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Baseball Firsts: Origin Moments that Changed How We Watch the Game

Baseball Firsts: Origin Moments that Changed How We Watch the Game

We have reached the 100th anniversary of what’s called the “live ball era.” This period that started in 1920 ushered in significant rule changes that affected the game and resulted in a dramatic rise in offensive performances across the sport.

The 1920 season marked the first time baseballs were replaced at the first sign of wear, resulting in a ball that was much brighter and easier for a hitter to see. Additionally, pitchers were no longer allowed to deface, scuff, or apply foreign substances to the ball.

Baseball has evolved over the past century to incorporate radio, television, music, and popular trends to provide entertainment beyond the game. America’s Pastime now has traditions that most fans just accept as part of the game, including the ceremonial first pitch, the playing (and singing) of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and batters’ walkup music.

When did these all start? Let’s look back to find out.

When was an MLB game first broadcast on radio?

Baseball first hit the airwaves on Friday, August 5th, 1921, nearly 100 years ago! KDKA in Pittsburgh broadcasted a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the game called by Harold Arlin, who is considered the first full-time broadcaster. It was a hit, and the 1921 World Series was the first on the radio, with stations in New York and Pittsburgh airing the games between the New York Giants and New York Yankees.

When was the first MLB game televised?

After television was introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, it became the talk of the town. The idea to broadcast a baseball game followed shortly after, and cameras were set up at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. On August 26th of that year, W2XBS aired a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers. Red Barber called both games.

The Dodgers were also part of the first televised World Series. WNBC broadcast the 1947 series between the Dodgers and Yankees. The Yankees and Dodgers would also square off in the 1955 World Series, which was the first to be televised in color, NBC.

When was the first ceremonial first pitch?

The tradition of the “ceremonial first pitch” is mostly tied to former U.S. Presidents. While stories of dignitaries throwing out a first pitch date back to the late 1800s, the tradition of having a U.S. President do the honors started with William H. Taft, who attended Opening Day for the 1910 Washington Senators. Taft threw his pitch from his seat, a tradition that was performed by every President up until Ronald Reagan changed it up a bit.

Reagan was the first President to throw the first pitch from the mound. Reagan would go onto make several more appearances throughout his tenure, and would continue to throw from the mound.

When was the first MLB night game?

Stadiums were not lighted until the 1930s and not until lighting technology had progressed to the point to where it could be used for sporting events. Minor League and Negro League teams were actually the first to play night games, and Japan and Canada adapted this soon after.

The first MLB game under the lights took place on Friday, May 24th, 1935, between the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field in Cininnati. Other teams soon followed suit, and day games became less common. But, there was one team that didn’t give in to the pressure to play night games for over 50 years……the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs didn’t play their first night game until the summer of 1988, and they still play the majority of their home games during the day.

When was the wave first seen at an MLB game?

Love it or hate it, “the wave” has become a fixture at sporting events. Professional cheerleader “Krazy” George Henderson claims to have invented the wave and to have introduced it to MLB.

The first-known footage of the wave is from a Yankees vs. Athletics game at the 1981 ALCS. Henderson had attended hockey games prior, and had led crowds in the cheer, which originated by accident. He would often lead sections by having them rise simultaneously. On one occasion, the separate groups were reacting late, causing a delayed “wave” effect. Henderson experimented with leading the cheer in staggered succession, which became the trademark wave.

When did walk up music come from?

Walk up music has its origins in the tradition of organists at baseball games. Nancy Faust was hired as an organist by the Chicago White Sox in the 1970s, and began playing material outside of the usual baseball-themed tunes. She would pick particular themes for individual players, and play them as “intros” as a player walked up to the plate.

Fast forward to the 1990s.

In the Kingdome in Seattle, the public address operators started experimenting with playing music through their expansive sound system. Initially, they were playing pre-recorded organ music to imitate the sound heard at baseball games; but eventually they expanded their music to playing popular songs. The programmers would run the music selection like a DJ, and would pick songs to get the crowds pumped up or to tie into the players in some fashion. The players didn’t have any control over what songs got played for a few years; the “DJs” were in charge of the music.

It was that way until the mid-90s, when players like Lenny Dykstra and Trevor Hoffman were tracking down the DJs and requesting specific songs for their entrances. Dykstra wanted “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty for particular plate appearances, and Hoffman selected AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” for his trip to the mound.

When was “Take me out to the ballgame” first played at an MLB game?

The first instance of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” being played during an MLB game was on October 6th, 1934, during Game 4 of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Today, the song—sung during the 7th-inning stretch at every MLB game—creates the most iconic game tradition in professional sports.

Sources: wikipedia.org/wiki/Take_Me_Out_to_the_Ball_Game; mlb.com/cut4/the-complete-history-of-the-walk-up-song; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_game; birdswatcher.com/2016/02/15/baltimore-orioles-play-ball-mr-president; history.com/this-day-in-history/first-televised-major-league-baseball-game; wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_on_the_radio
Photo credit: ww.history.com/news