Reminiscing about baseball in the pre-Internet age

Something that never fails to make me laugh is when people get ticked off because a live Dodger game broadcast isn’t available on television or the Internet.

I understand the sense of entitlement — many of us have been conditioned to expect to be able to watch upwards of 162 Dodger games a year, not the least because many of us pay something for the privilege. So on the rare occasions when rights issues prevent access to a live broadcast, it can be a shock.

Nonetheless, I’m always taken back to a time in my younger days when it felt like a true privilege to see the Dodgers on TV.

As I recall, when I began watching baseball in the mid-1970s, you still had limited visual exposure to the Dodgers, especially in their home whites. Games from Dodger Stadium were never on, except in the postseason or maybe if there were a key game down the stretch in September. Even if the Dodgers made a rare appearance on NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week, I think hometown viewers were hampered by blackout rules at least some of the time. Part of the excitement of the Dodgers making the playoffs actually involved just getting to see them play at Dodger Stadium live on TV.

Road broadcasts were more prevalent, but even then they were largely limited to weekends, especially when the team traveled beyond San Francisco or San Diego. From Monday through Friday, the Dodgers were largely a radio event. Then it was the morning paper the next day, and then you might catch some highlights nearly 24 hours later in the short sports segment on the local news. And that was it. Coverage ended then.

Toward the late 1970s, we got ON TV, which was a pay TV service that came over-the-air at night on what was normally Channel 56, I believe. You had a set-top descrambler that would allow you to receive the ON TV feed. They had a deal to broadcast a bunch of Dodger games (team historians will recall that pay broadcasts of the Dodgers were discussed from the team’s earliest days in Los Angeles). That was kind of a transforming moment for me as a fan, the idea that a garden-variety Dodger home game could be seen in our own living room.

My dad also gave me a subscription to the Sporting News around this time. This was not only before the advent of the Internet, of course, it was before the arrival of something like USA Today. This was basically the only detailed print coverage you could get of teams besides the Dodgers during the year. There were weekly reports on each ballclub, national columns and a reprint of every boxscore. Next to listening to Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett and Ross Porter, it was the Sporting News that taught me about the rest of the contemporary baseball world.

The Sporting News also gave you the best baseball stats at the time. In the Times each Sunday, they would run batting averages, runs, hits, homers and RBI for hitters (with a minimum number of plate appearances) and equivalent basic stats for pitchers, but in and only in the Sporting News would you get much more detailed stats, and get them for every single player.

I owed my dad yet another thanks at that time, by the way — when I began going to sleepaway summer camp for five weeks at a time each summer, he would send me the Times sports section to help me keep tabs on the team. Otherwise, I’d have hardly had a clue. I do remember one postcard my Dad sent me talking about Dave Parker’s throwing arm on display at the All-Star game.

That’s the way it was. Barely more than a generation ago, following the Dodgers took effort. It took, dare I say, a little moxie. Some of the means to an end are really products of their time. In the 1980s, there was a phone number — I want to say (900) 976-1313, even though it’s been about 30 years — that you would pay 50 cents to call just to get scores, and I remember us using it when we were on vacation. Otherwise, it could have been days before we’d know the result of the game.

ESPN rose during the 1980s, but I didn’t have it until about 1989. When I went away to college in ’85, I still mostly relied on the next day’s San Francisco Chronicle or San Jose Mercury News and their two-sentence recaps in the league roundups to get Dodger results, although I did come to have the option of going into the Stanford Daily offices once I started working there and accessing wire service recaps of games directly.

By the time I graduated, began working in newspapers and paying for cable myself, I could pretty much stay abreast of everything. Or at least, I thought I could. None of it was like what the Internet offers today. As late as 1992-93, when I was in grad school in Washington, D.C., if there was a late West Coast game, I could only follow the action with the ESPN ticker scoreline on the bottom of the screen. I think I received my first e-mail and browsed my first Web page in 1994, only eight years before the birth of Dodger Thoughts. And portability — getting live updates on demand, on the go — came even later.  There was a little pocket-sized gadget on the market that I had that would give you score updates, and then I got my first cellphone shortly after 9/11, in 2001. Not even a decade ago.

Today, I’m a slave to the onslaught. Sneaking looks at my cellphone for game updates, browsing tiny Web type like an addict, voraciously reading every posting about the Dodgers that I can find online. It’s a ridiculous bounty. And yes, I can get frustrated when I have to wait painful extra seconds for the latest pitch. But in the end, I just have to laugh. We have it good — a little too good, maybe.

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