By now, you might have seen the tweet from one Brooks Marlow, of whom probably very few of us had ever been aware ( I know I wasn’t), but with whom we are quite familiar this morning:
Now, it’s one thing to criticize a broadcaster for their style, delivery, diction, explicit homerism, knowledge of baseball, or any number of legitimate attributes. And I think practically all reasonable, intelligent people would agree that not every criticism of a woman is due to misogyny on the part of the critic. But, I mean, come on: Marlow explicitly and categorically stated that “no lady needs to be on espn talking during a baseball game”. It doesn’t matter that he followed up with “specially Mendoza”, or even tossing off a “sorry” for, I guess, impact reduction purposes—Marlow is categorically rejecting the idea that any woman should work on any ESPN baseball broadcast, ever. He is disparaging and dismissing an entire sex for reasons he does not explain, but explanation or no, this tweet is a practically textbook example of misogyny on the part of Brooks Marlow.
The Astros organization, to their everlasting credit, jumped all over this tweet, following up with one of their own within five minutes of the Marlow original:
Good for them. They acted quickly and decisively to stanch a problem that could have potentially grown to who knows what proportions.
And then, a little more than an hour later, the follow-up tweet from Marlow that leaves a lot to be desired:
Wow. There is a lot to unpack here:
Marlow says he “needs” to apologize. Not that he apologizes, or that he wants to apologize—he needs to apologize. Well, yeah, he needs to apologize, because the organization is obviously making him do it.
Marlow also says he needs to apologize for his tweet “regarding Jessica Mendoza”. Note that he is not actually apologizing to Jessica Mendoza. He is apologizing to the Twittersphere about Jessica Mendoza. In other words, Jessica Mendoza is a prop Marlow is using in some apology-resembling tweet directed to someone else, and not a person directly to whom he should be apologizing. Come on, Brooks: Jessica Mendoza is a person, not a thing.
Marlow terms his tweet as being “inappropriate” and “insensitive”, words which looks awfully familiar-r-r-r .. oh, right! Those are the exact words the Astros organization used in their statement! Now, granted, young baseball players are not considered among the most articulate, eloquent or thoughtful writers, but the lazy parroting of team language here makes Marlow’s apology-adjacent statement come off as perfunctory rather than heartfelt.
Lastly, Marlow wraps up with an exoneration of himself: he says the tweet “does not reflect who I am”. This is the funniest and most ironic part of his fauxpology, in that anyone would reasonably conclude that his original tweet reflects exactly who Brooks Marlow is. But even if his internal moral compass is straighter than he displays in that tweet, his self-serving attempt to excuse himself looks, at best, weak. That he ends with this seems to be an indication that how he comes out looking in all this is of greater concern to him than is delivering an honest apology to his target.
Why is it important that Brooks Marlow learn quickly from his many mistakes here? Because he’s a guy who was drafted out of college in the 29th round by the Astros in 2015, and who “hit” .205/.302/.329 in 300 plate appearances as a 23 year old in High A this season. In other words, Brooks Marlow is, to all appearances, not going to be a professional baseball player for very much longer, which means he will be working in the real world very soon, a world in which he is going to have to learn to treat female work associates as beings equal to him in their humanity, and not as objects.
I’ll be rooting for Brooks Marlow to learn quickly.
Committee Member Dr. James Walker, a prolific author of several baseball broadcasting books such as Crack of the Bat and Center Field Shot, penned an article over at the Conversation about this year’s Ford C. Frick Award, Graham McNamee.
McNamee could be considered a somewhat controversial selection for the Frick award. Even though he was the first-ever popular national baseball announcer, there were several holes in what we would consider his professional veneer—meaning that, by today’s standards, he would likely be considered a poor baseball announcer. But McNamee had a strong and pleasant voice that was cut for the stage, and that was exactly the thing that the earliest fans of baseball on the radio wanted from their announcer. In the early and mid-1920s, McNamee was baseball on the radio.
Dr. Walker has generously consented to allow us to reproduce the article in full here.
The 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee you’ve never heard of
When the National Baseball Hall of Fame held its 2016 induction ceremony on July 24, the names of the two player inductees – Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza – were recognized by even the most casual baseball fan. Serious fans (and most New Englanders) celebrated the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writers.
But the fourth name on this year’s list, Graham McNamee, winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, resonated only with devoted historians of the national pastime. In “Crack of the Bat,” my history of baseball on the radio, I reviewed McNamee’s seminal contribution to the popularization of World Series broadcasts.
Most other Frick winners have been honored during their lifetimes. (Vin Scully won in 1982 and is still broadcasting today.) But McNamee hasn’t broadcast a game in 75 years; he died at 53 in 1942, when television was only an experiment and radio was just over two decades old.
