Sunday, July 6, 2014

60 Years of Orioles on TV (Part 1)

For their 60th anniversary, the Baltimore Orioles have opened up their archives and published scans of every media guide the team has put out since their move from St. Louis.  In this treasure trove of history, you will find such tidbits like Jim Hardin was a top-notch golfer in 1968 (with rounds in the 70s) or that 26.1% of all those who attended Orioles home games in 1954 were from out of town.  These time capsules of past seasons also give us an idea about how baseball approached television broadcasting. 

That’s what were are going to try to look at here today, how baseball broadcasting evolved for the Baltimore Orioles from their move out of the ‘Gateway to the West’ to ‘Charm City’.

When the Browns moved to Baltimore, they came into a market in which they shared their broadcast rights between three television networks: WMAR, WAAM (eventually called WJZ) and WBAL.  The media guide does not offer any information as to which games those stations would be showing, nor does it tell how many games would be broadcast in total.   The Orioles and then Senators carried a gentleman’s agreement that they would avoid, if possible, broadcasting games while the other was in a homestand.  Not only did Baltimore find itself boxed in by New York and Philadelphia but they had a league rival in an overlapping media market.

Filling the broadcast booth for the early O’s seasons were the trio of Ernie Harwell, Bailey Goss and Chuck Thompson.  These three men headed what was called the ‘National Brewing Company Broadcast Team’.

The 1955 season saw a hiatus of WBAL carrying games.  Returning as broadcast carriers, WMAR and WAAM (WJZ) were scheduled to air 57 games that season.  Of those 57, 26 were home and 31 were away.  As would be standard practice, more of the team’s away games would be broadcast on local television.  The idea, of course, was that if people could watch the game on television then they would stay home from the ballpark and reduce ticket sales.  As the sales of televisions become more prevalent, this practice would increase. 

1955 - 26 of 77 Home Games (34%) / 31 of 77 Away Games (40%) [37% of schedule]

National Brewing Company’s sponsorship of television broadcasts would end with the 1956 season.  This would be last season for a few years that had Chuck Thompson in the booth. The Gunther Brewing Company replaced Chuck Thompson with Herb Carneal for the 1957 season.

1956 - 26 of 77 Home Games (34%) / 33 of 77 Away Games (43%) [38% of schedule]

The 1957 season would bring about a series of changes.  Returning to the broadcast group, WBAL began carrying games again.  They, along with returning stations of WAAM and WMAR would show 21 home games this year (a decrease of 5) and 37 away games (and increase of 4).  Also, more than a cosmetic change, WAAM would be bought out and change their call sign to WJZ in September of 1957.  The Orioles, in conjunction with new sponsor Gunther Brewing Company, put out a 26 minute color film called ‘Play Ball With the Orioles’.

In large part, the Orioles began their existence embracing the marketing power of being on television.  A great source of information on how they structured (and later dismantled) their television presence can be found in the book “The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants and Profits in Baltimore” by James Edward Miller.  In it, Miller points out that Lee McPhail was chosen by the Orioles to run their baseball operations because he was a compromise between his brother, a television executive, and a man who had baseball knowledge.  McPhail would negotiate each television contract with the idea that they would dwindle the number of home games shown to protect home attendance.  In 1958, when he negotiated the contract with WJZ, they agreed to cut the number of home games to 21.

1957 – 21 of 77 Home Game (27%) / 37 of 77 Away Games (48%) [38% of schedule]

And then there were two as the broadcasting booth said “Goodbye” to Bailey Goss in 1958, leaving Harwell and Carneal to handle the duties.  With its’ new call sign in place, WJZ began their run as being synonymous with Orioles baseball.  The season saw a reduction in games carried to 53.  While keeping the same number of home games in 21, 1958 saw a reduction with 32 away contests.

1958 – 21 of 77 Home Games (27%) / 32 of 77 Away Games (42%) [34% of schedule]

Phillies Cigars purchased a third of each television broadcast from Gunther Brewing Company for the 1959 season.  This would be the final season for Ernie Harwell in the booth for the Orioles.  The following season (1960) he would join the Tigers organization and become the voice a generation grew up with.  WJZ would add an extra away game to his final workload, taking the total up to 33.

1959 – 21 of 77 Home Games (27%) / 33 of 77 Away Games (43%) [35% of schedule]

Like 1957, the 1960 season saw a whole host of changes.  The Hamm Brewing Company took over the sponsorship rights of all television broadcasts.  Now anchoring the team, Herb Carneal was the only holdover for WJZ.  Returning to a three man group, Joe Croghan and Bob Murphy began their short stints with the organization.  After reaching a high watermark in 1956 of 26 home broadcasts, WJZ torpedoed the total to 11.  Sticking within the norm, they showed 35 games when the team was on the road taking the total percentage of games to just over 30% (a new low).

Also of note, Chuck Thompson (whose career with the Orioles was not over) was in the booth for NBC Radio during Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.  It would be his first World Series with many more to come upon his return to Baltimore.

1960 – 11 of 77 Home Games (14%) / 35 of 77 Away Games (45%) [30% of schedule]

In the next installment, we will see how expansion (and the Senators not really leaving) effected Orioles baseball broadcasting.  The next decade would give the Orioles pennant winners, no-hitters and a homerun chase.

60 Years of Media Guides can be found here, on 

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