Vin Scully has hung up his microphone after 67 years as the Dodgers’ play-by-play man – nearly half the entire history of Major League Baseball.
Still, there was plenty that came before him in the evolution of fans’ efforts to follow the action in real time when not sitting in the ballpark.
Here, in recognition of the first Scully-less season since 1949 – and the return this weekend of the Yankees and Mets to TV and radio for spring games from Florida – is a brief stroll through the timeline that led to live streaming on mobile phones, something that would have seemed like science fiction in 1876 . . . or 1976.
Commercial telegraphy is even older than the National League, and a good thing it was for early fans interested in what was going on in games they did not attend. By the late 1870s, businesses realized customers might enjoy updates on games being played around the country, and contracted with Western Union to obtain results every half inning. One early adopter was Massey's billiard hall in St. Louis, where fans presumably could play pool, drink adult beverages and follow games at the same time. (Shout-out to Peter Morris' 2006 book, "A Game of Inches.") Newspapers, which already were receiving updates via telegraph, caught onto the trend and started posting scores outside their offices.
Raw data was better than nothing, but even better was something with visual aids. Creative minds in places such as Nashville and Atlanta soon were conjuring boards illustrated with baseball diamonds and pegs that moved from base to base to represent players. The gimmick spread to New York in the late 1880s, including outside the offices of Joseph Pulitzer's "The World." In 1886, the opera house in Atlanta tried something wackier: actual, uniformed people moving around a faux diamond on the stage, based on results coming in via telegraph. (Shown: M.D. Compton's Baseball Illustrating Apparatus, U.S. patent 540, 089 issued May 28, 1895.)
By the 1890s, electricity began to add more information - and more pizzazz - to the updates fans had come to rely on, in the form of machines that recounted many aspects of game action, including lights that followed the path of players and/or the ball. Such displays got increasingly elaborate, including mechanized, miniature "players" who mimicked the actions of the actual athletes in the distant stadium. (Shown: Nokes ElectraScore from Popular Electricity Magazine, v.5, October 1912: 584.)
BULLETIN BOARD GATHERINGS
The electronic bulletin boards outside newspaper offices not only kept fans informed into the early 20th century, but served as a communal experience that replicated the in-stadium vibe. World Series in the early 1910s attracted huge, raucous crowds in Manhattan and other major cities. Before, during and after Game 3 of the 1912 World Series between the Giants and Red Sox - played in Fenway Park - throngs clogged the streets in and around Times Square, often shouting complaints and/or encouragement at players who were more than 200 miles away. "There could have been no more interest shown in the game," The New York Times wrote, "had the scene been the ball grounds at Boston instead of Times Square."
Commercial radio was in its infancy when baseball first came to the new medium, on Aug. 5, 1921, when the Pirates defeated the Phillies, 8-5, in a game played at Forbes Field. Initially some radio announcers merely read scores via telegraph updates from another location, but soon they were sitting in the stadiums themselves and enhancing the drama rather than dryly reciting results. By the 1923 World Series between the Yankees and Giants, radio use was widespread, and Graham McNamee became the first true baseball broadcasting star. Radio has endured as a staple of baseball fandom, sometimes even for those in the ballpark. Dodgers fans used to bring transistor radios to listen to Scully at the massive Coliseum in the Dodgers' early L.A. years. The three New York teams were radio holdouts -- they did not allow games to be broadcast live until 1939.
Commercial TV still was largely experimental on Aug. 26, 1939, when Red Barber called the first televised major league game from Ebbets Field, in which the Reds and Dodgers split a doubleheader on station W2XBS (later WNBC.) There were only two cameras in use and not many people watching, but it marked the first time anyone outside a ballpark had observed major league players in action live. World War II slowed the spread of television drastically, but it grew rapidly in the post-war years, and the first World Series aired in 1947. More and more games began to be televised - locally and nationally - through the 1950s and 1960s, exposing the game at its highest level to a far vaster audience than ever before.
Cable television transformed baseball in the late 1970s and 1980s, starting with superstations that allowed fans all over the country to see teams such as the Braves, Cubs and Mets. ESPN furthered the expansion of nationally televised games, finally rendering the old notion of a national "Game of the Week" on Saturday afternoon as a quaint relic. Soon games on cable outlets far outnumbered those available on local broadcast channels. Later, the rise of regional sports networks - especially team-owned ones such as the Yankees' YES Network, which launched in 2002 - further consolidated the power and profitability of baseball's pay TV model.
WEB, PHONES AND LIVE STREAMS
The World Wide Web came along in the early 1990s, sparking the most recent evolution/revolution in live major league coverage, one that continues apace in 2017. Initially, the Internet primarily was a way to discuss the game with fellow fans and check up on news and results in real time, something that continues on 21st century social media. Then it became a vehicle, through Major League Baseball Advanced Media, to see video highlights. Now, increasingly, it is a way to watch live games streamed to PCs, laptops, tablets or smartphones. The Yankees were pioneers in the area, first offering live streaming (for a price) in 2010. SNY announced just this winter that it would begin streaming Mets games in 2017.
BUT WAIT, THERE WAS (AND IS) MORE
Oh, one more thing: Newspapers have covered baseball pretty much from the time the game was invented, well before the major leagues came along, and with more depth than any medium mentioned above. And we still do today. Just sayin'.