Category Archives: Uncategorized

50 Years Ago Today, Waite Hoyt Quit His Radio Play by Play Job On The Air

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.

But unlike some of the greatest all-time broadcasters at certain times in history, Hoyt got to go out on his own terms, announcing it to his listeners in the way he wanted to.  We should all get that.

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:

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/2015/07/07/waite-hoyt-announced-his-retirement-from-the-reds-radio-booth-50-years-ago-this-summer/29812513/


Waite Hoyt retired from Reds’ radio booth 50 years ago

 Mike Dyer, mdyer@enquirer.com

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.

Waite Hoyt at Crosley Field in August 1965. (Photo: Provided/Betty Hoyt)
Waite Hoyt at Crosley Field in August 1965. (Photo: Betty Hoyt; h/t to Concinnati.com)

“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.

Items related to Waite Hoyt's broadcasting career are on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. (Photo: h/t to Cincinnati.com)
Items related to Waite Hoyt’s broadcasting career are on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. (Photo: h/t to Cincinnati.com)

“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.

 

We Heard Back About the Helms Press Hall of Fame

You may remember the article we posted about something called the Helms Press Hall of Fame, started by the Helms Athletic Foundation (HAF) in the 1950s.  The HAF was absorbed into the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which was renamed the LA84 Foundation a few years ago.

We wondered at the time whether the Press Hall of Fame was still a going concern, so we dropped a line to the LA84 folks a few days ago to inquire into that.  We heard back from a nice lady named Shirley Ito, who is a website manager with the foundation and she told us that, regrettably, the Press Hall of Fame is no more.  Here is the entirety of her email:

Did some searching.  We microfilmed the Helms folders and there is one for Press Hall of Fame.  There are not many pages in that file.

The LA84 Foundation (formerly Amateur Athletic Foundation) inherited the Helms collections.  The Foundation did not continue to recognize the press/journalist award.  See the attached press releases. 

It looks appears the significant years are 1950, 1952 and 1957 (releases).  The last page is First Interstate, one of Helms’ last sponsors as an athletic foundation (before AAF received the collection in the mid-1980s).  After 1957 no additional nominations or inductees were made to the Hall of Fame.

This should resolve most, if not all, of your questions. 

Best,
Shirley

So that’s that: two induction classes, and the thing is done.

Shirley did share a PDF showing the three press releases for the Press Hall of Fame, from 1950 (inception announcement); and 1952 and 1957 (induction announcements); and well as an First Interstate Bank internal document mentioning the existence of the award, which you c:

Helms Press Award Releases: PDF

After which, poof: gone.

And that solves the mystery of whither the Helms Press Hall of Fame.

This Is What Walter Johnson Sounds Like Calling a Senators Game on the Radio

If you’re a long time reader of this blog—and it’s OK if you’re not, at least yet, but let’s pretend you are for the sake of the point—you know that Walter Johnson was one of a number of Hall of Fame players who did some game calling in 1939.

Walter Johnson has a credible claim to being the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball.  Second all-time in wins with 417 and first in shutouts with 110; retired as the leading career strikeout king with over 3,500 Ks; his 2.17 ERA translating to a 147 ERA+ which ties for sixth-best of all-time; fifth all-time in complete games with 531; and so on and so on.  We could cite his sublime stats ad nauseam, but most importantly he was a two-time MVP who in one of those years led his Washington Senators to their first world championship in 1924.  The Man wouldn’t have to ever take “no” for an answer in the Nation’s Capital ever again, so if The Man wants to broadcast games, than just smile, say “yes, sir” and lead him to the booth.

Walter Johnson at the mic making a point. h/t The Sporting News (Paper of Record)
Walter Johnson at the mic making a point. h/t The Sporting News (Paper of Record)

And so they did in ’39, at radio station WJSV, radio home of the Senators since 1934.  Johnson spent the season spelling the venerable Arch McDonald, who’d left the Senators for New York to call Yankees and Giants contests on station WABC, before returning to the Senators gig the following year while Johnson retired to his Germantown, Maryland farm after the 1939 season “in order to catch up on some work”.