McNamee’s long wait for recognition raises two questions: Who was Graham McNamee? And why did it take 74 years for the Hall of Fame to honor his contribution to baseball broadcasting?
The right voice at the right time
McNamee came to New York in the early 1920s to study singing, only to join the chorus of Gotham’s thousands of struggling vocalists. However, the city was also the center of a nascent network radio industry that had only just begun to generate substantial advertising revenues.
McNamee was in the right place at the right time, with the right voice. In 1923, he joined RCA-owned WEAF (later WNBC) as a staff announcer. WEAF was the nation’s most popular station and ran the first-ever radio commercial, a 10-minute ad for apartments in Jackson Heights paid for by the Queensboro Corporation.
Like all first-generation radio announcers, McNamee did every kind of programming: music, news events and sports. His first significant sportscast was a middleweight championship fight in 1923. While boxing had been broadcast before, stations usually used a ringside reporter who relayed the action by phone to an announcer at the station, who then broadcast the play-by-play to listeners.
McNamee, however, broadcast live from ringside. His breathtaking firsthand account of the contest as it unfolded before his eyes captivated listeners. Big-time, live, emotional sportscasts – just like McNamee’s – were beginning to sell a skeptical public on the new medium of radio.
Boxing was a start, but McNamee’s big break in sports came at the 1923 World Series. The previous year’s World Series had been called by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, but Rice loathed the assignment and refused to broadcast baseball again.
So in 1923, Rice’s colleague at the New York Tribune, W.O. McGeehan, took the mic on WEAF. But after two games he’d had enough. Like Rice, McGeehan found radio’s demand for a steady stream of words very challenging; the medium provided little time for composition and none for editing. So the newspaperman left his post in the fourth inning of Game 3, leaving the mic to his assistant, Graham McNamee.
A radio star was born.
The naysayers emerge
For the next eight years, McNamee became RCA’s voice of the World Series. As the Series’ broadcast reach expanded from the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest and, finally, to the entire nation, McNamee’s fame grew exponentially. After the 1925 World Series, McNamee received 50,000 letters from fans of his broadcasts. Listeners loved his strong, pleasant voice and detailed, enthusiastic descriptions of the action, which allowed them to better visualize a game they could only see in their minds.
But not every baseball fan was a McNamee fan. From time to time, his attention would stray from the game and to the celebrities in the stands or a letter he had received. He’d be prone to forget the count and even the batter’s name. According to baseball broadcast historian Curt Smith, McNamee freely admitted to being “an entertainer first and broadcaster second.”
So as the novelty of World Series broadcasts faded, some baseball writers became less impressed with broadcasting’s first superstar.
After one game of the 1927 Series, columnist Ring Lardner famously observed, “I attended a double-header, the game [McNamee] was describing and the game I was watching”; a New York Sun headline read “M’Namee’s Eye not on the Ball: Radio Announcer Mixes Up World Series Fans”; and in a scathing criticism, the Boston Globe identified eight problems with McNamee’s call of the opening game, including forgetting to report balls and strikes and leaving the mic for several minutes to get a soft drink.
But most fans still loved McNamee’s style; plus they had few baseball broadcasts to compare with it. In the 1920s, not many teams – and none in New York, Philadelphia or Washington – regularly broadcast games. For most Americans, McNamee’s World Series calls were all they knew.
McNamee also added a number of other high-profile broadcasts to his resume: the inauguration of Calvin Coolidge, the 1927 Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney “long count” heavyweight fight, the 1927 Rose Bowl game and Charles Lindbergh’s return to New York after his solo transatlantic flight.
But by the end of the Roaring Twenties, many announcers began to specialize in covering the national pastime. They included Hal Totten, Quin Ryan and Pat Flanagan in Chicago; Ty Tyson in Detroit; Fred Hoey in Boston; France Laux in St. Louis; Tom Manning in Cleveland; and Harry Hartman in Cincinnati. Each developed his own unique style and vast, local followings.
Meanwhile, though he covered the World Series from 1923 to 1931, McNamee was only working a handful of baseball contests per year because New York teams rarely broadcast regular-season games.
Famous for being the first
Baseball broadcasting was passing him by. Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis valued seasoned professional announcers and pushed NBC (RCA’s network) to move McNamee to pregame coverage for the 1932 World Series. Though McNamee continued to be involved in coverage of the Fall Classic – including narrating a newsreel of Game 3 of the 1935 World Series – he’d been marginalized.
