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Let’s Go Mets!

October 9th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks

 

As this is being written, the New York Mets are still contenders for the 2015 baseball championship. They won in 1969 and 1986 after having the worst record in 162-game major-league-season history when they first took the field.

NY_MetropolitansWhen the team was founded, it was the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York, a name that originally belonged to a team that, in 1882, accepted offers to join both the National League and the American Association. The owners got around that problem by buying another team and calling them the New York Gothams. The Gothams became the Giants, and it was their move to San Francisco, in part, that led to the formation of the current Mets. In between the 19th-century Mets and the current team, the Metropolitan Opera’s baseball team was also known as the Metropolitans or Mets.

Mr. Met in 2009Although not often in first place, the Mets have the distinction of having baseball’s first official live human mascot, Mr. Met, who appeared at their first game at their home at Shea Stadium in 1964. The English word was coined when Edmond Audran’s opera La mascotte, which had opened successfully in Paris at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens on December 29, 1880, was imported to Boston’s Gaiety Theatre, where it opened in 1881 on April 12 as The Mascot. The root of the French word referred to a witch, but the opera was about a woman who brought luck to a farmer.

The original Mets accepting offers from two major leagues at the same time was an echo of what happened when the opera moved to New York at two opera houses, the Bijou on May 5 and the Park on May 9. At the end of the overture on May 5, a man announced from the stage that at 6 pm an injunction had been served on the tenor, preventing his appearance, and named his replacement. The audience “was good-natured and sympathized with the management,” according to the next day’s positive review in The New York Times, and gave the substitute “favor, it being generally understood that he had never even rehearsed the opera and had thrown himself into the breach to save the piece.”

1881-12-31 Punch MascotteThe very successful opera continued to open in more cities — two different opera houses in Chicago, too. In London, it opened at the New Comedy Theatre on October 15. On December 21, the United Telephone Company Limited threw a dinner party at London’s Bristol Hotel for the purpose of listening to The Mascotte via telephone, an introduction to pay cable. By 1882, the year the first Mets joined major-league baseball, the opera was being transmitted from the Theatre Royal in Preston, England, to Manchester, a distance of some 30 miles.

Let’s go, Mets!

 

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Baseball & Opera? Opera & Baseball?

November 6th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded Wednesday, October 29, 2014. A free event for National Opera Week 2014 at GoingGoingGoneSports Gallery at the Atrium at Citigroup Center in New York City (with special thanks to Boston Properties and WorldStage).

Babe Ruth sang in opera houses.  The manager of the Metropolitan Opera House wears a World Series ring.  Baseball fans started watching remote games in opera houses beginning in 1885.  Opera fans went to ballparks to hear their favorites starting in 1916.

Direct Link (78 MB / 44:55  TRT): Baseball & Opera? Opera & Baseball?

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Watching Remote Baseball Games Before TV

September 26th, 2012 | 1 Comment | Posted in Schubin Cafe

Today, Joyce Kilmer is best known either for his poem “Trees” or for an eponymous service area on the New Jersey Turnpike. But he was also a journalist. In a story in The New York Times, Kilmer wrote that Peter Pan creator James Barrie insisted on changing rooms at the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1914 so he could spend “many hours breathlessly watching” baseball games outside his window.

There were just two problems: The Knickerbocker Hotel (right) was in Times Square, not in view of any ball field.  And, although today it’s almost impossible to find a building in Times Square not covered with video screens, that certainly wasn’t the case in 1914. Yet, strange as it might seem, fans across the continent had already been regularly watching remote games for 30 years by the time Barrie made his room change.

The story really begins another 40 years earlier. On May 24, 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse sent his famous “What hath God wrought” telegram, opening the first commercial telegraph service in the United States. The first lengthy newspaper account of a baseball game appeared in the New York Morning News the following year.

By the time ball teams started traveling to away games in 1860, the press was ready to cover them telegraphically. But what fan (short, after all, for fanatic) would be willing to wait for the morning newspaper to learn the score if there were an alternative?

According to Peter Morris’s excellent baseball reference, A Game of Inches, “the prototype of the sports bar” might have been Massey’s billiard hall in St. Louis, where, in 1875, telegraphed bulletins, provided every half inning by Western Union, were posted on a blackboard. So there was a mechanism for conveying data from the ball field to the viewer. The next step was providing something to view.

