Phillies Play Pirates in First Game Ever on the Radio

On August 5th, 1921, the Phillies travelled to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. The Phils were just starting that dreadful period from 1919-1947 when they would finish last or next to last 24 times. The Pirates, meanwhile, were leading the National League at the time (they would finish 2nd to the Giants after a late season swoon). The Pirates would win the game, 8-5. But what made the game special was that it was the first one every covered on radio. And though nobody knew it at the time (people thought baseball would be boring on the radio), they were starting a revolution. The man who called the game that afternoon was 26-year old Pittsburgh DeeJay Harold Arlin (left), who announced by talking into a telephone  from a box seat in the crowd. Here’s the full story from explorepahistory.com:

On the afternoon of Friday, August 5, 1921, Harold Arlin sat down in a box seat behind home plate to watch the Pirates defeat the Phillies, 8-5. He wasn’t there just to watch, though; he was also there to tell fans beyond the ballpark what he was seeing. When he opened his mouth to speak into the telephone he was holding, Arlin changed the way Americans would enjoy baseball, and indeed, every other sport, forever…

“We were looking for programming,” Arlin recalled years later, “and baseball seemed a natural. I went to Forbes Field and set up shop.” The operation, a hand-held telephone connected to a transmitter in a box behind home plate, had a few glitches, though. “Nobody told me I had to talk between pitches,” he conceded, and when he did, his distinctive deep voice did not always come through. “Sometimes the transmitter didn’t work. Often the crowd noise would drown us out. We didn’t know whether we’d talk into a total vacuum or whether somebody would hear us.”

Plenty of “somebodies” did, and sports” broadcasting became a sensation. Radio sets flew off the shelves, and fans, intrigued by what they were hearing, arrived at Forbes Field in record numbers. The game took on a new dimension as Arlin learned to paint images with his words and infuse drama into the proceedings. For the first time, baseball fans could be in two places at once: in the stands and in their living rooms. It no longer became necessary to make a trip to the ballpark to take in a game; the game, instead, could come to you. 

Arlin got out of the radio game in 1925, but he did make a rather remarkable reappearance in 1972. His grandson Steve played several seasons for the Padres. In 1972, the Pads came to Pittsburgh to take on the Bucs. Arlin, by now a 77-year old man, got to call a few innings of his grandson playing baseball, in the same city where he had called the first game. How cool is that?


Stargell’s Legendary Blast

You can get a 1971 Pirates cap here.

Remarkably, the longest home run ever hit at Veterans Stadium came just 3 months into its 33 year history. Others came close (Thome missed it by a few feet), but no-one ever went further at the Vet than Willie Stargell did on June 25th, 1971.

The Phils were on their way to a last place finish in 1971, while the Pirates were on their way to a World Series championship. So nobody was surprised by the 14-4 drubbing the Pirates laid on the Phils on that hot June day. But the final score was a mere footnote to the blast Willie Stargell hit off of Jim Bunning. The left-hander launched one into the right field seats, and over 30 years later, the Phils on the field that day remembered it clearly. Said Bunning, who served up the meatball:

The Stargell Star was a high slider that I used to get Stargell out on, only I didn’t throw it hard enough and didn’t get it in. It got over the fat part of the plate. He couldn’t hit it any further.”

Bunning probably would agree with Don Sutton, who once said of “Pops”, “He doesn’t just hit pitchers. He takes away their dignity.”

Said Larry Bowa:

“That ball was still going up. As an infielder, when a guy hits one that you know is a home run, you give it a casual look. When he swung, you didn’t take your eyes off it because you wanted to see where it was going. It was majestic.

“I couldn’t believe how far that ball went. It would take me three swings to get one up there — from second base.”

Here’s a couple of photos that give you some perspective of how far he hit it. In the first one, taken from home plate, the color area is the section where he hit the ball..and keep in mind, everyone agreed that it was still gaining speed when it hit the stands. The star marking the section where he hit it is in the upper right of the 2nd pic.