Baseball on the Air: The Tradition of America’s Favorite Pastime and Radio Broadcasts


America’s Favorite Pastime and radio have enjoyed a long and fruitful marriage. Something is inherently soothing about the hypnotic ebb and flow of baseball on the air.

The game of baseball may seem just an exercise in the decidedly repetitious. And to appreciate it may seem nothing more than embracing a deep commitment of the conservative. After all, a pitcher and catcher, on average, can exchange the ball a monotonously hypnotizing 200-300 times in a single game, and games can eat up big chunks of time. The longest single baseball game on record, which took place at Comiskey Park I in 1984, took a little over 8 hours from inception to finish, according to the Baseball Almanac online.

It should be no surprise then that the game, according to most historians, is thought to have been loosely based in British tradition. Luckily, Alexander Cartwright, who is credited with officially inventing baseball, inspired its first contest in Hoboken, NJ in 1864, and saved the game from a fate worse than cricket. Soon after, in 1871, the first professional baseball league was formed.

Baseball and the Radio

In 1921 America’s Favorite Pastime met radio for the first time, as on August 25th Harold Alren of KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA called the first game ever on the air. Not long after NY and NJ both got into the radio game, and soon the art and enthusiasm lent by early broadcasters became hopelessly intertwined in baseball lexicon. And phrases like “going, going, gone” and “hot stove league” fast became a permanent part of ballgame nomenclature.

To the newcomer, baseball may seem just an exercise in the decidedly repetitious, but there is something inherently soothing about the hypnotic ebb and flow experienced while observing a game, especially on the air. And broadcasts, far from being boring and banal, are not only colorful but intensely illustrative. Over the years baseball has amassed a lot of wonderfully descriptive terms, and many of them can be found in The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson.

Baseball Terminology, Facts, and Stats

Here are a few of the more textured: the wonderfully stoic and grand “Fall Classic,” or World Series, “off the table” (refers to a curveball or sinker that drops dramatically as it approaches the plate), “pastureman” (outfielder), “peapatch” (ball field), “peddle music” (crowd stomping), “Picasso” (control pitcher), “radish” (baseball), “ruptured duck” (a line drive that drops off suddenly), “sign a pass” (issue a base on balls), “Sir Charles” (the baffling curveball thrown by Mets pitcher, Dwight Gooden), “whiz chuck” (a quickly pitched ball), “yodeler” (chatty third base coach), the wonderfully accurate “mariposa” (butterfly in Spanish, describing the knuckleball in flight), and the only slightly disturbing “ear syphilis” (the condition of an umpire who is particularly sensitive to player comments).

‘The Soundtrack of Your Summer’

But terminology is only part of it. The constant barrage of statistics and player bios spat out by the radio always gives the listener something to chew on while waiting for more demonstrative aspects of the game to be relayed. Listening to a well-called game is what Curt Smith called “the hypnotic tapestry of radio on the air,” and what Bob Costas calls “the soundtrack of your summer.”

Announcer 1: And Bastista ropes one to left… that ball is headed for the track as Batista pulls up at second with a double…

Announcer 2: Boy, he knocked the hide off that thing.. seems like he could have made it to third there…

1: Seemed like he pulled up a little… you know Batista loves these late inning games… he is 15 for his last 23 with a slugging percentage of .555 while hitting in the later innings…

2: Batista, for those of you who don’t know, just had a baby boy… 7 pounds, 3 ounces… his wife actually volunteers at the Jimmie Fund 4 days a week –

1: And the wind up… Smith just waved right through that high heater from Sanchez… clocked at ninety-seven mph…

2: Well he had a healthy cut but just couldn’t catch up to the flame thrower there…

1: You know, Dick, that may have been the pitch to hit the way Sanchez has been hurling here today… yeah, the Batistas have been involved with the community for a number of years… just a reminder that the game today is brought to you by…

So, whether driving along a vast and empty expanse of highway or just sitting on the lawn with a cold one, remember that baseball on the air is not just an exercise in the repetitious. It is a well choreographed dance with dramatic bouts of action peppered with colorful terms, stats, player bios, and perhaps the occasional commentator diatribe on why the club owners decided to go with Bermuda grass instead of the more traditional 80/20 blue rye mix. In any case, it is unmatched entertainment.