Two Great Broadcasting Moments from Yesterday’s Fanless Ballgame


With all the ink and pixels spilled about yesterday’s White Sox-Orioles game, which even non-baseball fans know by now spectators were not allowed to attend for safety concerns*, you just had to know there were going to be some unique moments in broadcasting the game.  And of course there were.  Here are two of them:

Gary Thorne, long time broadcasting for multiple sports and currently the Orioles play by play guy for MASN, took the opportunity to goof around by announcing one of the hitters as though it were a televised golf match:

On the Sox’ side of the booth, Hawk Harrelson’s suitably subdued call for the O’s Chris Davis home run in the first inning was quiet enough that, given the overall quietude of the unpopulated ballpark, you can actually hear Thorne’s excited home run call from the booth next door:

You can’t make this stuff up, and fortunately, I don’t have to.  Thank you, Internet.


* – Although closing off the game to the public was an understandable and defensible call to make at the time, made while the violence of the protests was in full swing, by game time the streets were mostly quiet, and the area around the ballpark seemed safe enough to the few dozen or hundreds of onlookers that took in the game from outside a locked gate.

Cubs/White Sox Play First MLB Game on WGN-TV in 1948

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.

CBS Sports Net to Air Minor League Baseball Again for 2015

CBS Sports Network, the cable sports arm of the Tiffany net, aired fifteen minor league games during 2014, their first season doing so. They must have gotten something positive out of it, although maybe not a whole lot.  They’re returning to the minor league well again for 2015, but this time for only ten games.  Not a ringing endorsement, but it will give them an opportunity to fill vast spaces of air time with something live.

Minor league baseball is a hard sell on its own terms, since it is by definition “minor”.  It’s certainly not the best baseball you can see—the best can be easily seen practically every night between early April and late October, as many as 15 games in a single day.  But minor league ball is interesting to those people who are very interested in top prospects.  It’s an opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow performing in their embryonic stages today.

CBSSN’s schedule acknowledges that fact, as the schedule is heavy on teams with top prospects such as the Chicago Cubs’ AAA (Iowa) and AA (Tennessee) squads, the LA Dodgers’ AA (Tulsa) team, and the Pirates’ AA (Altoona) affiliate, teams that are all stocked with top 20 prospects, according to MLB.  Of course, these prospects may or may not still be with these clubs by the time the broadcasts roll around, but the presence of such prospects as of today probably factored into CBSSN’s decision to select these games for broadcast.

Here is the full schedule for the season, subject to change I would assume:

• May 28: El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres) at Round Rock Express (Rangers), 8 p.m. EST
• June 4: Salt Lake Bees (Angels) at Nashville Sounds (Athletics), 8 p.m. EST
• June 11: Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) at Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers), 8 p.m. EST
• June 18: Mississippi Braves (Braves) at Tennessee Smokies (Cubs), 7 p.m. EST
• June 25: Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) at Durham Bulls (Rays), 7 p.m. EST
• July 9: Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers) at Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals), 8 p.m. EST
• July 16: Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) at Iowa Cubs (Cubs), 8 p.m. EST
• July 23: Altoona Curve (Pirates) at Akron RubberDucks (Indians), 7 p.m. EST
• July 30: Lexington Legends (Royals) at Greenville Drive (Red Sox), 7 p.m. EST
• August 6: El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres) at Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies), 9 p.m. EST

Working the Game: An Interview with Dan Dickerson, Detroit Tigers Radio

This is the first in a periodic series of interviews, called “Working the Game”, with some of the broadcasting and journalism professionals who work every day in baseball.  Loosely based on the Slate podcast “Working”, these interviews attempt to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day to day basis.

Dan DickersonThis first interview takes place with Dan Dickerson, the play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Tigers Radio Network.  Dickerson is a veteran Michigan sports announcer who is serving his 16th season in the booth, and his 13th as the lead play-by-play radio voice of the Tigers. Dickerson made his Tigers debut in 2000 alongside Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Dickerson is available on Twitter at @Dan_Dickerson.