In 1884, three telegraph operators came up with a plan. They painted a ball field onto a large poster, which they placed in a theater in Nashville. One went to Chattanooga and telegraphed the plays back to the theater, where the second read them while the third moved cards with the players’ names around the poster. The theater soon sold out, so they moved to the much larger opera house. The opera house in Augusta, Georgia came up with its own system, and so did another one in Atlanta (1886 headline below).

In Atlanta, DeGive’s Opera House actually hired young boys, dressed them in the uniforms of the players, and had them run around a ball field on the stage, recreating the plays. The Boston Globe reported in 1885 on “a miniature ball field, on which every movement of the game will be shown.” Meanwhile, the Nashville system expanded to Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit and to “a drop curtain having a well painted perspective view of a base ball diamond and outfield,” according to an 1886 report in Detroit’s Free Press.

Here’s a bit more from the July 9 Free Press report of a Detroit-at-Chicago game viewed at the Detroit Opera House: “The audience… was wrought up to a very high pitch of enthusiasm. …when… the operator called out ‘and out to White,’ there came a storm of applause, just such as is heard on a veritable ball field.”

Two years later, newspapers, themselves, got into the act, starting with Joseph Pulitzer’s The World in New York. They erected a ball-field diagram with holes for colored, numbered pins representing the players. It quickly attracted a crowd estimated at about 6,000 people (right), blocking traffic on the nearby Brooklyn Bridge.

That seemingly trivial display system was patented by its inventor, editorial writer Edward Van Zile, at the insistence of Pulitzer’s secretary Edwin Grozier (Van Zile didn’t think it could be patented). Grozier bought the patent rights and was issued a patent of his own the following year for an improved version in which the pins could be moved from base to base by a mechanical system (left).  Between the the two patents, Grozier earned enough in royalties by 1891 to buy a controlling interest in The Boston Post. Those were the first two of at least 44 U.S. patents that would be issued by 1927 for remote baseball viewing systems (and some of the most popular weren’t even patented).

Then electricity entered the picture. In 1891, Samuel Mott, a former Edison employee, received a patent for his system (right), involving light bulbs and motors. In 1894, when their local team beat New York, the crowd at Ford’s Opera House in Baltimore was driven into a frenzy by the Compton Electric Base Ball Game Impersonator. And that year yet another new technology was introduced: android robotics.

The Richmond Times, on May 7, 1895, quoted a female fan watching Samuel Crowder’s “Little Men” (left) at Mozart’s Academy of Music as saying, “”Why they bow just as sweetly as ‘real live men’ when applauded.” The Electrical Engineer carried a lengthy report in its August 7, 1895 issue about Frank Chapman’s “Automatic Baseball by Electricity” (right). Here’s their description of what happened when a pitch was hit: “…the batter at the home plate is provided with a bat which he flings down with a genuinely ‘sickening thud’ when he starts for first base.” A player on base could “move his legs so that he seems to be running, and of course he can be seen in the very act of trying to steal the next base.”

Different systems were said to be able to show players warming up, being coached, sliding (and, if it happened, breaking a leg), arguing with the umpire, and clapping and dancing for particularly good plays. Indoor systems (in theaters, concert halls, and opera houses) used animated figures (like the Jackson Manikin Baseball Indicator at left); systems intended to be placed on newspaper-building facades needed displays more visible to large crowds. Kilmer wrote that Barrie (shades of Tinkerbell) “spent many hours breathlessly watching the ball of light speed across the mimic diamond” on the Times building. The Nokes Electrascore (right) used 1500 light bulbs that could depict the arcs of balls.

The Electrascore was introduced in 1912 and the Manikin Indicator in 1913, but as early as 1906 demand for remote game displays was strong. Below is a complete story that appeared in the June 5, 1906 issue of The New York Times.

There were already many companies competing in the field, with more to come. Below is a depiction of a Compton display from one of the company’s 1908 promotional packets (from the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum). Some might say it looks a lot like a GameChanger modern smartphone game-following app (right, click to enlarge).

The Coleman Lifelike Scoreboard used 400 slide projectors. It was depicted (both in front of the screen and behind) in a post here earlier this year: http://www.schubincafe.com/2012/03/25/the-alternatives/.  A big feature of the Automatic Base Ball Play-o-Graph (left) was the use of a regulation baseball, connected to thin wires that could move it around the field as appropriate.

 

Whether it was the moving ball or contracts with big newspapers, Playograph (like the much later Jumbotron) became a generic description. It also became a problem. During the 1911 World Series, a crowd estimated at 70,000 (right) filled New York’s Herald Square to watch the games on a Play-O-Graph–20,000 more than attended the game in the stadium a few miles away. Unfortunately, the large crowd prevented customers from getting into shops in the area. A jeweler sued in 1913 and won an injunction against its use.

Injunctions and patent-infringement lawsuits didn’t kill the remote baseball viewing systems; radio did. But it took a while.

The first game to be transmitted via microphone wirelessly was an Army-Navy game in 1920, and the voice was heard only in a naval communications center, which changed the information into Morse code and then re-transmitted it around the world. The first real radio broadcast of a baseball game occurred the following year, when Harold Arlin (left) broadcast a game from Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field on pioneering radio station KDKA.

Unfortunately, baseball is a game of long stretches of preparation punctuated by moments of excitement. Arlin duly announced the plays, but the rest of the broadcast was largely dead air. Listeners actually preferred studio recreations of games, complete with sound effects, which also began in 1921.

That same year, watching the big remote baseball displays–previously said to be “almost like being there”–was said to be even better than being there. According to an editorial in The New York Herald, “Watching an actual game is tame by comparison.” In the October 1921 issue of Vanity Fair, Heywood Broun reported an overheard conversation between two newsboys watching a game in person at the Polo Grounds. “Gee, what would you give to be in Times Square right now?”

The editorial in The Herald said the Play-O-Graph “poured kerosene upon your imagination, and the electric sparks that traced the ball and the hitter touched it off in explosions….”  Broun said of them, “the shifts came with a dramatic suddenness denied to those who see every move.”

In 1931, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson sponsored Playograph viewing at the local opera house. In 1933, The Roanoke Times tried combining Playograph and radio. And, in 1939, when the first U.S. baseball games were televised, the Vincennes Sun Commercial in Indiana didn’t even bother to put out its Playograph. The “crowd” at the Montrose Daily Press game bulletin that year (right) could be counted on the fingers of one person. It was the end of an era–and the start of another.

 

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A Baseball-Opera Chronology

July 12th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings

 

“Who Would Doubt That I’m A Man,” sheet music for a baseball song from an 1895 opera

I often write about the history of media technology. So why is this post about the joint history of baseball and opera?

It’s because a good chunk of that history — roughly half a century — was devoted to unusual forms of media technology. It offered broadcasting before radio, live remote visual display of moving images before television, animatronics before electronics, and public-address announcements before loudspeakers.

Beginning in the 19th century (see headline above from The Atlanta Constitution in 1886), fans could go to their local opera house to watch remote baseball games. And, in the 21st century, fans can go to their local baseball stadium (below) to watch remote opera. Really!

32,000 fans watch San Francisco Opera’s Aida at AT&T Park in 2010 (photo by Cory Weaver)

I’ll be posting more on the media technology soon, after an article about it appears in the fall issue of Sports Technology Journal.  In the meantime, you may download and enjoy this brief chronology. Click on the link below.

Some Opera and Baseball

 

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The Alternatives

March 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe

 

At next month’s SMPTE/NAB Technology Summit on Cinema in Las Vegas, one session will be devoted to “Alternative Content.” What’s that? It’s complicated.

One hundred years ago, the 1912 World Series was quite an event. In the history of baseball, it was the only best-of-seven World Series to have eight games. But the picture above, from the excellent Shorpy site, http://www.shorpy.com/node/4733, is confusing.

The World Series was a contest between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants, and it was played, as might be expected, at Fenway Park and the Polo Grounds, respectively, in those cities. But the crowd above was in Washington, D.C. What were they looking at?

They were looking at a scoreboard (http://www.shorpy.com/node/4734), shown above. If that seems ridiculous, consider 1912. There was no Internet. There were no TV or radio sportscasts. Just about the only way to keep track of the game was to hang around a newspaper office, where reports received by telegraph would be posted.

Even in 1912, it was a pretty old idea. The New York State Oswego Daily Times reported on May 23, 1876 about “a group of Syracusans” keeping track of an away game by gathering “around the baseball bulletin.” In 1888, Edward Sims Van Zile filed a patent application for a “Bulletin-Board and Base-Ball Indicator”

By 1895, the fans had moved indoors. Frank Chapman’s “Automatic Baseball by Electricity” opened at Palmer’s Theatre in New York City that July. According to a lengthy report about the apparatus in the August 7 issue of The Electrical Engineer, the stage was turned into a ball park. “All the players have their proper positions on the big field, and are represented by dummy marionettes, true to the life and about 3 feet high,” moving according to the action being telegraphed from the real game. In 1907, Buffalo’s Garden Theatre offered an “electric baseball diagram.” In 1908, it was the 1750-sear Gotham Theatre in New York City.

