We're working on a new version of PRX. Want a sneak peek?

Transcript for the Piece Audio version of Radio Baseball That Never Was

Another season of televised baseball is here. But, you know, it’s not nearly as exciting as baseball was on the radio in the 1940s when I was a kid, back before TV.

We’d sit squirmingin my living room , pounding our baseball gloves, staring with great anticipation at the tall radio that stood in a corner. Suddenly there’d be the muffled sound of a crowd roaring, and we’d jump up as a homely, compelling voice shouted out to us.

“It’s going … going … it’s gone! Right through aunt maggie’s window! A home run! A homer!”

That was Jack Macdonald, the radio voice of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He was a highly inventive broadcaster who billed himself as “the Old Walnut Farmer.”

Macdonald was at his best when the Seals were playing outside San Francisco, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and the other Coast League cities of the time.

Like every other baseball announcer in those days, Macdonald stayed behind in a radio studio when his team was on the road, while at the ballpark a Western Union operator tapped out for him a pitch-by-pitch summary of the action in Morse Code. Then another operator in the studio typed up a running translation and tossed it in front of the announcer.

“S1C … strike one, called … became, through Macdonald’s voice, “a wide-breakin’ curve that sure didn’t look like it went over that old platter from here, folks … c’mon ump, give us a break!”

“S2” … strike two swinging … was “an air-shatterin’ ripple at the horsehide that coulda ramycackled that pill right outa here!”

The cryptic symbols passed to Macdonald, plus recorded crowd sounds swelling up behind him, were all that he needed to put us in the ballpark. That and his own sound effects. He’d strike a pencil on a baseball bat hanging beside him and – crack! -- someone had smacked out a hit.

Nothing stopped the announcers’ patter, not even frequent interruptions in Western Union transmissions. Rarely did they admit to “technical difficulties.” Instead, they conjured up all sorts of game-delaying happenings -- field-drenching rainstorms. complete with sound effects … players who got into long arguments with umpires … stray dogs that just wouldn’t get off that field!

Ronald Reagan -- he was Dutch Reagan the broadcaster in those days -- often bragged about having a batter foul off 40 straight pitches after the telegraph wire broke during one of the Chicago Cub games he used to re-create in the mid-1930s.

Some grownups called the announcers con men because they almost never let on that they were in a radio studio rather than the ballpark.

But so what? Thanks to the imaginative announcers, every game sounded like the most exciting game of the year. Certainly you can’t say that about many of today’s televised games.

This is Dick Meister.

Back