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball broadcaster?

Fall term, freshman year, Ohio Wesleyan, 1976, I fell into radio.  They had a 10-watt radio station and you could do anything you wanted. I was a DJ, but then I saw there was a need for someone to do Ohio Wesleyan football, and that was my first play-by-play. I was sitting in the pressbox, corrugated plastic around two chairs and a table, and I was in hog heaven!  So I got hooked on it.

My first job was at a radio station in Grand Rapids, then another job there, and all the time the jobs were in news and I wanted to get into sports, so I got a chance to do high school basketball playoffs there. That just reinforced my belief that play-by-play was what I really wanted to do. My wife was working at the Detroit Free Press, so I finally got to Detroit and [radio station] WWJ, doing news part-time. I got to do Michigan football and basketball, but the more I did baseball, the more I thought, this is what I want to do.  So I asked the Tigers about it in 1999.  I did pre-game and post-game, but I submitted my play-by-play tape in case Ernie [Harwell] ever got sick, and he missed, what, three games in 54 years? And they said they were thinking of adding a third guy to the booth the next year.  I actually applied when Ernie and Paul [Carey, Harwell’s long-time broadcasting partner] were let go [by radio station WJR after the 1991 season] and I obviously didn’t get it, but then I got it in 2000.

So the Tigers was the first baseball team you ever broadcast?

Yeah, isn’t that something? It was the last game at Tiger Stadium [on September 27, 1999] and Ernie gave me one inning of play-by-play. A couple weeks before they asked me whether I wanted to sit in with Ernie for the last couple of innings. I was already doing pre and post-game so we were going to be there all day anyway. Jim Price [Harwell’s then broadcasting partner and Dickerson’s current broadcasting partner] had left to participate in post-game ceremonies and he said I could sit in with Ernie for the last couple of innings. I was in the booth, which was tiny, maybe 8’ x 5’, and then Ernie stands up to stretch after the fourth inning and says, “So what’s the plan?” I told him I think I’m supposed to be here from the seventh inning on after Jim leaves and just stay out of your way until the end of the game. So Ernie asked, “Would you like to do an inning?” I said, naw, it’s your last game at Tiger Stadium. He asked again, “Do you want to do an inning?” Well, I was ready to do an inning and I wasn’t going to say “no” twice, so he gave me the bottom of the seventh and the top of the eighth. It was incredible because here it was, the last game he would ever do at Tiger Stadium, and he’s giving me, who’d never done an inning before, the chance to do one of his last three innings. I think it definitely helped to get me into the booth the next

What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  Meaning, you get up in the morning, when does your routine start and what does it look like?

I would call the whole season “constant preparation”—you’re always looking ahead to the next series.  My must do’s for every series is, do a bio sheet for every player showing current stats, career stats, and I have their page from Baseball-Reference open. I put below that anything I think is interesting, such as defense, baserunning, basic stats. What kind of a hitter is he—does he walk much, does he strike out much, is he is power hitter—from either Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference. And the Fielding Bible is worth its weight in gold. It’s invaluable because they look at every [defensive] aspect of every position. I get baserunning numbers from the Bill James Handbook. It takes time to build pages for each individual player. That’s step one. Step two is series notes—how do the Tigers play the other team, how the opponent’s stadium “plays” year in and year out, how Tigers players hit each opposing pitcher last year and this, so on. That’s a page or two of notes right there. For instance, the Tigers just went to Pittsburgh, and you had an idea that run scoring was going to drop there because in the previous ten games there they’d scored 21 runs, it’s a pitchers’ ballpark, there aren’t many runs scored there, so that’s the kind of thing I like to give listeners a feel for.

Each day during a series I do a pitcher card, a 4×6 card for each starting pitcher, although instead of typing out the player bio I do the pitcher card handwritten, because you’re updating it every start. Current numbers, trends, recent starts, pitching splits, anything else that’s interesting.  Those are the basics right there.  I also do a team snapshot for each team in the American League Central which I started a couple years ago and update throughout the season with things like offense, defense, speed, baserunning, pitching, health.  Two pages each.