But Johnson did get a year in at the mic for the Nats, and by our great good luck, WJSV decided to record an entire day’s broadcast schedule on September 21 of that year.  There was nothing special about the day in and of itself that necessitated the decision to record it; rather, according to a document filed at the Library of Congress:

… the idea to record this day in its entirety came from a
conversation between station manager Harry Butcher and an employee of the National Archives, R.D.W. Connor … (T)he day … was not, necessarily, an exceptional or important day; it was just a “typical” Thursday in the station’s broadcast week. But it does have the distinction of not only being the only extant full recorded day for the station but, in fact, the only extant fully recorded broadcast day for any radio station during this era of terrestrial broadcasting. 

The day’s broadcast also happened to include the Senators’ 147th game of the season, for which they hosted the Cleveland Indians at Griffith Stadium.  Johnson was on the mic, and here is what he sounded like:

The game broadcast is listed in the WJSV archives as having at started at 4:00pm, but the game itself is listed in Baseball-Reference.com as having started at 2:00pm, and the Washington Post radio listings that morning had the broadcast listed as starting at 3:00pm, so I’m going to go out on a limb and call out the WJSV timetable as being the incorrect thing here.  In any event, because the broadcast picks up the game an hour after the start time, the game is joined already in progress, in the bottom of the fourth inning.  Harry McTigue, the other Senators announcer, opens the program with a quick recapping of the lineups, and the Big Train himself picks up the mic at the 1:45 mark of the broadcast.

There is an unmistakable folksiness to the sound of Johnson’s voice, obviously the stamp of his rural Kansas upbringing.  He speaks at a quick and business-like clip, similar to other broadcasters of the time, and regardless whether he is the one influencing the delivery of McTigue, who picks up the action in the sixth, or he is following McTigue’s lead, the fact is that the two sound so much like peas in a pod stylistically that it’s somewhat difficult to tell which is which, apart from Johnson’s higher and more nasal tone, which you will definitely notice as McTigue passes the mic back to Barney for the ninth.

Walter Johnson does a creditable job on the broadcast as a baseball announcer, and I personally would think that he could have continued on in that capacity in following seasons if he’d wanted to.  But whether it was to tend to his farm or for some other unsaid reason—such as, say, running unsuccessfully for Congress in the following election— the Big Train apparently decided he’d had enough of doing baseball for a living.

Listen to a 1957 Cubs-Dodgers Game, featuring 21-Year-Old Sandy Koufax, and called by 29-Year-Old Vin Scully

I came across these recordings some years ago, having had them in my collection, and I finally got the bright idea to share them with you here.  This game took place on June 4, 1957 with the Chicago Cubs visiting the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.

I especially like this recording because Vin Scully, himself in the early stages of his own Methuselean career, is marveling at the nascent transformation of a young (and frequently wild) fireballer, name of Sandy Koufax, into the next great strikeout artist.

Granted, this is not the Hall of Fame pitcher we gush about half a century after his rarefied peak.  Koufax wasn’t even primarily a starter at this point: only 13 of his 34 appearances in 1957 were starts.  In fact, this particular start was the last of five in a row for him; Koufax wouldn’t take the mound for Dem Bums for another three weeks, and only then in a relief capacity.  By the time October rolled around, he’d ended this, his third season, at 5-4 with a rather pedestrian 3.88 ERA which, actually, he would not improve upon until 1961.  So at this point he wasn’t close to being All-World Sandy Koufax. He was more like Adequate-at-Times Sandy Koufax.

But Scully saw the potential in Koufax and marveled in this broadcast at Sandy’s newfound strikeout rate. At one point Vin goes to the stat sheet (and, I presume, his pencil and paper) to determine how many strikeouts he’d registered against how many innings he’d pitched. These days we take the reporting of K/9 rates by game broadcasters for granted, but back then, comparing strikeouts to innings pitched was revolutionary stuff. That’s totally understandable when you realize that in the entire history of the game to that point, a qualifying pitcher’s strikeouts exceeded his innings pitched only twice: both by Herb Score, and only as recently as 1955 and 1956. So you can see just how new and mind-boggling the concept was.

