The Baseball Hall of Fame has honored musician Terry Cashman on more than one occasion by using his classic baseball song, “Talkin’ Baseball ( Willie, Mickey, and the Duke) ” during its ceremonies. But that is not the only baseball song that Cashman has written and recorded. In fact, he has released quite a few baseball-themed recordings that are just as poignant, though not as well-known. One of those lesser-known works is a personal favorite of mine. It is called “Play By Play (I Saw It On the Radio) ”. A tribute to the broadcasters who filled so many summer nights for decades all across the baseball landscape, it is a wonderful reminder of how the game has been appreciated over the airways through the years.
As much as I enjoy the poetry of that piece, however, it is easy to admit that there is one man who has taken appreciation of broadcast sports to a level greater than any other person has ever done. That person is John Miley. Actually, what he has done is far more than have an appreciation of sports broadcast over the radio, what he has done is preservation. His efforts (some would say obsession) with capturing recordings of broadcast sports have been so vast and so unique, that in May of 2011 the Library of Congress announced their intention of obtaining, further preserving, and then making available to the public a portion of the Miley Collection which included more than 6,000 historic radio and television broadcast recordings of pre-1972 professional and amateur sporting events including Major League Baseball, the NHL, NFL, NBA, Olympic events, Indy 500 auto races, Triple Crown horse races, boxing, golf, tennis, and college football.
Although this initiative of the Library of Congress is coming up on its third anniversary, the existence and appeal of the Miley Collection is once again gathering force as commercial ventures of that collection are beginning to gain some notoriety. Since 2001, Vendiamo has been working John Miley to put many of his classic baseball game broadcasts from 1934 to 1972 onto CDs so that the public may own and enjoy them. And although many of these classic recordings have been made available through various avenues since that time, it has been the inclusion of these recordings on eBay that has, once again, brought them to the collector’s attention.
As of the time of this article, there were 256 complete baseball games on CD available and 11 complete football games available on CD via the online shopping site and some on Amazon, all priced at $19.99. Additionally, Bob Costas has worked with Miley and author Jason Turbow to produce a CD titled, Baseball Forever!: 50 Years of Classic Radio Play-by-Play Highlights.”
Costas does the reading and narration in between several recorded cuts the collection. This is available as both a CD and as a downloadable recording.
It is no wonder that these recordings have such an appeal, both as a national treasure and as a personal item. Most fans of sports, not to mention collectors of sports memorabilia, have stories of late summer nights listening to ball games on radio or traveling across country in the fall to the sounds of gridiron action. For many, the names of announcers like Red Barber, Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy, Bob Prince, Vin Scully and many more, trip off the tongue with reverence of the same type used for the sports heroes those announcers described. Through the Miley Collection, those voices and their descriptions of sports history, can be enjoyed once again.
Not all of the games recorded or obtained by Miley had great historical significance within themselves. However, many surely did. Among the milestones from the Collection, which has been acquired by the Library of Congress, are the following events or groupings: The final game played by the Brooklyn Dodgers, Sept. 29, 1957, with Vin Scully at the microphone; Harold Arlin’s 1920 inaugural broadcast on KDKA in Pittsburgh; Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn in heavyweight championship fights from 1941 and 1946; Sandy Koufax’s first no-hitter in June of 1962; Ohio State and Michigan in the Snow Bowl of 1950; Jim Brown’s exploits in the 1957 Cotton Bowl and a nearly complete collection of Rose Bowl games since 1939.
Miley began this lifetime of gathering recordings back in 1947. He was 16 years old at the time, and his father bought him a wire recorder. As so many others in that day (and for several years afterward), Miley says in several interviews that he became fascinated with the crackling voices he heard from ballparks and arenas nationwide. However, unlike other young fans who would listen while the signal lasted and then turn the dial for another game or two, young Miley has said he had a different thought. “There were some great announcers in those days. I figured I might want to hear some of this stuff again someday,” he recalled during one interview.
So, he began recording.
At first he recorded sports events merely for his personal pleasure, with no thought to saving the tapes. However, by 1962, he had acquired a reel-to-reel recorder and began saving some of the audio—but just the highlights, the parts he thought he might want to hear again in future years. Even so, he became increasingly interested in preservation, and so sought the best reel-to-reel tape available, a Scotch brand guaranteed to last “forever. ”
Over the years, newspaper stories about Miley and his collection made him a local celebrity in the Evansville, IN area where he and his family had settled. The acclaim and contacts such publicity brought led him to expand his involvement into all kinds of sports nationwide. One local article worked to bring him to the attention of The Sporting News, where a full-page story included an invitation to anyone interested in joining “John Miley’s tape network. ” After that, he became connected with volunteers from all over the nation.
His home basement gradually transformed into a highly organized audio resource for national sports commentators looking for highlights to accompany film clips. Through this service he began to acquire a number of tapes from the grateful professionals.
One of Miley’s contacts urged him to seek a license from Major League Baseball that would enable him to share his baseball recordings through a business he began in 1990. He had found out that baseball highlights were much more in demand than basketball, football or hockey—but he had some of everything: more than 50 Kentucky Derbies, for instance, many, many Indianapolis 500 races, all kinds of golf and tennis, every World Series game since 1957, every Super Bowl.
By the time he was retired, The New York Times wrote an article about Miley’s desire to find a permanent place for his thriving collection. That article triggered several inquiries—the most intriguing from the Library of Congress. The Library announced the acquisition in 2011 and hired Miley as a consultant charged with finding other such audio and video collections, work he conducts from his Evansville home office with occasional trips to Washington, D.C.
Involvement in acquisition isn’t new to Miley as he had done that in addition to his recording hobby. USA TODAY reported how, around 1980, Miley purchased 4,000 radio games from the estate of collector Pat Rispole of Schenectady, N.Y., including numerous games involving the New York Yankees, Dodgers and early New York Mets. “I went 1,000 miles to Schenectady, N.Y., and 1,000 miles back with a U-Haul trailer on the back of my car, carrying 2,500 boxes of 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes,” he recalls.
The recordings chosen by the Library of Congress (representing about 15 percent of his overall collection) will be digitalized, made available to the public in the library’s reading rooms on Capitol Hill, and eventually be accessible on the library’s website. These recordings pre-date 1972 when sound recordings were not protected by federal copyright law. Many of the calls are by legendary radio sportscasters such as Barber, Mel Allen, Marty Glickman and Harry Caray.
Through the years the major television networks were Miley’s best customers, the result of his longtime friendship with Costas and others. What is great for fans and enthusiasts now, of course, is that the recordings are being made available to those who are not nationally known figures. If a fan wants to hear Mel Allen describe Bob Feller or Joe DiMaggio as they play in the 1939 All-Star Game, they can pick up the CD via eBay or a web site and enjoy. Media credentials are not required.
Officially, according to the Library of Congress statement three years ago, “American life throughout most of the 20th century was immeasurably enriched by the radio and television broadcasts of amateur and professional sports events that had great national significance. Unfortunately, many of those broadcasts were never recorded or otherwise saved for posterity. With the acquisition of the John Miley Collection, the Library of Congress now will be able to ensure the archival preservation of a collection that substantially documents the historical record of the nation’s sports broadcast history prior to 1972, when sound recordings were not protected by federal copyright law.”
That is all good, but John Miley knows a little bit more about it all than that. Just as the poet Cashman put lyrics to the fact that the games could be “seen” on the radio, the recorder of so many sports moments understands the value of what he has preserved. In one of his many interviews he recalled, “That’s what this is all about. I’m really not collecting tape; I’m saving memories.”
See more than 260 CDs of games dating back to the 1930s by visiting the Vendiamo store here.