That’s something I really love about my job.  It’s labor intensive, but it’s so fun to me.  I frequently have to cram late at night or early in the morning since I also want to see my family when the team is at home, but once you’ve played every team at least once that season, it becomes easier to do.

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark?          

If it’s a home game, I like to get there between 2:00 and 2:30.

What are the key things you do at the ballpark before the game starts?

The hour or so before the clubhouse opens is a good hour.  I get in the booth, the stadium is quiet and beautiful, and I think about what we are going to talk about today.  The clubhouse opens at 3:30.   Brad usually does his media session then.  I do the manager’s show with him after that.  After the Brad show, the team heads out to BP about 4:15. I sometimes head down to the field and see who I can talk to.   I try to stop in the opposing clubhouse at least once a series, maybe talk to the manager or a player.  I like to head up to the booth by 5:00.  I’m glad there’s a first pitch because it would be easy to just look stuff up and write the whole night!  But in that two hours I might be filling out my scorebook or writing notes down or finalizing my pitcher cards.  I might talk to the opposing broadcasters; that’s always fun to me.  Good group of guys.  But I need those last two hours to finalize things because you know you’ll be interrupted or have conversations that will eat up part of that time.

When you’re on the road, because batting practice is 40 or 45 minutes later [than at home], it’s easier to go into the clubhouse early, so you can have conversations with players about things that happened in the past couple of games. Conversations are easier to have on the road.  I would talk to [former Tigers manager] Jim Leyland or [Tigers pitching coach] Jeff Jones, and I might take my scorebook and do the lineups there because you might end up having a conversation with someone there.

What is the easiest thing, and what is the hardest thing, to do while the broadcast is in progress?

In Spring Training, the hardest thing is figuring out who’s on the field!  [Laughs] Give me the regular season every time. There’s nothing that’s really hard.  Just try to think ahead like a manager, especially when you get to the late innings, such as if the starter is tiring and getting knocked around, who’s available in the bullpen, what matchups do we have, all that.  I will never think at that level, because there’s so many things a manager thinks of that we’ll never know, but it’s fun to try to do.  If I’ve done my preparation, if I have my binders there, I might put those to the side and chances are I might not even open it for more than a batter or two during the game.  You’ve done your work, you set it aside, and you have it with you if you need it during the game.

What do you do in between innings of a broadcast?

It’s a minute-forty break, so it’s pretty quick.  I might stand up and stretch, get something to drink.  Sometimes you just let your brain go free for a minute and a half, then get back to it. Other times you might look something up, but usually I just look out at the ballpark, chat with Jim or chat with the engineer, or just stare blankly at the field for a minute. [Laughs] You do have to remember to stand up—you do have to move a little bit.

Once the broadcast is over, what are the final things you have to do before you leave the ballpark?

You got the post-game, so we’re there to make sure we get it to the next break. That goes pretty quickly.  There’s the player of the game, the play of the game, the stat of the game.  It’s a scoreboard show; there’s no heavy lifting.  That takes probably 20 to 25 minutes. I’ll do post game recaps on Twitter, for the fan out there who wants to know what went on during the game, the things that stood out.  Then I might write a game recap for 97.1 [FM, the Tigers’ flagship radio station], and they provide a link to it, with two or three highlights.

When you go on a road trip, how does your daily routine differ from when you’re working a homestand?

When I’m home, I want to make myself available for my family. I try to spend some time with my kids and my wife.  So you’re getting up earlier, or staying up later, to do your work.

The road is a little easier than at home, where you can throw yourself into your work more.   There’s always something to read.  I’m not a fast reader so I print out a lot of stuff! [Laughs]  Stuff I might never get to, but I try to keep up with things that are said about the [sport] and challenge assumptions made, such as whether relief pitching is truly dominating the game today and whether good hitting teams are better at hitting relief pitching.  I didn’t find any correlation for that, but that was a nice hour diversion.  That kind of thing takes time, and it’s easier to do that on the road.

