Category Archives: History

The Beginnings of American Sports Coverage

Committee member John Thorn has shared this fascinating account about the inception of sports journalism in America.  This article, written by William Henry Nugent, first appeared in the periodical The American Mercury in March, 1929.

Although much of the article contemplates sporting activities beyond the baseball field, it provides tremendous insight into the very beginnings of sportswriting in America in general.  As importantly, we  also learn from this article the role of the media not only in establishing a ubiquitous sports culture in the United States, but in actually spurring and guiding the development of many of the sports themselves.

I hope you especially enjoy, as I did, the wonderful period language Nugent employs in the piece.

 

The Sports Section
by William Henry Nugent, 1929

The newspapers reflected and at the same time nourished the mania for sports in the Twenties. In even the most dignified papers, principles of accurate reporting were ignored, promotion and sports news became confused, and the amount of newspaper space devoted to sports increased. William Nugent traced the evolution of the sports column and its specialized jargon in an article published in March 1929, from which the following selection is taken.

The cover of the American Mercury, March 1929The United States learned its first lessons in sports journalism and sports slang from the British Isles, where flowered the first public prints dedicated to horse racing, the hunt, the chase, cockfighting, prizefighting, and other such pursuits and spectacles. The writers for these periodicals invented a special style and vocabulary that are still used by our modern sports-page literati. …

It will not seem strange that we inherited sports journalism from the British Isles if it is further recalled that we also imported the organization of sport, the solemnities, the ceremonies, the rules, the first prizefight manager, the promoter, and the feudal distinction between amateur and professional. Again, despite those who applaud the English sporting spirit and blame everything wicked on Americans, the British initiated us into the mysteries of commercialism, faking, and publicity. But they gave us the good with the bad. The English, Irish, and Scotch immigrants in the last century helped to break down the wall of puritanical prejudice against organized play. They acted as teachers. Think of all the English and the Irish pugilists, the Scotch golf professionals! In time, the pupils learned to play as well as their instructors, and even better, and competed against them in international contests.

Anyone, then, who would trace the evolution of the present-day American sports section and its slang should examine certain early periodicals in England and their imitators in the United States. …

The first important sporting weekly in the United States appeared in New York on Dec. 10, 1831. It was the Spirit of the Times: the American Gentlemen’s Newspaper. This pioneer lived until 1901, when it merged with the Horseman of Chicago. Horace Greeley, as a young printer, set type on it in 1832. Its editor and owner, William Trotter Porter, who came of horse-loving Vermont stock, attended Dartmouth, learned the printer’s trade at a Bible House at Andover, Mass., and at twenty-one descended upon New York City with the notion that a national sporting paper devoted principally to horseracing would be a profitable venture. …

He advocated and ballyhooed the same sports played up in the papers across the Atlantic. It pleased him when his overseas contemporaries called the Spirit the Bell’s Life of the Western world. He sprinkled his columns with hunting stories about the buffalo, the wildcat, the turkey, the panther, and the ‘possum. He had articles on old sledge, the brag steamboats on the Mississippi, an Answers to Queries column, a few woodcuts, dramatic reviews, jokes, and an occasional serial novel. He popularized poker and “peaknuckle” by printing their rules and answering questions on their problems. …

The Spirit, as masculine as Godey’s Ladies’ Book was feminine, was read by horsemen, breeders, farmers, college students, Army officers, congressmen, gamblers, pugilists, ball players, bartenders, all the knowing ones. Daniel Webster, a friend of Porter’s, took it at Washington while the Senate was in session and at Boston when he returned home. The success of the Spiritgave birth to seven other papers bearing the same title. At the outbreak of the Civil War it had, according to sworn testimony in a libel suit, a circulation of 100,000. Only one weekly in America, aside from the religious press, had more, Bonner’s New York Ledger. Thousands of subscribers seceded with the South in 1861 and never came back.

By encouraging cricket in the ’40s and ’50s, just as he had sponsored other hyphenated pastimes here, Porter nearly made it the national game and indirectly helped to establish baseball. Up to a few years before the Civil War, indeed, cricket had more advocates in the nation than baseball. Elevens sprang up, not only in New York and in Philadelphia but even in Detroit and Naugatuck, Conn. The All-United States beat All-Canada in an international match and the victors considered challenging the parent Marylebone Club of London, which is to cricket what St. Andrew’s is to golf.

The St. George Cricket Club, instituted by British residents in New York, built a clubhouse on Bloomingdale Road, and its members bowled and batted and drank tea just as they had done in the Old Country. They ignored the jibes directed at them by ribald passersby. How unlike the attitude of the sensitive Philadelphians in 1828, who abandoned their wickets in a field at Camden, N.J., when onlookers and newspapers laughed at them for wasting time at a boy’s pastime!

