The History of Baseball Broadcasting: Early Television

This is the second part of a four-part series looking at the history of baseball broadcasting. Part three will be released next week, and will focus on the impact of cable television on baseball. You can read part one here.

Baseball hasn’t always been broadcast in the high definition that we enjoy today. It didn’t always have a bunch of camera angles, either; in fact, most early broadcasts only had one camera, which was located behind the plate, far from the standard center-field angle we have since become used to.

The first baseball game to be broadcast was on May 17, 1939, when Princeton and Columbia played an Ivy League game. The game was aired on an experimental television station in New York, called W2XBS, which later became WNBC-TV. Just a few months later, the first Major League Baseball game was broadcast, as Red Barber called the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Reds doubleheader of August 26. That game featured two cameras, one located behind home plate, near the press box, and the other was located above the visitor’s dugout on the third base side.

Soon, Major League Baseball would realize the potential of the medium, and by 1947, most games were broadcast on television. That year, the World Series was broadcast for the first time. Those games were carried by NBC on WNBT Channel 4, which later became WNBC. The 1947 World Series had a total viewership of 3.9 million, with most of those coming from public places, like bars, where people gathered to watch.

The next season, WGN-TV broadcast its first baseball game, as Jack Brickhouse called the April 16 White Sox vs. Cubs game. Brickhouse later said, “It worked because the Cubs and White Sox weren’t home at the same time. You aired the Sox at Comiskey, or Cubs at Wrigley Field. Daytime scheduling gave the Cubs a decided edge, as Wrigley didn’t have lights, so kids came home from school, had a sandwich, and turned the TV on.”

The first televised All-Star game was on July 11, 1950, out of Comiskey Park in Chicago. Later that year, MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler and the player reps agreed on the split of the radio and TV rights from the World Series. On August 11, 1951, WCBS-TV in New York aired the first baseball game in color, while NBC would provide the first coast-to-coast broadcast of a baseball game on October 1, as the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the New York Giants in a tiebreaker game, in which Bobby Thompson hit his famous “Shot Heard ’round the World”.

NBC had another first in 1955, when they offered a World Series broadcast entirely in color, while in 1958, KTTV in Los Angeles broadcast the first baseball game played on the west coast, with Vin Scully announcing the game. Instant replay, something that is commonly used nowadays, was first used on July 17, 1959, when broadcaster Mel Allen asked his director to replay a base hit off the bat of Jim McAnay, who broke up the no-hitter that Ralph Terry was pitching.

The first baseball game televised via satellite was on July 23, 1962, when Jack Brickhouse called the Chicago Cubs vs. Philadelphia Phillies. ABC made history in 1965 when they had Jackie Robinson call a game, which was the first time that an African American had done so. ABC also made history later that year when they started the tradition of Saturday-afternoon national broadcasts, a format that eventually turned into the Game of the Week.

The World Series made broadcast history in 1971, when MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn scheduled the first series game that was played at night. He felt that the game could attract a larger audience in prime time. The idea worked, and eventually became the standard, as all World Series games are played at night.

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