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do on the road?

I’m pretty boring!  I like finding a good bookstore.  I don’t really go out.  Most people ask, don’t you go out and get a good meal?  Usually not because most games are at night. You’re leaving late after the game and I don’t like to be by myself at a nice restaurant anyway! [Laughs] I don’t do much sightseeing by myself, I’d rather do that with my wife.  I like to walk around cities a little bit.  Sometimes in Seattle, though, I hop on a ferry to the islands and take in the gorgeous setting.  But usually, between getting my workout in, and my work in, the days go pretty quick.  I like cities and I like the ballparks, but I don’t do a whole lot of exploring on the road.

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while broadcasting baseball games?

It’s a constant challenge to stay on top of some plays.  Guys like José Iglesias [Tiger shortstop] are not good for broadcasters because they’ll do [amazing] stuff and you have to try to describe it and you think, “I can’t keep up with this guy!”  He’ll do things I’ve never seen before.

There are some games that move very quickly, and you’re not painting as much of a picture as you would like to be, such as where defenders are or describing things on the field.  But you have to think about people tuning in and what they need to know, such as what the score is. Don’t be afraid to give the score more! Because people are always tuning in and out.

The advice I always got from Ernie, when I was thinking about how was I going to do this for 162 games and feeling a little anxious, was: “get what’s in front of you right.  Give the listener a clear understanding of what’s happening.  Everything else is style.”  That’s probably the best guidance for a radio play-by-play person.  Does the listener have a clear understanding of what happened?  And that’s what makes a guy like Iglesias such a challenge to describe. So sometimes it’s best just to describe the basics of the play, and then go back and fill in the details, because there’s just too much going on in the moment.

Sometimes, if I see a play I haven’t seen before, I will practice that same play on the way home.   I’ll think, “OK, I screwed that play up”, and I’ll just run it through my brain, and I’ll practice the call again so that next time I’ll call it correctly.  There’re just some plays that trip you up.

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?

You get maybe 15 or 16 off days during the season, other than the All-Star break. Some of those are travelling, but there aren’t many of those anymore.  Like, you’re off on Monday and you’re traveling—that’s not much of an off day to me.   They’ve gotten better at that.

How do you spend time over the All-Star break?

I’ve been going to West Michigan since I was a wee lad, so we rent a cottage there.  I go from Sunday to Friday, and it’s heaven just to relax for a few days.  I might have to do a little work, but I like what I do, so it’s not like I have to “do work”.   When you have an off day on the road or at home, you’re always thinking about the next series, so having those four days at the Break, where you don’t really have to do anything if you don’t want to, is heaven.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?  Do you do any broadcasting?  

I don’t like doing a whole lot.  I do a radio talk show in January and February, one hour, once a week, Tigers talk with [97.1 radio host] Pat Caputo. A few events for Fox Sports Detroit, anywhere from five to eight events.  I call the Michigan High School Football Championships—I’ll do two to three games most years. That’s fun. I try to do a little bit of hockey. I’d like to get more college hockey, maybe five to seven games a year.  That would be great. Talk about being out of your comfort zone! Mike Emrick, who is the very best, gave me a good tip: when you’re calling Michigan State-Ohio State hockey game on TV, you’re describing for a Michigan State audience, so when two guys go into the corner, you just have to get the Michigan State guy’s name. You don’t have to name everyone on every play, because it’s TV.  If it were radio, and I tried to practice it, just … forget it.  But I really like hockey.

What baseball announcers do you most admire, both retired and currently active, and why?

