The Front Cover of This Year’s St. Louis Cardinals Scorecard is Absolutely Fantastic

STL Scorecard Front CoverThe perfectly delightful cover of the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals scorecard.

First off, let’s get this one out of the way: I realize that the relationship between team scorecards and the baseball media is, at best, tenuous.  A scorecard does not cover a baseball team as a medium, in the way newspapers do, or provide details of the game in progress in the way a game broadcast does.  The scorecard is a marketing tool of the team, in addition to being a means for a small sliver of fans to better engage with the game.  There’s very little, perhaps even no, journalism at work here, so I would agree that technically, this may be out of scope for the committee.

That doesn’t mean we can’t revel in the  straight-up awesomeness of the front cover of this year’s St. Louis Cardinals official scorecard.  Rather than being a boring photo of the manager or best player, or of the stadium, or an action shot of a play during a game, as most scorecard covers are, this cover features a callback to the whimsical cartoons typically seen in the newspapers and scorecards of the 50s and 60s. The look of pride and dominance on the face of the Cardinal contrasts perfectly with the look of bewilderment and exhaustion on the faces of the opponents.  And the splendiferous flag the Cardinal is carrying, featuring the team’s ten Central Division championships, including the two most recent ones, stands in stark relief against the puny few cheap pennants three of the four challengers are holding.  (The thing the Pirate is holding looks to me more like a wand than a cutlass.)

Illustrations like this used to be very common in sports, and have understandably fallen out of style.  After all, tastes inevitably change with the generations.  But in my opinion, that’s what makes this cover so effective.  It takes a long dormant illustration style and resurrects it faithfully, the only nod to the present being the years represented on the flags.

Whether or not you are a Cardinals fan, it is hard to not be a fan of this scorecard cover.  There are only three words I can use to sum it up:

It.  Is.  Awesome.

Old Faces In New Places Dot 2015 Broadcasting Landscape

Regardless of what market you’re in, there’s a lot of baseball at your disposal this week in one of the two free preview weeks of MLB Extra Innings. Of course, as I started writing this, two of the six games in progress were in rain delays, to say nothing of blackouts (sorry, Iowa), so your mileage may vary.

In Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract, he uses the abbreviation S.O.C., Same Old Cities, to describe the places where the game was played from 1903 to 1952. Even though the teams didn’t move, the game continued to evolve, however. The part about moving is true again in 2015, but the state of broadcasting has evolved in several places as well.

Following the rule that it’s not plagiarism if you cite your sources, below are several places where that has been the case. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of national games each announcer has called entering the season, taken from SABR’s national telecast database.

In Chicago, the Cubs leave longtime radio home WGN 720, breaking a 62-year run on that station to jump 60 kHz up the dial to WBBM 780. Judd Sirott, who had handled the fifth inning of play-by-play since 2009, stayed at WGN rather than switching stations with the team. From what I’ve heard in the spring, color man Ron Coomer is calling that inning, although TV voice Len Kasper (2) did so on Opening Night.

Kasper and Jim Deshaies (9) are no longer plying their trade for a national audience as WGN America dropped Chicago sports this winter. The Cubs took a package of 24 games to ABC affiliate WLS, and both Chicago teams moved their WGN overflow from independent WCIU to WPWR (MyNetwork TV).

In the Metroplex, Rangers radio moves from KESN 103.3 to KRLD 105.3. The Rangers had two previous stints on KRLD, 1972-73 and 1995-2012, although major portions of those stints were at 1080 on the AM dial. Orioles radio broadcasts shift from WBAL 1090 back to WJZ 95.7, where they had been from 2007-10.

The Mets add Wayne Randazzo from low-A Kane County to replace Seth Everett as pre- and postgame radio host. If Randazzo adds fill-in play-by-play duties when Howie Rose (2) is with the Islanders or Josh Lewin (274) with the Chargers, he would usurp Ed Coleman.

