Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk desperately waving at his home run to stay in play. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson pumping his arms as he hobbles around second base after muscling a home run off Dennis Eckersley, the Oakland A’s dominant closer. The ground ball hit by New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson skipping through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
Some of the most dramatic images in World Series history are ingrained in the minds of baseball fans thanks to television coverage. This year’s World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros will surely bring another timeless highlight to the 12 million or so viewers expected to watch.
Yet the first 43 World Series weren’t televised at all. It wasn’t until the 1947 series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers – 75 years ago – that fans could watch their favorite players duke it out on screen.
As I detail in my book “Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television,” which I co-authored with Robert Bellamy, the telecasts became a sensation. They drew millions of Americans to a new medium at a time when there were no national networks, only a handful of stations and somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 TVs in the entire country.
Negotiations go down to the wire
In August 1947, the television industry anticipated a possible all-New York World Series: The Yankees had a huge lead in the American League, while the Dodgers also held a substantial one in the National League.
If the two teams met in October, New York’s three television stations – run by NBC ABC, and the now-extinct DuMont – decided they wanted to cover the games.
But the rights to televise the games were held by the Mutual Broadcasting System, a radio network that had no television division. Thus, Mutual would need to farm out the coverage to one or more New York stations.
Although no national television network existed at the time, NBC, DuMont and CBS did have the means to link stations on the Eastern Seaboard through a combination of coaxial cable, microwave and over-the-air broadcast transmissions, expanding the potential audience for the World Series. The Series would air on eight stations in four markets: New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and Schenectady, New York.
While the Yankees-Dodgers series materialized, the televising of the Series almost didn’t.