Ernie [Harwell] is at the top, because I grew up listening to him.  That ability to wear well over a summer is a special thing.  As a listener you like having that radio on—or these days, your phone or your computer—and you like the sound of the game being called, even if it’s as background, while you’re doing something else.  That how I listen.  I felt the same way about George Kell and Al Kaline, on TV.  I love their style, the sound, how they called the game.  I recall where I was listening to many key moments in the 80s and 90s … well, there weren’t many key moments [for the Tigers] in the 90s, but … [Laughs]. But I remember right where I was when [Ernie] called [those moments].

When my wife and I lived in different cities for a while I used to drive across Michigan to see her, so I would like to pull in other cities and their broadcasts.  I liked Bob Uecker in Milwaukee.  My exposure to him was late night with Johnny Carson, Mr. Belvedere … but then you hear him call a game and you think, “Wow, this guy is really good.”

Joe Block, who was one of my wife’s students (at Michigan State), he’s the middle innings guy in Milwaukee.  I try to listen to him when I can.  Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo with Oakland do a terrific job.  Ken’s got a very smooth delivery and Vince does a good job—that’s a good team.  The Tampa Bay guys do a very nice job, Dave [Wills] and Andy [Freed], good voices.  Dave O’Brien [Red Sox] is very good.  Gary Thorne [Orioles]—he does TV, but I wish he did radio—he’s right at the top.  Tom Hamilton [Indians], I’ll listen to him, I like him.  Tom and I have become very good friends.   He’s not that much older than me but he’s been in the job longer than me.  I was just a middle innings guy in 2000 and he immediately befriended me and treated me like one of the guys.  The career advice he’s given me has been great.

What’s are some of the things, or maybe even the one big thing, you wish ordinary fans knew about your job?

Good question. [Laughs]  Understand that we’re going to make a mistake once in a while and we can’t erase it, we can’t hit a delete button.  Five hundred hours of being on the air, you’re going to slip up once or twice.

Jim Leyland sat in with us one inning in Spring Training, in this tiny little booth in Lakeland, which he’d never done before.  We’re watching from behind home plate, and there’s no monitor, since it’s not a regular season game.  So, the batter takes what I think is a weak swing, looks like he’s flailing at an off-speed pitch, so I said, “he swings and misses on a changeup.”  Well, I look at the board and it says “95 MPH”.  After the inning, Jim is joking with me: “Whoa, he swung at a 95 MPH changeup!  He must have a 105 MPH fastball!”  He hasn’t let me forget that ever since!  Every time I see him … we’re watching David Price pitching 95 in Cleveland, Jim Leyland’s in the booth next door with Dave Dombrowski, and he looks over at me and he’s giving me the changeup motion with his left hand and he’s going, “like this?”  [Laughs]

Sometimes people wonder if I’m a homer.  I am employed by the team.  But the thing I appreciate is that the Tigers have never, in sixteen years, told me what I can and cannot say, about a player or anything.  But you use your brain and realize that things you say will get back to the players.  If you report that a player’s 2-for-24, they don’t mind that.  But if you get personal with them and talk about bad effort, it’s different and you’re going to hear about it.  You shouldn’t say anything on the air that you wouldn’t say to their face.

If you were the King of Baseball Announcing and you could make any changes or improvements to the broadcasting profession or the process, what would they be?

I joke about this with the sales guys all the time, but the constant reads that you have to do.   I have a good relationship with the head sales guy at 97.1, and I understand they pay the bills but I’ll always push back on that, we want to make sure we’re not interrupting the broadcast with too many reads, or cluttering the broadcast, and he understands that.  But I think we’ve gotten to the point where we get the reads in at the beginning of an inning, satisfy the sponsors, and then get on with the game.  I think we’ve struck a good balance, and that’s always the battle, and you’re spoiled because you just want to call the game and not be bothered, but you know you have to pay the bills.

Statcast Debuted Last Night, but It’ll Be a While Before It Really Matters.

Yes, very essential, but what does this all mean? (h/t Fangraphs)

The actual Statcast tool has been around for a little over a year now, and we’d seen snippets of it here and there since then, particularly during last year’s World Series.  However, yesterday’s Cardinals/Nationals game on MLB Network was the first in which Statcast was used throughout a game as a device fully integrated into a game broadcast.

