Brooklyn Dodgers 2-5 6-1 Cincinnati Reds (lost footage of MLB doubleheader; 1939)

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One of the two cameras used to capture the game.

Status: Lost

On 26th August, 1939, Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds played a doubleheader at the Dodgers' Ebbets Field. A doubleheader counting towards the 1939 MLB National League standings, the games made television history as the first televised MLB games and the first televised professional baseball games.


Heading into the event, Cincinnati Reds were leading the 1939 MLB National League, and would ultimately end up as champions[1] before losing to American League champions New York Yankees 4-0 in the World Series.[2] Nevertheless, the team had lost their latest game to Brooklyn Dodgers two days earlier, losing 2-4 on home ground.[3] Therefore, the Dodgers, who would ultimately finish third in the standings, had a chance to close the gap between the two teams, this time on home soil.

Meanwhile, NBC had been making progress with broadcasting baseball games. The Dodgers-Reds event was not the first televised baseball game. Earlier that same year on 17th May, NBC had broadcast a college baseball game between Columbia Lions and Princeton Tigers. With that broadcast a success, NBC were looking to break further ground by televising a professional baseball game.[4] The doubleheader between the Dodgers and Reds was ideal, due to Ebbets Field's geographical proximity to the Empire State Building transmitter, which could pick up and re-broadcast the game on NBC's experimental W2XBS station from a 50-mile radius.[5] A small crew were on hand to capture the game, providing a mobile unit truck and two isometric cameras. One camera would be placed so that it could be aimed down the third-base line so that infield throws could be captured, while the other was situated above the home plate so that a view of the pitch could be clearly seen.[6]

Walter "Red" Barber was selected as the commentator, providing play-by-play analysis of the doubleheader. Commentating for television proved a challenge for Barber due to the absence of a monitor and with only two cameras to help capture footage. Barber stated that he had to watch to see which of the cameras had its red light on at that time, then determine its direction so as to provide useful commentary.[7] The games would be broadcast across New York City, including in the RCA Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Indeed, organisers felt that the doubleheader was ideal to showcase the United States' television might and potential. Sources conflict on the number of television viewers; MLB claims that 3,000 viewed the game,[8] whereas History states that only 400 viewers did so. Considering that a televised NFL game between Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles on 22nd October that same year was estimated to have had around 500 to 1,000 viewers, the 3,000 viewership claim is likely inaccurate.

Overall, the broadcast proved to be a success for NBC. It was not without its challenges concerning picture quality, with a review by The New York Times criticising how the ball was seldom seen and that players resembled "flies". Nevertheless, it did contribute towards further development of television technology and broadcasting of other sporting events like NFL games.[9] While baseball owners initially objected towards televising games due to concern they would reduce stadium attendance, the chance for additional revenue through game exposure proved influential towards changing their minds. Televised baseball would therefore pick up by the Autumn of 1951, with further progress made towards it becoming primetime programming across America.

The Doubleheader

The doubleheader was played in front of 33,535 fans. In the first game, the Dodgers took the lead in the second innings thanks to runs from Babe Phelps and Gene Moore. However, after five consecutive innings without runs, the Reds gained control in the eighth with five runs. The Dodgers were unable to respond in the final innings, allowing the Reds to win the game 5-2.[10]

In the second game, the Dodgers assumed control thanks to scoring two and four runs in innings 2 and 3 respectively, with the Reds unable to respond. Art Parks and Dolph Camilli both successfully accumulated two runs each overall. The Reds did manage to secure one run in the eighth inning courtesy of of Ival Goodman, but after failing to score in the final inning, the game ended with the Dodgers winning 6-1 without having to bat.[11]

The New York Times report praised Reds' Bucky Walters for allowing just two hits in the opening game, and deemed Dodgers' Luke Hamlin responsible for his team blowing away a 2-0 lead. As for the second game, the report praised Camilli for his batting in the second inning, particularly for a twenty-second homer that allowed Hugh Casey to score, and for a double that allowed him to score.


Like all early television programs, coverage of the Dodgers-Reds game was broadcast live and were not directly recorded as there were no means of achieving this for television prior to the end of the Second World War.[12] Thus, all televised footage of this MLB doubleheader is now permanently missing. While some photographs of the game survive, no footage of the game itself in any format is known to exist.


See Also

Professional Baseball Media

Early Sports Television Media

Early BBC Sports Television