem; and having a colleague listen to the live game in the next room, or following it via Morse code. Low-tech tools included rapping a pencil against the table for the crack of the bat, crinkling a cigarette wrapper for thunder, or having someone in a nearby bathroom play the role of the echoing PA announcer (Allbright).
Although they had a lead-time from the actual games, the successful re-creators also had to follow the broadcast atmosphere created by McNamee and other live announcers. To Allbright and other re-creators, the artful process required pacing, pause, timing, and building to control the whole tempo of the broadcast. Having the extra time gave a re-creating announcer an opportunity to add the effective comments for his team. For example, broadcasting live, Russ Hodges is famous for screaming after Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard around the world” in the Giants -Dodgers playoff in 1951:”The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Allbright, the Dodger re-creating announcer, did it this way:
I announced that Clem Labine was coming in to pitch, then had to change it to Ralph Branca when that was corrected. Suddenly, my associate in the next room started waving his arms like the ball was gone. When he handed me a piece of paper confirming what had happened. I said, ‘A drive to left field—back, back, and that ball is gone! … Unbelievable! It’s out, and I’ll see you next season” (qtd. in Heller).
To further illustrate the pacing and process of re-created games, Allbright, during a personal interview, agreed to re-create a game from the ’50s, while sitting in the glass-enclosed office. While the action below likely only exists in his mind, one should notice how he still uses pacing, byplay, tempo, imagery, and building to make this imaginary game come alive:
Alright, Let’s see…. We’ll open it up in the top half of the ninth inning. The Dodgers lead 3-2. The Giants have the tying run at third and the go-ahead run is at first base with one down. Mueller is on at third and he’s talking now to Leo Durochcr. That’s the tying run and Dusty Rhodes at first for the New York Giants. Dusty came in and hit for Jorgenson here in the ninth and singled to right in front of Carl Flunk. And the batter will be Willie Mays—number 24. He has one for three, right-handed batter. He doubled in the fourth and drove in a run.
Don Newcombe on the mound for the Dodgers, pulls off his cap, walks over now, picks up the rosin bag, looks toward third.
Gil Hodges with the go-ahead run at first base will play close to the bag. He will play the runner Rhodes. He will not be in back of him. Andy Palko back in deep left. Duke Snider, left center. Carl Furillo in right-center field. With Don Hoak third. Pee Wee Reese at shortstop and … Jackie Robinson at second and Gil Hodges at first.
Campanella, in front of the plate, holds up one finger now. Runners on the corners as Willie Mays moves into the batter’s box. Don Newcombe cannot pitch around Willie Mays because the on-deck hitter is Bobby Thompson.
Mays swinging his club back and forth. Newcombe stretches. Looks back to first. Now takes his foot off the rubber. Wipes … pitching hand across DODGERS on the front of the uniform.
Game time tomorrow evening. Friday, will be at seven. Saturday afternoon at one and Sunday at one. And that will finish up the four game set.
The Dodgers lead the National League by four games over these Giants. Newcombe ready, comes in with the pitch … and it’s … inside, close for a ball.
Mays steps out of the batter’s box … goes down for a handful of dirt. It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right. [Three second delay.]
Newcombe ready on the mound, looks in for the sign, set and delivers. And a SWING and a MISS for a strike.
It’s one and one for Willie Mays. We’re in the bottom half of the ninth inning. Bobby Thompson on deck and it’s a 3-2 ball game. The Dodgers lead by one. Tying run is at third.
Newcombe … on the mound. This guy can let it go. He can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet.
Don Newcombe. Ready. Set. Comes down with the pitch. There’s a GROUND ball past the mound, going to Reese. Reese up with it, over to Robinson. THERE’S ONE. Back to first: A DOUBLE PLAY AND THE DODGERS GET OUT OF IT IN THE NINTH and WIN THE BALL GAME by a score of 3 to 2 over the New York Giants.
So they win the first game of this four game set. And Newcombe and Roy Campanella down below celebrating. There’s Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Gil Hodges. And it’s the HATED Giants GO DOWN in the first game of this four game set.
This is Nat Allbright at … Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Re-created and … tomorrow game time will be at seven.
I’ll be back right after these words from … YOUR local … beer dealer.
Without the constant noise level of the imaginary crowd, the hum and buzz of excitement, note how Allbright moves in a controlled tempo, with few breaks in the delivery and only one mistake (calling the Giants’ inning the bottom half though the game was at Ebbets Field—perhaps unconsciously thinking of the infamous Thompson home run?). In fact, Allbright’s abilities to convey the color and tension of a real game by his delivery stand out even more without the canned noise. Notice also that Allbright makes the event and his “telling of it” personal without intervening in the game: ‘It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right,” hesitating, as if he were actually checking the pennants blowing in the outfield. Another aspect of the “personal” in Allbright’s above sample that differs from some earlier broadcasters and many current ones is that he functions first as a reporter, rather than a fan. Though obviously a “homer” he refrains from pulling directly for the Dodgers, an element many modern team network broadcasters bypass.