The tool, which is being audaciously touted as “one of the largest advances in instant replay that we’ve seen in the last 50 years“, is intended as a way for us to finally quantify the game in a way which is impossible to do with the naked eye: completely, even exhaustively. With multiple HD cameras set up in each of the 30 major league parks, providing a complete view of the field and its adjacent environs, and connected to a system that will immediately spit out all the related data accurate to a fraction of an inch, absolutely action, no matter how small, will be left unseen and free from analysis from this point forward.

And that’s a good thing, right? Well, that depends on how you view the game of baseball.

The real constituents of the system, the major league teams themselves, will absolutely love this tool.  By being able to analyze and quantify every movement made by every player on the field, they will be able to evaluate their own players in context against all other players in the majors at that time, and should be able to properly value their performance as it occurs during live game action.  This should in theory help them more accurately determine what they should be paying their talent.  I’m pretty sure that as the cost of this system drops over time, organizations will be arranging Statcast systems to be set up at their minor league affiliates’ facilities as well.

The players themselves will benefit or be penalized versus the prior expectations of them that had been set for them under less perfect observational or statistical methods.

As for the fans, StatCast is sure to drive a yet deeper wedge between the “sabers” and the traditionalists.  The former group will welcome this development with open arms and spreadsheets; the latter will likely moan that one more nail has been driven into the coffin of baseball as the game of romanticism, poetry, and whatever other ethereal qualities define for them the pastime they love.

As for me, I like that the data are now being made available during broadcasts, but I am more looking forward to the day that we can review the results within the proper context of league norms.  Since we are in the infant stage of the technology, analysis of the data is very immature.  All we have at the moment are raw numbers and the inevitable SWAGs that will follow in their wake, at least in the short term.

Here’s what I mean: in the middle GIF above, Jon Jay’s first step to get to that batted ball was timed at 0.3 seconds, his top speed was clocked at 14.8 MPH, and the distance he covered was measured at 31.8 feet.  To which I ask: are these good numbers?  Is his first step better than average?  Average?  Worse than average?  Same with his speed and distance: are these results good, bad, or so-so?  I have no way of knowing this yet.  You probably don’t, either. These are just numbers so far.  I mean, sure, Jay caught the ball, but does that mean that he necessarily has an earlier first step and/or faster top speed and/or greater distance-covering ability than average? Of course it doesn’t, because we don’t know what those averages are yet. Maybe Jay was just lucky this time that the ball was hit near enough to him for him to reach it.

You can see that I have acknowledged that because we are in Statcast’s infancy, we don’t have this context available to us yet, so I am in no way making an unrealistic demand that I be provided this context, like, yesterday. But I think I can safely say that until enough data to provide this context are gathered, the information will be more like “somewhat interesting” than it will be “really useful”.  It will probably be a while before we get to that point, likely measured in years, but until we do, I have limited interest in the Statcast data, at least as of April 22, 2015.

I do hope, though, that as with HITf/x and PITCHf/x data, StatCast data are made available outside of MLB organizations, if not freely available to the public, then at least on a licenseable basis in which websites such can obtain it, dissect it and disseminate at least filtered versions of the it to the public.  That’s the really the only way the data will be meaningful to fans who are interested in it.  Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of numbers.

In the end, MLB may well be right that this will be “one of the largest advances in instant replay that we’ve seen in the last 50 years.”  If that turns out to be true, I think it will take a few years before any of us see that to be the case.


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

Will Hosting on Fox Sports Baseball Help Get Pete Rose Reinstated?

It was announced this past Saturday afternoon that Pete Rose had been hired by Fox Sports to be a guest analyst on the MLB pregame shows airing on the broadcast network and on Fox Sports 1, as well as being a commentator on several other Fox baseball programs. Since Fox Sports is not part of Major League Baseball—at least not technically—Rose’s permanent ineligibility status does not extend to its game broadcasts.

