by Kevin Burton
The greatest marriage of all time marks its 101st anniversary today. May death never part the two.
The two I speak of, baseball and radio. Baseball on the radio has been a comfort to millions of Americans all their lives. Baseball was the national pastime, radio a sort of national glue holding the country together in many ways.
Pioneering Pittsburgh radio station KDKA did the first baseball broadcast.
“The first baseball game ever broadcast on radio was a Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies game on Aug. 5, 1921,” according to a Wikipedia entry.
“The game was broadcast by KDKA in Pittsburgh and the Pirates defeated the Phillies 8-5. It was broadcast by KDKA staff announcer Harold Arlin.”
“One of life’s simple pleasures during the summer, especially for a sports fan, is the joy of listening to a baseball game on the radio,” writes Jeff Curts of Bleacher Report.
“Whether it’s at the lake, in the yard, on the deck, or in the car, a baseball broadcast is like sharing a sports bar conversation with a good friend, reminiscing about past times, current events, and debating which team or player is better.”
“Baseball is the perfect summer companion, the game has a rhythm that mirrors summer—the pace is gradual, sometimes slow, and often laid back,” Curts wrote. “Amidst a whirlwind society with numerous electronic gadgets and information overload, baseball is a smooth listen. One can tune in or out of the action and tend to life’s duties without feeling left out.”
“The local announcers become part of the family and are as much storytellers as broadcasters, sometimes bombastic and wildly entertaining as the late Harry Caray or as steady and comfortable as Dodgers treasure Vin Scully or the late Ernie Harwell.”
Sadly the baseball world lost Scully this week. He died Tuesday at his home in Hidden Hills, California at the age of 94.
Baseball never let me down in a childhood spent in the glow of the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati and then the excitement of the surging Kansas City Royals.
And radio? Radio was just about everything. Before and after the Reds games, radio brought me my tunes. James Francis Patrick O’Neil was “The Morning Mayor” on WLW in Cincinnati. Jim LaBarbara “The Music Professor,” had the evening shift.
There was talk radio too, in an era of civility. The radio was the truth in those days, a vital link to the rest of the world.
No wise guy, I wasn’t listening to that Pirates-Phillies game in 1921. But I’ve heard thousands of games in the century since then.
As a big Red Machine guy, I hated the Dodgers. Even though Cincinnati and LA are no longer division rivals because of realignment, I still hate the Dodgers, just for fun.
Scully was a Dodgers guy, but only a fool would deny his greatness. He’s generally acknowledged to be the greatest radio baseball announcer. That’s totally subjective, but I’ll give him the nod because he was so literate. He elevated the game without taking it away from its common roots.
Scully called Dodgers games for 67 years, starting when the team was in Brooklyn, until his 2016 retirement. I got to enjoy him on television, calling the Game Of The Week on NBC and some memorable post-season games.
I found out Wednesday that a lot of classic radio baseball broadcasts are on You Tube. I scrolled past dozens of games. Childhood memories just a click away.
To set the mood for writing this post I settled on a St. Louis Cardinals at Montreal Expos game from September of 1974. St. Louis was tied with eventual National League champion Pittsburgh in the NL East with three games left in the season.
It was high-stakes pennant-race baseball played in a ruinous, unforgiving wind with temperatures in the 40s and only “three or four thousand in attendance” according to play-by-play man Jack Buck.
Buck and Mike Shannon made a great team on Cardinals radio and I heard some of their work, when I wasn’t listening to the Reds.
What I found on You Tube was actually a rebroadcast by Armed Forces Radio. So between innings I heard updates on the other pennant race games, Pittsburgh vs. the Cubs, Detroit against Baltimore.
Somewhere along the line NFL football supplanted baseball as America’s favorite sport. Exhibition football started last night with the Hall Of Fame game, Jacksonville vs. the Raiders. It was a meaningless contest but the first NFL product of the season, therefore greatly anticipated.
But there is still nothing like baseball on the radio as a backdrop for good times, an antidote for bad times, a companion for all times.