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Playing ball with TV outweighs performance on the field for Cubs’ popularity

Saint Xavier Professor writes book about television’s 70-year impact on baseball

news story imageChicago (July 22, 2008) They’re both in first place, but the fans voted seven Chicago Cubs players to the All-Star Game this summer and only two from the White Sox. 

The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in a record 100 years and haven’t taken the National League Pennant since World War II. The White Sox won their third World Series Championship only three years ago.

Yet year after year, the Northside’s lovable losers wallop the Sox in national popularity. Averaged over the past five years, the Cubs were the fourth most popular team in the country while their Southside rivals ranked 19th, according to the Harris poll.    

Why? Sox fans ask. How? 

A major reason is which club decided to play ball more effectively with television, according to Saint Xavier University Professor James R. Walker, Ph.D., who co-authored the just released book “Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television.” 

“Although the White Sox televised more games than most major league teams in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the Cubs were baseball’s most aggressive TV advocate, televising all of their home games and, after 1967, most of their road games. The team’s home and day games were an after school TV ritual for many of today’s Cubs fans. In the 1980s, the Cubs used cable superstation WGN and superstar announcer Harry Caray to expand their national fan base.”

“Center Field Shot” traces the sometimes-contentious relationship between television and baseball from the first televised game in 1939 to the new era of Internet broadcasts, satellite radio and high-definition TV. Walker and his co-author, Duquesne Professor Rob Bellamy examine how baseball helped grow the new medium of television and how television in turn changed baseball, motivating MLB owners to create more teams, increase the number of post season games, and move the World Series and All-Star Game to prime time.

“In the past, the owners saw television as equal parts threat and savior. The TV game threatened to keep fans from the park, but when free agency forced salaries dramatically higher, the medium provided more revenue to meet the game’s expanding payroll. In the modern era, Major League Baseball embraced the promotional power of television and aggressively used the Internet to expand its distribution of the televised game.” 
	 
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO INTERVIEW WALKER, CONTACT: Joe Moore
773-298-3937 or jmoore@sxu.edu

-SXU-

Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846, Saint Xavier University was the first Mercy college in the United States and is Chicago’s oldest Catholic university. Serving approximately 5,700 students at its campuses in Chicago, Orland Park and its Loop location, the University offers 35 undergraduate majors; more than 40 graduate program options in arts and sciences, business, education and nursing; and a variety of program options in continuing and professional studies. Recognizing Saint Xavier’s excellence in education, U.S. News and World Report has ranked SXU consistently among the Best Colleges in the Midwest.