Koufax ended the season with 10.5 K/9, but he was not a qualifying starter. He did, however, become the second qualifying starting pitcher to exceed a strikeout per inning in 1960, when he registered 10.1 K/9.  By contrast, 14 different qualifying pitchers in 2014 exceeded 9 K/9, and this season, 23 different pitchers are on pace to do so as of today. Make your own judgments as you see fit–I merely present the facts without further comment.

This was a night game, starting at 8:00pm, and was recorded off WOKO-AM (1460) in upstate Albany.  The Dodgers’ flagship station was WMGM-AM (1050), which had had the rights to Dodgers’ radio broadcasts since 1943 when they were WHN-AM. There are commercials, too, both live-read and recorded.  Jerry Doggett takes over the mike from Vin in the 4th.  We also hear a third voice in the person of Al Heifer in between innings giving out of town scores and exhorting listeners to tip back a Schaffer and light up a Lucky.

Here are the recordings of the game, in full, broken into four parts.

Part 1 (1st to bottom of 2nd—note: Scully comes into the broadcast just after the 6:45 mark):

Part 2 (bottom of 2nd through bottom of 4th):

Part 3 (top of 5th through top of 7th):

Part 4 (bottom of 7th through end of game):

Here’s the newspaper account of the game.  Or if you prefer, here is the box score and game account located at Baseball-Reference.

Cubs-Dodgers 19570605 Story

ABC-TV Once Suggested that Major League Baseball Reduce Their Regular Season Schedule to 60 Games!

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.

 

ABC-60games

WGN Ran a Radio Baseball Quiz in 1938, and Players Were Involved.

Came across this while perusing some old newspapers looking for baseball media stories.  This is not exactly baseball media, but it’s close enough to mention here.

In the late 1930s, the Big Thing on radio was quiz shows.   The airwaves were lousy with ask-me-another type programs like Vox Pop, Professor Quiz, Uncle Jim’s Question Bee, and the highbrow Information Please, so high-falutin’ it spawned an almanac that remained popular decades after the show’s demise.

Far be it from Baseball to ignore so obvious a trend, so Chicago powerhouse WGN (or, more exactly, “W-G-N”) got into the game with Bob Elson’s Baseball Quiz.   Teams of seven (why stop at seven?  Why not nine?), handpicked by area chambers of commerce or service organizations, would be questioned on their knowledge  of the game and the players who play it.

There are two really cool things about this, in my opinion:

  • Actual players from the Cubs and the White Sox were to appear on the program as judges. Why you need judges in a quiz show is a little beyond me–after all, you get the question correct as written on the card or you don’t, right?  Or is it really not that simple? Either way, having major league players involved in the program can’t be bad for the Crossleys, right?
  • After the quiz season plays out, the two “grand champion” teams were to receive all expense paid trips to the World Series.  That’s a pretty ambitious prize for a local quiz show, I think.  Then again, the 50,000-watt blowtorches of the day were more like regional stations than local affairs, as their signal would cut across a double-digit number of states, somewhat similar to how a regional sports network like ROOT Rocky Mountain does today.  So these stations were mighty big deals, and generated very high numbers of listeners, maybe even a lot more than today’s iteration of WGN does 77 years later.  As it turns out, ‘GN dodged a bullet somewhat: the Cubs made it to the 1938 series against the Yankees, so they only had to pay the winners’ expenses to travel to one city instead of two.

No word on who the “grand champions” ended up being.  They are lost to the ephemera of history.

