Thursday, March 24, 2016

OTR Baseball Episode 2: The Day That Baseball Died from the Columbia Workshop

OK...getting back to my series of blog entries that showcase the way that baseball has been used as a programming theme on Old Time Radio.  Hoping to keep these coming more frequently over the course of the next few months.  Today's entry is going to take us to one of the most creative shows every to be broadcast over the airwaves - the Columbia Workshop.

66/365/431 (August 16, 2009) - Midwest Sliders vs. Southern Illinois Miners (Ypsilanti, Michigan)

Game between the Midwest Sliders and the Southern Illinois Miners (of Marion, Illinois) on Sunday August 16, 2009 - Frontier League Baseball in Ypsilanti, Michigan

The Columbia Workshop was a staple of the CBS Network from 1936 through 1942 and from 1946 through 1947. According the Rob Lackmann's Encylcopedia of American Radio, the Columbia Workshop was designed "to develop new writing talent for radio and to experiment with innovative techniques for presenting drama on the medium." One of the most creative voices from the Columbia Workshop was Norman Corwin, though he did not work on this episode.  There were a number of baseball-themed episodes in this series that I will showcase. I think I am going to start off with a fantasy that was aired on September 28, 1946 and titled "The Day That Baseball Died."

This episode was reportedly repeated on September 28th to coincide with the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox (which would be won by the Cardinals in 7 games).  In Variety on Septemeber 25, 1946 (page 37 - thanks to ProQuest Historical Newspapers), we see an article about this broadcast:

"CBS felt that proximity of World Series games made it a natural for repeat, along with fact that web received an enormous fan mail urging the reprise."
"Repeat will differ from original production only in omission of music; it's been decided that the musical score was superfluous."

It was common that shows would reuse scripts, especially if they generated fan letters as this one naturally did.  One of the reasons I wanted to showcase this episode today was the way that it started off. As the episode starts, you hear how umpires and fans call strike outs in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. Technically, they are all the same, with English and Spanish used accordingly. But with the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the big game on Tuesday March 21st between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team in Havana, it seemed like a cool way to connect that event with a broadcast from 1946.  Now this story really does not have anything to do with Cuba - but it is a nice connection to make on this historic week.

The story focuses on the riots and consternation that were caused when a right handed pitcher threw a pitch that was so unhitable, that it ran the risk of ending the game of baseball as they knew it.  When we think of the best pitchers we might have seen - like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Bob Feller, just to name a few - there are days when they were nearly perfect.  But with this new pitch, there would be no reason to even play the game.

The pitch that was the best defense against any batter was the Knucklerduster and then the Knuckleduster II.  The creator of this pitch was named Red and he worked on it for six years before he would throw it in a game.  He also broke his fingers a number of times trying to get the grip just right!  But the result was a pitch that not only was hard to hit - it was debated if it even crossed home plate.

The story is fun and ponders what could happen to baseball if someone could invent a pitch no on could hit!  The show starred Bill Slater as the commentator (who learned first hand how difficult it was to throw the pitch), Santos Ortega (a prominent CBS radio actor) as the justice trying to determine how baseball should proceed and Art Carney as the pitcher (Red) who invented the pitch.  If that name is familiar, it is because of his fame from early television's classic show, The  Honeymooners (with Jackie Gleason).  Irving Teitle is credited as the writer and Howard Barnes was the director.  I hope to have new episodes of this podcast series at least every week - to carry me through to the World Series.  I hope you enjoy!

The Day That Baseball Died (September 28, 1946)

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Columbia Workshop:
Old Time Radio Baseball Series and Other Links

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