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How Fans Followed Baseball Games Before TV or Radio

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As it is, I can hardly remember a time when my Giants fandom would have been relegated to reading box scores here on the East Coast. Between television, the internet, and my iPhone, these days it's an anomaly if I miss any one of Tim Lincecum's starts. In the pre-MLB.tv era, I could have caught the Giants on TV whenever they played a hometown team. Go back a little further and I hear the radio was pretty popular. But what about before that?

The first baseball game to be broadcast on the radio was an 8-5 Pittsburgh Pirates victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on August 5, 1921, and even then it took a while to catch on around the league. But that doesn't mean baseball fans before the '20s were satisfied with waiting for the next day's newspaper to find out how their favorite team did if they couldn't procure tickets to the game. And fortunately, they didn't have to.

THE EARLY SPORTS BAR

The invention of the telegram in 1844 allowed baseball scores to be known beyond the confines of the stadium in near-real time. Several sources credit Massey's billiard hall in St. Louis with being the first to take advantage of this technology outside the newsroom. By special arrangement, Western Union Telegraph Co. sent the proto-sports bar scores every half inning, which were then displayed on a bulletin board for the enjoyment and edification of the patrons. Other saloons followed suit, while newspapers—which were already receiving telegraph information for the purpose of reporting on the games—started posting the scores outside their offices. Some club owners attempted to fight back against the dissemination of scores beyond the ballpark, which they feared would erode ticket sales. But that wasn't the case—instead, interest in the game boomed.

But there's more to baseball than the score at the end of every half inning. And as the abundant market for such information was made apparent, entrepreneurs went to work. In the mid-1880s, three telegraph reporters from Nashville, Tennessee devised a way of adding a visual element to the scores: They created a poster that was painted to look like a baseball diamond and equipped with a series of pegs representing players that could be positioned on the different bases. A similar board in Augusta, Georgia was added to the Opera House, where fans paid 10 cents to follow along with their favorite team. The practice quickly spread throughout the country, with each innovator adding their own improvements to the viewing devices.

On December 14, 1888, Edward Van Zile, a reporter at Joseph Pulitzer's The World in New York, was the first person to apply for a patent for his version, called the “Bulletin-Board and Base-Ball Indicator," which was displayed outside the paper's offices in downtown Manhattan. Van Zile doubted the economic viability of such a patent and sold the rights to Pulitzer's secretary, Edwin A. Grozier, who went on to obtain his own patent for an improved version. With royalties from the two patents, Grozier was eventually able to purchase a controlling portion of the Boston Post.

Not all the versions of remote baseball watching took off. "A novel feature of the report was the actual running of the bases by uniformed boys, who obeyed the telegraph instrument in their moves around the diamond. Great interest prevailed and all enjoyed the report," read the Atlanta Constitution on April 17, 1886. (And as if that wasn't enough to entice you, the paper also noted that "A great many ladies were present.") Although this live-action reenactment attempted at the opera house in Atlanta may have been the closest approximation of a real baseball game, it does not seem to have ever spread beyond Georgia.

But even without real athletes (or impersonators), spectators treated these events like live games, cheering along with their hometeam's success as it was recounted by an announcer.

THE ELECTRICITY EFFECT

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As the 20th century approached, electricity was changing almost every aspect of life in America, and baseball was no exception. Both Boston Major League teams test-ran a prototype of an electronic scoreboard in 1908, but it wasn't until Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 that a ballpark was built to include an electronic scoreboard. But outside the stadiums, away from owners' fears that scoreboards would negate the sales of scorecards, electric bulletins enjoyed an earlier evolution.

An article in the January 24, 1891 issue of Scientific American described an “Electrical Base Ball Bulletin” invented by Samuel D. Mott, an employee of Thomas Edison. The article stresses that the "ideal bulletin or indicator system must be reduced to the simplest electrical and mechanical organization," but it was still capable of indicating the intricacies and details of a game:

The contestants, time, place and date of the game, umpire, battery, position of men on the field, the inning being played, the side which has the inning, the number of outs in the inning, the man at bat, the number of strikes called on him, also number of balls called. It shows how the last man went out, whether by fly, foul, assist, strike, or sacrifice hit, the base run, home run, base on balls, stolen base, or base on error; the table score or the score by innings. A bell taps when any of these changes take place upon the instrument.

Other engineers followed suit with increasingly elaborate electronic displays. For example, Charles Nichols' invention, which the Hall-of-Fame pitcher submitted a patent for just a year after retiring, featured a string of lights to mark the movement of a batter around the basepaths. Others used lights to not only track the path of the runner but also that of the ball.

BASEBALL IN 3-D

The stage versions for which patrons paid an entrance fee soon evolved into three dimensions, with mechanical men mimicking the motions of their flesh-and-blood counterparts. An August 7, 1895 issue of The Electrical Engineer marveled at one such device invented by Frank Chapman.

All the players have their proper positions on the big field, and are represented by dummy marionettes, true to the life and about three feet high. Besides the fielding team, and the man at bat or those on bases, three men of the in team are seen on the bench awaiting their turn; two coaches gesticulate wildly on right and left field, and back of the pitcher's box is an umpire who calls the game and waves his arms quite a la mode. Moreover, the batter at the home plate is provided with a bat which he flings down with a genuinely "sickening thud" when he starts for first base.

Movements became ever more detailed in later versions. Thomas H. Jackson received a patent on February 18, 1913 for the Jackson Manikin Baseball Indicator, which required 10 men to operate and went so far as to depict these miniature athletes arguing with umpires.

THRONGS AT THE BULLETINS

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These elaborate models did not fully replace the illuminated scoreboards that could be seen for free from the streets. And as the World Series garnered greater national attention, the bulletins with names like “Play-O-Graph,” “Star Ball Player,” and “Nokes Electrascore” attracted increasingly large crowds. During the 1911 Series between Philadelphia and New York, the New York Times reported on both the games and the "THRONGS AT THE BULLETINS," as one headline read. The story named Time Square, Herald Square, and Park Row as some of the more prominent places to watch the drama on the field.

By the following year, the crowds were getting out of hand. "Times Square was packed with a crowd that was baseball mad yesterday afternoon when the signal went up on The Times electric scoreboard... By the beginning of the ninth inning the crowd reached almost to Forty-fifth Street, and the police had their hands full keeping the car tracks open," an October 11, 1912 Times article read. It didn't help matters when Boston's ninth inning rally fell short, allowing New York to eke out a one-run win. But that sort of enthusiasm lent an authentic feel to these fanatic gatherings: “Some of the more enthusiastic fans called out advice to [Giants starting pitcher Rube] Marquard, just as they often had at the Polo Grounds. In fact, there could have been no more interest shown in the game had the scene been the ball grounds at Boston than in Times Square."

That wasn't the only article of the time to conclude that these electronic bulletins were just about as good as the real thing, if not better. But as technology surged ahead, the electronic bulletins' days were numbered. The unenthusiastic broadcasts of early baseball radio, which were filled with silence, allowed the bulletins to coexist for some time. But as radio broadcasts improved and even newer media developed, the old way of watching games was phased out. Ultimately, the television broadcast of baseball starting at the end of the 1930s rendered the Play-O-Graph and all the rest like it completely obsolete.

Additional source: Electric Scoreboards, Bulletin Boards, and Mimic Diamonds by Rob Edelman in Volume 3, Number 2 of John Thorn's "Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game"

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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