Radio Games: Baseball’s Theater of the Mind

“The Shot Heard Round the World”
October 3,1951

 

For those of us who spent some to all of our childhoods in the radio era prior to television, all kinds of scripted dramatic or comedic programing – and live sports broadcasts – were the heart of what was once and forever known as the “theater of the mind”. Easier said: Radio supplied the worded descriptive facts – and our imaginations supplied the pictures and wonderment-filled moving action of everything we saw, wished for, and feared as mystery.

As a kid, I loved listening to a horror/mystery series called “Inner Sanctum”, a show that began each week with a few words of welcome from the creepy voice of host “Raymond”, who always invited us to push open the creaking door of that night’s show and then followed the invitation with a sardonic laugh as the squealing door of this old “sanctum” could be heard opening itself to that night’s initial plot engagement.

No television show ever – and no movie (including “The Exorcist”) either – has since come close to producing a visual horror that was worse than the ones that blossomed in the minds of children and some adults as a result of radio shows like “Inner Sanctum”.

And I dare say, listening to baseball radio broadcasts of the Houston Buff games called by Loel Passe (1950-61) – or the Mutual Game of the Day – or even the Gordon McClendon first retro game reenactments were just as powerful. Our minds could track heroic victory and Gothic collapse into failure in ways that aren’t available now on TV, even in today’s High Definition, multi-camera angle, variable speed motion coverage of practically all games shown.

The mind is faster than the eye – and far more fertile – when it is working alone.

I’ve often wondered how hard the 1951 Bobby Thomson homer was on Dodger radio fans – and all blind followers of Brooklyn, for that matter. All I confidently believe is that to have been worse then it was for sighted fans, or fans who may have watched it live or on TV. Maybe that’s why we best remember that day and time, October 3,1951, 3:52 PM as the moment of “Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard Round the World.” Far more people heard of it soon after the fact. If they saw it at all in motion, it was that one-swing, rounding the bases, “Giants Win the Pennant” victory celebration that made its way to motion picture screens in the days and weeks that followed.

It seems to me that radio game broadcasters used to be a lot more descriptive of the players, the stadium, and the weather than they are today – and much less caught up in data reports beyond batting averages and home run counts, plus wins and losses of pitchers and their earned run averages. Today’s style is much less conducive to building in the theater of the mind. As a result, some people, people like me, are inclined to most often just leave a car radio game on Sirius Radio’s “Best of the 1940s” music channel until they (we) reach either our late seating at the ballpark or our personal study’s HD TV’s game coverage at home.

The times they are a changin’. – Sort of.

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

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3 Responses to “Radio Games: Baseball’s Theater of the Mind”

  1. David Munger Says:

    I remember listening to these games with my Dad, the first time we listened together he took me to school. I was around 10 years old and had no idea these broadcasts were recreations of games played earlier that day. He set me up by not saying anything for about 10 minutes then it started. He began calling evey pitch, hit, or great play. I knew my Dad was a Baseball iffetanado but The Great Kreskin, no. He finally let me in on his joke and from that day on we would share these games. It’s funny, I became a catcher by listening to my Dad the pitcher. As one might say, them were the days.

  2. Wayne A Chandler Says:

    That Thompson shot really did go around the world for me. I was in the Army in Korea, and heard it on a short wave radio news clip probably a day or so after the fact…Russ Hodges…..It was months later when I got back in the states before I got to see it on film with Eddie Stanky tackling Leo Durocher…Truly memorable radio.

  3. Rick B. Says:

    The website http://www.vendiamo.com sells complete radio broadcasts of games from the 1930s through 1970s – all of the broadcasts are from the John Miley Collection, which was also acquired by the Library of Congress on 2011.

    They’re a bit pricey, but there is a buy-3-get-1-free deal that makes the cost a bit more tolerable. Many of the broadcasts also contain pregame & post-game shows as well as commercials.

    I have an 85-mile round-trip commute every day, so I’m working on building a collection that I’ll listen to repeatedly on my long drive. Among the broadcasts I already have are Ken Johnson’s no-hitter for the Colt .45s & Don Wilson’s first no-hitter for the Astros. I love the enthusiasm in Gene Elston’s voice as he exclaims, “He breezed him!” when Wilson K’s a better – the old announcers were a lot better than most of today’s lot.

    The website gives a brief description of each game that’s available, lists the contents & who the announcers are, & had a link to the game’s box score on retrosheet.com so that you can see who played in the game.

    Considering my love for the game & the fact that retirement is still a way off for me, it’s conceivable that I’ll eventually own most (or even all) of the available broadcasts.

    Anyone who is interested in old baseball broadcasts should visit the website.

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