Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

TEN

Sports from a Sofa

Benjamin Rader. In Its Own Image: How Television Has Transformed Sports. New York: Free Press, 1984. ix + 228 pp. Bibliographical essay and index. $15.95.

On May 17, 1939, several hundred people gathered at the RCA building in New York City to witness the first baseball telecast. The game originated at Columbia University's Baker Field, but within the studio it appeared on a small black and white screen, which made the players look “like white flies” and obscured the course of the ball on all but infield plays. New York Times correspondent Orrin E. Dunlop reported, “Seeing baseball on television is too confining, for the novelty would not hold up for an hour, if it were not for the commentator, ” but nonetheless marveled at the very idea of “baseball from a sofa!” (pp. 17—18).

Given the primitive nature of this first sports telecast and the embryonic status of television itself, perhaps none of the observers envisioned the manner in which this new medium would transform the world of American sports. Over the next four and a half decades, however, as Benjamin Rader argues in his readable and provocative history of the marriage of these two American institutions, “Television has had a large impact on the ethos of sports; on the motives and behavior of the athletes, owners, and spectators; and on the organization and management of sports. In turn . . . the changes induced by television have altered the role that sports play in American life” (p. 3).

It is difficult for even the most ardent sports fan of the 1980s to conjure up the sporting universe at the dawn of the television era. In the professional realm, only baseball among the team sports, and boxing among the individual competitions, had broad followings. Football and basketball remained largely collegiate phenomena, the professional leagues forging a

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