Classic TV: The 50s : sports


My father would watch almost any kind of sports on TV, except wrestling, horse racing and roller derby. College basketball was big then and we used to root for Long Island University. Imagine our dismay when it turned out later that a bookie named Harry Gross had gotten to some of the LIU players and the school had to discontinue its basketball program. Pro basketball was also popular. I remember when the Knicks tried something new and put a black player, Sweetwater Clifton, in the game. The Knicks had trouble with Bob Cousy on the Celtics who was the first showboater, Dolph Schayes, the dirty player on the Syracuse Nationals, and bespectacled George Mikan on the Minneapolis Lakers. The newspapers said he was so tall and so nearsighted he couldn't see his feet when he got up in the morning. Sometimes we could watch the Harlem Globetrotters demolish the Washington Generals. One night, we were watching a college game when the phone rang. It was the one and only time we were ever called by a TV rating service. There was a big battle between, I don't remember, say Perry Como on NBC and Jackie Gleason on CBS. "What are you watching" asked the pollster. "A basketball game on channel 13." Boy, ruined that guy's week. The sample probably wasn't very big and pop really screwed up the results.

There was boxing on at least two nights a week, usually narrated by Jimmy Powers. Sugar Ray Robinson was a favorite. Carmen Basilio, an onion farmer from upstate NY was a dirty fighter, and Gene Fullmer, the Battling Mormon, was oafish.

Hockey was a lost cause. With small screens and blurry B&W pictures, I could never see the puck and so never took an interest in the game.

Even in the early 50s, we could watch four college football games on a Saturday afternoon. Pro football: I remember watching the NY Yanks, but they folded after a year. I don't recall the Giants on TV way back then, but I regularly listened to them on radio. Marty Glickman welcomed the sports fans and advised them the game was being brought to them by Adler Elevator Shoes and your local Kaiser, Frazier, Henry J. dealer. By the late 50s, they were on TV with Chris Schenkel announcing. Home games were not televised, and when the Giants made it into the Championship game in 1962, a bunch of us got a hotel suite in Philadelphia so we could watch the game being played at Yankee Stadium.

Baseball is too big a topic to go into in depth. The Yankees and Giants never seemed to be at home at the same time so both were broadcast on WPIX. In the early 50s, some of the Yankee games were simulcast on WABD, the Dumont station, which had a much better picture quality. As a Dodger fan, I watched the Giant-Dodger games from the Polo Grounds on WPIX but turned down the sound and listened to the Dodger announcers on their home radio station, WMGM-AM. As a result, I didn't have to hear the Giant announcer screaming "The Giants win the pennant!", a moment captured on an episode of MASH. By the mid-50s, the Dodgers proudly announced that all 154 games would be telecast on WOR. Announcer Connie Desmond retired and Vin Scully took over as relief for Red Barber.

I do not remember any tennis or golf,which is not to say it wasn't on. One track and field meet in which Roger Bannister, who had recently been the first person to run a mile in under four minutes, ran against (Herb Elliot???) and, just before the finish line, looked over his shoulder and (???) passed him. One evening there was a jai alai game from Connecticut.

As I mentioned, pop didn't watch wrestling so I have nothing to report about Gorgeous George, Man Mountain Dean or Haystack Calhoun.

Re: sports

I didn't have to hear the Giant announcer screaming "The Giants win the pennant!", a moment captured on an episode of MASH.

My father heard that on the car radio. He was parked in front of my elementary school waiting for me to finish the day.

In the late '50s I could usually be found watching the Saturday afternoon baseball game announced by Dizzie Dean and Buddy Blattner. The game was almost always from NYC, usually Yanks or Dodgers. I still have strong memories of Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Moose Skowron, Clete Boyer, Bobby Richardson, and Tony Kubeck for the Yanks.


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