Thanks to Shorpy, again (http://www.shorpy.com/node/8283), above is a view of what audiences at Washington’s National Theater saw of the Coleman Life-Like Scoreboard in 1924 (some version had been in use there since 1913, before that a Jackson scoreboard, and before that a Rodier). Below (http://www.shorpy.com/node/8285) is what it looked like backstage with its five operators.

When people went to a theater in 1909 to watch a game via the Rodier Electric Baseball Game Reproducer (“which set Atlantic City wild”), they paid admission prices of 25 and 50 cents. The same year, as the photo at left, taken in Detroit, clearly indicates (http://www.shorpy.com/node/9474), the admission price for a typical movie theater was just five cents (thus the name Harry Davis and John Harris gave in 1905 to the first theater dedicated to showing nothing but movies, Nickelodeon).

Not only could theaters charge five-to-ten times the price of a movie to provide some sort of community access to a remote event, but they filled up, too. In Washington, D.C. in 1914, viewers could “attend” different baseball games at the Bijou, Columbia, Cosmos, Gayety, Keith’s, National, and Poli’s theaters, and, if one of those was busy with a play, the equipment was moved into an armory. In New York, the Coleman Life-Like Scoreboard was also set up in an armory, as well as in Madison Square Garden.

The previous post here (on theatrical television) noted that opera was proposed for transmission to theaters in 1877 and has been carried live to ball parks (http://www.schubincafe.com/2012/03/21/getting-the-big-picture/). In 1914, the opposite occurred. The Providence Opera House installed a Coleman Life-Like Scoreboard for baseball-game viewers (in 1931, the Tuscon Opera House was still offering viewers the opportunity to “watch” the World Series on a Playograph). And, in the same year of 1914, Archibald Low demonstrated a crude form of television in London.

In 1925, Low published a book called The Future. In that book, he described (and showed an image of) viewers in London watching car races transmitted from Australia live (right).

After theatrical television systems became reality, audiences flocked to see those. And just what did they go to see? “Television,” as the poster at left indicates. Even as late as 1948, Alfred N. Goldsmith wrote in the Journal of the Society of Motion-Picture Engineers, “Television pictures in theaters will, initially, at least, have the strong appeal of novelty.”

The first content to be described as other than just “television” was the Epsom Derby in 1932, followed by an international transmission that brought a Danish film star’s image home from London. In 1936, the Olympic Games in Berlin were seen in television-viewing theaters like the one shown at right. In 1941, theatrical viewers saw live boxing and (finally) baseball; in 1952, they saw their first live opera, a Metropolitan Opera production of Carmen, seen in 31 cinemas in 27 cities (below).

Plays, football, basketball, symphony concerts, and even Presidential addresses were soon added. Results seemed, initially at least, very promising. U.S. News & World Report noted in 1949, “By 1952, most important theaters are expected to be equipped with television screens.” The Billboard reported on February 9, 1952 about a recent boxing match sent to theaters. “The State-Lake Theater in Chicago was the scene of a near riot, with disappointed people in the long line smashing down the doors in an effort to see the showing.”

When Life magazine looked at the field on January 5, 1953, however, less than a year later (when theatrical television was sometimes called closed-circuit TV), the report was not as glowing. Considering a carpet convention replaced by theatrical television (below), they quoted an unhappy “Midwest rug dealer” who missed the face-to-face get-together. “How else can I get away from my wife for five days?”

This was their description of the success of the opera transmission. “Like most others, this Denver theater was not sold out. Many of them lost money on the opera.” And their comments on the technical quality were even worse. “The moviegoers… heard the music distorted, often sounding like a worn-out record. Faces of singers became ghostly blobs, and their figures were so elongated that one critic saw ‘people resembling overripe bananas.’ Color was sadly missed.” The carpet convention, too, “suffered from poor picture images and lack of color.”

Perhaps surprisingly, then, the comment cards filled out by viewers, available for inspection at the Metropolitan Opera Archives, are almost uniformly positive, even at a theater that was briefly accidentally switched to TV-network programming (TV stations had to forego their network feeds to allow the opera transmission through). Why? Possibly crowd mentality and cognitive dissonance. In a theater, if no one else complains, why should you? As for the dissonance, if you pay a lot for a ticket (up to about $65 in today’s money), dress up, hire a babysitter, travel to the theater, and don’t like the show, you were stupid to expend so much time, money, and effort, so maybe it wasn’t so bad.

