We are over a month into quarantine, and for many of us, the loss of baseball hits hard, no pun intended. In lieu of visiting the ballpark, I’ve reached for another Maryland Public Television (MPT) gem: Basically Baseball, a four episode mini-series made in 1973 when MPT was known as the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting. Shot on-location in Florida during spring training, each 30-minute show features the Baltimore Orioles working on the field and sharing advice on technique. Heavy in hot tips and the inside scoop, Basically Baseball may not be the season as we know it, but it’s basically better than no baseball at all.
Our featured episode aired June 4, 1973. Focusing on fielding, the show acts as an instructional document for young athletes, but could also help the adults who have been recruited to coach despite having zero experience. Split into five sections (“Stance”, “The Glove”, “Ground Balls”, “The Cross-Over Step” and the all-important “Throwing the Ball”), viewers get the excitement of immediate and up-close access to baseball legends while also benefiting from their sound advice. The relatively advanced age of the show does nothing to take away from its value – the tips are as sound today as they were almost fifty years ago. In addition, Basically Baseball’s nostalgic appeal, an enduring element of baseball fandom, is massive, offering today’s fans with a time capsule to experience a slice of the Orioles’ golden years.
To do this, Basically Baseball places viewers on the field with a litany of legendary Orioles, each so distinct in their style and place in Baltimore history that they each deserve a mention. We’ve got Coach Billy Hunter, who, before coaching, played shortstop for the first modern Orioles team when the St. Louis Browns moved to Maryland in 1954. Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, third baseman, demonstrates the importance of being on the balls of the feet and “not really committing” oneself during play. This point is reiterated by second baseman Bob Grich, the player I like to call “The Man with the Mustache.” Shortstop Mark Belanger, nicknamed “The Blade” makes a few appearances along with outfielder Paul Blair and beloved first baseman John Wesley “Boog” Powell, whose baseball fame has translated into his successful chain of Boog’s Barbeque restaurants. The players are all frank, simply spoken and arrestingly present, successfully emulating the on-field experience.
Visually, this show has got it all. Fast cuts, close-ups and slow motion. The open credits are a mash-up of the best editing features 1973 had to offer, and we jump right into the action – an approach that underscores the sensation of the in-person experience. The Orioles, in their grey, black and orange, pop flies against the backdrop of a Florida stadium, complete with palm trees and advertisements for Disney World, Yoo-hoo and Malta Regal, a non-alcoholic “cereal beverage”. Between clips extolling the virtues of a small glove (thanks, Belanger), keeping your fingers spread (I’m looking at you, Grich), and knowing where you are (a tip from Blair that applies both on the field and off), viewers can squint and imagine themselves on that warm Florida field, rather than isolated in our homes and apartments.
The featured team went on to have a great season, winning their division championship. Producing a show that targeted young baseball players was a savvy move on the part of MPT, who broadened the appeal of their programming through capitalizing on the die-hard love that Orioles fans have for their team. And that appeal appears to have lasted, with a 1979 Washington Post article noting that Basically Baseball was a rental tape favorite. Today’s fans get a double-dose of nostalgia, reminiscing with Orioles past and partaking in the field talk baseball aficionados so adore, with cries of “bang bang” at the first base and shouts from the outfield making the delay, or possible cancellation, of this season a little more bearable.
Watch the full program here: https://streamer.lib.umd.edu/ssdcms/i.do?u=20e2ff1f9f2e4f7
Emily Moore is a second year MLIS student with a background in art history, cinema and theory. In addition to her role as a student assistant at Special Collections and University Archives, she works as the Archival Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.