The Allbright re-creation transcribed above reveals how “reportage” can be made vivid by rhythm, figurative language (Newcombe “can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet”), pauses, and pacing. As an indication of the difference in engagement between re-created baseball by Nat Allbright and on-site baseball broadcasting, one might compare the 1950s’ broadcasts of Mutual’s Game-of-the-Day (live) and Nat Allbright’s re-created Dodgers games. By that time, many major league teams were playing games at night during the week and so many weekday games came from Wrigley Field or from minor league venues. I recall coming home from school September afternoons to hear those Mutual games from Chicago and even sometimes from Yankee Stadium when the weather turned too cold for night games: those were long afternoons filled with leisurely and slow games, the action interspersed with banter, such as how announcer Bob Neal’s last name backwards seemed to spell “Lean,” a conversation I somehow recall from fifty years ago! Though I did not perceive of it until recently when I heard the Allbright re-creation, the re-created games from the Dodger network were far more appealing because of the constant hum and ebb and flow of canned background ”noise far louder than any real stadium could be, each inning rising to a climactic sound level, almost like eighteen horse races. In another indication of the ”reality” of the re-created broadcasts, Allbright recounted during the interview how some of the thousands of listeners from small towns of the South and the Midwest attending spring training games in Florida would seek out the Dodger’s broadcast booth and refuse to accept that Red Barber was the only on-site announcer. Indeed, I remember my own friends in 1957 ready to fight me for telling them that Nat Allbright’s broadcasts were re-created, a fact I had learned from the Sporting News.
Allbright remembers Mel Allen telling him that the baseball re-creator had the best of both worlds, broadcasting the games yet getting to remain at home and “sleep in (his) own bed at night.” In many similar ways, the lucky listeners of those re-created games also had the best circumstances possible: the ability to hear the results of the game, the opportunity to listen to a word artist’s re-creations, and the pleasures of the imagination to participate in the game itself in one’s mind’s eye—and ear.
Allbright. Nat. Personal Interview. 1 Match 2006.
Heller, Dick. “Nat Allbright was the Dodgers to many fans in the 50s.” The Washington Times 10 March 2003: A10.
Committee member James Walker, author of such seminal baseball media books as Center Field Shot and the recently released Crack of the Bat, just published a terrific new article over at The Conversation about the origins of World Series broadcasts, the first of which took place in 1921. Dr. Walker volunteered to us the article for a reprint in its entirety, and so we have, below.
There are some revelations that will surprise us media-savvy consumers of the early 21st Century, not the least of which is the commercial- and broadcast rights fee-free nature of those early broadcasts. Another significant difference from today’s broadcasts is the multiple network coverage of the Series, as CBS joined NBC in broadcasting the Fall Classic in 1927, with Mutual becoming the third radio network to do so simultaneously starting in 1935. Both these circumstances yielded a permanent solution starting in 1939, which you can read more about below.
As enjoyable as this article is to read, the most fun part about it might well be the two minutes and forty-five seconds you can spend watching various footage taken of the 1921 World Series in the video embedded within, which includes not only real-time speed footage, but also what can only be characterized as “super slo-mo” footage, which we are now used to seeing for events taking place in 2015 but which look completely and wonderfully anachronistic when seen for events taking place almost a century ago.
While the package includes some playoff games and regular season contests, the crown jewel is still the World Series; despite decades of declining ratings, baseball’s postseason is still a revenue machine.
In fact, for the first 13 World Series broadcasts, radio networks paid zilch to carry the national pastime’s showcase tournament. The broadcasts started as a promotion for a new radio station and coverage was amateurish. In fact, the first voice on the first live broadcast of a World Series didn’t even know the score at the end of one game.
In October 1921, WJZ, a new station based out of Newark, New Jersey, needed a big event to announce its arrival in the New York metro area. The all-Gotham series between the Giants and Yankees (eventually won by the Giants, five games to three) provided the perfect opportunity.
The voice for this first radio World Series belonged to a Westinghouse engineer named Tom Cowan, but its eyes belonged to another. Unlike Cowan, Newark Call newspaper reporter Sandy Hunt was actually at the Polo Grounds.
Hunt relayed the plays by telephone to Cowan, who was lodged in a cramped 15-by-20-foot “contractor’s shack” atop Newark’s Edison plant, where the WJZ transmitter was located. In his calls of the games, Cowan simply parroted whatever Hunt told him – mind-numbing work that offered few breaks.
After one exhausting game, Cowan reported he “couldn’t even collect [his] thoughts enough to tell who had won.” When a WJZ colleague asked him who won, he could only say, “I don’t know, I just work here.”
In 1922, the two-person team was replaced by a single eyewitness at the games – and a famous one, at that. Grantland Rice, perhaps the best-known sportswriter of the day, traded in his typewriter for a microphone during the World Series rematch between the Yankees and Giants.
While offering solid description, Rice would occasionally take extended breaks to “rest his voice,” leaving listeners adrift for minutes at a time. Like Cowan, Rice found the new communication medium daunting; he would later tell legendary commentator Red Barber that one radio World Series “was enough for me for all of my life.”