Regarding the financial failure, it was of its time. In 1952, there were about 2.7 billion movie tickets sold in the U.S.; in 2011, it was less than 1.3 billion. At the same time, the U.S. population grew from 158 million to 312 million, so people went to about four times as many movies back then. And movie theaters were larger, many with more seats than the opera house. If the theaters could fill those seats with movies and not with opera, then the latter was a failure.

Whatever the reason, theatrical television in the 1950s (like that era’s 3D movies) was not a lasting success. Movie studios dropped plans, and few movie theaters were equipped. When Theater Network Television, the first and largest theatrical television distributor, transmitted its 75th event, in 1954, a General Motors celebration of the production of their 50-millionth vehicle, the viewing venues included Carnegie Hall but also conference rooms in 52 hotels.

Today is a different era. Instead of being called theatrical television or closed circuit, the field is now “alternative content,” cinemas are equipped for non-film-based projection, and, perhaps due to its institutional nature and fan base, opera has become the number-one alternative content worldwide.

What is alternative content? Consider the matrix at left from the web site of BY EXPERIENCE HD, which calls itself “Pioneers of Global Live Cinema Events.” It includes operas, plays, radio shows, talks (including a talk about a TV series), concerts ranging from classical to rock, a documentary, and a college-choir holiday performance probably aimed primarily at the school’s alumni (http://www.byexperience.net/).

That’s just one producer/distributor. Others provide marching bands, ballet, church services, sports, political and economic events, children’s shows, instruction, charity events, and even game-playing, some in stereoscopic 3D.

Strangely, even movies can be alternative content. They just have to be tied to specific moments: anniversaries of classics, reminders of what preceded new sequels, and previews.

The key is that, whatever else the alternative content might be, it must be an event. Unfortunately, non-alternative content (better known as regular movies) does not share the event nature. Cinema personnel are, therefore, not accustomed to dealing with such issues as signal reception (at right, brushing snow out of a satellite dish above a cinema in Erie, Pennsylvania) or even noticing when a live event has ended, which is why the mostly white image shown below remains on screen for the last ten minutes of each Metropolitan Opera cinema transmission; it provides exit lighting.

The economics of alternative content have also changed since the 1950s. According to published figures, The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD has finished as high as ninth in weekend U.S. movie theatrical box office grosses. That can seem spectacular, given that there was a single showing of the opera vs. three days of continuous movie showings. Due to those continuous and ongoing showings (beyond the weekend), however, the movies continue to earn theatrical revenues, whereas the opera (except for an “encore” presentation) doesn’t. An opera that ranked ninth in its live weekend could fall to near 200th in revenue for the year.

On the other hand, alternative content doesn’t necessarily have to make a profit for its producer. If it increases exposure, donations, voter turnout, opera-house attendance, community outreach, etc., it can serve its purpose.

Exhibitors (movie-theaters) do need justification to provide auditoriums, however, which is another reason why alternative content is often priced higher than movies — and scheduled for low-movie-attendance times. An opera that starts at 9 am on the U.S. west coast and lasts for hours — with intermissions — can not only fill an otherwise empty cinema but also provide exceptional business for its concession stand, as the photo above left indicates (a portion of a larger image that appeared in The New York Times on January 1, 2007, shot by J. Emilio Flores in a Burbank, California cinema during the Metropolitan Opera’s The Magic Flutehttp://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/01/arts/music/01scre.html).

Of course, as in the 1950s, this is a challenging era for movie exhibitors. With television’s household penetration increasing back then, the movie business turned to stereoscopic 3D and higher-resolution formats. Today, with HD home-theater penetration increasing, the movie business is turning to, well, stereoscopic 3D and higher-resolution (4K) formats. And with sports arenas and arts centers also equipped to show HD images, alternative content can move to alternative venues, like the AT&T Park ball field, shown at right with a live San Francisco Opera feed of Lucia di Lammermoor (http://blog.echovar.com/?p=423).

Though this post has covered events in the U.S., alternative content for cinema is a global phenomenon (pre-Avatar, there was even a live 3D opera from France). Here’s a link to The EDCF Guide to ALTERNATIVE CONTENT in Digital Cinema from the European Digital Cinema Forum, published in September 2008 (it’s also popular in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the rest of the Americas): http://www.edcf.net/edcf_docs/edcf_alt_content_for_dcinema.pdf

Don’t like the movie business? Consider the alternatives.

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