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January 30, 2013

Wezen-Ball

The 1948 World Series, Game1: A Radio Diary

by Larry Granillo

Last week, Ben Lindbergh let us all in on the secret treasure trove of 50- and 60-year old radio broadcasts that Craig Robinson at Flip Flop Fly Ballin' recently uncovered. It's a pretty fantastic find, with games ranging from the 1948 World Series to a late summer game between the White Sox and Red Sox in the Impossible Dream season.

While Ben had a few things to say about Game 5 of the 1948 World Series, I recently listened to the full two-hour broadcast of Game 1 of the same series, a tight pitcher's duel between Bob Feller and Johnny Sain. Even for a game played when Jackie Robinson was the reigning Rookie of the Year, the game, at one-hour and forty-two minutes long, was a speedy affair. By contrast, Game 1 of the 2012 World Series between Justin Verlander and Barry Zito lasted three-hours and 26-minutes.

Listening to a radio broadcast that my grandfather might have listened to as a teenager, there are a number of other things about this World Series game that strike my 21st century sensibilities as strange or different. Here then is a (kind-of, sort-of) running diary of Game 1 of the 1948 World Series, as broadcast by Mel Allen and Jim Britt. Brought to you by Gillette.

00:29 - "Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp. Use Gillette Blue Blades, for the sharpest edges ever honed." Read live by Mel Allen. The first of more than two dozen references to Gillette and their Blue Blades we'll hear tonight.

01:24 - After some brief introductions to the game, it doesn't take long for Allen to get into the swing of the "casual cultural insensitivity" Ben mentioned last week. (And remember, this is Game 1, meaning we're less than 90 seconds into the entire World Series before these remarks hit the nation's ears.)

"It's been said many times in jest that the country should be given back to the indians. Well, today that quip has taken on an aura of reality, for America truly has been taken by the redskins. The Cleveland Indians and the Boston Braves. Many times have these warriors been to the well these many years but it's been quite a long time since thirst-quenching pennant draughts. … The warriors from the Lake Erie reservation, the Cleveland Indians had gone hunting, but wanting, for an American League flag since 1920 ... And today our wigwam is pitched on the bank of the Charles River in what has often been referred to as quaint or staid Boston..."

02:52 - The weather report is read. Forecasters had been warning of rain all week, but it looks like the clouds are scattered enough to squeeze in the game before anything might happen. I like Allen's description: "Not quite cool enough for football weather, but almost."

04:01 - Setting the scene, Allen describes the sightlines from his spot in the press box, beginning on the left-field foul line and working right. Braves Field sat in present-day Boston University, about a mile or so from Fenway Park (in fact, parts of Braves Field are still in existence in BU's Nickerson Field). According to Allen, fans at the stadium could see "Fair Harvard", the Charles River, Cambridge, and the skyline of downtown Boston.

04:40 - Allen refers to the starting pitchers as "Johnny Sain" and "Bobby Feller." It makes me think of a "Little Bobby Feller," which doesn't quite work for the 29-year old.

06:15 - The experts predict the Series will go anywhere from four-to-six games in either direction.

08:48 - The starting lineups are read. This is the first hint that this national radio broadcast will refer to nothing but batting average.

Batting fifth for the Braves is Marv Rickert, who was called up from Milwaukee very late in the year to replace the injured Jeff Heath. Rickert had to receive "full approval from the generous Cleveland Indians" in order to be on the squad. This story will be told every time Rickert's name is mentioned throughout the game.

11:15 - Allen cuts away to let the national anthem take over. In what many today would consider to be a blessing, the woman singing the anthem finishes in 59.13 seconds, including the final note on "home of the brave." In the 2012 Super Bowl, the over-under on Kelly Clarkson's performance of the national anthem was set at 94 seconds (she met it exactly). In 2013, the upcoming Alicia Keys national anthem has an over-under length of 130-135 seconds, depending on the bookmaker. Just another sign of how different things were in post-war America.

13:05 - Heading into the first inning, Allen hands off to Jim Britt (the Boston radio announcer for the Braves and Red Sox), who will call the first four-and-a-half innings.

13:40 - The home plate umpire begins dusting off home plate. He "is also erasing the parallel lines in the batter's box so that they will in no way interfere with the whiteness of the outside corners on which many a pitch may hang."

14:10 - The first pitch is thrown. Dale Mitchell takes a ball from Sain.

15:19 - Time is called on the field during Larry Doby's first at-bat. "And one of the ushers is being told by [first base umpire] Bill Summers to get off the playing field and get back into the confined area of the field boxes along the right field side."

