Playing it by the boards

AMONG the pleasurable amenities and features of Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the scoreboard -- a festival of lights and flashing data, video, advertising and showbiz. "It's among the largest and most advanced scoreboards in all of baseball," says Eli Eisenberg, of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

That's pretty much what the Orioles said about their new scoreboard in 1937, when, thanks to Gunther Beer, the Baltimore entry in the International League erected in Oriole Park (Greenmount and 29th) what was billed as "the world's largest scoreboard." It was a claim that actually appeared on the board!


The scoreboard in Oriole Park at Camden Yards is 95 feet wide and 105 feet high (both dimensions longer than the distance between bases). It flashes the usual scoreboard stuff -- balls, strikes, outs, lineups and so on, in addition to up-to-the-minute statistics on players, instant replays (unless the plays are controversial) and between-innings notices and entertainment, all of it computerized. (Scores of other games are shown on smaller boards elsewhere in the park.) More than a scoreboard, it's really an entertainment center.

The 1937 version was a different animal.


Some days before Opening Day, April 23, teaser newspaper ads and radio spots -- of course, there was no TV -- announced a mystery program to be presented on WBAL radio's sportscast, which featured Don Riley. The tease line was "Baltimore scores again," and listeners were invited to tune in to find out why.

When they did, they heard Clarence L. Smith, the outdoor advertising manager for Gunther (which paid for the scoreboard), explain the mystery: Fans coming into Oriole Park on Opening Day would see the gigantic, state-of-the-art scoreboard for the first time. "And," Smith promised, "its operation will be as spectacular as its size."

There it was, 40 feet high and 80 feet wide, made of sheet metal, all black and white lettering -- a towering showpiece! It featured lights that would come on in the appropriate slots to signal strikes, balls, outs and players at bat. Baltimore had never seen anything like it.

The new scoreboard replaced an existing one that appears in a 1930 picture of the old park. It was in dead center field, at ground level and no higher than a standard baseball billboard (though perhaps twice as wide). This board was operated the way scoreboards are at thousands of amateur parks today; numbered panels were hung by hand to show a game's statistics.

Scoreboards from the day in 1944 when the Baltimore Orioles first started to play on 33rd street (following a fire that destroyed the old Oriole Park) have been changed and altered over the years. Many fans will remember the scoreboard in right-center field at Memorial Stadium, installed in 1954 and razed in 1969. In 1970 it was replaced by a new board in left-center. These were simple black-and-white boards, showing the basic stuff. But in 1985 "Diamond Vision" came to 33rd Street, and fans got to see Baltimore's first major-league "videoboard."

By the way, Opening Day in 1937 was ruined when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Orioles, 10 to 7, though Oriole George ("Pooch") Puccinelli did get three hits, including a homer. Maybe the loss would have been easier if fans could have seen on their scoreboard the replay of Pooch's drive, as well as lifetime averages, baseball bloopers and the like.

If such wizardry was unthinkable 55 years ago, what will baseball in Baltimore be like in 2047?