In 1844 the activities of the English gentlemen encouraged a group of young men who had offices in Wall Street to consider exercising after office hours, but instead of playing cricket they voted for the town-ball of their boyhood. They rented a field near Madison Square, but later moved to the Elysian Fields, Hoboken. They gathered twice a week and imitated the St. Georgians by building a clubhouse, keeping a scorebook, and fixing a system of fines for nonattendance. This Knickerbocker Ball Club wrote out regulations in 1845 for a new game that it called baseball. It caught on. Just as the small-town Babbitts of today in plus fours play golf because it is the recreation of the Rockefellers, so did the young men of Brooklyn and in New York in the ’50s organize baseball clubs in imitation of high-toned Wall Street. The game took because Porter gave it publicity.

He printed the first rules, the first scores, the first picture of a match in progress, the first box score, the first allusion to it as the national game, and the first dope stories, and gave wide space to the first convention in 1858, when the players voted to make nine innings a game instead of calling it when the first side had tallied twenty-one aces. Cricketers, native and foreign-born, switched to baseball and carried over many terms to the newer game, among them,lucky breaks, fielding average, batting average, batter (instead of the old fashioned striker), fly(ing) ball, innings (instead of hands in).

Henry Chadwick, an Englishman who wrote on cricket for the Spirit of the Times, first edited Spalding’s Baseball Guide and won a press agent’s title of the Father of Baseball. Harry Wright, another Englishman who played cricket with the St. George Club and baseball with the Knickerbocker Club, organized the first salaried nine, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1868, and later managed teams in the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs which he helped to launch.

The Spirit also boomed prizefighting in America, introducing the London prizering code and the Marquis of Queensberry rules. For a considerable period the American ring, long a bootleg institution, was really only a branch of the English ring. It was under the control of Englishmen and Irishmen; they did the fighting, the managing, the training, the faking, the promoting, and the collecting. …

The Spirit of the Times, in the ’70s, imitated its two transatlantic contemporaries and introduced amateur boxing, football, rowing, and track and field competitions into America. Curtis, whom Wilkes had engaged as his editor in the ’70s, was the Chambers of the United States, forming the New York Athletic Club, defining an amateur athlete (a rewrite of the English definition), and aiding in establishing the present Amateur Athletic Union. For good and for evil, the old Spirit for half a century was the chief propagandist of British professional and amateur sports, their slang and their journalism, in the republic.

The second important sports weekly was born in New York in 1845 and still lives. It is the National Police Gazette. It circulated early among police officers, criminals, the Fancy, barbers, and saloonkeepers. It picked up stories of British criminals until the American underworld had developed its own heroes. Each week is summarized the nation’s rapes, burglaries, murders, and hangings. But it remained for a rival, the Illustrated Police News of Boston, to set a different alliterative headline each week over the countrywide harvest of executions, e.g., “Spine Stretching,” “Legally Lassoed” and “Justly Jerked.”

The Police Gazette later added news about boxing, cockfighting, and other pastimes. Wilkes, before going to the Spirit of the Times, had edited it, but it never had the Spirit’s literary tone or class of readers. …

The New York Clipper cruised the journalistic seas from 1853 to 1924, carrying boxing, baseball, and theatrical news, and, from 1897 onward, stage news only. It docked for the last time four years ago in the office of Sime Silverman’s Variety. The Clipper not only helped to spread underworld and sporting argot from abroad but also contributed idioms from the English-speaking stage and circus lot. Other weeklies containing sports news blossomed between 1830 and 1890. To note a few, there were the Whip, the Rake, the Flash, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Mercury, and the New York SportsmanLeslie’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly pictured important athletic events. Thomas Nast drew sketches of the Heenan and Sayers fight for the New York Illustrated News. But the Spirit of the Times, the Police Gazette, and the Clipper were the big three in sports journalism in the last century.

Even before the Civil War some newspaper editors, though they looked on athletics as the province of the weeklies, printed news of any event that aroused public interest. The New YorkHerald, from its establishment in 1835 until 1885, assigned Uncle Joe Elliott, superintendent of its delivery room, to double as a reporter of prizefights and horse races. Seated at the ringside, he dictated a story to a stenographer, who later transcribed the notes for a copyreader to cut down and polish. Herald pony-express riders, in May 1847, carrying Elliott’s story of how Yankee Sullivan vanquished Caunt the Englishman early in the morning on a dew-covered battleground at Harper’s Ferry, galloped from the ringside to New York in time for the Herald to print the yarn only two days after the mill.