Kevin Burkhardt (3) leaves Mets TV for Fox, and he’s succeeded by Steve Gelbs. SNY also signs Cliff Floyd, who had been at MLB Network. Elsewhere in the N.L. East, Jamie Moyer leaves Phillies TV to spend more time with his family. Ben Davis replaces him.

Gabe Kapler (2) leaves Fox for the Dodgers’ front office. Dusty Baker (10) will start drawing paychecks from Fox, as will Raul Ibanez. Carlos Pena and Pedro Martinez join MLB Network. Barry Larkin (8) exits ESPN.

The couple dozen Yankees games that aren’t on YES in New York move from WWOR (MyNetwork TV) to WPIX (CW).

Jeff Levering moves from AAA Pawtucket to the Brewers’ radio booth. When Bob Uecker (147) is off, Joe Block assumes the main role and Levering the #2 spot, doing three innings of PBP (the Brewers typically don’t do much in the way of color commentary). When “Ueck” works, Block fills the #2 position and Levering “will provide video, photo, audio and written content for Brewers.com and various other Brewers social media platforms.”

Speaking of aging legends, Vin Scully (273) is also back in the radio booth for his age-87 season in Los Angeles. When Scully works, Charley Steiner (84) and Rick Monday (1) call the final six innings on radio: when he does not, Steiner joins Orel Hershiser (226) and Nomar Garciaparra (55) on TV and Monday calls the radio action with Kevin Kennedy (145).

Eric Chavez replaces Shooty Babitt on Oakland television for 20 or so games. I think this is unfortunate, because it greatly reduces the number of opportunities I have to type “Shooty Babitt.” On the radio side, Roxy Bernstein steps in for Ken Korach, who’s having knee problems, for the first couple of weeks.

Jack Morris (1) (last at Fox Sports North) and Kirk Gibson (7) (former Diamondbacks manager) join Fox Sports Detroit to occasionally spell Rod Allen (16). This author will now join Morris and Gibson in their endeavor: R-o-d A-l-l-e-n.

And now, leaving that tangent aside, we return to our rundown.

At the national level, ESPN returns its Sunday Night Baseball crew of Dan Shulman (364), John Kruk (64) and Curt Schilling (14). Dave O’Brien (448), the most-tenured active national announcer not named Buck, returns to Monday nights with Aaron Boone (129) and either Mark Mulder (22) or Dallas Braden. O’Brien’s old partner Rick Sutcliffe (433) joins Doug Glanville (24) and Jon Sciambi (93) on Wednesday. Since ESPN has the budget to assemble a 25-man roster of its own, we’ll likely also see cameos from Sean McDonough (172), Steve Levy (7), Dave Flemming (4), Karl Ravech (30), Chris Singleton (24), and several other people.

Fox’s lead trio of Joe Buck (515), Harold Reynolds (88) and Tom Verducci (124) returns for its second season, joined by Ken Rosenthal (326), who has reported from the field more than the second- and third-most common field reporters combined. The Fox stable also includes Joe Davis (2), who was in elementary school when Buck called his first World Series, Mariners radio voice Aaron Goldsmith, Justin Kutcher (29), Matt Vasgersian (163) and network standbys Thom Brennaman (363) and Kenny Albert (347). On the analyst side, Ibanez is joined by C.J. Nitkowski (8), John Smoltz (166), and Eric Karros (184).

MLB Network’s showcase games feature Vasgersian or Bob Costas (354) with Smoltz and/or Jim Kaat (184). As I finish this post, their first game of the season is in a light-failure delay.

TBS will return with a package of Sunday night games in the second half of the season using talent that has not been announced.

And most importantly, night after night, from now till the end of October, baseball is back.

