Historical

First Major League Baseball game was on television, 80 years ago today on the forerunner to WNBC-TV

Red Barber voiced a Reds-Dodgers doubleheader from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on August 26, 1939

  • Eighty years ago today, August 26, 1939, Major League Baseball hit the television airwaves. Hit would be an absolute misnomer. Wafted might even be strong.
  • In a country of 139 million in 1939, there were only a few hundred TV sets throughout America, mostly of them in New York.
  • The picture was a grainy, fidgety, black and white. It would also pop off and on.
  • Red Barber called it, a Dodgers–Reds doubleheader from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Leo ‘The Lip’ Durocher managed the Dodgers. The team split the twin bill. It was Red’s first year in Brooklyn. It started a stretch of 78 seasons when Barber (1939-53) and/or Vin Scully (1950-2016) called Dodgers games.
  • It was carried by W2XBS, which would later be labeled with the call letters, WNBC-TV.
  • Barber conducts interview at Ebbets Field 80 years ago today

    The World’s Fair opened in 1939 in New York, displaying a panoply of American technology, demonstrating our country’s leadership role in a world of growing technology. Producing this first ever MLB telecast was a showcase of our creativity, vigor and appetite for wares of the future.

  • According to the History Channel, the video coverage was primitive, two stationary camera angles, one down the third base line and the second high above home plate. Call it a wide shot.  A bird’s eye view? Hardly. Fast-moving plays were impossible to see.
  • It was an upgrade from the first televised baseball game on May 17, 1939, a college game between Princeton and Columbia. That game, voiced by Bill Stern, used just one camera.
  • During the war that followed in Europe six days later and involved America two years later, there was little growth.
  • From 1950 to 1960, television exploded. During that ten year period, TV penetration ballooned from 9% to 90%.

 

More meat on the archival bones:

 

  • The first World Series was aired regionally in 1947 with Bob Stanton, Bill Slater and Bob Edge. It was carried in seven markets on a combination of networks.
  • By 1948, there were 2 million sets in America in a post-war country of 147 million.
  • In 1951, the World Series was available coast to coast for the first time. NBC had the rights exclusively for the first time. Mel Allen, Russ Hodges and Jim Britt were behind the microphones. (Interesting factoid, All three had law degrees.)
  • In 1955, the Dodgers-Yankees epic Series was the first Classic televised in color.
  • In those years, announcers were told by their producers to keep their commentary to a minimum. Vin Scully says he almost can’t bear watching the telecasts he did in 1953, ’55 and ’56 because the edict was to sound something like a public address announcer.

 

And so these are the roots of baseball on TV !

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
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I watched the Larsen game and, yes, it wasn’t the Vin we now know, that’s for sure.

By the way, a trivial note: the Dodgers are the only non-expansion team to have had a Frick winner in the booth from the first day the team went on the air: first Red, then Vin, now Jaime.

And Red requested that cigarette box as his payment, as you know. He didn’t like doing extra work for no reward, and I don’t blame him!

Dan
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40 years ago, I interviewed Red about that first MLB telecast.
https://www.sportscasterdan.com/2019/02/interviewing-red-barber-and-where-will.html