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Cubs and MLB history: The time WGN-TV broadcast two games at once

Yes, it really happened.

Courtesy WGN-TV

This story really belonged in my five-part series on the history of WGN-TV and the Cubs, which concluded on the season’s final weekend.

The reason it wasn’t included in that series is that I just learned about it a few days ago, after that series was written and published. There’s never a bad time to learn a bit more history of our favorite baseball team, and I think you’ll like this story.

As you know, from 1948-67 WGN-TV broadcast both Cubs and White Sox games, primarily home games of both teams. All Cubs home games were carried because they were all afternoon games in that era. Generally, WGN carried weekend White Sox afternoon games and occasional weeknight games.

Then as now, these broadcasts usually didn’t conflict because the teams were not scheduled at home on the same days, at least most of the time. Scheduling like that is more difficult now because of the 15-team leagues requiring an interleague series every day. These days, the Cubs and Sox are often at home on the same date half a dozen or more times a year.

But back then this sort of thing was fairly rare. 1962 was the first year both leagues had 10 teams, with the A.L. expansion the previous season and the N.L.’s addition of a pair of clubs that year. So league scheduling, which was not yet coordinated by the Commissioner’s office the way they are now, produced a 1962 schedule that had the Cubs and White Sox both playing at home in Chicago from Thursday, July 12 through Saturday, July 14.

Both teams were scheduled to begin their home games Saturday, July 14, 1962 at 1:30 p.m. How would WGN-TV handle it?

Here’s how:

That was an ad the TV station ran in the Tribune the morning of the games. And that’s exactly what WGN-TV did — they covered both games, switching back and forth between the North Side and South Side when action warranted.

How did it work out?

The Tribune reported in the following day’s edition:

Employing a force of 50 technicians — 19 at Wrigley Field, 19 at Sox Park and 12 at the master control board at 2501 Bradley Place — and four cameras in each park, WGN-TV brought off the complicated presentation without missing a highlight in either contest.

Jack Brickhouse, describing the Cubs’ victory over Cincinnati at Wrigley Field, and Vince Lloyd, handling the White Sox conquest of Detroit on the south side, were in constant touch with each other and the master control room by a closed circuit telephone setup.

Under the system devised for the double telecast, switches from one park to another were made faster than is routine in television procedures. To safeguard against spectacular off-screen developments at either park, Brickhouse and Lloyd on a word signal — “Bingo! Bingo!” — could break into each other’s presentation or the commercial any time play at either park warranted.

WGN-TV presented all the scoring plays and all the extra-base hits except Eddie Kasko’s double in Wrigley Field and doubles by Steve Boros of Detroit and Frank Baumann of the White Sox in Comiskey Park.

There was only one minor hitch. Someone at master control pushed the wrong button when Brickhouse called for the circuit in the Cub half of the eighth inning after the Sox had ended an inning. Instead of Wrigley Field, the viewers got a commercial. Brickhouse rectified the error with “Bingo! Bingo!”, but Marty Keough had already dropped Billy Williams’ liner by the time they got the Cubs back on the air and viewers only saw Lou Brock score the tiebreaking run.

Now that is a broadcast I wish WGN-TV had saved! Videotape was still in its infancy then (though it had been used by WGN-TV to save the last inning or so of Don Cardwell’s no-hitter two years earlier), but given the historic nature of this broadcast, you’d think they would have made a kinescope of it. Perhaps someday a film or videotape of this broadcast will be unearthed somewhere.

The Sox won their game 4-2 over the Tigers and the Cubs, who lost a franchise-record 103 games that year, won theirs 6-3 over the Reds.

Maybe WGN-TV should have done this more often, although the opportunity might not have come up again.