After these early experiments, National League owners, fearing that broadcasts would hurt World Series attendance, voted to end all World Series coverage. But the new commissioner, a former federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis, overruled them. Landis viewed the nation’s newest mass medium as a potent promotional machine, and developed a policy promoting the widest possible coverage of the games: all stations and networks would be welcomed to cover the games for free.
The next year, 1923, Graham McNamee, a failed singer, became the nation’s first “superstar” sports announcer. For the next several years, he announced the World Series over RCA’s regional network and, later, NBC’s national network. In 1927, CBS joined NBC in providing national radio coverage for the World Series. A third radio network, the Mutual Broadcasting System, would join the fray in 1935.
Interestingly, the networks initially saw coverage of the World Series as a public service, with no sponsors and no commercials. The radio networks supplied the announcers, paid the AT&T line charges and essentially donated airtime to bring the World Series to the nation’s rapidly expanding radio audience.
In the process, Major League Baseball reached a national audience, while the networks became identified with the country’s most popular sport.
However, as attendance and revenues declined in the pit of the Great Depression, Commissioner Landis looked to radio for a new revenue stream.
Over the years, many companies approached the networks with offers to sponsor the World Series. But the networks feared a backlash if the games were broadcast with a commercial sponsor.
Back then, the advertising supported model of broadcasting was not fully entrenched; unlike today, listeners didn’t simply assume commercial interruptions would take place.
Even the pro-business, future Republican president Herbert Hoover thought it “inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for [radio] service…to be drowned in advertising chatter.”
As one NBC executive put it, “The minute we begin to commercialize this type of service we will soon have difficulties on our hands from various groups that are not friendly to broadcasting.”
Despite the chance of listener backlash for signing on sponsors, in 1934 Landis went on to sign a US$100,000 deal with the Ford Motor Company to sponsor the World Series.
The players got 42% of the take, and the clubs took the rest. Both parties were overjoyed with the commissioner’s radio windfall. The Ford deal made the World Series too valuable to remain unsponsored, ending the era of sports programming as a public service.
Landis still insisted that the maximum number of networks and stations carry the games, and throughout the 1930s, the World Series saturated the airways each October. Sponsors, however, balked at paying network charges for redundant coverage on multiple networks; by 1938 no sponsor could be found.
Landis quickly adjusted to the changing realities of radio advertising by granting exclusive rights to broadcast and sponsor the event, which would focus the attention of audiences on one network and one company.
In 1939, Landis granted Mutual exclusive rights to broadcast that year’s World Series, with an option for the 1940 contests. Meanwhile, Gillette signed on to sponsor the World Series at a cost of $100,000. But in paying only one network, they dramatically reduced the distribution costs. (Other stations could take the feed if they paid the line charges.)
Mutual would maintain exclusive radio rights until 1957 while Gillette was the exclusive sponsor on radio – and, later, television – until 1966.
Landis’ contract established the modern structure of World Series rights: sponsorship on a single network. Network exclusivity made the games more valuable for the carrying network, but also reduced the radio (and, eventfully, television) footprint of the World Series.
As the NFL exploded in popularity and the number of postseason baseball games and competing television networks rose in the 1980s and 1990s, the supremacy of the World Series in the national consciousness faded. While networks continued to pay higher rights fees to cover the World Series, the television audience for the games declinedfrom a high of 44.3 million viewers in 1978 to a low of 12.7 million in 2012.
When it was unsponsored and on every network, the World Series became the “Fall Classic.” Meanwhile, sponsorship and exclusivity increased revenue beyond Judge Landis’ wildest dreams.
And, fortunately for fans, every announcer since 1921 has known the score at game’s end.
In case you missed it, there’s a really fun article over at The Sporting News, written by Jason Foster, that describes and shows video of many of the iconic plays that Vin Scully has called during his career.
But there are also a bunch of calls of iconic moments that I bet you didn’t know, or at least didn’t remember, Scully making the call on. For instance, did you know that Scully called Joe Carter’s Series-winning home run from 1993?
How about the epic 1991 Series Game 7 between Jack Morris and Jon Smoltz? Did you remember that Scully called this one as well?
But above all, if you knew that Scully called the following play, then you must immediately be crowned the King of Vin Calls:
I, myself, had no idea about this one, so I bow to you, Your Majesty.
You can check out the entire very-well-written article over at the Sporting News here:
SABR’s Baseball and the Media Committee formed a couple years ago for the purpose of researching how the media cover baseball, both as news (journalism) and as an event (in game). The thought was that we would seek to examine, illuminate and celebrate the people who and institutions that bring us the game by the pen and over the air (and through the wires).
The one part of covering the game that did not occur to us at the time was the most basic, and probably first, form of transmitting to the public what happened during any given game: the box score. It is neither poetry nor prose, but it is in the rawest sense the building blocks of telling you, the interested person who couldn’t manage to swing a day off to take in a ballgame, exactly what transpired during those 75 or so minutes. (Hey, it was 1859. Games were faster then.) And for the past century and a half, the box scores in the newspaper have been a staple of the baseball fan’s diet, and often the very first thing that fans turned to when they opened up the newspaper in the morning.