Here’s the short original article about the show, accompanied by a short blurb about a similar show out of New York, in the March 15, 1938 Chicago Tribune:

1938 WGN Baseballl Quiz

Visionary 1971 Article about the Future of Sports on Cable TV

Committee member Philip Hochberg, public announcer extraordinaire who worked the games for the Washington Senators from 1962 until they high-tailed out of town for Texas after the 1970 season, was also a prescient journalist in his spare time.  “Prescient”, I say, because as far back as 1971, he saw the cables sports revolution on the horizon, and penned this piece below for the Sporting News’ July 3 edition that year.

This was eight years before the Entertainment Sports and Programming Network signed on, and several more years than that before regional sports networks became the norm for the broadcasting of professional sports. You can tell it was a long time ago because Hochberg notes that cable is booming because there are already “nearly five million persons [being] served by [cable].”  At the time, that made only about 2.5% of all Americans.  Today, about 89% of all American households are served by either cable or other “alternate delivery systems” such as satellite.

Much of the article delves into how the FCC was attempting to wrestle with how to regulate the infant cable TV industry from poaching activity, in order to protect over-the-air broadcasters of marquee events, such as the World Series, that had traditionally run free over the air.  We also learn how the desire of small-city cable TV operators to run professional sports programming, especially major league baseball, influenced them to choose to air distant big city TV stations over local stations that presumably aired the same national networks.

One of the best fun facts I learned from reading this article is that in 1971, TelePrompTer Corporation, having divested itself of its actual teleprompter business, was the largest cable TV operator in the country.  TelePrompTer later sold out to Westinghouse broadcasting, and their cable holding was renamed Group W Cable.

Fascinating stuff. Click on the article below to open up in a new tab or window for easier reading.

 

Cable TV Offers Expanded Medium for Sports Sporting News 1971

News Bites for February 16, 2015

Ron Darling to try play-by-play for Mets spring training broadcasts. Because he’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, the Mets are gonna give him a shot.

USC baseball aplenty on SEC Network Plus, but Time Warner customers still in dark. Thirty-nine games will air on the SEC Network Plus platform, but they were not available to Time Warner Cable and DirecTV customers when the season started on Friday.

Three Lion Baseball Games Slated For Television in 2015. One of Southeastern Louisiana’s will be against preseason #2 LSU on February 25. Games will air on SECNetwork.com and WatchESPN.

SJU-TV To Produce 16 Red Storm Baseball Games For ESPN3. St. John’s University games will be carried on ESPN3, starting with the March 27 match against Rider.

Two 2015 Tulane Baseball games set for television. The Green Wave’s first telecast will be Mach 24 against SEC powerhouse LSU, and April 28 against Southeastern Louisiana, on Cox Sports Television.

Ten Pitt Baseball Games To Be Broadcast In 2015.  All games will take place in the back half of the season, starting April 10 when they host Wake Forest.  They will all air on ESPN3.

Southern Miss baseball set to appear twice on American Sports NetworkASN is a syndicated broadcast network comprising stations in 34 states and DC.

Herd Baseball Unveils TV Game Schedule.  Marshall of West Virginia will have at least three games telecast, split between SEC Network and the American Sports Network.

Texas Tech Baseball Radio Broadcast Available on TuneIn.  All 55 games will be available on the TuneIn mobile app.

What is the Role of Television in the Latest Little League Scandal?

 

A lot of ink and pixels have been spilled during the past week about the scandal involving Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West (JRW) Little League team. If you haven’t learned the specifics by now, JRW annexed parts of three adjacent districts, redrew the map for their own district based on this misapportionment and, most damning of all, backdated the map in an attempt to deceive the officials at Little League International.

Most of the criticism has centered on the adults involved, and that’s certainly appropriate. It’s practically certain that the kids neither initiated nor facilitated the fraud, although they are definitely being held accountable for the misdeed after having been stripped of their championship. As painful as it is for them to be punished for something they did not have a hand in or knowledge of, there is no other real choice. They won their championship with ineligible players because of a fraud carried out by the adults charged with stewarding and mentoring them, and if nothing else, they will hopefully learn that if it is found out that you won by cheating, even inadvertently or unknowingly, the spoils of your victory will be taken away. That’s a good life lesson to learn at that early age, and they will surely never forget it.

