The other night while leaving work I was fortunate enough to catch the final inning of Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-hitter courtesy of Sirius/XM radio. To me, it’s just amazing in today’s world we have the ability to listen to (or watch) just about any baseball game on a given day. It shows just how far we have come in the past half century. A generation ago, most of the country was happy to have a chance to watch one or two games a week and listening to out of town games on radio meant hoping the night was clear and the signals were strong.
One reason the St. Louis Cardinals are still so popular to this day has to do with their very strong radio network. I was always struck by just how many Cardinals fans lived in Texas and it was largely because until 1958 there were no other teams west of the Mississippi and the KMOX radio signal reached more than half the country.
It’s always great when we hear of long-lost radio and TV broadcasts being discovered. In the past decade we have found virtually intact original, complete or near complete broadcasts of both Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game and Game 7 of the 1960 World Series which ended with Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer. They’re not ‘memorabilia’ in a physical sense but they are living history. There is nothing like actually seeing how someone batted or played the field. We’ve seen highlights but watching any game as it happened gives us a truer perspective.
To me, those little ‘frozen in time’ moments are why baseball cards from that era remain so popular. In our mind’s eye, we are always seeing a young Cleon Jones batting .340 for the 1969 Mets or remembering Jerry Kenney as a Yankees utility infielder. Either way, those cards and others take us back to when we opened packs to see what the players looked like, read the backs for stats and tidbits, traded or flipped with our friends or even tried to emulate the weird elbow flap of Joe Morgan we’d seen on TV.
I was thinking about that while listening to the Iwakuma no-hitter as I could have sworn way back in 1967, Joe Horlen’s no-hitter was pitched on the NBC Saturday Game of the Week. A quick check of Retrosheet shows the game was actually played on Sunday. Although my mind tells me I saw that game as a very young child, I’m not sure NBC televised any games on Sunday until the final day of that season. Either way, it would be a kick to see Horlen’s no-hitter again just to see how he pitched and also how he used a unique chewing tobacco substitute. For now, our memories of that time for Mr. Horlen are in the 1968 Topps set where he got strong billing with a standard card, on the Leaders subset and again with an All-Star card. There was no ‘Update’ set so Horlen’s magical ’67 season came alive again in ’68. Now, I’m sure Iwakuma’s no-hitter will be commemorated in some fashion soon (maybe even with a relic card).
Is the ability to see or hear everything as it now happens better than depending on our memory’s eye? I honestly don’t know that answer but to the generations that did not grow up with instant access, cards are still wonderful telescope to the distant and recent past—and one of the few we can latch onto.
Whether our favorite player is Mike Trout, Dizzy Trout, Tim Salmon or Chico Salmon, we can enjoy our memories whether or not they have been preserved on tape.