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February 26, 2013

Wezen-Ball

The Astrodome's Futuristic Scoreboard

by Larry Granillo

When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it was quickly dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World." The fully-enclosed stadium was the first of it's kind: a domed, air-conditioned marvel that could handle baseball, football, and any other large event in all kinds of weather. With its bubble exterior and proximity to the fledgling space program, there was no better evidence of America's quick march towards The Jetsons than the new Houston stadium.

Among it's many futuristic innovations was the $2 million scoreboard, "the world's largest, most versatile animated scoreboard." Any gushing preview of the new ballpark was incomplete without a description of the device. A 1972 Houston Sports Association publication touting the wonders of the Astrodome and its surrounding area calls the scoreboard "an electronic marvel, costing $2 million, and longer than a football field, [giving] patrons of the Astrodome more information, faster, than any visual display ever before seen on any athletic field."

So what was this space age visual display that could give "more information, faster" actually used for?

Mind blowing. (Okay, that one might be a little too simple. Let's see what else there was.)

This "showers" animation appears to be one of the stadium's signature displays, with it appearing in multiple press pieces for the Astrodome. Sped up like that, the animation doesn't seem all that bad. Almost fun, to be honest. At full speed, though, it takes 45 seconds. That's almost the length of two Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches. Or one Bobby Abreu tater trot. Talk about tedious.

It almost seems like this animation was drawn specifically to tick off an opposing manager (see below). It's even better when paired with the original audio, which you can find here (along with the rest of these animations). 

And here's the famous home run animation, the Astrodome's truly signature show. It's so iconic that it has been carried over to Minute Maid Park. The original experience, on the 447-foot wide scoreboard, was something special.

It didn't quite measure up to the club's initial idea, however. From a February 1965 article:

As the home run hitter circles the bases, here's what is suppose to happen:

Two cowboys come out dancing and shooting up the scoreboard as the slugger nears first base. On the way to third the runner, if he turns toward center field, will see a bull with his nostrils spurting defiance at the opposing pitcher. And, as the runner nears home the cowboys probably will shoot out all the scoreboard lights.

This scoreboard satire of the once-sacred home run will require only 40 seconds.

Forty seconds?! Not even the Miami home run sculpture takes that long. I do wish the Astros had figured out some way to have the animated cowboys shoot out the stadium's lights after each home run, however. Imagine the entire dome going dark after every home run. That would have been the greatest thing ever.

The scoreboard operators even managed to entertain without their  fancy-schmancy graphics. And not everybody was happy about it. Cubs manager Leo Durocher was especially upset by the shenanigans.

The Cubs' fiery manager, Leo Durocher, has roundly criticized the ball park this year as being a "million-dollar stadium with a 10 cent infield." … He also has called the electronic scoreboard which performs various antics during the game a "bush score board."

Since Sunday was the final appearance for Durocher in the stadium this year, the scoreboard was used to poke a little fun at Leo.

When Durocher came onto the field to relieve starting pitcher Bill Hands Sunday, the scoreboard flashed the message: "This blankety-blank 10 cent infield."

In the fourth inning, Durocher kept stalking the dugout and pointing to left field, pointing to where a small puddle of water had formed thanks to a small leak in the roof. It was raining hard outside.

Finally a message flashed on the board, which said: "OK, Leo, we admit there's a leak in the roof, but in any other park, today's game would have been called off."

Other adventures with the scoreboard involved upsetting umpires who charged that the Astros "were using the scoreboard to intimidate umpires" after the message "Kibler did it again" was shown. It was in reference to umpire John Kibler, who had just ejected a Houston player for the second game in a row. When an aging Willie Mays hit his 550th career home run, "This is the captain speaking, we are passing through an area of violent turbulence, fasten your seat belts" appeared on the board. In a 1967 game, when Giants pitcher Ray Sadecki threw to first nine straight times, the operators wrote "this is ridiculous" on the board.

In a funny twist, Leo Durocher spent his last two years in baseball managing the Astros. In 1973, following a controversial call by umpire Bruce Froemming in a series with the Braves, Durocher insisted that the following message be shown:

"Manager Leo Durocher has announced that the game is being played under protest … umpires Froemming and (Augie) Donatelli have blown decisions two of the last three days."

It was the umpire's turn to call the move "bush", with the crew chief claiming that it was inciting fans to riot. Durocher, I'm sure, enjoyed the moment as much as he could.

In 1988, it was announced that the $2 million scoreboard, a sign of a Jetsons-style future only 23 years before, was being removed due to upcoming renovations.

Related Content:  Visual

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<< Previous Article
Prospects Will Break Y... (02/25)
<< Previous Column
Wezen-Ball: Century Ci... (02/19)
Next Column >>
Wezen-Ball: Batting Th... (02/28)
Next Article >>
Western Front: Even Wr... (02/26)

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