Less than two years later, Elliott, in relating how Tom Hyer had won the championship of America by flaxing out Yankee Sullivan in eighteen minutes at Rock Creek, Md., dispatched from Baltimore to New York the first prize-fight message ever sent over Morse’s five-year-old magnetic telegraph. This epochal dispatch, plus other pugilistic intelligence, filled the entire front page next day. In April 1860, the Herald‘s presses rumbled day and night for four days to provide an eager public with accounts of the “great international match” between the Benecia Boy, an American blacksmith’s helper, and Tom Sayers, an English brick-layer’s laborer, a landmark in ring history. Bennett did not send a representative from the home office but economically clipped his report from English and American exchanges. The Herald also reported horse races, especially the matches between Northern and Southern thoroughbreds, yacht races, and the early baseball games.

James Gordon Bennett, the younger, himself a long-distance pedestrian and polo player, offered cups in the ’70s to winners in college rowing races and track and field events. Out of this developed the present Poughkeepsie Regatta and the annual intercollegiate meets. In the ’80s he introduced polo to Newport and found space in his paper for news about it, as well as about golf and tennis, old pastimes still indifferent to newspaper publicity. His Evening Telegram, established in 1867, had a clientele among boxing and baseball zealots. When Elliott was superannuated in the late ’80s, the Herald engaged Billy Edwards, champion emeritus of the lightweights and bouncer at the Hoffman House, to dictate a blow-by-blow account of boxing bouts to a shorthand reporter. Thus he was the founder of a long hokum dynasty of prizefighters who “expert” for the newspapers at higher salaries than are paid to city editors.

Toppy Maguire, a contemporary of Elliott, served the New York Sun as a boxing and racing authority for thirty years. Sometimes Charles A. Dana accompanied him to a fight. Arthur Brisbane, while London correspondent of the New York Sun, cabled stories about Sullivan’s visit to the Prince of Wales, and at other times wrote about the bare-knuckle fights between Smith and Kilrain, Mitchell and Sullivan. The puritanical New York Tribune preached against prize-fights and horse races, but its reporters were assigned to them and turned in excellent yarns.

These early American sports writers, through oral and printed tradition, inherited a ready-made vocabulary. For a while the editors of conservative newspapers with traditions of good writing toned down their excessive slang, but today all editors allow their sports writers greater liberties than those granted to reporters in the other departments of the paper. Many terms and wisecracks borrowed from the past still survive, some without change and some with slight changes due to the wear and tear of colloquial speech. American sports writers yet use a lot of this standing-metal slang, but they likewise create their share of new phrases, idioms, and nicknames. Baseball experts, adapting boxing diction to baseball, introduced initial sack, hot corner, and so on.

William Randolph Hearst bought the New York Journal in 1895. Before turning his talents three years later to his war with Spain, he had worked out the modern newspaper sports section. Finding his rivals running from three to seven columns of sport news daily, he doubled, trebled, and quadrupled the space, and on occasional Sundays issued a bicycle or a horse supplement of twelve pages. …

Hearst not only invented the present-day sports page make-up; he whooped things up all along the line, putting the final crusher on the weekly as an authority in athletics. Before he breezed in with his open purse, other papers had appended the names of the writers at the ends of sports stories. The New York World, for instance, had baseball chatter signed by De Wolfe Hopper, the actor, who had already discovered the poem “Casey At the Bat,” and Dominick McCaffery, the heavyweight contender of 1889, explained over his own name that John L. Sullivan beat down Jake Kilrain, not by face hits but by blows to the heart.

The New York Illustrated News, in 1889, appointed John L. Sullivan sports editor, with the understanding that he would sit two hours a day at his desk. John L. collected his salary for eight months, but did no work. He blustered in once, bought the staff a drink, and then refused to come again. The publishers, after frequent telegrams to Boston, ultimately cut him off the payroll.

Hearst placed the new by-line rig on a better basis. He signed his champions to a contract and, instead of giving them an impecunious $50 a week, paid out real money. He paid James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons, successors to Sullivan, $5,000 a year each for the right to put their signatures in facsimile over articles. Furthermore, he did not ask them to associate with the staff, but gave them a ghost writer, Robert H. Davis, to do the work of composition. He hired other champions, Hobart on tennis, Bald on bicycling, Batchelder on wheeling, and Heffelfinger, the Yale hero, on football. Amos Rusie, the Giant’s pitcher, told how he threw puzzling curves; Arthur Irwin, manager of the Giants, charted the science of the hit-and-run; and under the shaky facsimile signatures of two dinge jockeys, A. Hamilton and Willie Sims, appeared the story, “How A Horse Race Is Ridden.” Hearst, in 1896 and 1897, had signed up nearly every sports champion. Of late the price of by-lines has gone up. Dempsey was paid $45,000 a year for his name, and Tunney is said to have received a still higher sum.

