May 17, 1939 – The Beginning of Televised Sports
Once upon a time, television did not exist.
It’s hard to fathom that fact when today we have instantaneous visual access to any sporting event around the world. But back in the 1930s, radio was all the rage. Very few Americans had a personal television set as it was a relatively new and inconsistent technology. In fact, even by 1946 just 8,000 US households had a television (the US population at the time was 141.1 million).
As a result, few people could predict the significance of a revolutionary new experiment that NBC conducted on May 17, 1939.
That day, the Columbia Lions and Princeton Tigers met on Baker Field for a good old fashioned baseball doubleheader. The second game would become the first ever televised sporting event in the United States.
— Old-Time Baseball Photos (@OTBaseballPhoto) August 21, 2015
NBC, through its experimental W2XBS station, set up a camera on a wooden ledge behind third base that would capture the game and relay the signal to a transmitter on top of the Empire State Building, which would then broadcast the event to anyone within a fifty-mile service area. It ended up reaching about 400 television sets.
There was almost no fanfare dedicated to this event. Most newspapers donated merely a line or two to what would become a significant moment in sports broadcasting. One scathing review from The New York Times on May 21 read, “The televiewer lacks freedom; seeing baseball by television is too confining, for the novelty would not hold up for more than an hour if it were not for the commentator.”
As for the game? Well, if you were watching at home, you probably couldn’t make out much. It was reported that players looked like “little white flies” running around the field.
It was extremely close match all throughout. Columbia and their star shortstop Sid Luckman (of Chicago Bears fame) struggled to put runs on the board. Luckman went 1 for 8 on the day with some key defensive miscues, too.
The score was tied 1-1 as they entered extra innings. In the 10th, Princeton’s pitcher Dan Carmichael led off with a single. His teammates then played some great small ball as they managed to bring home Carmichael (who scored the winning second run) without a single ball leaving the infield.
NBC was satisfied with this experiment. By the end of 1939, they would broadcast the first ever MLB and NFL games on television.
May 18, 2004 – Randy Johnson’s Perfect Game
By the time Randy Johnson turned 40, he already had a stacked trophy case: 3,800 strikeouts, one no-hitter, one 20K Game, one World Series title + MVP, and five Cy Youngs. There was just one thing left for this inner circle Hall of Famer to accomplish …
A perfect game.
It’s a hard feat to accomplish, even for the most overpowering pitchers in the game. Perfect games occur without rhyme or reason. Aces like Pedro Martínez or Clayton Kershaw never did it, while journeymen like Dallas Braden or Philip Humber did.
Enter May 18, 2004.
Arizona desperately needed a boost. They had lost nine out of their previous 11 games, plummeting to last place in the NL West with a 14-23 record. Johnson was exactly the pitcher they needed: Someone who could single-handedly carry the team to success.
In the first inning, the perfect game was almost over before it even began. The leadoff hitter, Jesse Garcia, tried laying down a bunt and sliding head-first into the bag, but he was nipped out on a very close play.
The next two batters were much less stressful. Johnson retired Julio Franco and Chipper on strikeouts to end the inning.
In the second, the Diamondbacks gave Johnson a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI double from Álex Cintrón. That was all Johnson needed.
Every inning was the same story. Three Braves would come up, and three Braves would return to the dugout after looking helpless at the plate. Johnson’s fastball and slider had scarcely lost their power as he entered his 40s.
“This is one of those nights where a superior athlete was on top of his game,” his manager Bob Brenly said. “There was a tremendous rhythm out there. His focus, his concentration, his stuff, everything was as good as it could be. Everything he’s done up to this point pales in comparison.”
As the game entered the ninth, the 23,381 fans at Turner Field stood on their feet and applauded Johnson as he inched his way closer and closer to perfection. Mark DeRosa feebly grounded a ball to the second baseman for out one. Nick Green watched a fastball blaze past him for out two. And with a 2-2 count against Eddie Pérez, Johnson finally ended Atlanta’s misery.
9 IP, 13 Ks. No hits and no walks. A clean game score of 100 on 117 pitches. The 17th perfect game in major league history.
