Thursday, June 6, 2013

THE FIRST PLAY-BY-PLAY MAN

     In fact, he probably invented the idea.  And he was a Hoosier.

    ...It was The Big Game -- and not a home game for his school's team.  The year was 1903.  University of Michigan student,  Indiana resident (and part-time telegrapher) Floyd J. "Jack" Mattice had already dreamed up (and sold to Western Union!) the notion of having sports-knowledgeable telegraphers transmit moment-by-moment scores and high points directly, instead of waiting on copy from print reporters and now he'd come up with another idea: a long-distance telephone line.  He'd describe the game to the other students back at UM as it happened.

     Bell Telephone installed a phone booth on 40-foot poles along the sidelines at mid-field and a direct line back to the auditorium UM. Shortly before the game began, Mattice climbed up and placed the call--

     But remember, this is 1903.  Electrical amplification is still several years away.  Backstage, ten more sports-fan students were listening in, each one in turn memorizing a few minutes' play and rushing onstage to relay it to the audience, and then back to his listening post as the next "sportscaster" took over, on after another.

     It was a popular notion.  At UM, the practice continued until radio broadcasting took over in the 1920s.  As for Mattice, he had another career; you see, he'd arrived at college already a member of the bar.  After graduation, he went home to Rochester and practiced law, serving a couple terms as county prosecutor.  Even that wasn't enough -- during WW I, he went to work for the Bureau of Investigation's office in Indianapolis and then at the U. S. District Attorney's office.  He went back into private practice a few years later and then served in various posts with the city, then back to Federal work during WW II, ending up as a prosecutor at the war crimes trials in Japan.

     Still, inventing sportscasting probably made more people happy than any of his legal work.  He retired to Rochester and passed away in 1971.  He maintained a lifelong interest in telegraphy and if you've ever wondered about the curious number of attorney/sportscasters (Howard Cosell, for instance), while I don't think Mr. Mattice can be blamed for it, he was certainly one of the first examples.

     (Crossposted from my personal/political blog.)

No comments:

Post a Comment