17:33 - The top of the first inning ends with no one reaching base. A Gillette commercial begins, with Britt reading copy for 59 seconds straight. It's even more unpleasant than it sounds.

21:33 - This is something you definitely will not see in a World Series game anymore. Alvin Dark at the plate, before the second pitch of the at-bat: "Someone called the attention of [home plate umpire] George Farr to the fact that Dark's right foot was not in the batter's box but the umpire looked it over very carefully and indicated that it was. One of the Cleveland coaches."

31:05 - It's the middle of the second inning, which means it's time for another Gillette commercial. This one features Leo Durocher, who is introduced like this: "Anybody who grows as tough whiskers as Leo Durocher of the Giants does should know a thing or two about razor blades."

It's actually quite hard to find a picture of Durocher with a beard. I don't know if this is a good thing for Gillette or not.

32:46 - Britt describes Feller like so: "Feller is as always a deliberate workman. Baseball is his profession and he treats it like a business. He pays meticulous attention to detail."

Up to this point, Feller has been much more deliberate than Sain on the hill. The man known as "Rapid Robert" is actually a bit slow on the mound. His pitches are coming 25-30 seconds apart even when there is nothing to slow him down (a foul ball, runner on first, etc.). The time between the final pitch of one at-bat and the first pitch of the next approaches a full minute in some cases. Sain, however, is very quick. Most of his pitches seem to come 12-15 seconds apart, though there are many different circumstances that push it into the 20-second range (a foul ball, a conference with his second baseman, a timeout from the umpire, etc.). On a few pitches, Sain took only 10-11 seconds before throwing the next one. Sain can even keep the between-batter delay down to roughly 30 seconds.

The comparison between the two starting pitchers was stark enough on that chilly October day; comparing their between-pitch delays to today's pitchers is considerably sharper (though Feller might fit in much more than you would expect).

35:08 - Jim Britt is still calling the game, but that doesn't mean our casual cultural insensitivity is through. "As Mel Allen told you, this country has literally been given back to the indians, baseball-wise, because both the Indians and the Braves wear tribal insignia." Feller notches his second strikeout of the game on the next pitch, ending the inning and, thankfully, stopping Britt from taking his thought any further.

41:50 - Mike McCormick leads off the bottom of the third. His introduction by Britt is a prime example of how this game is called:

"Mike McCormick will be the leadoff batter for the Boston Braves going into the last half of the third inning. Mike was born in Angel's Camp, California, scene of the famous jumping frog derby and he lives in Ventura. His season batting average missed the .300 mark by just one point. He batted .299. He is the centerfielder, stands feet close together, and he crowds the plate a bit."

If you ever felt like you weren't learning enough about a player's home town or his batting stance, old time radio is definitely where you should be.

52:39 - Jim Britt cannot keep from praising Feller any chance he gets.

"Feller is an artist, a baseball pitching artist and the coordination with which he works is beautiful to watch. He's a magnificently conditioned athlete and he regards baseball as a highly successful profession."

54:25 - It is mentioned that Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau was "the originator of the Ted Williams shift." He is described as someone with the "knack for placing his infielders with an almost uncanny premonition for where the ball is hit."

56:35 - Earl Torgeson has reached base on a walk from Feller. We are told that he is a "very fast baserunner" who was thrown out only once all season. The official stats for Torgeson have the "CS" column blank in 1948, so that's one mystery we can solve.

1:04:25 - We have now reached the middle of the fifth inning, the halfway point for a standard nine-inning game. It has taken barely an hour to reach this point. Mel Allen comes in to call the rest of the game, as the umpires confer with Boudreau, Feller, and a few other Indians. Allen speculates that maybe the conference was about "the style of delivery that Bobby Feller is deploying."

1:14:30 - Another terrible Gillette commercial, this time featuring Joe DiMaggio. Making it even worse is that the commercial is scripted so that we're meant to think that Allen is having a conversation with Joltin' Joe. The only way it could be worse is if Frank Caliendo was doing a DiMaggio impression.

1:22:30 - It's the top of the seventh and the game is still tight as nails. The Indians have four hits and no runs while Boston has managed only a single knock. Eddie Robinson flies out, prompting Allen to quip "I don't know how long this can go on but as long as it goes on we'll be here."

1:28:01 - Two close plays in a row keep Cleveland in the game. The first is a smash down the first base line knocked down by Eddie Robinson, who underhands it to a charging Feller to beat the runner. The next batter punches a 2-1 pitch down the third base line. Feller charges in on that one too and fires it across the diamond to beat out the runner. The crowd loves it and the Indians really look like they're going to fight this game to the end.

