Play Ball! But Don’t Touch That Dial

Baseball is back.

I have loved the game for as long as I can remember, though I was spectacularly mediocre as a player.

My earliest baseball season memories are ones of frustration. Dad worked long, hard hours as a welder in a steel fabricating plant in Warren.

Weekend naps were his cherished way of catching up on rest that had been overspent in 10-hour workdays.

He snoozed on the living room couch. On the end table just above his head was a brown plastic Emerson portable radio, tuned to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ radio broadcast, in between AM radio bursts of static.

Across the room stood the 4-foot-high console Philco radio, its handcrafted wood cabinet encasing speakers that sputtered through the static-filled broadcasts of the Cleveland Indians.

In the corner of that room was the “tabletop” black-and-white Halolight television set bought at employee discount by Mom, a Sylvania plant worker. It broadcast the Game of the Week. I want to say that Red Barber, Mel Allen and Dizzy Dean were among the broadcasters, though my recollections of precise years are as fuzzy as the snow-speckled picture of those games.

Dad would be snoring.

I would tiptoe to the TV and gently touch the round dial that switched among the six channels then available, three from Erie and three from Buffalo.

Changing channels with that TV was a complicated process.

The dial would click from “4” (WSEE, Erie, CBS) to “7” (WKBW, Buffalo, ABC), where cartoons might be found.

That was just part of the procedure. The TV set sat on a table topped by its own turntable, enabling it to be spun around, giving the TV repairman access to the back for his monthly or so visits to replace burned-out vacuum tubes.

Atop the TV set was a half-round plastic box with a dial that looked like today’s burner dials on kitchen stoves. It moved a quarter-turn right, or a quarter-turn left.

Moving that dial rotated the rooftop antenna from north (Buffalo) to north-by-northwest (Erie) – maybe.

Two cables ran from the rooftop antenna down to the house. One carried the signal to the TV set. The other carried the “turn it” signal from the set-top box to the motor located halfway up the mast holding the antenna.

Sometimes, they tangled. Someone needed to go upstairs, prop up the bedroom window with a stub of 2×4 lying on the floor for that purpose, and then grab a 6-foot-long clothes pole propped in the corner. Reaching out through the propped-open window with the clothes pole, I could untangle the snagged lines to the antenna, freeing the motor to complete its turn, and clear up the picture coming our way from the Erie station.

That is how channel changing worked in those early 1950s days, normally.

However, when Dad was napping, I never got past the “click-click-click” of the dial.

Dad would start awake.

“How can you change that?” he would bellow. “The game is TIED!”

The man had just been snoring.

Nonetheless, he could tell me the scores of the game being broadcast on the Emerson table radio, the game being broadcast on the Philco console radio and the game on the fuzzy TV set.

I never knew how he did it, but on more than one occasion, Mom, giggling, would whisper, “Go ahead; change the station on the Philco,” just so she and I could hear Dad tell us the score of the Indians’ game.

We both knew better than to pull that trick more than once per nap.

But in any event, my just-a-kid desire to watch cartoons rather than baseball would be foiled until Dad finished his nap.

No, he didn’t allow me to change the channel just because he had awakened.

But when the game on TV had concluded, it would be OK with him if I watched cartoons on a rainy afternoon.

Sunny afternoon?

None of this would have happened. I would have been outside, across the street, playing pickup baseball on the cinder-surface “field” located north of the lumber company and just east of the junkyard.

Watching baseball on TV, or listening to baseball on the radio, were reserved for rainy afternoons or after-supper evening pastimes.

Dad rooted for the Cubs. Uncle Tony rooted for the Giants. Uncle Tim rooted for the Pirates. Uncle Flat, at the time, rooted for the Yankees, and his gentle camaraderie wooed me to pledge my allegiance there, too.

They are all long gone now, of course.

In my own dotage, I sometimes nap with one game on the TV. The crowd noise awakens me in time to catch a replay if something exciting happens, and the TV set always displays the score in a little box.

That’s how I find out what the score is.

Try as I might, I could never duplicate Dad’s sleep-and-keep-score talent, not even for one game, let alone three.

But I did acquire his love of baseball, renewed each year at this season.

“Play Ball!”


Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville.