After writing two blog postings about television ratings and baseball, I decided to research the history of the symbiotic relationship between baseball and television. The information that follows was discovered from documents published by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
My first surprise was discovering when and where the first televised game was. The date was May 17, 1939 at Baker Field. Columbia defeated Princeton 2 to 1 in 10-innings and the game took 2 hours and 15 minutes. NY Times reported that, the use of one camera 50 feet from home plate was woefully lacking.
On August 26, 1939, NBC televised the first professional game between the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers in Brooklyn. “No monitor only two cameras at Ebbets Field,” said Dodgers announcer Red Barber, “I had to watch to see which one’s red light was on, then guess its direction.”
In 1946, Americans owned 56 million radios compared to 17 thousand televisions. Clearly television had a long road to gain acceptance as the media of choice.
What follows is a timeline for the events that triggered the growth of baseball and television. Later postings will isolate some of the events below.
1950- The first All-Star game was televised.
1951- WCBS out of New York televised the first baseball game in color.
1951- The first national network of a sports event was when CBS and NBC aired the best-of-three playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants after they tied for the National League pennant. Next, NBC broadcast TV’s first national World Series which was won by the Yankees beating the Giants in six games.
1953- ABC launched sports first network TV series Dizzy Dean’s Game of the Week on Saturdays.
1955- CBS took over “The Game of the Week” and added Sunday to its Saturday’s Game. It was reported that 80% of the TVs in use watched these games.
1955- The first World Series televised in color.
1959- Instant Replay was invented when Mel Allen (the voice of the Yankees) asked his director to replay the first hit given up by Ralph Terry in the ninth inning.
1960- The three networks ABC, NBC. And CBS broadcast about 120 games a year.
1966- NBC bought the exclusive rights making it baseball’s only network. Curt Gowdy was hired to be baseball’s sole voice.
1967- Ninth in 1966 the Red Sox won the pennant on the last day.
1969- The once awful New York Mets won the World Series.
1971- Roberto Clemente led the Pittsburgh Pirates to its Series win by hitting safely in all seven games. 61 million fans watched when NBC televised Game 4 which was the first Series night game.
1975- Classic World Series between Red Sox and Reds featured the Game 6-winning home run hit by Carlton Fisk off the left field foul pole. Because the camera followed Fisk as he willed the ball to be fair, instant replay immortalized this home run.
1976- Along came cable TV when Ted Turner, the Atlanta Braves owner, broadcast his team’s games to cable households throughout the nation.
1976- ABC joined NBC to share the post-season and All-Star game. ABC launched Monday Night Baseball starring Bob Uecker and Howard Cosell as the announcers.
1980- 22 MLB teams signed one-year cable contracts.
1989- Major League baseball signed a $400 million deal with ESPN to broadcast over 175 games.
1997- Fox signed a four year $172 million deal with Liberty Cable.
2008- Major League Baseball launched their own cable network MLB.com.
During the 2000s many teams including the Yankees and Red Sox developed their own cable networks televising their games regionally.
The MLB is doing just fine. The new emphasis on regional games through cable networks has increased the popularity of baseball even though national ratings have diminished.