Ed Sherman, a sports media writer based in Chicago, just published a pretty good, tight piece on how baseball box scores are dying. Well, not completely dying. Box scores, in fact, are better and more complete than ever. Just compare the box score for the Tigers-Indians game from September 10, 1915:
To that of the Tigers-Indians game of exactly 100 years later to the day:
Just about the only thing that’s the same is that both are not good news for Tiger fans.
Sherman’s point is that the newspaper box score is dying, which makes sense, since by most accounts the newspaper medium itself is dying. Personally, I don’t believe that newspapers will completely die off, for the same reasons books made of paper won’t die off: people just like holding things they want to read in their hands, especially now that the riddle of how to keep newspaper ink from smudging your fingers has been solved. The newspaper will transform into something that will still satisfy that need for tactility, but might well be very different from how it looked when the Boomers and Gen Xers were kids, or even from how it looks today. But the baseball box score almost certainly will not be a part of the future of newspapers, which Sherman discusses in his article.
Will I miss the newspaper box score? In a way, I guess. It had been an essential part of my own long history of reading newspapers, but I haven’t relied on newspapers for box scores since years started with 19. It’s been so much easier just to buzz on over the Baseball-Reference, where I can see the box score for any game in every teams’ entire histories like *snap*, or my favorite teams‘ websites. Once you have that convenience available to you, it’s hard to picture ever having to rely on the old way ever again.
But that’s just me. How do you feel about the “death of baseball box scores in the newspapers”?
Before you comment on that, check out Sherman’s article here:
Barbara Gregorich is a long-time SABR member who has written a boatload of books on a number of subjects ranging from women in baseball to children’s books to mystery novels. I don’t know whether she types her output on an old Remington Rand, which would be really cool, but either way, she’s a prodigious author of repute.
Barbara is also a big champion of Jack Graney, the Canadian-born slick-fielding outfielder for the Cleveland Indians during the heart of, and then the waning days of, the dead ball era. Upon his retirement he remained in The Forest City to sell Fords during the roaring 20s, before moving into investments and eventually back to auto sales. Once the Depression hit, car sales started to evaporate, but fortuitously, the business of broadcasting baseball games was just starting to take hold. The Tribe hired Graney on as the first-ever ex-ballplayer play-by-play announcer for a major league team.
Graney held onto the mike as the first great Cleveland Indians radio broadcaster until 1953, and he is currently memorialized in the press box at Progressive Field, as well as having been enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
And this is where Barbara comes in. She believes that Graney deserves the top honor any baseball broadcaster can achieve: enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence. She made the excellent case for this on her blog last week, and with her permission, we are reproducing the piece in its entirety below.
If you would prefer to read it on her original blog, click here.
In September of this year a research team of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will release a list of candidates for the 2016 Ford C. Frick Award, to be given to a broadcaster who worked during the Broadcasting Dawn Era (roughly 1930-55). The award is given for “major contributions to baseball.” During the month of September fans will get to vote for their favorite candidate on the Hall of Fame’s Facebook Page; in October a final list of ten will be given to the Ford Frick Award Committee, who will make a decision in November. The committee members who cast ballots are asked to base their selection on the following criteria:
• continuity with a club
• honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star games
• popularity with fans
When it comes to the 2016 Ford Frick Award, I don’t know who the Broadcasting Dawn candidates will be or who the committee will select. I do know who I think is most worthy of the Award, and that man is Jack Graney.
Jack Graney was born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada on June 10, 1886. He grew up playing hockey and baseball. During Jack’s youth, Canada native Bob Emslie [Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, 1986], a former major leaguer turned major-league umpire, noticed Jack’s athletic abilities and later recommended to the Chicago Cubs that they sign him. [See Adam Ulrey’s SABR biography, Jack Graney.]
In 1907 the Cubs did just that, signing Graney as a pitcher. Despite pitching well in the minors, Jack was sold to the Cleveland Naps at the end of the season. Although he played a few games for the 1908 Cleveland team, he was sent to the minor league Portland Beavers. While there, he once pitched an 18-inning game that ended in a 1-1 tie due to darkness.
At the end of that season Graney was selected as a member of the Reach All-Americans, a team composed of minor and major leaguers [SeeVintageball article.] The team played in Japan (winning all 17 of its games) and in other Asian countries. The Reach All-Americans constituted the first-ever team of professional ballplayers to tour Japan. Thus one of Jack Graney’s many firsts was that he played on the first professional baseball team to tour Japan.
That word “first” is important because Jack Graney, by both disposition and happenstance, was a man of many, many firsts. He was called up to the majors in 1910 and assigned to play League Park’s left field, which at one spot extended 505 feet. He was assigned to the first position in the batting order. Graney had a keen eye for balls and strikes and, because of his discerning eye, often drew walks. [He led the league in walks in 1917 (94) and 1919 (105).] As leadoff batter Jack often posted the first hit of the season, or the first run of the season, for his team.