Nearly 100 years ago, baseball almost banned broadcasts

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

Nearly 100 years ago, baseball almost banned broadcasts

James Walker, Saint Xavier University

Fear of the unknown: would free radio broadcasts hurt gate receipts? (from www.shutterstock.com)

 

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

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

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

East Coast opposition

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

General Mills pounces

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

New Biography: Manning Vaughan

Committee member Dennis Pajot has written a new biography of Manning Vaughan, the beat writer for the old Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association in the early part of the 20th Century.  It was featured in a SABR Deadball committee newsletter previously, and we have posted in under the Journalists section of Biographies, here:

Manning Vaughan

If you have written a biography about a figure in baseball media, whether on the broadcast or print side, please consider allowing us to add it to our site.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Does the DISH/Extra Innings Deal Really Mean In-Market Streaming is Nigh?

After an eight season absence, MLB has broken the bonds of its quasi-exclusive arrangement with DirecTV and Big Cable’s iN Demand consortium and have signed on DISH Network to carry the Extra Innings package starting this season.  The most interesting aspect, of course, was the prospect that live MLB games would finally be streamed in-market, an issue which has picked up steam this offseason in particular.

The DISH deal appears to open the door to that possibility by including this in the press release about the deal:

“The agreement provides a path for consumers to have authenticated access to stream live in-market games on digital properties from MLB, local programmers  and pay-TV providers. In-market live streaming would require additional agreements between the parties including DISH, MLBAM and programmers with local TV rights of MLB games.”

It has become clear since Rob Manfred replaced Bud Selig in the Commissioner’s chair that Major League Baseball really, truly wants to allow all of their product to be made available on all MLB.TV digital platforms, including the local game streaming within the local market.  This is something that has been more or less banned ever since the beginning of Internet-based broadcasts of live games.

But just because the press release says this “path” has been “provided for” doesn’t mean it’s going to happen very soon, or even soon-ish.  As Maury Brown metaphorizes in his sharp article about the deal, the broadcasting relationship in place among the parties is a three-legged stool: MLB is one leg; the telecast networks like Fox and NBC/Comcast and ROOT are the second leg; and distributors such as satellite and cable providers are the third.  But it is that third leg that is the load-bearing leg that might undermine the whole arrangement if they were to pull out, and they have a good reason to pull out, or at least threaten to, if the other two legs insist on in-market streaming.

In this era of programming in which the majority is time-delayed by watchers so they can view it at their convenience―and, incidentally, be able to zip through expensive commercials―sports programing is considered the gold bar of programming, since it almost always demands live viewing to fully appreciate it.  With that live viewing comes much greater viewing of commercials.  Because of this, commercials in sports programming are more expensive per viewer than in nearly all other types of programming.

But if local live sports becomes available to viewers on digital platforms (i.e., platforms other than cable and satellite), then that removes a very big reason for people to continue to subscribe to cable services that are, let’s face it, more costly by a factor of multiples than what people are willing to pay.  And even though such in-market digital games would be available only by authenticating “your” existing subscription, anyone who has a friend who subscribes to Netflix or Hulu knows that login credentials can be shared with as many people as the subscriber knows.  In other words, cable companies in particular know that in-market availability of games will cost them subscribers, revenue, and ultimately profits.  And they certainly don’t want that.

The restriction against viewing local games reaches epidemically ridiculous proportions in that it even includes a prohibition against watching out of market delayed broadcasts on the satellite and cable provider itself, or even “classic games” from decades before.  I live in Chicago, and I can’t view old Yankee classic games on YES, or Orioles classic games on MASN, because of the deal between MLB and distributors.  Why this is, I don’t know exactly―maybe it’s one of those things that distributors don’t really need, but like to have anyway just so they can negotiate away something not so important to retain the thing that is most important in cases like this―that most important thing being, of curse, live streaming of games to local markets.

But make no mistake: as much as Baseball and The  Networks want to make the product available to everyone everywhere, distributors have just as much desire to keep local viewers in the dark during local games.  Because they believe they have a very fat ox waiting to be gored when that happens, and unless some business arrangement or technical system is undertaken to address it, they have no interest in falling on that ox’s horns.