Monday, April 2, 2018

"Now We Got More Kinds of Bums", 1948

In a few short hours, at 2:10 PM Central Daylight Time, the Milwaukee Brewers will take the field at Miller Park for their 2018 Home Opener of 2018. This is a special day for every fan of the True Blue Brew Crew, myself included, and even though I can't be in the stands this afternoon I still intend to watch.

To put this in context, let's take a look at Opening Day in Milwaukee, seventy years ago. Or rather, one particular aspect of that Opening Day. We'll review the game itself on the actual anniversary in a couple weeks, the coverage was too good not to, but there's something specific I'd like to talk about today. The 1948 home opener was a special one, because for the first time it was televised.

Check out this advertisement for Philco televisions, published on Monday, April 26, 1948, the day before the Brews' home opener:

That central image is something, the "sensational Philco 1001" showing a baseball game on its "full-size television receiver, 24 tubes plus 3 rectifiers, with a big 10-inch picture."

For that 10-inch picture, you'd pay $349.50 (plus $1.75 federal tax, installation extra). That's a staggering $3,656.40 in today's dollars, adjusting for inflation. Not counting the $18.31 tax, installation still extra.

The lowest-price television listed in that ad comes out to $2,087.13 in 2018 greenbacks, the most expensive $4,702.58. There's one additional model, a "B-I-G 20 x 15-INCH" projection television "almost as big as a large-size newspaper page!". The price isn't listed in this ad, but it retailed for $795 ($8,317.14). Guess I'd have to settle for the "big 10-inch picture" of the Philco 1001.

And do you see that across the bottom?
If you can't get to the Brewers' opening game tomorrow, see it on PHILCO TELEVISION at your nearest Philco dealer*
*Consult your classified telephone directory for location

And "see it" they did, not only at their nearest Philco dealer but also at bars, restaurants, department stores, and other gathering places.

This was a novelty that the Milwaukee Journal covered right along with its coverage of the game the next day:

Cleon Walfoort, writing in the Journal, brought the subject to colorful life:
Television May Have Changed Baseball but Fans Are the Same

It stood in the paper, as Otto pointed out in the streetcar on the way to work, that 13,705 baseball fans saw the Brewers play for the first time this season Tuesday afternoon, but that isn't right at all. It must have been three or maybe four times that number, maybe a lot more. No doubt 13,705 is the number who jammed Borchert field for the home opener but countless others say the Brewers, too—on television, and for the first time.

They gathered in large and little groups all over town. At Joe's place (where good fellows meet) and at the Dew Drop Inn (Tables for ladies). At the big downtown stores and appliance shops where they have bigger screens and less opinionated fans. In the dimly lighted cocktail lounges and in homes. In all these places the Brewers opened the baseball season as surely as they opened it at Borchert field.

As John, the bartender who used to play baseball in the minors, was saying: "It ain't exactly like being out at the park but it's a lot better than just radio."

You got to give it a chance to grow up," someone reminded him.
Walfoort highlighted some of the flaws with this new medium, kinks to be worked out, while recognizing its soaring potential.
Sometimes the play was too far away to follow accurately. Once something happened to the camera and the screen blanked out for half an inning. In some places reflections from the sun that streamed through open doors or interior lights distorted the images on the larger screens. Still, a lot—not all, admittedly, but a lot—of the excitement and thrills and suspense of the action on the diamond filtered into places remote from Borchert field through the medium of the recent scientific miracle.

The umpires were far removed from verbal blasts but that didn't mean that they were immune from criticism, any more than was Manager Cullop when he was slow taking the pitcher or when new shortstop Logan, when he made the low peg to first. Television may have changed baseball, but is has had little effect on the fan, except that he now has a double target to which he speedily adjusted himself. The announcer has become as legitimate a target as the umpire, and radio never was quite like that. Like the time the count was 3-2 on (Brewer pitcher Glenn) Elliot and the announcer struck him out on the next pitch.

"That bum!" said the man with the beer in disgust, meaning the umpire. But it had been a fourth ball, and when Elliot trotted to first the man amended it. "Still a bum, only now it's the announcer."

"Yeah," seconded the fellow in the coaching box near the juke box, "now we got more kinds of bums."
Walfoort paints quite a picture. So strange to see Johnny Logan, "Johnny Brewer" himself, described as the "new shortstop" to be booed by fans watching the game all over Milwaukee.
Nor does television cramp the style of the second guessers, although the spectators who drop in for a quick one, or just to see how the game's coming and how baseball televises, probably as not as astute students of the national pastime as are their brethren who inhabit Borchert field.

And the man at Joe's place wasn't so much different than the fan behind first base, even allowing for the fact that he may have had just one too many.

"Never could see that Cullop as a manager," the man said positively when Elliot was knocked out of the box. "Imagine starting a southpaw with all them right handed hitters like Toledo has. Should have used Roy."

But two innings and at least that many beers later the man had changed his mind. It was right after (third baseman Damon) Phillips had hit that jackpot homer and it looked as if the Brewers were in.

"Great hitter, that Phillips," said the man. "Spotted him the first time I ever saw him swing a bat. Them Brewers are first division for sure. Might even win the pennant. That Cullop gets a lot out of his pitchers."

Then maybe you ought to let Cullop run the team," his pal said, but this suggestion was dismissed as unworthy of any real consideration. Television hasn't changed the baseball fan.
It certainly hasn't.

Life is different in 2018. Thanks to the MLB At Bat app, I'm going to stream today's game while sitting in my office in Midtown Manhattan, watching on an iPad with a screen just barely smaller than that "big 10-inch picture" on the Philco 1001.

And while I do, I promise not to call the announcers "bums". At least not too loudly.

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