In 1914 Jack Graney was the first player to face a new Red Sox pitcher, George Herman Ruth. Graney was also the first player to collect a hit off Ruth. Because he was a productive player and a team builder, other teams expressed interest in Jack Graney. The Tigers were interested, as were the White Sox. But Graney did not want to be traded: he was loyal to Cleveland all his life.
When Cleveland trainer Doc White brought a young bull terrier to spring training in 1912 and gave it to the team as a mascot, Napoleon LaJoie ended up giving the dog to Graney. Thus Jack became the first (and only) player to own a dog which was also the team’s official mascot. Larry performed tricks before the game not only in Cleveland, but also in other American League cities. He was the first dog ever formally introduced to a President of the US [Woodrow Wilson]. Graney, of course, performed the introduction.
In 1916 Jack Graney and teammate Tris Speaker tied for the American League doubles record. And in 1920 they played on Cleveland’s first pennant-winning team, which became Cleveland’s first World Series-winning team.
These facts about Jack Graney are interesting but only partially relevant to why I believe he is worthy of the Ford Frick Award. I say “partially relevant” because all these things show what kind of person Jack Graney was — one totally unafraid of the new or unknown (Japan, bull terriers, Babe Ruth, Woodrow Wilson). One willing to step in and be the first, even when the results weren’t guaranteed.
It is due to Jack Graney’s courage, love of baseball, and character that he stepped into the future in 1932, when he became the first former major leaguer to become a baseball broadcaster. And that was for the team he had dedicated his playing life to: the Cleveland Indians.
Teams did not send their broadcasters on the road in those days, so for away games Jack worked with tickertape. When the team was away, tickertape would tell the stay-at-home broadcaster what happened on each pitch. The broadcaster would then re-create the game as if it were live. Jack Graney, who had played in all the American League stadiums for more than a dozen years, re-created the games vividly. He was able to describe the stadiums, the fences, the grass, the dugouts, even the scoreboards that a long ball bounced off of. Through his player’s knowledge as well as his broadcaster’s knowledge, Graney was able to bring the game to life for radio listeners. In doing these things, Jack Graney set the standard for future play-by-play broadcasters. Ted Patterson, author of The Golden Voices of Baseball, wrote that Jack Graney’s “ability to re-create a game from just a telegraphic report has never been paralleled.” [See also Ted Patterson’sJack Graney, The First Player-Broadcaster.]
Graney, who had a family to support, also worked as a car salesman in Cleveland, and some of his WHK broadcasts were from a glass-enclosed room within the dealership. People could stop by and watch Jack broadcasting games. He, in turn, could keep an eye on customers.
A caring, gregarious person, Graney shared his knowledge of the broadcasting booth with others. Jimmy Dudley [Ford C. Frick Award, 1997] was relatively new to broadcasting when, in 1947, Bill Veeck teamed him with Jack Graney. Dudley recalled his association with Jack as “one of the greatest I have ever known.”
As a broadcaster Jack Graney brought the same professionalism and dedication to his new baseball career as he had to his previous one. In 1934 CBS asked him to do the national broadcast for the World Series. But Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled with an iron hand, forbid it on the grounds that a former baseball player could not broadcast impartially.
Jack Graney wrote a letter to Landis, protesting the decision and stating that he was now a broadcaster, not a player: that he was a professional and knew how to behave as an impartial broadcaster. The result was that Landis relented. (I don’t know, but perhaps Jack Graney getting Landis to relent was also a “first.”) In 1935 Graney broadcast the All-Star Game for CBS and then, along with Bob Elson [Ford C. Frick Award, 1979] and Red Barber [Ford C. Frick Award, 1978], he broadcast the 1935 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers.
Thus Jack Graney was the first former baseball player to nationally broadcast a World Series. Through his letter to Landis and his professional behavior in the broadcasting booth, he opened the door for other players-turned-broadcasters, such as Joe Garagiolo [Ford C. Frick Award, 1991] and Bob Uecker [Ford C. Frick Award, 2003]. These player-broadcasters stand on the innovative and helpful shoulders of Jack Graney.
Throughout Cleveland, and also throughout southern Ontario, Jack Graney was a much-loved broadcaster. His voice came over the radio all summer long. His daughter, Margot Graney Mudd, remembers that on summer days you could walk down every block in Cleveland, and from every porch came the voice of Jack Graney on the radio. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Bob Dolgan wrote: “When he [Graney] talked you could smell the resin in the dugouts, feel the clean smack of ball against bat and see the hawkers in the stands. He was a careful reporter and observer. He was short on ego and long on talent. His voice dripped with sincerity and crackled with vitality.”
On April 16, 1940, Jack Graney was behind the mike when Bob Feller threw his first no-hitter. That was on Opening Day, Comiskey Park. Feller’s feat remains the only Opening Day no-hitter. And Jack Graney was behind the mike during the 1948 World Series, when the Indians won their second World Series, this one against the Boston Braves.