Hearst built up a staff of experts, including Ralph Paine of Yale on rowing, Charles Dryden on baseball, and Paul Armstrong on boxing. The World, in 1889, had boasted that Nellie Bly, in interviewing John L. Sullivan and his trainer, William Muldoon, to the extent of three columns both before and after the Kilrain fight, had been the first woman to achieve such a feat. The Journalassigned Winifred Black to visit New Haven, and in the fall of 1895 appeared a five-and-a-half column story and three sketches headed: “At Old Yale. The Journal’s Woman Reporter Trains With the Little Boys in Blue. Once Around the Clock With the Lads Who Will Uphold Yale’s Prestige. The First Time a Woman Was Invited to Dinner by a College Football Team.”

The Sun, the Herald, and the World spread out on college football reports, running seven and more columns with sketches. Hearst ran wild in covering the Yale-Princeton game in 1895. He printed two-and-a-half pages, with five sketches, one seven columns wide, and two diagrams showing “How the Ball Moved.” Richard Harding Davis filled a whole page, aside from pictures, plus a breakover. Heffelfinger presented a technical description, and Jim Corbett in a signed story approved of football by saying: “It has a tendency to make a man a strong, healthy animal and it is all right. I consider football as played today rough sport, but not brutal.” Both the team captains signed statements. On Monday Captain Thorne of Yale told his own story of how he made that great run. Not only did Hearst splurge on football but he gave space to other pastimes and a big prizefight called for five pages. All this before 1898.

Other publishers in 1896, and for a long time thereafter, shrilled that he was prostituting journalism by his yellow methods. Today the innovations of 1896 have become commonplace. All publishers have adopted those identical methods, with the eight- and the ten-page sports section, the banner headlines, the cartoons, the pictures. Even the New York Times and the Associated Press, within the last few years, have allowed their sports writers to sign their names to stories. Others have gone into the market and bid away champions from Hearst. As a result of adopting his devices and newer ones, such as the double-measure sports column popularized by Grantland Rice of the Nashville Banner, the New York Mail and the New York Herald Tribune, a feature that has a thousand imitators, other papers have overhauled and passed him.

Since the World War the sporting section has grown tremendously. The Editor and Publisher has computed that the New York World devotes 40 percent of its local news on weekdays to sports and that the Herald Tribune gives over no less than 60 percent. All large city newspapers now surrender four or five pages to sports news on weekdays and eight and even ten pages on Sunday. …

To supply this demand, the Associated Press has lately organized a segregated sports department with twelve men on its staff. The International News, out of a total of 45,000 words in a full thirteen-hour report, carried 5,000 words on sports. The United Press is sending out three times the amount it transmitted a year ago. Publishers agree that circulation, prestige, and reader interest are created by sports news. …

Today, America leads the universe in sports journalism. Our syndicated specialists sell baseball stories and box scores to Japan and Mexico, prizefight and polo yarns to the press of the world. Readers in the British Isles know the cartoons of Bud Fisher, Tad, and Edgren. Slang from our sports sections has found its way to England, often in movie captions, until nervous Bloomsbury critics write letters to the London Times that we are corrupting, that is, americanizing, the mother tongue. Few seem to know that many of these words are making a return trip to their place of origin. For it was the British who taught them to us when they gave us our first lessons in sporting journalism.

Source
American Mercury, March 1929.

Nearly 100 years ago, baseball almost banned broadcasts

On May 1, James Walker’s new book about the history of baseball radio broadcasts, Crack of the Bat, will be released.  The article below, written by Dr. Walker, first appeared on the website The Conversation US.

Nearly 100 years ago, baseball almost banned broadcasts

James Walker, Saint Xavier University

Picture of old time radio, baseball glove, ball and bat.
Fear of the unknown: would free radio broadcasts hurt gate receipts? (from www.shutterstock.com)

 

In December 2011, when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Texas Rangers signed away their local television rights for about $3 billion apiece, the sport media heralded a new record for local television rights fees. Accounting for roughly 43% of MLB’s $8 billion haul in 2014, media revenues have made the players rich and the owners even richer.

Today, the idea that a team would ban its games from being broadcast is unthinkable, so ingrained are TV and radio contracts in the marketing and business practices of the sport.