1:30:15 - Allen describes the Braves Field scoreboard as "spectacular and gigantic … one of the finest you've ever seen anywhere, at any ballpark." The Braves Field scoreboard would have looked something like this that year.

Seven full innings have been played in an hour and twenty minutes. Allen describes it as a "very fast" game. It's safe to say that not all games in the 1940s moved at this blistering pace.

1:35:45 - Bottom of the eighth, Braves batting. After the first pitch to Bill Salkeld, the Cleveland bench gets riled up.

"Bill McKechnie and several of the Indians come to the front of the dugout and holler up at George Farr about the position assumed by Bill Salkeld in the batter's box. They claim his back foot is outside the restraining line, which, to put it simply, is against the law. But it's all straightened out."

That's the second time in the game that one team has asked the umpire to check if the batter was standing outside the batter's box. It's also the second time that the umpire hardly seemed to do much, allowing the game to continue as normal. It is still illegal for players to stand outside the batter's box today, but no one ever seems to care. You especially wouldn't see an appeal to the umpire over the rule late in a World Series game.

1:40:15 - Yet another situation that would never happen today. Pinch-runners on first and second with one out for the Braves. A walk to Salkeld was followed by a sacrifice bunt, moving him over to second. Feller was then asked to intentionally walk Eddie Stanky, bringing Johnny Sain up to the plate. He's a good hitter for a pitcher, but that doesn't mean much. Sain lines out on the first pitch.

1:43:52 - As one might expect, the game has slowed down considerably. In the nearly four minutes since Sain lined out, Feller has attempted one pickoff and thrown two pitches. He was slower than Sain all throughout the game, but nothing close to what he is showing in the bottom of the eighth with the game on the line. This is a very familiar situation to anyone watching baseball today, but, with the way our memories seem to skew the past, a full minute between pitches in the 1940s seems impossible. Feller proves that it was very much a reality.

Tommy Holmes laces a ball down the third base line and past Ken Keltner. Both runners score and Boston erupts as the Braves take a 2-0 lead. Allen makes sure to tell us that Phil Masi scored the go-ahead run "bareheaded." The inning ends on the next batter.

1:48:02 - The last commercial of the game. And by far the strangest.

"You know, bumper crops are always news, so I know you'll be glad to learn that more children were born last year than ever before. That means your local community chest agencies are busier than ever with pre-natal education..."

Bumper crops.

1:53:21 - With the crowd roaring so loud that Mel Allen's voice is nearly obscured, Sain fires in a strike to Wally Judnich to end the game. Allen spends the next 20 seconds completely silent, allowing the crowd to cheer wildly into the homes of radio listeners around the country. The game is called at one-hour and 42-minutes, with 40,135 fans in the stands.

1:55:05 - Along with the normal end-of-game stats, Britt reads off a total I've never heard before.

"Total receipts - a little more than $180,000, of which slightly more than $153,000 went into the players share. So with the players sharing in the receipts of the four games—two here and two in the Municipal Stadium in Cleveland—there may be an all time record cut as far as the winners and losers shares are concerned."

I get the feeling that number would be slightly larger today.

Britt finishes the broadcast by going over the game's highlights. Two hours after we began, Game 1 of the World Series is over. Much of the game's speed can be attributed to the strong pitching performances from Sain and Feller. No one was ever on base and batters rarely went deep into the count. It was such a speedy game that Mel Allen even made mention of it between innings. It wasn't just the great pitching, however, that kept the contest moving along. Sain was brutally quick between pitches all throughout the game and even Feller, who was much more modern in the length of time between each of his pitches, rarely waited an absurd amount of time. The time between innings was also quite short, typically taking less than 90 seconds. The longest inning break came in the middle of the eighth, when the two teams spent exactly two minutes switching sides. That would be the minimum length between innings in a game today. The shortest inning break (at one-minute ten-seconds) is barely enough time for Ryan Braun to knock the dirt off his shoes between pitches.

Beside all of that, it was quite a lot of fun to listen to a game from such a far off time. It's worth it just to hear what the great Bob Feller was like in his prime, but the other moments—the in-game commercials, the crowd taking over Mel Allen's microphone, the descriptions of the surrounding neighborhoods in these tiny ballparks—are worth experiencing too. If you have a chance, I highly recommend listening to any of the 14 games found in the Old Time Radio archives.

Related Content:  Cleveland Indians,  A's,  Radio,  The Artist,  The Who,  Game 1,  Time,  Running Game,  The Call-up

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