After 23 years of play-by-play broadcasting, Jack Graney retired in September, 1953. In his honor, the Cleveland Indians celebrated Jack Graney Day, and fans paid their respects. Today the Indians honor Jack Graney with a large mural of him broadcasting a game. The mural is in the press room at Progressive Field, and its presence ties the Cleveland team of today to the Cleveland teams of the past, including the team that won the 1948 World Series and the 1920 World Series-winning team that Graney played on.
Jack Graney was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1984, the second year of the Hall’s existence. And in 1987 the CBHOF instituted the Jack Graney Award, to be given to a member of the media for their contributions to baseball in Canada. This is a double-sided award: it honors not only the recipient, but each time it’s given it honors Jack Graney — his character and his baseball contributions. American broadcaster Ernie Harwell [Ford C. Frick Award, 1981] received the Jack Graney Award in 2002. In 2011 the Jack Graney Award was given to W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams was based.
In 2012 Jack Graney was elected to the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. In bestowing the award, the Cleveland Indians used their electronic scoreboard to show photos of Jack Graney as both a baseball player and as a broadcaster.
Looking at the criteria for the Ford C. Frick Award once again, it is clear that Jack Graney qualifies on all counts:
• longevity — Yes, 23 years as a broadcaster
• continuity with a club — Yes, 23 years with the Cleveland Indians
• honors — Yes, broadcasting the 1935 All-Star Game, the 1935 World Series, induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, namesake of the Jack Graney Award
• popularity with fans — Yes, he was very popular during his Broadcasting Dawn days, with fans throughout northeastern and even southern Ohio and also northwestern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario. Many of these fans still remember Jack Graney’s broadcasting today
If Jack Graney should be awarded the 2016 Ford Frick Award, which he so highly deserves, his name would take its rightful place alongside the other awardees. By his presence he would expand the breadth of the Ford Frick Award. Jack Graney would be the first Canadian-born broadcaster given the award. Someday there may be others: but Jack would be the first.
And Jack Graney, if given the award, would become the first Ford Frick recipient born in the 19th century. Not only the first, but most likely theonly. Ever. Think about the significance of that for a moment. Each and every one of the 39 Ford Frick Award honorees was born in the 20th century. Although baseball broadcasting did not come into being until the 20th century, baseball as we know it was born in the 19th century.
When Jack Graney was an infant, a batter needed five balls to take his base. When Jack was a toddler, the rule was changed to four balls. When Jack was just learning how to judge a pitch and swing a bat, major league pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60’6”. If young Jack happened to favor a bat with one flat side, he had to give it up at the age of seven: that’s when bats were required to be rounded.
During Jack’s major league days a cork center was added to the baseball. And the spitball was outlawed. Toward the end of his playing days, the first broadcast of a baseball game took place [August 5, 1921, on KDKA]. When asked to step into this new world of baseball broadcasting, Jack Graney met it with the same courage, attentiveness, and dedication he had met other challenges. He stepped into the broadcasting booth and brought the game to millions of fans. Not only that, he shared his hard-earned knowledge of how to do things on radio with newer and younger broadcasters.
Jack Graney is highly worthy of the Ford C. Frick Award.
We all probably have different opinions about the best way to quit a job. Some of us have the kind of job where we would like to go storming in to the boss, spit “I quit!” in his or her face, and stomp out the front door with fist pumps in the air (otherwise known as the “Lotto Winner’s Fantasy”). Most of us simply let the boss know that we’re moving on, give her or him a couple weeks notice, and try to clean things up for the next person on the way out.
Waite Hoyt, the radio play by play guy knew how to make an exit. Fifty years ago today, he told his loyal listeners during the Giants-Reds tilt that night that the 1965 season would be his last in the Reds broadcast booth.
Well, Hoyt didn’t exactly quit on the spot while on the air. He had let his bosses at the Reds know earlier that afternoon that 1965 would be his final year. Also, he continued to broadcast through the final game of the season. So it wasn’t even close to a petulant rant and exit. It was all very clean and civil. And he even returned to the Reds TV booth for one more year during the Reds pennant winning romp of 1972.
The story about Hoyt’s unique departure, written by Mike Dyer, ran on the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website last month. You can read the story in its entirety below, or if you prefer, you can read the original story here:
The ace of the 1927 Yankees sure knew about timing.
Waite Hoyt’s announcement that he was retiring from the Reds radio booth arrived in the middle of a mid-week tied game 50 years ago this summer. And the news just happened to be in the middle of a pennant race.
The popular Reds radio announcer with a knack for the flair in front of an audience managed to bury the lede on Wednesday night, Aug. 4, 1965 at Crosley Field.
“The big adventure is over,” Hoyt told his audience after the fifth inning of the Giants-Reds game.
Moments earlier, San Francisco pitcher Juan Marichal got Deron Johnson to ground out with Pete Rose stranded on third base.
