When the queen came to the abbey for live rehearsals it became obvious, to the horror of the cameramen, that the archbishop’s robes concealed her face from their lenses as he lowered the crown, totally obscuring the main shot of the day. The archbishop tried again, raising his arms higher and subtly shifting the angle of his gesture so the camera line was not obscured.

Monarch, Robert Lacey

When Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, there was a great deal of frowning when the idea of televising the ceremony was broached. This was considered a massive breach of privacy, unfit for the dignity of a queen. She didn’t want it, her advisors didn’t want it, and a vast swath of the UK thought they didn’t want it, but they all watched anyway.

The young monarch strictly forbade closeups and her husband, Prince Phillip, oversaw the operation so as to protect her respectability. Certain sensitive moments of the ceremony, such as the Queen’s anointment as head of Church of England, weren’t shot at all. But before the day arrived and the cameras rolled at all, as you see here, the ceremony had turned itself over to the cameras. In the very act of receiving the crown of an empire that stretches back a thousand years, Elizabeth deferred to the real ruler– the unseeing eye.

This was a prescient moment for Elizabeth II, whose heir and his bride would wage war in print and on camera, a battle in which the press played a part in the untimely death of the mother of the future king. She couldn’t have known this as the archbishop canted the angle of the crowning so as to please not her, but the cameras filming the moment. But the rock had been tossed in the pond, and there was no retrieving it or stopping the ripples.

Meanwhile, across another, less metaphorical pond, baseball was pivoting to the same new overlord. In 1951, the “Shot Heard Round the World” was mostly heard, not seen, and it was perhaps the last major sports moment the nation heard from radio speakers rather than flickered into living rooms. “The Giants win the pennant!” call from Russ Hodges’ microphone survives only because a New York fan asked his mother to tape the game, which he couldn’t listen to because he was working. A day shift and a mom who happened to own a reel-to-reel recorder: That’s the only reason the audio survives.

Now, of course, we all carry high-flown editing suites in our jacket pockets. The slow result of this has been catastrophic for baseball, a game built for a summer afternoon in the stands, not a two-hour broadcast with convenient television time-outs. Baseball broadcasts tie with a neater bow than football and are more disposed to emotion-reading zooms than basketball, but its one-batter-at-a-time pace means that if anyone is watching the recording of a game, there’s a lot of ffing involved (yes, that is a word, because I said so, and it is pronounced “fiff-ing”, to rhyme with “miffing,” also because I said so.)

What this means for the future of baseball is up to baseball itself. Are the local market blackouts going to continue? Is the MLB streaming technology going to stop pretending it’s 1994 and we’re all tying up a phone line and logging into our AOL accounts to watch a few pixels float back and forth? Will control devolve back to local fan bases?

It is a sport for radio, and that is not a bad thing, especially in an era when some podcasts are fetching higher numbers than late-night comedy TV shows on legacy networks. We could look at this as an almost-missed opportunity, or we could brace ourselves for baseball’s eventual slide into comparative oblivion as a second-tier sport.

The Queen knew when to yield. And now that the digital revolution has settled in its middle age into nearly every aspect of nearly every life, we’ll see if baseball does too.

13 Responses

  1. west larry

    Yes, baseball’s inability to recognize that it is 2021 and not 1980 something has probably doomed it’s eventual classification as a secondary sport. Billionaire Mark Cuban has tried to buy a team, or be a majority owner in a bid to get a team for years. The current ownership view him as a maverick, and rightly so, who won’t goose step with the other owners on issues that effect the sport. The blocking of Cuban, and probably a few other wealthy individuals , from entering ownership can lead to nothing good or forward thinking by this tight knit ownership group. Hello 1980 something. The expiring contract in December should lead to some bloody battles between the union and owners, but I don’t think either side would endanger a whole season. We saw the fans stay away in droves the last time this occurred (in the 1980’s ? It appears football, basketball and soccer will be vying for the top three spots in the sports world.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      It’s really ridiculous about who’s “allowed” to buy a baseball team. The NFL does this too. Snobbery is still alive and well.

  2. Scott C

    It is amazing how some such little events can change the course of history many times unknown by those involved in the event. I am glad that Bobby Thomson’s home run and the call was caught on film, but regardless I would remember it because it is part of baseball legend. Some of my best memories of baseball were from listening to the radio. I would take my transistor radio to bed and listen to the broadcast under my pillow, so my parent’s couldn’t hear. I listen to the radio the night Tom Seaver pitched his no hitter. That being said, I now watch the games via MLBTV, I can because I live in Florida, my son who lives in the Cincinnati area cannot because of MLB’s primitive blackout rule. Regardless of the fact that I might wane nostalgic over listening to baseball, the time has come to allow everyone to watch the games, if you pay a cable or streaming fee you ought to be able to watch the games.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Radio=baseball for me, and I’m sure the vast majority of fans. It will be interesting to see what the non-Marty generations of Reds fans have to say about this tendency.

  3. Mark Moore

    Bringing back fond memories of Reds games on the radio when the “skip” provided a signal in Southern NY State … very sweet indeed. And I’ll often take the WLW700 audio feed overlay instead of the mostly inane blather from the TV booth. Something has to give here as time will march on. I’m with many others just hoping we get to see plenty of MLB in 2022, though I’m hedging my bets with minor-league options (may even spring for the MiLB.tv subscription if it comes to it).

    I’d welcome Mr. Cuban and, being an Indiana University guy, he’d have as much hometown feel as we probably need for our Reds. Then again, I’d pretty much go for anybody getting our team out of the hands of the current ownership.

    The Crown portrayed the angst of the coronation television rather well, I thought. Hard to believe that’s approaching 70 years ago. I guess some things are timeless.

    Oh, and one question … if we choose to Clete, are we allowed to go back and do the ffing through the game video later? 🙂

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      The first season of the Crown was fascinating. I’ll miss it when it’s done.

      Ruling on returning to a recording of a game after Cleting out: ALLOWED. You have already demonstrated your umbrage by checking out of the game, and thus are permitted to return at a later hour if the team has gotten the hint and corrected itself. The point has been made.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      I grew up in the “Southern Tier” of NYS. I confiscated our old (I think) Stewart-Warner radio with an AM antenna that I strung outside my bedroom window. With that, at night I could get the following teams, although some with very sketchy reception: Yankees, Mets, Orioles, Braves (Atlanta), Red Sox occasionally, White Sox, Cubs, Tigers with Ernie Harwell who is still one of my favorites, Expos, Blue Jays, Phillies, Senators, Reds, usually not very well, Cardinals, Pirates, Indians, and once in awhile the Astros out of a station in Louisiana.

      • Mark Moore


        I’m a native Upstate NY’er. We lived in the Southern Tier (Horseheads specifically) from 72 through 79. I have very fond memories of Joe and Marty calling games.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        You were a well-rounded child!

  4. Oldtimer

    I’m guessing I was not alone but we often turned down the TV volume in the 1960s and 1970s to listen to Waite Hoyt or Marty and Joe calls the Reds games on radio as we watched on TV.

    Fond memories of days long gone by. And unlikely to return.

    • Bill J

      I loved listening to Waite tell his stories during a rain interruption. My dad got to meet 1 time at Crosley Field, dad bought the album, Waite in the rain.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I’m sorry I missed him! A copy of that album is in the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      SOP in the TriState, I would imagine.