But in 1921, when radios first began making their way into American homes, a number of baseball team owners weren’t quite sure what to make of the emerging technology. In fact, the owners were sharply divided over whether or not broadcasting games on the radio would benefit or deeply damage revenues. A 20-year battle among owners would ensue.

East Coast opposition

While radio’s popularity couldn’t be denied, half of baseball’s barons – mostly located along the East Coast – viewed radio as a fifth estate thief, robbing them of paying customers at the gate. And in this era, the gate was everything.

But other owners, led by Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley and located primarily in the Midwest, saw radio as a promotional machine that would sell baseball to women and, more importantly, children – the next generation of paying fans.

Each group had sound reasons for its stance. Squeezed along the Atlantic coast, the eastern franchises drew most paying customers from dense, urban populations who used streetcars and subways to get to the ballparks. These teams worried that radio might keep some of those fans at home.

 

Onlookers watch a game at the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants. Note the trains in the background.  Wikimedia Commons

 

Midwestern owners, generally located in smaller cities, depended more on out-of town weekend and holiday guests, who arrived by car and bus. In their minds, baseball broadcasts would reach across the region’s vast farm fields and into the living rooms of small town America, tempting tens of thousands to come to the city and see what they could only hear through the ether.

In the 1920s, teams that did broadcast games on the radio usually charged nothing for the rights, settling for free promotion of their on-field product. For Wrigley, who was accustomed to paying retail rates to advertise his chewing gum, the prospect of two hours of free advertising for his Chicago Cubs (over as many as five Chicago radio stations) was generous enough compensation. But the anti-radio owners, led by the three New York clubs (the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers), wanted to deny Wrigley his two-hour Cubs commercial.

Although he jealously guarded his control over World Series radio rights, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis believed local radio rights were a league matter and left the decision to broadcast regular season games to the owners. At several NL and AL owners meetings in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the anti-radio forces proposed a league-wide ban on local broadcasts of regular season games.

Pro-radio clubs, led by Cubs’ President Bill Veeck, Sr, were adamant that the choice to broadcast belonged to his club. It was no more of concern to other clubs, he argued, than the decision whether or not to sell peanuts to the fans in the stands.

But to teams like the St Louis Cardinals, it was a concern: because the Cubs’ radio waves reached the Cardinals’ fan base, they were convinced that the broadcasts negatively influenced their own attendance numbers. The decision of whether or not to broadcast games, they reasoned, was not the Cubs alone to make.

 

Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio details the important role radio played in America’s pastime.  University of Nebraska Press

 

What finally won over the Cardinals – and enough of the owners to prevent the passage of a league-wide radio ban – was the classic “slippery slope” argument: if the League could dictate radio rights, what other team rights might be at stake? To them, team autonomy was paramount.

From there, the best the anti-radio forces could muster was a tie vote at the 1934 American League meeting; team control over its media rights was codified by the slimmest of margins.

The matter appeared settled: pro-radio teams would continue to exploit the medium and anti-radio barons would limit coverage to the home opener and a handful of other games.

General Mills pounces

But the makers of the “Breakfast of Champions” had other ideas. General Mills, producer of Wheaties, realized that broadcasts of the national pastime and other sports were direct avenues into the American home. Sports sold breakfast food to kids and their moms, so General Mills invested heavily in game broadcasts, becoming the leading sponsor of the sport by 1936. General Mills bought major league broadcasts where available and even tried to purchase league-wide contracts in 1936, presenting survey evidence that “baseball broadcasting, properly handled, definitely increases attendance at the parks.”

 

General Mills was an early proponent of radio broadcasts.  GeneralMills/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

 

General Mills also sponsored training conferences to professionalize baseball announcing, and offered prizes to announcers who did the best job of increasing the home gate.

Radio didn’t even require an announcer to be at the ballpark. Games could be “re-created” out of any station using telegraph reports of the games (with a few sound effects peppered in to enhance the realism of the broadcast). In 1933, General Mills sponsored re-creations of Cubs and White Sox games by “Dutch” Reagan – future president Ronald Regan – over Iowa stations WOC and WHO. General Mills’ aggressive push alarmed NL President Ford Frick who worried that his senior circuit might become “a breakfast food league.”

 

According to the Sporting News, the young Ronald Reagan had ‘a thorough knowledge of the game, a gift for narrative and a pleasant voice.’  Wikimedia Commons

 

But mighty as it was, General Mills was initially frozen out of the nation’s biggest baseball market.