Reds left-handed pitcher Jim O’Toole took the mound to prepare for the bottom of the Giants lineup in the sixth.
“Late this afternoon…I decided to surrender my position as baseball broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds following the final game of the 1965 season,” Hoyt said.
The Giants defeated the Reds 4-3 in 10 innings in front of 16,376 that August night. The Reds were two games back of the first-place Dodgers while the Giants were three behind Los Angeles.
Nearly 4,000 letters poured in for Hoyt to reconsider his retirement.
“When Hoyt announced his retirement in August, the news hit his faithful listeners as if the Carew Tower had fallen on them,” a United Press International story said in November 1965.
Other fans said the Reds ought to make Hoyt the club manager.
“It’s nice to know people have that much faith in my baseball knowledge,” Hoyt said. “But, I’m afraid I would be too impulsive in my decisions to make a good manager.”
Hoyt’s final Reds game in the radio booth occurred nearly two months later at Candlestick Park.
Today, Hoyt’s voice can be heard inside the Cincinnati Museum Center as part of the Queen City Baseball: Diamonds and Stars exhibit.
An original part of his final Reds radio broadcast – Oct. 3, 1965 – is a sheer delight as visitors enter the exhibit room on the bottom floor of the Museum Center.
Surrounded by Reds memorabilia, visitors hear Hoyt give the lineup on the speaker above. The audience also hears the National Anthem being played at the stadium.
But, there is also an eerie sense of irony listening to the crowd murmur on the broadcast. Just last week, the final upper-deck section at Candlestick Park was torn down as the stadium demolition makes room for housing, a hotel and a shopping center on its site.
Just the memories remain of that afternoon.
There is plenty of biographical information about Hoyt as a player and a broadcaster at the exhibit. One particular photo shows Hoyt in a WKRC radio studio broadcasting an “away” game in the 1940s.
“Waite never ran out of words – he had cut his teeth on the old ‘Grandstand and Bandstand’ program, a mishmash of music, variety and sports that required the performers to scribble their own material between short sessions on the air,” Robert Smith wrote in the Des Moines Register on Oct. 3, 1965.
The exhibit has an RCA microphone, a bat, autographed baseballs, and an original typed script complete with edits from Hoyt discussing Babe Ruth’s driving. There is also an album of Hoyt’s rain-delay stories from the Baseball Hall of Famer who died in 1984.
Hoyt’s widow, Betty, lives in Westwood. Betty, who is Waite’s third wife, will turn 90 in September.
Reds fans like Betty in the 1940s, 50s and 60s understood Hoyt’s broadcast style quite well.
His rain delay stories were legendary. Cincinnati fans learned a great deal about Ruth, Hoyt’s Murderers’ Row teammate.
The Brooklyn native called Reds games on Cincinnati radio airwaves starting on April 14, 1942. He was a Burger Beer guy. He always called games in the past tense.
“His laugh and his storytelling ability was what made him special,” Hoyt’s television broadcast partner Tom Hedrick told The Enquirer last week.
Hedrick, 81, is a sportscaster and Mass Media and Communication Instructor at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. He worked with Hoyt on Reds games in the television booth in 1972.
“He was kind of my father figure,” Hedrick said. “He always made sure things were ok. He was a fine gentleman. He and I had a rapport.”
Years after he stepped away from the radio booth at the end of the ’65 season, the Reds announced Jan. 30, 1972 that Hoyt would join Hedrick in the TV booth (WLWT) for what turned out to be a National League pennant that October.
Even during that ’72 season, Hoyt always had a story to share and social graces that put those around him at ease.
Hoyt jokingly used a spitball during first pitches at Riverfront Stadium. Rose enjoyed his company. The Big Red Machine was clicking that year and won 95 games.
Al Michaels and Joe Nuxhall were in their second year together on the radio calling Reds games on WLW. The stadium was sparkling.
Hedrick has never forgotten what Hoyt taught him about the intricacies of the game. The Hall of Famer gave Hedrick a great deal of confidence too.
“‘I’ve had my place in the sun,’ Hoyt told Hedrick. ‘It’s your ballgame.'”
Fifty years ago this summer, Hoyt was on his radio farewell tour but he collected plenty of highlights and accolades.
Just four days after he announced his retirement from the radio booth, the Reds defeated the 1965 World Series champion Dodgers 18-0 at Crosley Field – still the modern club record for largest margin of victory in a shutout for the Reds.
The Reds also played at old Busch Stadium (formerly Sportsman’s Park) for the final time on Aug. 15.
On Aug. 19, Reds right-handed pitcher Jim Maloney threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field in a 1-0 win over the Cubs in 10 innings. Maloney struck out 12 for the 10th no-hitter in club history.
Then, just a few days before his 66th birthday, the longtime announcer was lauded with “Waite Hoyt Day” at Crosley Field on Sunday, Sept. 5.
This tribute was made in response to several requests from fans and the event was sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. Hoyt was awarded a five-week European tour after the season from more than 1,800 appreciative fans.
