This column first appeared on the blog All Funked Up, which is operated by David Funk, who describes himself as “a life-long sports fan [who] also [works] and travels for a living … or fun sometimes.” Sounds like a pretty good life, right?
David wrote the column below, and gave us permission to reprint it here. The original column was posted here.
On April 16, 1948, the very first MLB game on WGN-TV is played. It was on this day that the Chicago Cubs hosted their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox in an exhibition game on WGN-TV at Wrigley Field. It was the first sporting event held on the network as well.
The first ever MLB game to broadcast on television took place in August 1939 at Ebbets Field between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds as Red Barber called that game. It was aired on W2XBS which was the same station that carried the first ever baseball game as Princeton played against Columbia in a collegiate match-up.
By the time the 1940s came around and World War II was over, television sets were selling as fast as they could be made.
In 1947, television attracted a new audience of baseball fans as they flocked to games in record numbers. The casual baseball fans were the ones that began going to games due to television exposure. That year, attendance at Major League Baseball games reached a record high of over 21 million fans.
The 1947 World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers had an estimated 3.9 million viewers. The Yankees won the series 4-3 over the Dodgers in what was also the first integrated team to play in the World Series with Jackie Robinson’s playing in his first Fall Classic.
Television had changed America and most baseball teams were getting on board by broadcasting televised games at the end of the decade.
In February 1948, WGN-TV(run by Jake Israel) began running text broadcasts before their first ever regular broadcast on April 5, 1948 with the WGN-TV Salute to Chicago two-hour special. Originally, the station had affiliations with CBS and DuMont Television Network sharing with WBKB on Channel 4. After CBS purchased a license to operate shows on Channel 4 in 1953, DuMont was left with Channel 9 and WGN-TV would be one of it’s best networks. Originally, WGN-TV operated from the Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago before moving to North Bradley Place in the North Center neighborhood of the city in 1961.
After seeing the success of the 1947 World Series and the station launching just in time for baseball season, WGN-TV decided to air an exhibition game between the city’s two teams. So eleven days after the station’s first broadcast, a baseball game was aired on its television network for the first time ever.
The first game on the television network was called by the legendary Jack Brickhouse, who would call baseball games for the station for the next 33 years.
The Cubs’ starting pitcher was Hank Borowy against White Sox starter Joe Haynes.
A little over 9,200 fans withstood chilly 45-degree temperatures to watch the game. This was the fourth exhibition game between them that year as the Cubs won two of the first three. It was the White Sox who would get the better of the “North Siders” at Wrigley Field on this day to even the series between them that year.
In the top half of the first inning, Borowy could hardly throw a strike and walked four White Sox batters. An error by Cubs second baseman Henry Schenz also contributed to the White Sox taking advantage by scoring three runs in the opening inning.
Those three runs were all that Haynes needed for the White Sox as he pitched six innings for the “South Siders”. He along with reliever Earl Harrist allowed five Cub hits and one run in the game.
Borowy would pitch seven innings and allowed four of the five White Sox hits in the game. But it was his wildness in the first inning that allowed the White Sox an early lead and eventual 4-1 win over the Cubs.
The Cubs would finish the 1948 season in last place with a 64-90 record. The White Sox were even worse finishing dead last with a 51-101 record that year.
Beginning in 1948, WGN-TV would broadcast all Cubs and White Sox home games. In 1952, WGN-TV gained exclusive rights to broadcast Cubs games. Brickhouse would call games for both Chicago teams until 1967.
Brickhouse’s legendary status reached beyond calling games on WGN-TV and it was said by his wife that he always felt more comfortable announcing baseball at Wrigley Field. He was the Chicago Bears radio broadcaster in 1953 and first ever announcer for the Chicago Bulls in 1966. He called five Major League Baseball All-Star Games and four World Series. He also called the famous boxing match in 1949 between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles, and the 1952 Rose Bowl with fellow legend Mel Allen.
His best known expression was saying “Hey-Hey!” after a big play for the home team. He famously said that line when Cubs Hall of Fame player Ernie Banks hit his 500th career home run in 1970.
In 1981, Brickhouse retired and the Cubs’ replacement was another broadcasting legend by the name of Harry Caray. Caray, who called games for the St. Louis Cardinals and White Sox(on WSNS-TV) previously, came over at the right time as WGN-TV was nationally broadcasting games then.
Caray’s style was different from Brickhouse, but the Cubs’ games on the network continued to draw well. His most famous line was “Holy Cow!” after a big play from the Cubs. Caray’s singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch began on White Sox broadcasts and carried over to the Cubs on WGN-TV. Special guests would take part in the singing and it’s a tradition which has continued since his death in 1998.
As for the White Sox, the WGN-TV broadcast team would consist of former big league players Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek beginning in 1990 until 1999. These days, Harrelson is joined in the booth by former AL Cy Young award winner Steve Stone, who was once part of the Cubs broadcast team on the network. They’ve been together as a broadcast team since 2009.
WGN-TV also began broadcasting games for the Bulls as well as Blackhawks. However, due to affiliation contracts, they are limited to the amount of games shown for all Chicago teams.
In 2013, the Cubs terminated an existing deal with WGN that was set to expire in 2022. However, a new deal was reached in January 2015 that will allow 45 games to be shown in the Chicago market only. All other remaining Cubs games would be aired on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WLS-TV. The deal expires after the 2019 season.
These days, the station is referred to as WGN America to satellite and cable providers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
This day in 1948 marked the beginning of not only baseball to be broadcast on WGN-TV, but all of its sports. During a time when television gripped America, it was WGN-TV that took advantage of that by bringing Cubs and White Sox games to the network. Legendary broadcasters such as Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray contributed heavily to Major League Baseball as well as WGN to make the network what it is today.
“Chicago’s Very Own” WGN network is a pioneering super-station that has left a lasting impression on television as well as Major League Baseball and other sports.