Just like that, the 40-year-old Johnson became the oldest pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. The previous record holder? A 37-year-old Cy Young who did it on May 5, 1904 … just over 100 years before Johnson.
If you want to watch every out from this masterpiece, here you go:
May 19, 1994 – Jay Buhner Buzz Cut Night
Baseball has seen its fair share of unique promotions, from Disco Demolition to Ten Cent Beer Night. But not everything ends in a hair-raising riot. Sometimes, fans just want to get rid off their hair!
The 1994 Mariners had some exciting stars. The 30-year-old Randy Johnson, who a decade later would throw that perfect game, had just finished as the Cy Young runner-up. Ken Griffey Jr. had become one of the sport’s biggest stars. Between a mix of veterans (Goose Gossage), up-and-comers (Álex Rodríguez), and established All-Stars (Edgar Martínez), Seattle had a bright future.
Out of this loaded roster, fans really loved one player in particular: Jay Buhner. In fact, people loved Buhner so much that one Mariners fan appeared ecstatic after Buhner damaged the driver-side mirror of his car.
His distinct combination of homers, strike outs, and a sharp goatee endeared Buhner with everyone. Perhaps many fans admired Buhner because the shiny, hairless dome on top of his head — which gave Buhner the nickname “Bone,” short for “Bonehead” — reminded fans of the shiny, hairless dome that was the legendary Kingdome.
In fact, so many people wanted to emulate Buhner’s appearance that on May 19, 1994, one of Seattle’s most legendary promotions began: Jay Buhner Buzz Cut Night.
It was a simple idea: If you were bald, you get in for free. Had hair? No problem! Dozens of stylists, including Buhner himself, were ready to shave everything off. Around 500 fans (including a couple women) showed up to get their free buzz and ticket to the right field bleachers. What was Buhner’s response to such a turn out?
“This is the grunge capital of the world,” Buhner said. “Maybe they were just looking for an excuse to get a free buzz cut.”
Although Buhner went 0-for-3 with 2 BBs that day, Seattle did beat the Rangers 5-4 after a bases-loaded walk to Mike Blowers in the bottom of the ninth brought Bone home to score the winning run.
The number of fans partaking in the annual Buzz Cut Night grew each year, at one point reaching 5,000.
May 23, 2002 – Shawn Green’s 19 Bases, 1 Game
Just what does it take to achieve such a feat? 19 total bases. Four home runs and then some change. Nobody else has ever had done that before in one game. Josh Hamilton and Joe Adcock came close, but they fell 90 feet short.
In 2001, Green was an MVP candidate with the Dodgers: 49 HR, 125 RBI, and 20 SB while hitting .297/.372/.598 over 701 PAs. Green entered the next season hoping to continue his stretch as one of the most potent bats in the NL.
2002 started off much slower. Through May 22, Green hit just .238/.344/.396 with 5 HR, 24 RBI and 1 SB over 192 PAs … good for a mere 65 total bases. In fact, the whole Dodgers lineup was struggling, even though they had limped to a 26-20 record.
In the first inning, Green kicked off the scoring by pulling a 1-2 hanging breaking ball down the line for a RBI double. That would be his worst at-bat of the day.
Every time Green came up, he just mashed the ball. In the second, Green pulled a three-run HR to RF. What about in the fourth? Another HR to right-center. And in the fifth? An oppo taco to deep LF. Okay, you already know the story by now … what did he do in the eighth?
Just a line drive single to center! Hitting homers in every at-bat can be pretty tiring.
But not for Green. In the ninth, he returned for one last curtain call: a fourth and final HR to right-center to cap off the Dodgers’ 16-3 trouncing of the Brewers.
Green’s final line for the day: 6-for-6 with 6 R, 4 HR, 7 RBI and 19 total bases.
On one random May day, Green increased his total bases for the 2002 season by 29%. After the game, Green returned to MVP form for the rest of the year — .304/.402/.622 with 37 HR, 90 RBI and 7 SB over his next 493 PAs.
Just how hard is it to beat this historic performance? A player would need five homers or to hit for the cycle twice … Reaching 20 total bases in one game has, to this point in major league history, been literally an impossible task.
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