Of all the oddball stunts that radio and TV stations resorted to to keep baseball-hungry fans entertained during the strike, the weirdest was pulled off by radio station KNBR in San Francisco. For years the station, one of the city's oldest, has been known for offbeat community activities and contests, and the station slogan is "Good Time Radio 68." Apparently, the slogan more than fits.
Like a lot of other stations, KNBR put on an original tape of an old baseball broadcast—in its case, the famous seventh game of the 1962 World Series, in which the Yankees beat the Giants 1-0. You may remember that in the last half of the ninth inning in that game, with two out and the tying and winning runs on base, Willie McCovey of the Giants hit a vicious line drive toward Yankee Second Baseman Bobby Richardson. Bobby caught it, and that was that. The Yankees won the game and the Series. The Giants lost, and San Francisco was socked in with gloom.
But when KNBR rebroadcast the game, it didn't come out that way. There was San Francisco, listening to the same old sequence, waiting to be hurt again. There was the voice of broadcaster George Kell, taped that fateful day in 1962, saying of McCovey, "There's a liner straight to Richardson...."
But then Kell's voice, the same 1962 voice, says, "Did he get it? No, it got away from him. He can't get it, he can't get it. It bounces by him. Here's a run coming in to score. Alou scores...Willie Mays...coming in to score.... The ballgame is over and the World Series is over. The Giants win it."
August 30, 1981
The broadcast stirred up a storm in San Francisco—there was a front-page story about it, and a flood of phone calls to the station asking about it—because everything sounded so real. The station announced that its report was only the way it wished the Series had ended, which prompted a caller to phone in and inquire, "You guys did such a good job of changing the result of the World Series, I wonder whether you can change the result of the 1968 presidential election?" KNBR then rebroadcast the actual Yankees-Giants finale, with Richardson catching the ball and the Yankees winning.
Nevertheless, the new version titillated Giant fans, who bubbled on about it for days. KNBR had to play it again, and everyone wanted to know how it was done. There was no question that it was George Kell's voice all the way, yet Kell had nothing to do with the trick broadcast.
It was simply the "magic of electronic wizardry," as one San Francisco paper put it, or pretty much the same technique the bad guys used in the 1954 movie The Prisoner, in which Jack Hawkins played the Communist inquisitor and Alec Guinness the imprisoned cardinal. KNBR snipped words and phrases from elsewhere in Kell's broadcasts of the Series and spliced them neatly into the orignal tape to create the new ending. The phrase "Did he get it? No, it got away from him" came from a play in the sixth game, and that same game provided "the ball got away from Richardson." Matty Alou, who was on third base in the ninth, hadn't scored once during the Series, but his brother Felipe had, and because Alou sounds the same whether it's Matty or Felipe, it was easy to splice in an "Alou scores" from the fourth inning of the sixth game. Mays had followed Felipe around to third on that earlier play, so the engineers deftly deleted "third" and dubbed Kell's voice saying "home," an easy word to find. It was just as easy to find a Kell "Giants" and sub it for "Yankees" to alter the "The Yankees win it!" to "The Giants win it!" And they had heard Kell earlier in that seventh game describing Candlestick Park as "a madhouse," which fit the new ninth-inning mood perfectly. All in all, it was an astonishingly realistic switch—and a little frightening.
Just ask the father who was listening to the broadcast at home with his young son, describing what it was like to be among the 43,948 fans who had seen the fateful game in person. As the father slowly built up to the sorrowful conclusion, Richardson made his unexpected error. Man and boy sat stunned, listening to the outcome of the game. Then the boy turned to his father and asked; "How much beer did you say you had that day, Dad?"