In 1932, the three New York clubs had agreed to ban local broadcasts for five years. The teams had little regular local coverage and even restricted broadcasts from visiting teams back to their home cities. Undaunted, General Mills began sponsoring re-creations of Boston and Philadelphia home games on New York’s WMCA, opening up the New York market without the consent of the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers. While not as popular as their local teams’ games might be, New York listeners finally were finally receiving a regular dose of MLB play.

Pressure on anti-radio teams to broadcast was growing in other markets. In Pittsburgh, stations were re-creating games without consent of the local team, using observers at the park, or monitoring other broadcasts. Owners now realized their property rights were at stake: if they didn’t meet the public’s demand for daily baseball broadcasts, others would.

The owners began to cooperate, sharing information on the value of their local broadcasts rights. In 1937, Leo Bondy of the New York Giants shocked NL owners by reporting that his team turned down $100,000 for the rights to broadcast home games.

 

Red Barber would go on to become the wildly popular voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Library of Congress

 

Soon, owners realized that baseball on the radio was more than promotion: it could generate some serious cash. To protect their increasingly valuable rights, owners took on broadcast bootleggers in federal court. In 1938, the Pittsburgh Pirates successfully sued local station KQV, which had been pirating the team’s broadcasts.

The court’s decision solidified the ownership of broadcast rights of local teams, opening the door to billions in future media rights revenues. In 1939, after the New York teams’ five-year ban expired, the Dodgers brought famed broadcaster Red Barber from Cincinnati to Brooklyn. The city quickly embraced the talented Barber. The Yankees and Giants followed suit, also allowing home broadcasts in 1939.

The 20-year conflict over radio was over. The two were now joined in an increasingly profitable partnership – one that, with the advent of TV, would go on to reap billions.

This article is based on material in Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio (University of Nebraska Press, 2015).

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Great Post: “Baseball Reporting”, from Total Baseball, 2nd Ed.

Picture of Jack Lang
Jack Lang, old timey ink-stained wretch and BBWAA hotshot.

Because we currently reside in the early 21st Century and thus the landscape of baseball media has been weighted towards broadcast for most of the past several decades, we don’t feature as much about baseball’s “ink-stained wretches”—the print journalists—as much as we would like to.  So when an opportunity presents itself, we feel compelled to seize on it.

Here’s a sterling example of such an opportunity,  Committee member John Thorn, who has a must-read historical blog called Our Game at the MLBlogs Network, recently published a post entitled “Baseball Reporting“.  As he tells it in his prologue leading into the piece:

When Total Baseball made its debut in 1989, the critical response was universally and lavishly favorable. One dissenting voice was that of Jack Lang, recently retired from the press box after 42 years of covering the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Mets. He continued, however, in the role he cherished, that of paterfamilias of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He served as secretary-treasurer from 1966-88, and then in 1989 he was named executive secretary, a job created for him. How, he asked me somewhat belligerently, could you compile a baseball book of that size with no mention of the role of the press? I countered by saying that even though the book ran to 2294 pages, some worthy topics had to be left for future editions, and I invited him to tackle this one himself.

Below, from the second edition of Total Baseball, is Jack’s contribution. Because of the internet, and bloggers, and the declining appeal of newsprint (if not news itself), this is already something of a period piece. Somebody ought to update it–maybe you.

Now, I don’t know whether John meant me, specifically or necessarily, but I would bet several Baseball and the Media committee members would be well-qualified to do so, many  of them probably right off the tops of their head.

I would urge anyone interested in the history of baseball journalism to click on over and devour this piece, post haste.  Here is the link, once again:

http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/03/26/baseball-reporting/

 

A Bevy of Hall of Famers Did Baseball Radio Work in 1939, and Here’s the Proof

Committee member Bill Dunstone has shared with us this terrific find: an article, first published in the Sporting News in 1939, about former ballplayers who were set to take the booth that season, after having taken the field for various teams for so many seasons previous to that.  The best part of this picture, to us, is that no fewer than five of the players pictured here are Hall of Famers.

We can positively identify this as being from 1939 since that is the only year Walter Johnson, arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the game and the only player/broadcaster here that was already in the Hall (elected in its inaugural class in 1936), did the radio broadcasts for the Washington Senators for WJSV.

Two other future Hall of Famers in this picture who were doing play by play in 1939 were Harry Heilmann (Tigers on WXYZ; he broadcast for the team from 1934 to 1950), and Frankie Frisch (doing Red Sox and Bees games on WAAB; he also did Giants games on TV and radio in 1947 and 1948).  Frisch was voted into the Hall in 1947; Heilmann was elected in 1952.

