When you ask the average baseball fan what the first televised baseball game was, they will probably answer the one in which the Brooklyn Dodgers hosted the Cincinnati Reds.
The first televised baseball game took place in the same year, 1939, but not on August 26 but on May 17. The college teams of Princeton and Columbia faced each other in a game that was broadcasted by on W2XBS, an experimental station in New York City which would ultimately become WNBC-TV. The word experimental makes clear that television was still in its infancy when this event took place.
The Columbia Lions hosted the Princeton Tigers in a double header of which the second game was aired for the first time in history. The Tigers would win both games; game one 8-6 and game two 2-1.
The game was filmed with a single camera that was placed on a wooden plateau that overlooked the stadium. At that time less than 400 TV sets were in use.
In a close game that needed ten innings to be decided, Tigers’ pitcher Dan Carmichael got on base to score the winning run a few hitters later.
Apparently the experiment was much to the liking of the TV station as it aired the first MLB game a few months later on August 26. At the time the World Fair was held in New York and the organizers believed that the double header between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds was the ideal showcase for this new medium.
Red Barber, then still with the Dodgers, called the games at Ebbets Field.
During this game, the TV station used two cameras. One down the third base line to pick up infield plays and throws to first base, and one high above home plate to give an overview of the playing field. The Reds took game one of the double header, 5-2 while the Dodgers won game two 6-1. The quality of the footage was poor as the balls could hardly be seen as they were thrown or hit. Bats looked like paper fans when players swung them. But nevertheless the new technology was a success.
Of course the owner were not too exited about the new technology as they feared that it would prevent fans from coming to the ballpark. But later they would see endless possibilities with big money TV contracts.
Nowadays it is hard to believe that baseball was ever played without the presence of TV cameras. Today, games are shown from endless angles and the footage is so sharp that the ball can be seen very well. Instant replay and slow motion pictures are common things nowadays, so the fans can see every possible play.