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Today in Cubs history: A baseball game is seen in Europe by satellite for the first time

This was a big deal on that day.

Wrigley Field in the early 1960s
Diamond Images/Getty Images

Today, satellite transmissions of TV broadcasts are commonplace. They’re used to transmit sports events from the venue to a TV studio, for example, and there are companies who sell packages of channels by satellite for home use. (That’s starting to decline due to streaming, though.)

In 1962, however, the idea of sending a broadcast overseas by a satellite orbiting the Earth was a novelty. The first such broadcast satellite was called Telstar, and as part of a first broadcast from the USA to Europe, a one-minute snippet of a Cubs game against the Phillies from Wrigley Field was shown. Here’s what the people watching in Europe saw (and this is also likely the earliest saved color video — not film — from Wrigley):

This is the top of the third inning of this game. Tony Taylor, a former Cub batting for the Phillies, hits a fly ball to right field off Cal Koonce. Then you can see a pitch hit to right field off Koonce by Johnny Callison (who would become a Cub eight years later). Callison’s ball was a base hit to right.

Fifteen years later, a Tribune story revealed why both of the hitters swung at the pitches thrown while the game was on satellite. I wrote about this three years ago in my WGN-TV history series:

Tribune columnist Peter Reich revealed that both of those hit balls were somewhat orchestrated by plate umpire Tony Venzon. Venzon had talked about the intercontinental telecast with Jack Brickhouse before the game and apparently decided to take matters into his own hands.

After the game, Brickhouse told Venzon, “We sure were lucky that both of those batters decided to swing when we were on Telstar.” Venzon replied, “Lucky, hell! That was my doing. I told them each when they came up to bat, ‘Fella, you’d better swing at anything this guy throws, because if it’s within three feet of the plate, I’m gonna call it a strike!’ I mean, I wasn’t gonna let baseball look dull and uninteresting to people in Europe who’d never seen a game before, was I?”

The Cubs, who weren’t very good in 1962, eventually lost that game 5-3. Just 6,699 were in attendance at Wrigley Field for what was considered an historic event.

It all happened 60 years ago today, Monday, July 23, 1962. If you’re interested in seeing the entire USA-to-Europe satellite broadcast, here it is: