Sunday, June 20, 2010

That's The Way It Goes

The man who sat at a telegraph machine fanning himself in a hot, stuffy room overlooking a baseball field in New York in 1887 illustrates how popular baseball was at the time and how far businesses were willing to go to capitalize on its popularity. Telegraph operators relayed scores by inning to newspapers and pool rooms across the country where fans would hungrily lap up the information about their home team (or the team on which they had placed a bet). The competition between telegraph companies, Baltimore and Ohio and Western Union, was fierce. Clubs signed a contract with one company, giving them the sole rights to wire the information about games from their field for the season. The demand for baseball was so high, however, that sometimes the company that lost the contract still found a creative way to follow the game and wire scores to paying customers.

A July 1887 New York Times article tells of a Baltimore and Ohio telegraph operator working outside a ballpark that was under contract with Western Union. The operator did not let that stop him from wiring scores. He had rented a room in the spring which overlooked the field for $5 a month and had telegraph wires run to the room. It must have seemed like the perfect plan, that is until the buds appeared on the giant willow tree that stood between the room and the field. The tree that, according to the operator, "has the heaviest foliage I ever saw on any tree" blocked home plate and the infield. Fortunately he could still "obtain a fair view of the outfield."

The operator did not let this obstacle keep from reporting the score, inning by inning. Instead of relying on sight, he used sound, just as one receives information on a telegraph. After each play he waited to hear the reaction of the crowd to determine what happened on the field. He learned to interpret the silence, cheers, groans and gasps nearly perfectly. He reported, "That's the way it goes and I haven't been deceived by these signs three times this season. When the game is concluded I telegraph the total runs, base hits and errors, and unscrewing my machine, make tracks for home and make my dinner."

I love the juxtaposition of intelligence and stupidity in this story because, well, I guess I can relate to it. I have my "blonde" moments. There's something very human about a guy who took a gutsy and creative action of renting the room, rigging the machine and was then fooled by his own short-sightedness of not thinking about the tree that would obviously get leaves in the summer. I love that he didn't let his error stop him, he still persisted. He used his other senses and knowledge of the game to get the information he needed. I often say I may not be (insert various adjectives), but I'm resourceful. That's this guy! Finally, I love that at the end of the day he didn't beat himself up about what may have gone wrong. Sometimes I take myself and my actions way too seriously and I just need to relax, say "that's the way it goes" make tracks for home and make my dinner. Can you relate to the operator too or am I the only one that sometimes overlooks simple things, like trees getting leaves?

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