“No, I am not Elton John. Why the hell are you asking me that!?”
View image |


In the article that broke the story, “Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement.  ‘I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that,’ Rose said. “I’m just trying to give back to baseball …'”

If that sounds disingenuous to you, don’t blame yourself for being a nasty person not willing to give poor Pete the benefit of the doubt. Pete Rose is, after all, a proven liar when it comes to how his gambling behavior interfaced with his roles as an active performer either playing or managing in major league baseball contests.  At first he claimed he never bet on baseball games he was involved in.  But then he said that he had indeed done so, but admitted such only once he believed that coming clean would help his case for reinstatement. But hey, don’t worry, Rose says: I never bet on my team to lose.

We’ll never know the truth about that one, though, since Baseball agreed to halt its continuing investigation of Rose once he agreed to accept the permanent ineligibility penalty for the involvement he did admit to.  In the final analysis, Pete struck out with his delayed honesty strategy.

I suspect the last couple of paragraphs read as though I am anti-Pete Rose. I’m really not, as far as it goes.  It’s true I’m not a fan of the guy—never have been. Maybe that’s why I’m not clamoring for his reinstatement as are so many of my age peers who grew up with Charlie Hustle as their #1 baseball hero. I do recognize, though, that other things being equal, a man with his on-field résumé should receive a slam-dunk, first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. Other things are decidedly not equal, though, and a Hall of Fame induction can’t happen for Rose until Baseball reinstates him.

And despite that Rob Manfred has said that he be taking “a full and fresh look” at the Pete Rose case, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict, right now, that there is no way Manfred, or any number of his successors, ever reinstate Rose. I believe that the only way Baseball can reinstate Pete is if they change the rules and start allowing players and managers to bet on baseball games they are involved in. But as long as they intend to keep the rules intact, they have to keep him out.

(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that.)

I get why a lot of people want Pete Rose in, and I am sympathetic to their argument that after 25 years, Pete Rose has suffered enough and should be reinstated so he can take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.  But even granting that, I have no sympathy for Pete Rose himself, because since 1921 or thereabouts, posted in every major league clubhouse is rule 21(d):

BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared
ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

This is as clear and unambiguous as it gets.  Bet on a game you’re not involved in: one-year ban.  Bet on a game you are involved in: permanent ineligibility.  Not a “lifetime ban”.  But permanent ineligibility.

Pete Rose and his supporters might have a case if his penalty had been applied capriciously or dictated by personal fiat.  Neither is the case. The penalty is written in plain black and white and was posted in the clubhouse for Pete to see during every one of the 3,562 games he played in and the 785 games he managed in.  No one can claim ignorance of either the rule or its consequences, least of all Pete himself.

To reinstate Pete Rose would be to open up every other case of permanent ineligibility handed down for gambling on baseball games in which the baseballer had a duty to perform, including the eight men put out for the Black Sox scandal. That might suit many people just fine, perhaps including many of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee, but it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain such penalty for future infractions.  They couldn’t, of course, so they would have to take a considerable amount of time and effort to debate what an alternative proper penalty should be.

Pete Rose Baseball
                  I know you are, Pete. I know.

Such a debate, in addition to an actual reinstatement of Rose, would dominate the baseball headlines for years afterwards, casting a pall on the sport, including on all the current games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continuing reaping their annual billions in revenue and profits. All this while trying to maintain, with a straight face, that the competitive integrity of the game of baseball is now as ever above reproach, even as they ease up on the strictures and penalties against players and coaches gambling on games they are involved in.

Given that, why on Earth would Major League Baseball ever reinstate Pete Rose?  Besides creating a lot of noise around the game for years and years, what’s in it for them?  Where is the “there” there?