Given his initial fame and role in pioneering the coverage of baseball on radio, why has McNamee been overlooked for so long by the Baseball Hall of Fame?
All previous Frick winners have had long careers, usually with one team. Although some eventually had national profiles, most cut their teeth on the day broadcasts, slowly winning the adulation of a team’s fans. But McNamee was baseball’s broadcast primal star, famous for being the first but not necessarily the best. Longtime Braves and Astros announcer Milo Hamilton, himself a Frick winner, gave a succinct explanation for why McNamee wasn’t in the Hall of Fame: “He didn’t broadcast baseball long enough.”
But in 2013 the Hall of Fame launched a new system for selecting winners that alternates consideration of announcers from three eras. The era for this batch of inductees – the one ending in the mid-1950s – gave McNamee a second chance.
It’s taken the Hall of Fame some time, and many would call it long overdue. In his 1970 book “The Broadcasters,” famous broadcaster Red Barber celebrated the medium’s pioneers, including Graham McNamee.
As Barber explained, what made them so great was “that nobody had ever been called upon before to do such work. They had to go out and do it from scratch. If ever a man did pure, original work, it was Graham McNamee.”
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:
By now it’s pretty well known—even by people who don’t care about baseball, media, or baseball media—that Curt Schilling made a horrible decision to tweet the following:
Schilling did not create the meme in question—he “merely” tweeted it out. I put the word merely in quotes because the gravity of his action is hardly mitigated even by the realization that he merely agrees with the sentiment enough to repeat it publicly, rather than authoring the sentiment himself.
You can’t see the tweet live anymore, since Schilling has deleted it from his feed. Too late to reverse the condemnation he has received, of course, but at least he’s not doubling down on the sentiment by maintaining its presence on his feed or, worse, tripling down on it by defending or flaunting it, as some might.
Now comes word that Schilling’s punishment by ESPN is extending to his regular gig on their Sunday Night Baseball telecasts as well, as The Worldwide Leader announced late last night that Schilling is being pulled from this week’s Cubs-Dodgers tilt. No word yet on whether the ban will extend beyond this week, but it’s hard to envision Schilling returning to the booth any time this year, given how raw the original story is at the moment. There’s a lot of noise surrounding Curt Schilling right now, and if there’s one thing megabillion multinational media and entertainment companies despise, its noise of exactly this type.
Curt Schilling is a very smart man, so he had the good sense (and decency) to express a feeling resembling remorse over his bad decision:
I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.
This tweet occurred the same day as his LLWS telecast suspension. It is, at the moment of this post’s publication, his most recent tweet, so we do not yet know publicly his reaction to his removal from this Sunday’s telecast.
Now, articulating “my bad” for expressing an opinion is not the same as feeling shame for having the opinion in the first place. Schilling must certainly understand that difference, and while I can’t read the man’s mind, it strikes me as doubtful that he feels any differently about Muslims (extremist or not) today than he did two days ago. But the bar at hand does not extend as high as prohibiting the most secret thoughts and opinions a man might want hold in his head. It extends only to expressing them in a public forum. In America and most of the rest of the First World, you have the freedom to express such thoughts, but that freedom does not extend to exemption from the consequences of expressing them.
Schilling is smart also because, unlike some knuckleheads imploring him to “NEVER apologize for telling the truth especially if the PC bullies don’t like it“, he understands that when you are the public face of a very high profile organization, the thoughts you express for public consumption, even in your off hours, reflect on the organization you’re associated with. Schilling does not work 24 hours a day seven days a week, but The Walt Disney Companydoes, so there is no off-hours period of freedom from his public representation of them. Plus, The Mouse as a corporation has accountability to an international and multicultural audience that extends far beyond defending the right of their employees and representatives to publicly express whatever they believe their truths to be, never mind any obligation to maintain their full status in good standing within the corporation afterwards.
Whether this will cost Schilling any chance to work a booth at any point in the future is still unclear. What is clear is that any sports broadcasting concern interested in maintaining politics-free output will think twice about hiring someone who, intelligent though he may be, has a history of exhibiting poor impulse control and bad judgment when it comes to putting his innermost political thoughts out there for the purpose of the entire world enjoying them.
Frank Gifford died at his home yesterday morning in Connecticut at the age of 84. A bona fide Pro Football Hall of Famer, he was also a Hall of Fame-level football broadcaster as well, receiving the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for his broadcast service in 1995.
