Early Televised Baseball in Houston.

Houston Buffalos 1953 Official Score Card
– Complements of Contributor Tom Murrah

 

What was televised baseball like back in the old days? Well, if you were around to see it in the late 1940s, you don’t need to hear from me. If you weren’t, I’ll try to give you my take on the experience, starting with what I think is a fairly literal and perfect analogy. Early black and white, fuzzy-pictured televised baseball and today’s multiply angled, high-definition colorcasts bear  the same relationship to each other as the first “PONG” game does to today’s X Box and Play Station offerings. It was a wholly different world of primitive communication back then.

KPRC-TV, Channel 2, was the godfather of Houston baseball telecasting from 1949, when the station was first known as KLEE-TV. The name changed to KPRC-TV in 1950 when the William P. Hobby family bought the station from original owner Albert Lee. It would fall to Channel to become pioneers in Houston sports telecasting. Twenty-two years earlier, on April 11, 1928 KPRC radio, with Bruce Layer at the mike, had become the first radio station in Houston to broadcast a live baseball game to the home audience. Now they were doing it again as Channel 2 with televised baseball. There was no protocol for how to show baseball live on television. There was only challenge and a sludge-glowing black and white picture being broadcast to screens that weren’t much bigger than today’s iPods and a whole lot harder to watch because of their poor picture quality.

As the photo in this story’s visual aide shows, the early telecasts used  a camera on the first base side to show the mostly right-handed batters from a facial side shot. We also got to see the numbers on the backs of left-handed batters. In Houston, at least, there was no corresponding angle camera on the third base side to cover lefties. A second camera, however,  was usually positioned behind home plate, and behind the screen, to show the ball coming in to the batter and, when hit, going out to the fielders. On those early ten inch diameter screens, the view also compared favorably to watching baseball as it might be played out on an ant farm. You saw this fuzzy little round object move in, move out, and then disappear into the far dominions of a poorly lighted minor league field.

You had to develop a capacity for reading the body language of the tiny fielders to know if the ball had been handled or not. Some people bought these magnifying glass accessories that gave you a larger, even furrier picture of what was going on in the far away regions of the outfield.

In spite of these descriptions, however, keep in mind that we didn’t know any better back then. Getting any kind of moving picture at home seemed miraculous to us at the time. We didn’t know HD from VD. We were just glad to receive moving picturea at home. How good could things get? Our expectations were low. We just cared that it moved. It took as a while to free ourselves from the amazement that standing in front of the screen did not block out the picture as it would at the movies. We also weren’t too bright back in the day.

In 1951, its third year in Houston, televised baseball brought about a tragic melodrama moment at Buff Stadium that fortunately has never repeated itself since then, here or anywhere else. I just happened to have been there that night with my dad as an auditory witness. We were sitting about twelve rows back from where the incident took place, but neither of us actually saw it happen, We certainly heard it, however, and we witnessed the startled reaction of players on the field.

Solo broadcaster Dick Gottlieb was working the game from a spot to the immediate right of the first base camera when a man came up to him deep into the game and announced that we was about to commit suicide. Before Gottlieb could even register to the reality of the man’s statement, the visitor pulled out a hand gun and shot himself in the head. As he slumped to floor of the stands, the KPRC-TV camera man reflexively turned the camera toward the man and caught the fall of his limping dead body going down.

Tulsa Oiler fielders hit the ground as though they were soldiers under sudden surprise attack. Players near both dugouts dove for safety on the benches with teammates. Buff fans murmured and stood, but no one panicked. Within forty-five minutes, the man’s body had been removed and the blood cleaned up. The game resumed and our surprised play-by-play man Dick Gottlieb hung in there to finish the story of the scheduled contest.

A number of my friends saw the whole thing happen on television. Dad and I never saw it because we were at the ballpark when it all unfolded.  There was no videotape in those days.

Technically, televised baseball has improved on quantum leap levels since 1949. Humanly, some issues remain the same in 2010 as they were in 1949. Some people still prefer getting attention to getting well, even if it kills them.

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2 Responses to “Early Televised Baseball in Houston.”

  1. Anna Shepeard Says:

    This was sent to me by my cousin Tommy Murrah. I am an old Houston Buff, Colt 45 and an Astro fan. I enjoyed your article very much. I do not remember the suicide. But remember many games in that good old Buff Stadium. Hot, sticky and slapping mosquitoes.
    Thanks so much.
    Anna

  2. Once Upon a Grainy, Line-Screen Time | The Pecan Park Eagle Says:

    […] https://bill37mccurdy.com/2010/03/10/early-televised-baseball-in-houston/ […]

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