Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, August 5.
Today is the 95th anniversary of an event that would change baseball forever, though the people who brought it about had no idea that’s what they were doing. At Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, a game was to be played between the Pirates and Phillies. The stadium was relatively new, having been built in 1909 and named for a British general of the French and Indian war. On this August day, sitting in a box seat at ground level, Harold Arlin of radio station KDKA did baseball’s first radio broadcast. He was a Westinghouse foreman and nighttime studio announcer at KDKA, which had begun business in November 1920 broadcasting presidential election returns. He was the lone broadcaster as the Pirates beat the Phillies that day, 8-5. He and his fellows at KDKA figured the broadcast to be an experiment, not to be repeated. They felt the game was too boring to be aired on radio. No recording of Arlin’s work exists, so we have no way of knowing if he was a boring broadcaster. No full game would be recorded until the 1934 All-Star game, which both NBC and CBS made recordings of. As for Arlin, he did football’s first radio broadcast later in 1921, when the University of Pittsburgh faced West Virginia.
From its one-game beginning, baseball on radio took off. Hal Totten began broadcasting games of the Cubs and White Sox on a regular basis in 1924, making Chicago the first city to have regular broadcasts of its teams. Broadcasters no longer worked at ground level, but from high above the stadium-on the roof if possible. Totten would do a pre-game interview from the field, then turn over the broadcast to a studio announcer while he climbed to his perch to carry on the broadcast. By the time games could be recorded, different styles were emerging. Totten and Cincinnati Reds’ broadcaster Red Barber were conversational, though Totten would never have quoted Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare. Barber did both. Tom Manning of Cleveland was a cheerleader at the mike. The redheaded Manning’s broadcast was more sizzle than steak, as he used more ra-ra tactics than actually describing the action. Ty Tyson of Detroit was a teacher at the mike, going as far as to address his audience as “Boys and girls.” He did this on local broadcasts, but not when NBC called him to cover the World Series as it often did in the 1930’s.
When teams traveled in those days, the announcers didn’t travel with them. They re-created the games from pitch-by-pitch accounts they received from Western Union. In 1996, my broadcast partner and I got what we thought was a brilliant idea. (We had been consuming numerous adult beverages that night.) The idea was to celebrate August 5, 1996 as baseball’s 75th anniversary on radio by doing a re-creation broadcast. The way we figured it, Jim would be at the ball park and I would be at the studio of our radio station, telling our audience what was happening based on what Jim told me. Unlike Harold Arlin’s broadcast of 1921, our game was sponsored and we had to do commercials. But our idea was to do them all live, not to use any recorded ads on that one broadcast. So, what seemed like a good idea at the time turned into a lot of work as I had to braille all the commercials and have them available as well as the stats for the players. For a final touch, we decided to ask for an interview with Harry Kalas, the Phillies’ Hall of Fame broadcaster who had done re-creations while broadcasting for the Hawaii Islanders. He was kind enough to do the interview and talk about those broadcasts that occurred in the early 1960’s. Then we were underway doing the re-creation game. My partner Jim Lucas told me what was happening and I sent it to our audience. The broadcast was so well-received that we did re-creation night every August 5 until 2002, our final year in the business.
My favorite memory of that night in 1996 was a joke I pulled on my partner. I knew the air-conditioning in the press box wasn’t working and he was suffering from the heat. So somewhere during the game, I said “And here at the studio we’ve got the air-conditioning on as high as it will go. The pizza will be coming and the beer is cold.” One of our interns actually believed what I said, and later said to me “Did you really have pizza and beer in the studio?”
It’s been 20 years since then and baseball on radio is now a 95-year tradition. Every major league team and many minor league teams have it. In the majors most teams have broadcasts in Spanish as well as English. Radio has brought baseball’s most famous moments to listeners from coast to coast and around the world. And it all began on an August afternoon in Pittsburgh.
A name fans may want to remember is that of Francisco Mejia. He’s the catcher for the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League, an Indians’ farm team. Mejia has now hit in 46 games in a row. Last night it took him until his final atbat to get a hit, as Lynchburg beat Salem (VA) 7-3. There hasn’t been a hitting streak like this in the minors since 1955 when Roman Mejias, who would later play for the Houston Colt .45’s hit in 55 straight games for Waco. Mejia will try to continue his streak as the Hillcats play again tonight in Salem at 7 PM Eastern.
Along with being the birthday of baseball on radio, August 5 features a few other baseball birthdays. Carl Crawford is 35 today. He was on the same Little League team as Michael Bourn. He was with Charleston as a boy of 18 when my broadcast partner and I covered their games. That 2000 RiverDogs team had Crawford, Josh Hamilton and James Shields, all boys of 18 who are still in the game. Crawford reached the majors with the Devil Rays in 2002. He was an All-Star 4 times before leaving the Rays at the end of 2010. He’s been with Boston and the Dodgers since then. His 121 triples are the most of any active player.
John Olerud is 48 today. He hit .295 between 1989 and 2005. The Blue Jays drafted him in round 3 in 1989, and he was in the majors by September without playing a minor league game. He was an All-Star in 1993 and again in 2001 by which time he was playing for the Mariners. He was a fixture with the Blue Jays as they won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
Bernie Carbo is 69 today. A Detroit native, Red Sox fans especially remember Carbo for two pinch-hit home runs in the 1975 World Series-one in game 3 and a game-tying 3-run shot in the 8th inning of game 6 when all appeared lost. The Reds had drafted Carbo in round 1 of the 1965 draft, the first draft ever held. They had sent him to the Cardinals in 1972, and then the Cardinals shipped him to the Red Sox in 1974. His career lasted until 1980.0