“You can’t bring cameras and microphones into the dressing room. This is for the press. When the writers are finished, you may come in and talk to the players, if they are willing.”
Prior to 1958, the only radio and TV equipment allowed in most press boxes was for play-by-play. That was understandable. For generations, the writers had enjoyed an exclusive relationship with sports. They were established squatters, with no thought of sharing those rights.
Enter the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association, with its own mandate to create an open door policy. The key man was an energetic, determined former star Michigan running back and Heisman Trophy winner, Tom Harmon. By then a broadcaster, he picked up the ball and carried it through the press box and dressing room, smiling at the tacit opposition, who realized that the ex-Wolverine ball carrier had momentum…and a point.
Harmon, who had been shut out of a 1957 post-game World Series dressing room, spent subsequent months formulating plans for an organization of radio and TV men who would show the sports magnates and their reps that land lines, wall plugs and batteries signified a tremendous influence on the box office.
The Dodgers came to Los Angeles to start the 1958 season, and some of the less visionary among them thought they would have to show the boots and saddles folk the difference between an infield fly and an on-deck circle.
Harmon, as sports director of L.A.’s CBS-KNX, reassured the Dodgers that the land of Harmon, Bob Kelley, Sam Balter, Gil Stratton, Bill Brundige, Fred Hessler, Bill Welsh, Allin Slate, and company (and Bill Schroeder, Tom Hanlon, Hal Berger and Charlie Clifton before them) already was a well-informed baseball constituency.
|Harmon said, “We’re already done a lot to create the big attendance you will draw at the Coliseum. Also, we’re about to form an association of sports broadcasters, Want to help us?”Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi nodded. The Rams pledged support. USC and UCLA joined the fun and the L.A. sport world was alerted. Early in the season, the SCSB was organized.With Harmon as president, the SCSB held its charter luncheon meeting June 6, 1958, at the American Room of the Vine Street Brown Derby. After a business meeting, the “charter” program was in the hands of Bavasi and the Dodgers’ Red Patterson, with Fresco Thompson and Lee Scott also on the dais.The visiting Milwaukee Braves had contributed top pitchers Warren Spahn, winner of a 1957 World Series game against the Yanks, and hero Lew Burdette, who had won the other three.In the question session the followed, KNX’s Jim Raser asked Burdette if it were true that he threw illegal spitballs. There was hilarity in the responses, but, of course, no admission by Burdette. Raser then followed by asking, “If you were to throw a spitter, what would you use?”
Burdette merely smiled. Spahn spoke up, pointed at Burdette and loudly proclaimed, “Two wet fingers and a dry thumb.” The 35 charter members howled.
The SCSB had shown that it was an organization of influence, and that it would be haven for off-the-field fun and information.
As in the final scene of “Casablanca,” the electronic media and the sports community walked out of the Brown Derby together and moved to a 9-year stay at the famed Scandia Restaurant.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.