Gifford never broadcast any baseball games (even though he did work some non-football sporting events such as the Olympics, including the infamous 1972 Gold Medal game, which you can hear him call here), but The Giffer did work with several broadcast partners who did, from long-time baseball play-by-play guys to those who merely dipped their toe in the ballpark booth waters, including:
Chris Schenkel: We think of Schenkel as the TV bowling broadcaster today—heck, he’s an actual PBA Hall of Famer because of his work on that— but he anchored a whole bunch of sports for the American Broadcasting Company, including a 24-game slate of baseball games in 1965. That same year, Schekel began a three-year run with Gifford to call New York (football) Giants game for CBS, closing out the days when The Eye deployed dedicated announcers for each NFL team.
Jack Whitaker: This guy is also known for his coverage of non-team sports, chiefly golf and horse racing, but he too was a jack of the trade of pro football broadcasting for CBS, as he paired with Gifford for several games during the 1969 and 1970 football seasons. Whitaker also did a single baseball broadcast, doing play-by-play for CBS on May 7, 1960 from Yankee Stadium during which the Bombers took on their perennial trading partners, the Kansas City A’s.
Chuck Thompson: Thompson was one of the all-time great baseball play-by-play men, serving over 40 seasons in the mid-Atlantic region with the two Philadelphia teams, the old Senators (the iteration that became the Twins), and most famously the Orioles, all from the late 40s into the current millennium. But like almost all baseball announcers of the time, he filled his off-seasons with football, and worked with Gifford for a single Colts-Packers game on Dec. 7, 1968.
Howard Cosell: Howard, of course, worked with Gifford for most of his tenure at ABC’s Monday Night Football, during the first 13 years to be exact (1971 to 1983), and we tend think of Howard today as a football announcer and boxing commentator first and second, the order between the two dependent on the person doing the reminiscing about Humble Howard. After a few seconds, hardcore sports fans of the era will also clearly remember that Cosell was a prolific baseball announcer as well, shoring up 144 airings between 1976 and 1985 (with a stray NBC GotW in 1973 as well), good enough for a tie with Bob Uecker for 21st on the all-time color guy list.
Don Meredith: Meredith served mostly as comic relief within the various troikas that manned the MNF booth between 1970 and 1984, excepting a three-year hole in the middle of that run to work football with Curt Gowdy at NBC. During that period, The Peacock hoped to capture some of Don’s third man magic for an NBC Game of the Week broadcast with Gowdy and Tony Kubek during a Pirates-Reds tilt on Aug. 12, 1974. How did Dandy Don do in the baseball booth? Well, he never did work another baseball broadcast after that, so …
In addition to the five listed above, Gifford had a connection to other long time baseball broadcasters without actually working in the booth with them (a second degree of separation, if you will). In 1969, Gifford filled in as an play-by-play announcer on CBS Football for Jack Buck (96 network baseball broadcasts; St Louis Cardinals radio and TV from 1954 to 2001), the regular broadcaster, who was wrapping up his baseball commitments for the season. (Gifford also filled in for Chuck Thompson, same season/same reason, in addition to teaming up with him for one game.) As for ABC’s MNF, which Gifford headed up from 1971 through 1985, he replaced Keith Jackson (153 network baseball broadcasts from 1965 to 1986, with an appearance on a 2003 broadcast) who had wrapped up that gig after the 1970 NFL season, and was replaced by Al Michaels (263 network baseball games from 1972 to 1995, plus a game in 2011, as well as six seasons with the Reds and Giants from 1971 to 1976), who succeeded Gifford starting with the 1986 NFL season.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the surviving family members and friends of Frank Gifford.
You get to watch major league baseball games for free!
By using JetBlue’s in-flight “Fly-Fi” content portal (which presumably presents itself after you log in to the plane’s free wi-fi service), you as a passenger can access major league games on either the MLB At Bat app on your smartphones, even if you don’t subscribe to MLB.tv through your app already; or through your laptop at the MLB.com website.
The service will offer “more than 2,500 live and archived games on demand per season” at “speeds up to 20 mbps per device”, meaning that “customers using Fly-Fi Hub can catch any Regular Season game being played by any of MLB’s 30 teams at any time.”
In other words: no blackouts apply. Which makes sense, because how do you enforce blackouts while flying across the country? It would be a terrible user experience to watch a Tigers games on a New York to Chicago flight, only to suddenly lose the game to blackout the moment you enter Michigan airspace, which would completely defeat what both JetBlue and MLB Advanced Media are trying to accomplish with this partnership.
JetBlue is making this service available on flights within the “contiguous” United States, meaning the lower 48 states only. The other main thing I notice in the press release about this service is that no launch date is mentioned, which I take to mean that it is available right now. If you’ve been on a JetBlue flight and this isn’t yet true, though, let me know and I will update this article.