I don’t think there is a “there” there.  Baseball depends on the goodwill of not only its fan base and corporate sponsors, but of Congress, the guarantor of its precious Sherman antitrust exemption. Because although the exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose in Baseball’s business when it feels like it.  And the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of its weakening its stance on in-game gambling by people in a position to affect the game’s outcome. Just give us our antitrust exemption, please, and you won’t hear a peep out of us.  We promise to be good boys.

I just can’t see any other alternative for Baseball, regardless of how well Pete Rose does in his new broadcast gig on Fox.  If they want to continue to limit the amount of noise surrounding the game and keep Congress, the majority of fans, its corporate sponsors and random moralists at bay, I don’t see any other practical choice for them but to deny Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement yet again, now and probably forever.

“America Go to the Ball Game”: A British Newspaper Reporter’s Take on the 1956 World Series

One of the things that always fascinates me, and perhaps you as well, is reading about how people in other parts of the world regard the sport of baseball. Baseball is a top sport in maybe a dozen countries around the world, if you include the Netherlands (who, believe it or not, currently place fifth in the world in the IBAF rankings).  We’re talking about a collection of countries that make up only about 10% of the world’s population, though, which means that nine-tenths of the world doesn’t give a flying flip about baseball. To them, it might as well be Olympic handball or water polo. Tragic, isn’t it?

So I find it highly entertaining when anyone from a non-baseball country talks or writes about baseball.  How much do they know about the sport? Or more entertainingly, are they describing it in an awkward or even inaccurate way? But mostly, I’m interested in how they regard the game as a cultural phenomenon. Are they amused by it? Intrigued? Dismissive? All of the above?

The article below is a perfect example of exactly the kind of thing that thrills me whenever I come across it. It appeared in the Times of London on October 10, 1956, just two days after the Larsen perfect game. It was a far different world in the Fifties: there was no Internet or sports-only cable networks, of course, which means no MLB.TV or YouTube or ESPN, so a British subject couldn’t merely seek out a baseball game, or a clip of a game, and simply watch it anytime he wanted. The game had to be presented to him either on telly, or in the cinema on a Movietone newsreel.  Which is to say, only a few Britons ever got any exposure to baseball, and almost certainly very little at that. Most Britons got no exposure to it at all.

So when the unnamed correspondent of the piece below provided his overview of the previous day’s Yankees-Dodgers tilt to his British readers, there were some very basic explanations he had to put across about how the game is even played, in addition to what baseball—or more exactly, what the (amusingly named) World Series—meant to Americans as a cultural touchstone.  The piece is an engaging example of a writer who knows nearly nothing of the game describing the proceedings to those who know absolutely nothing about the game.  The bonus here is the correspondent’s use of standard cricket terminology to put across basic baseball concepts in a way his readers can even begin to understand, which is delightful, even if he did summarize major league baseball as being merely “rounders played by strong men with a hard ball”.  No wonder Great Britain ranks only 25th on the IBAF table, even today.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.  Click on the article below to open it in a separate window and read it in even better definition.

London Times Article
The London Times published this article about the sixth game of the 1956 World Series, the one after the Don Larsen perfect game.

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.

American Mercury, March 1929.

The Illustrator for the Cardinals Scorecard Wrote to us

Last night, received an email from Mike Right.  Mike is the illustrator of the fantastic cover of the St. Louis Cardinals scorecard that we featured on the blog yesterday.

Turns out that the style used for the scorecard is not a one-off, after all.   Actually, Mike has been using this style for over a decade now, having graced the covers of twelve scorecards with his unique retro style.  Here are a couple of choice recent examples:

10 cardinal scorecard cover 12 COVER WORKPAGE 2 copy


Pretty sweet, huh?

If you are interested in reading more about Mike and his work for the Cardinals, you can download a PDF of the article by clicking here:

Mike Right Scorecard Article (2011 Cardinals Gameday Magazine)

Keep up the good work, Mike!

(P.S.: Mike confirms that the object the Pirate is holding on this year’s cover is neither a cutlass nor a wand, but instead is an empty pennant stick.  But of course!  😎 )