What about the adults in all this, though? This same lesson is one they should have themselves learned as children. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t, but either way, they knowingly perpetrated a fraud, with malice aforethought, for the purposes of maximizing their young players’ chances of achieving ultimate glory. What was in it for the adults?

There are a lot of layers that could probably be peeled from that onion to help explain their motivation, ranging from vicariism to egoism to genuine parental love. There’s another one to consider: the desire to become famous by being on television.

Not every parent or coach or sports official who cheats does so to be on television. We’ve all seen lots of examples of folks cheating “just because”, to seemingly no good or even visible end, and it’s all the more reprehensible to do so by exploiting grade school kids playing a team sport. But here in the media-mad, always-connected, celebrity-obsessed America of the 21st Century, the lure of being on television to a nationwide or even worldwide audience is a powerful motivator that could entice a person, even one who might otherwise not break the rules, to do that very thing in order to appear on television, to become famous, to be interviewed and fawned over and treated like a VIP by everyone around you, if only for a little while. I’m not talking about the kids here. I’m talking about adults who themselves would like to bask in the kids’ glow of achievement. As we all know, that is definitely a thing.

Ethics is almost never a binary yes-no thing, as in “this person is ethical, that person is unethical, and that’s that.” It’s more of a sliding scale, where it is the thing and not the person that is ethical or unethical, and the more powerful the incentive, the larger the reward, the more likely an otherwise upstanding and honest person will be drawn into doing something that’s unethical. And it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the prospect of being on national television is enough to push many normally upstanding citizens closer to the “un” side of the scale.

Make no mistake about it: televising the Little League World Series has become a big deal. The first Little League World Series game was telecast by tape delay in 1962; and until 1985, by which time games were being televised live, it appeared strictly as part of ABC TV’s Wide World of Sports, a series conceived to showcase a panoply of all kinds of sports, great and not so great, from all around the world. Little League baseball was long considered not great enough to be any more than a part of this panoply, and it’s important here to note that it was only the championship game that was being televised each year.

That changed with the dawn of the new millennium. Starting in 2000, televised coverage shifted to ESPN and was expanded to include 12 games. The following year that increased to 25 games, including all eight US regional championships, on the heels of a six-year, seven million dollar deal Little League signed with ABC, the parent company of ESPN. The deal was renewed for eight years and $30.5 million starting in 2006 and was so successful and profitable that the deal was re-upped starting in 2014 for another eight years, this time for $76 million. Last year, a total of 54 Little League games were shown on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, including the regionals leading up to the final tournament in Williamsport.

Of course, there’s a reason all this corporate money is flowing into baseball games being played between grade school kids: people watch it. Lots of people. And when there is an especially good story surrounding the teams, the ratings skyrocket, and there have been few stories better than two featured this past year: the JRW team; and a flame-throwing young lady pitcher named Mo’Ne Davis from South Philadelphia. According to a report in Sports Media Watch, television ratings were up +71% overall this year versus 2013, and the championship game between JRW and South Korea pulled +65% more viewers than last year’s final tilt.

With all the money and the exposure come the inevitable questions regarding questionable behavior, if not actual impropriety, by Little League International (LLI) officials in this matter. There are reports that an official of a competing Little League association from suburban Chicago brought the allegations regarding JRW to LLI officials during last summer’s tournament, only to be turned away. LLI officials denied that any misconduct had been engaged in by JRW at that time, and again as late as December, responding only that the team had been built within the rules, until the resulting paper trail made continued denial an untenable position. If their role in this did happen as it’s been was reported, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s easy to understand why LLI might reflexively deny wrongdoing rather than either acknowledging the possibility or staying mum. After all, there was a lot of money on the table they might have jeopardized by publicly addressing these issues while the tournament was still going on.

