"Baseball? It's just a game, as simple as a ball and a bat, yet as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It's a sport, business and sometimes even religion."
So wrote Ernie Harwell in his 1955 essay "The Game for All America (A Definition of Baseball)."
In the first decade of the last century, baseball had come into its own. The American League was formed in 1901. After a year of hostile competition, the World Series was instituted in 1903.
Baseball had become big business. Newspapers created sports pages that followed the ups and downs of teams and individual players. Statistics had a place on the sports page too. Fans gave great attention to detail as they subscribed to the Sporting News, the national baseball newspaper. With the World Series capturing the eyes of the country, fans were frustrated by having to wait for newspaper extras or the daily editions to learn all the details of the games.
Series bulletins announced
The attempt to meet the demand for sports information became an opportunity for newspapers. The Globe published front-page accounts of the Series games in the first years of the decade.
However, it came up with an innovation in 1911. The Associated Press sent out play-by-play accounts of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics game to its members. The Globe reported it would announce and post those bulletins as they were received in front of its office at 320 Virginia Ave. It invited fans to assemble in front of the building to be the first to receive the news.
The practice must have been a great success because the next year, a half-column, front-page account led with "The big show is on!" and noted the Giant and Red Sox rivalry. "Well, no matter how they line up or how they play, you will want to watch the results, won't you? Of course. Know how to get the returns fresh from the wire — every play just as it's made? Come to the Globe office this afternoon. Be there early ... All this will be flashed to the Globe exclusively over its special leased wire to the Polo grounds ... Every minute from that time, there'll be news of the big battle coming in — you are invited to be our guest while 'witnessing' the championship contest. Come to the Globe to get the news early and complete. Every play, just as it is made and when it is made, will be announced by megaphone."
The paper reported up-to-the-minute game accounts this way for three years. It also used the system to give play-by-play reports of major prize fights.
Electric scoreboard installed
In 1914, the Globe came up with another innovation. The paper constructed an electric scoreboard on the Taylor building on the east side of Virginia Avenue. It described the first game this way: "Here, the fans turned their eyes and saw each man walk out to bat, it seemed, drive a lacing single past short or slam the ball to the field.
"A tiny electric light went out, indicating the pitcher had released the ball. A light in right field flashed on, another light flashed at first and the runner was safe. The right field light went out, and immediately the bulb representing the pitcher was illuminated. Thus, it was possible for the crowd to follow the men on the bases, 'see' them score and keep the positions of the players clear in their minds.
"Seated at a window in the Globe building was an Associated Press operator, with a telegraph-receiving instrument at his side. As the operator received the reports, they were hurried to the scoreboard operator, who turned the switches, which traced the plays on the scoreboard ... The scoreboard service was supplemented by megaphone announcements so that incidents foreign to the scope of the board were learned by the crowd."
Virginia Avenue was crowded with hundreds of spectators that first year. In later years, traffic crawled through the street because of the crowd. The Southwest Missouri Railroad brought fans from around the district to the corner just to "watch" the game.
The Globe described it as an electric scoreboard. In 1911, a Connecticut company patented its own Playograph. Newspapers, theaters, billiard parlors and grandstands constructed them. Some venues charged admission, while newspapers usually followed the Globe's practice of erecting it on the outside of a building. Photos of the day show streets blocked, sometimes with just a small lane open for vehicles to pass. From 1889 to 1927, 44 patents were issued for remote viewing displays.
The New York Herald's successful Playograph generated its own court case in 1914. A small jewelry store in the building opposite the paper and beneath the Playograph sued the paper for creating a public nuisance. The jeweler contended that the crowds for 1911, 1912 and 1913 blocked his store. When the paper's display of European war photos in August 1914 attracted more viewers, he asked for an injunction to stop the use of the Playograph and damages for lost business. The crowd in 1913 was between 30,000 and 40,000 people, with 80 to 90 policemen working crowd control. The court ruled in his favor, giving a permanent injunction and damages of $729.59. The paper moved its Playograph to another location.
The Globe supplemented the electric scoreboard by transmitting the bulletins to Globe offices in Carthage, Webb City, Carterville and Galena, Kansas, by telephone, which kept district fans in the loop. It also covered the Joplin Miners' pennant games in 1922, attracting just as large a crowd.
This practice continued until 1935. By that time, radio coverage had grown as sponsorship to the radio broadcast rights to the series had been sold. Radio changed the way people could access the game. The electric scoreboard became a part of Globe history.
Bill Caldwell is the retired librarian at The Joplin Globe. If you have a question you’d like him to research, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 417-627-7261.