The final two Hall of Famers pictured here were doing studio work that season.  Waite Hoyt, selected by the Veterans’ Committee in 1969, did pregame broadcasts for the Yankees and Giants on WABC in 1939, but later he would do radio play by play for the Reds from 1942 to 1965.  Freddie Lindstrom, a Veterans’ Committee selection in 1976, spent the season in question working at WLS in Chicago.

Even though the pictures of the men themselves is very grainy, the accompanying story is very legible.  Thank you, Bill, for sharing this with us!

If you, too, have any interesting artifacts, such as pictures, stories, video files, audio files or anything of the like, please feel free to contact us so we can share them with our readership as well.

Click on the thumbnail image below to open a new tab and view it in its full size glory.  (You may need to click the picture in the new tab once more to make it full size.)

1939 Ex-Player Broadcasters

“Broadcasting the Baseball Game”: Glorious Magazine Cover from 1924

Committee member John Thorn came across this gorgeous magazine cover from the May 1924 issue of Scientific American, demonstrating the coming technological marvel that was the vocal transmission of an account of a baseball game beyond mere shouting distance.

At that point in time, there were only three teams broadcasting home games on a regular basis: the Cubs and the White Sox on WMAQ in Chicago; and the Reds on WMH (now WKRC) in Cincinnati.

And as seems to be the case with all technologies in their infancy, radio broadcasting tended the province of the very young.  The famous first broadcast in Pittsburgh on KDKA in August of 1921 was called by 26 year old Harold Arlin, and the Cubs and White Sox in 1924 were announced by 23 year old Hal Totten.  I don’t know how old Gene Mittendorf, who called the Reds in ’24, was, but if I had to guess, he wasn’t anything like the septuagenarians and octogenarians who routinely populate the AM and FM baseball airwaves of today.

In any event, without further ado, here is that wonderful cover, for your ogling pleasure (click on it for a larger view):

Radio Broadcast Scientific American May 1924

Media salute ‘father’ of baseball cards

Baseball card pioneer Sy Berger died Sunday, Dec. 14, at the age of 91, prompting a multitude of media stories about the man who, as the New York Times stated in its obituary headline: “turned baseball heroes into brilliant rectangles.”

The New York Times’ obit delves briefly into Berger’s life and career, from collecting cards as a kid to his rise to Topps vice president to dumping dozens of unsold 1952 Topps cases  – yes, including the now treasured ’52 Mickey Mantle card – into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Times article also quotes Berger from an interview he conducted with SABR in 2004.

Tyler Kepner also penned a must-read piece for the NY Times saluting Berger.

In its own tribute, Forbes.com wrote “10 Business Lessons to Follow from Baseball Cards’ Father.” Berger also was recognized by People.com, and the Los Angeles Times, which led its article with the Atlantic Ocean anecdote.

On the broadcast side, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, fittingly donning a bubble gum-colored suit jacket, beautifully eulogized Berger as only Keith can.

Notes…

Larkin leaves ESPN
A number of blogs are reporting that Barry Larkin has left his analyst role at ESPN. The speculation is the Hall of Fame Cincinnati Reds shortstop wants a job in Major League Baseball. Larkin interviewed for the Tampa Bay Rays’ manager position last month.

Big Changes for Chicago Team Broadcasts

Two big stories have broken in the past week regarding the broadcast of games for Chicago baseball teams.

First, WGN America announced that they were dropping Cubs and White Sox broadcasts entirely, terminating with the end of the 2014 season.  WGN is the superstation that so many of us watched Cubs games on when we first got cable two or three decades ago.  WGN Superstation signed onto the a … or, cable … in 1978, and Cubs games were a staple of the schedule.  Lots of people between the ages of 30 and 45 remember coming home from school, flipping on the Superstation and hearing Harry Caray and Steve Stone (and sometimes Milo Hamilton, Thom Brennaman or DeWayne Staats) regaling viewers and seeing beauty shots of historic Wrigley Field.  It’s the sole reason many out of towners became Cubs fans in the first place.  In 1990 WGN started running the White Sox as well, and although many fewer non-Chicagoans became Sox fans as a result, it did provide them a national platform few other teams could claim.

But in the brave new world of new media, with MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV at our easy disposal, WGN America has slipped into irrelevancy when considering on which channel to watch Cubs and White Sox games.   Despite that WGN America is running 71 Cubs game and 32 White Sox in 2014, the decision comes down to ratings.  That is, neither the Cubs nor Sox generate sufficient ratings to justify continuing to air them.  And so WGN America-slash-Superstation is focusing their efforts on another general audience basic cable network because, you know, we need another one of those.