Here is the JetBlue press release itself, if you’re interested:
SABR member James Braswell shared a brief piece that ran in the Chicago Tribune 57 years ago today:
This isn’t the first time a televised baseball game featured the now common shot of the plate from a camera in center field over well 400 feet away, but the 1958 tilt between the hometown Chicago Cubs and the visiting Cincinnati Redlegs is believed to be the first local game to do so. NBC, after “weeks of experimenting by engineers at [Milwaukee NBC affiliate] WTMJ-TV”, had successfully aired the first game to feature a center field camera during the previous year’s World Series.
Here is an article that ran in the Sporting News back then describing in fairly precise detail how the new camera angle worked:
On Wednesday we shared the—how to put this diplomatically?—”out of the box idea” that ABC-TV, or at least its president Thomas W. Moore, offered up to Major League Baseball: cut your season to 60 games, play only on the weekends, promote the games as major television events along the lines of college and pro football, and watch the money roll in.
OK, I’m liberally paraphrasing (probably), but that was the gist of his proposal. Mark Aubrey, who runs Baseball Nuggets, a really interesting historical baseball site composed mainly of old newspaper articles offered up “as is”, tipped us off to that one.
One might think that the tepid response to this nutty idea by network rivals CBS and NBC (who had actual major league baseball games on their airwaves while ABC did not), as well as by then-Commissioner Ford Frick, would have been pretty much the extent of the response. I mean, come on: who was going to take this idea seriously?
Francis Stann. That’s who.
A sports columnist for the Washington Evening Star, a major DC daily that published until 1981, Stann took the proposal seriously enough to fashion a response that could best be described as “indignant”. Because when you spell out the word you use to describe the nature of an obviously ridiculous and unworkable proposal as “G-R-E-E-D”, you’re undoubtedly steeped in indignation in a deep way. If he’d’ve written this article two decades on, he might have been advised thusly: “Lighten up, Francis.” That said, it is an entertaining read, which we present to you below.
For more articles related to this, including a happy ending article in which ABC-TV is awarded the rights to baseball broadcasts for a cool $12 million over two seasons starting in 1965, check out the rest of Mark’s article over at Baseball Nuggets.
Rob Manfred, the rookie Commissioner of Baseball, stoked increased discussion about MLB reducing its regular season this past February. You yourself have probably had discussions with other fans about this many times over the years, so you likely know that a lot of people who consider themselves big fans of the game nevertheless wouldn’t mind seeing less of it. Proponents of shortening the schedule usually maintain that 162 games is just way too many to play in a season and argue that the season goes too late in the year, topping it off with the horrific vision of a November World Series game getting snowed out.
The weather point starts to frost up a bit when you consider that in cities where playing in cold weather is an issue, early November runs anywhere from one to five degrees warmer on average than early April, as well as drier. No matter: the weather argument has a lot of traction in the debate, and occupies a trump card in proponents’ hand at the moment. A better, recently proffered argument is that players would benefit from a season of fewer games to help preserve their health and perhaps lengthen their careers.
There is some general merit to the latter point, although the funniest thing to me about this debate is that the number of games most advocates invariably choose to reduce the season to is 154. The difference between 162 and 154 is not all that great, less than 5% of games, so would a season of 154 games provide all that much more relief to an everyday player than one of 162? That seems a somewhat dubious proposition. So why is 154 always the magic number in these debates? Why not 144, or 140, or 134? Might it be that nostalgia plays a significant role in the advocacy of the 154 solution? I might place a bet on that, if one were available.
Nothing nostalgic about a solution that ABC television came up with over a half century ago to reduce the season, though. They didn’t suggest 154, or 144, or anything as incremental as that. Their suggestion: play a 60-game season, on weekends only, and promote it the way that football is promoted, as a major television event.
This idea brought chuckles of disbelief from their rivals at CBS and NBC and the kind of dismissals reserved for the crazy political ideas that one uncle of yours evangelizes at every Thanksgiving dinner. Commissioner-at-the-time Ford Frick was reportedly equally unimpressed, the article stating flatly that “the public is satisfied with the way things are now, and he is too.”
Undaunted, ABC did not stop there with the out-of-the-box ideas. They believed other sports could benefit from dramatic changes, too, such as professional golfers competing with each other on a season-long points system administered by the PGA; the USOC holding regional Olympic competitions to better prepare the nation for the actual quadrennial event; and college football doing away with the bowl system and replacing it with a March Madness-style playoff instead. As you can see, not all their ideas were total clunkers.
The original article, published in the wonderfully alliterative Rockford Register-Republic in April 1964, is reprinted below. Hat tip to Mark Aubrey, who featured this in a post on his own blog located here.