But isn’t this entire situation reflective of a general cultural shift that seems to have occurred in which anything that can be monetized will be monetized, and that in the service of this ideal nothing is out of bounds or off limits, even our children? Witness in recent years the emergence of high school football and basketball games being nationally televised, not just state championship games but all season long, with schoolboys traveling all over the country (on school nights, in many cases) to play other schoolboys for the benefit of the sports networks and their sponsors. In fact, there was a game on ESPNU between Callaway High School in Mississippi and Dominican High School in Milwaukee, located more than 800 miles away, just this past Saturday. There’s even a website devoted to promoting the best eighth-grade basketball players in the country. The commoditizing of children’s athletics, again, for the benefit of the commercial media and their corporate sponsors has established itself as a mainstream phenomenon.

You can’t blame the kids for wanting to play ball on TV. Who wouldn’t want to do that? That would be super cool! And their enthusiasm for such a possibility should not be surprising, nor should it necessarily be tamped down. But when that same level of enthusiasm spreads inexorably upwards to the adults in their lives—the same adults who are charged with teaching their kids the values of honesty and fair play, but who are also in a position to bend rules and falsify documentation and all the other things that can smooth the way to fulfilling their kids’ dreams of being heroes on TV—it sends a dangerously conflicting message to the kids, and reflects terribly on our culture.

MLB’s Broadcast Monopoly Status Might Be Showing Some Cracks

 

You may have heard by now that a New York federal judge ruled last Friday that MLB’s antitrust exemption does not apply to broadcast rights.  The story gets its best treatment here:

Judge Rules MLB’s Antitrust Exemption Doesn’t Apply to Television Broadcast Rights

This could be a very big deal because currently, MLB controls nearly practically every aspect of the audio and video distribution of its product to the fans who live outside their favorite teams’ designated territories.  This is a right they claim by dint of the antitrust exemption they gained in the Supreme Court ruling Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League in 1922.  The exemption has long been interpreted by MLB as allowing them to prevent other concerns from delivering this audio and video content as competitors.

Now U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin has thrown a monkey wrench into the works by rejecting motions for summary judgements—essentially a dismissal—of a class-action suit brought by a group of fans who maintain that MLB and their constituent clubs are an “illegal cartel” that make “agreements to eliminate competition in the distribution of games over the Internet and television.”  They further contend that MLB, satellite and cable companies collude “to divide the live-game video presentation market into exclusive territories, which are protected by anticompetitive blackouts. Not only are such agreements not necessary to producing baseball contests, they are directed at reducing competition in the live-game video presentation market, involving and protecting third parties who operate only in that separate market.”  Pretty strong stuff, but it does have to be this strong out of the gate to be taken seriously.

Two weeks previosuly, 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski wrote an opinion in the suit by the city of San Jose against MLB, for preventing the movement of the Oakland A’s franchise there, that some interpreted as being favorable for maintaining MLB’s out of market broadcast monopoly as well by defining the antitrust exemption on very broad terms, due to the decision made in the Flood v. Kuhn case in 1972 as well as “congressional acquiescence”.  But the ruling by Scheindlin flew in the face of that broad interpretation, carving out an exception for the out of market broadcast rights on the grounds that MLB had not “demonstrated that exceptional circumstances warrant the requested relief” from the class action lawsuit challenging their monopoly out of market delivery status.

What this boils down to at the moment is that there is potentially a sharp disagreement between the Circuit Court level and the District Court level as to how broadly the Antitrust Exemption can be interpreted as applying to MLB’s scope of business.  It’s possible that both these cases could end up at the Supreme Court at some point, but because the out of market broadcast suit is only at the District Court level and in fact has yet to even be certified as a class action suit, which won’t happen until later this month, we are probably looking at several years before a decision favorable to out of market consumers could be made.

The bottom line here is: don’t hold your breath while waiting for lower cost TV, radio and Internet game packages to be offered by companies competing with MLB.  But do keep your eye on what’s happening in Judge Shira Sceindlin’s court room at the Southern District of New York next month.