Read more about this here:

WGN America to drop Chicago sports

Report: WGN America To Drop Cubs, Chicago Sports Programming

On the radio front, it’s the Cubs doing the dropping as they have informed WGN radio that they no longer wish to continue their 90-year marriage, with the Cubs moving to WBBM-AM starting in 2015. Itself a 50,000 watt station with multiple state coverage, in theory the Cubs should not lose anything in the way of listenership with the move.  But again, in this age of online radio coverage (especially through MLB’s super popular At Bat app) coupled with baseball games broadcast on satellite radio giant SiriusXM, it may not be an altogether relevant change.  Don’t feel too bad for WGN for getting shut out by the Cubs, though: they precipitated the move by exercising their contractual option to re-do the deal to keep the team on, because of low ratings brought on by a frankly terrible team that locals are losing interest in, in droves.

Read more about this move here:

Cubs dropping WGN Radio for WBBM-AM

One unintended effect of these two moves is that it completely screws up the Cubs anthem played in the ballpark whenever the team wins.  The song, “Go Cubs Go” by Steve , mentions WGN explicitly in the title, although to be fair, this anthem is already fouled up since it suggests that you can “catch [all the action] on WGN”, which hasn’t been true on the TV side of the house for twenty years now.

Radio move from WGN fouls up ‘Go, Cubs, Go’ anthem

 

Costas cracks top ten; Chappell, Wedge, Virk, FS1 break in

Three new announcers, a new network, and one NBC stalwart replacing another in the top ten highlight today’s update to the national-telecast listing.

Fox Sports 1 became the first new network since 2009 to air an MLB regular-season game when it presented the Twins-Indians tilt from Cleveland on Saturday, April 5. MLB Network was previously the newest network in the fold; while TNT has aired five full games in the past (plus about 22 innings’ worth of overflow from TBS games that ran long), all of those were in the playoffs.

The Sydney Cricket Ground, home of the two-game LA/Arizona set in March is the 70th stadium to host a U.S. national television audience. With its first game, the Ground passed Colt Stadium (Houston),  Wrigley Field (Los Angeles) and Seals Stadium in San Francisco, which never hosted national TV. Later that night, based on Eastern time, the second broadcast from Sydney vaulted that venue past Aloha Stadium (Honolulu), Estadio de Beisbol Monterey and Sicks’ Stadium (Seattle), which each hosted but one game. The Ground now has 656 broadcasts to go before it catches Fenway Park for the most common host venue.

(Yes, even the lowly expansion Pilots hosted national television. The game was against the Tigers on May 31, 1969.)

That Australia series also introduced America to the 409th national commentator. Ian Chappell, the former captain of Australia’s national cricket team who now works for Channel Nine in that country, presided as a field reporter for the opening series.

Speaking of field reporters, FS1 used both Ken Rosenthal and Erin Andrews on the Giants/Dodgers game April 5. That was the first regular-season game with two reporters since Yankees/Tigers, on Fox April 6 of last year, and the first game to employ five commentators since Sept. 21, 2011.

ESPN’s Adnan Virk and Eric Wedge became the 410th and 411th announcers as the season continued stateside. Wedge analyzed the Red Sox/Orioles game on March 31 with Dave O’Brien and Rick Sutcliffe, while Virk teamed with Eduardo Perez to handle play-by-play of Astros/Blue Jays on April 9.

With the departure of Tim McCarver from Fox (and thus the dissolution of the Buck/McCarver tandem that had handled many Fox games for 19 years), O’Brien and Sutcliffe become the elder statesmen of active national-broadcast duos. The March 31 game, their only appearance to date this year, was their 220th game together. The pairing has appeared regularly for ESPN since 2002, also covering two games together since 2000.

In other news of longevity, Bob Costas cracked the top ten play-by-play announcers list, and he knocked out an NBC mainstay of an earlier age in the process. Costas, who started as a backup voice on the Game of the Week in 1982, then handled parts of three World Series and ten League Championship Series for the peacock network, called his 334th game when the Brewers met the Red Sox on April 4. That broke a tie with Jim Simpson, who appeared on NBC’s  Game of the Week from 1966 to 1979.

On tap: Fox Sports 1’s next game will be its fifth, as many full games as have aired on TNT … Tropicana Field is two appearances shy of 100 … The MLB Network broadcast Thursday night between Washington and St. Louis will make and break several ties in the record books as Matt Vasgersian, John Smoltz and Sam Ryan each appear … Tom Verducci‘s next game will tie him with Peter Gammons at 74 appearances.