Hoyt was recognized plenty in news articles for his time with the Reds and was described as one of the most popular men in Ohio.
“I wouldn’t trade the years I have spent in baseball for anything,” Hoyt said.
Committee member Jim Theilman, a published author who covered the big leagues for 16 years and also wrote a book about the 1965 Minnesota Twins AL championship squad, is a website manager by day for General Mills. Every once in a while, he gets to marry his love for baseball with the practical demands for content on his employer’s behalf, and when that happens, you get a great article like this:
Through their efforts at promoting their cereal brands, General Mills was on the forefront of convincing big league ballclub owners to see the light and understand that putting their product on the radio was good for business, not bad.
Jim has given us permission to reprint the article in full, but we also urge you to cast an occasional eye towards Jim’s columns on the General Mills website, since he’s pretty good at finding ways to weave baseball into the conversation over there: http://www.blog.generalmills.com/author/jim-thielman/
Here’s the reprinted article:
By the time furniture that talked was nestled against a far wall in nearly half of American parlors in the 1930s, companies like General Mills were using those radio sets to tell people about their products.
Baseball was an ideal radio advertising vehicle. Games were played during the day, and most women worked at home. During the summer, kids listened, too.
The speedbump was the owners of professional baseball teams. As is usually the case with monolithic monopolies, progressive thinking wasn’t their style.
Most owners – influenced by newspapers that didn’t want broadcasts to disrupt their monopoly on coverage – believed that giving away the games to listeners would erode gate receipts.
Only a few owners like Chicago Cubs’ William Veeck Sr. understood the value. Kids who listened to broadcasts were tomorrow’s paying customers.
Women might be, too. Which is why the grandfather of St. Paul Saints’ owner Mike “Fun is Good” Veeck promoted a weekly Ladies’ Day at the ballpark. Women got in free.
That only a few owners understood marketing all seems silly today, as Major League Baseball’s 85th All-Star Game nears. The sport has more revenue streams than ever, yet no one has to watch a game.
Highlights from tonight’s game will be found on the Internet. No need to view the event. Of course, you’ll see plenty of advertisements along with the highlights.
Baseball owners didn’t see this coming about a century ago. Companies like General Mills did.
Shortly after radio – a set cost about $700 in today’s dollars – got a foothold in the U.S. in 1921, sellers of goods had demonstrated that radio could puff profits.
Boosted by General Mills’ sponsorship of baseball broadcasts on nearly 100 radio stations, Wheaties was filling cereal bowls nationwide. It had been largely a regional success before that.
By the time baseball’s seventh Major League Baseball All-Star game was played in 1939, 46 of the 51 players in the game were under contract with Wheaties.
General Mills was spending more than $1 million annually to sponsor major and minor league radio broadcasts as the 1940s dawned.
The company slid as unhesitatingly into TV as it had radio.
A Wheaties commercial in which broadcaster Red Barber sliced fresh fruit into a bowl of crispy flakes was the centerpiece ad spot on baseball’s first televised broadcast in 1939.
Barber, a radio staff announcer who did an occasional baseball broadcast, segued into full-time, Hall of Fame broadcasting career after discovering he was good at it. General Mills paid him $8,000 – a nice post-Depression salary – to broadcast Brooklyn Dodger games on the radio in 1939.
Before Barber there was no blueprint. An announcer might be joined in the booth by comedians and others who had nothing to do with the sport.
Once General Mills started to pay the freight, broadcasters met at an annual dinner. The company directed these men to be non-partisan and avoid criticism of players and umpires.
Sponsorship also brought experimentation to the booth.
In the 1940s, General Mills was behind the first woman baseball announcer. That was Helen Dettwiler, who was also the first professional woman golfer. She was said to be not qualified for the baseball commenting job.
But then many were not.
It took a pioneer like Barber to turn baseball broadcasts into summer’s sound track, capably narrating the daily melody.
Barber primed the pump of a listener’s imagination. He focused on reporting. If a baseball took four hops to reach the leftfielder, that’s what the listener learned.
Highly regarded as he was, Barber falls short of the highest-ranking baseball broadcaster employed by General Mills.
That would be a man who pronounced his name Ree-gan back in the ‘30s, when he announced Wheaties’ sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games.
Ronald Reagan was 25 when he was a sports announcer at WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa. He didn’t see the games he broadcast.
It was a practice for an announcer to be in studio, but deliver game play-by-play from telegraph reports as if he were at the game. Imagine calling a friend on your cell phone and reporting a game as a third person tweets the account to you from the ballpark.
In 1937, Reagan went to California to cover spring training, took a screen test and became a film star.
And eventually President of the United States.
Accounts maintain that Reagan had the talent to “rip and read” game accounts flawlessly. Which perhaps set the groundwork for his presidential nickname: The Great Communicator.
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Jim Thielman is a manager in Global Communications for General Mills, based in Minneapolis. He manages content for the corporate website. He also is the author of “Cool of the Evening” about the 1965 Minnesota Twins. He began his career at General Mills in 2005. More posts by this author