The 1922 Pantomime World Series thrilled baseball fans before the radio

Have you ever heard of the 1922 Pantomime World Series in Washington? — Betsy McDaniel, Washington No, Answer Man didn’t. This term – Pantomime World Series – put in his mind a distressing image: a

Have you ever heard of the 1922 Pantomime World Series in Washington?

Betsy McDaniel, Washington

No, Answer Man didn’t. This term – Pantomime World Series – put in his mind a distressing image: a silent stadium full of mimes, each trapped in an invisible box or leaning in a strong wind, trying without a word to impress the judges with their mime skills. .

And yet, somehow, the real event was no less bizarre. In fact, this year marks the centenary of what one newspaper called “the greatest sporting novelty” the world has ever seen.

Of course, the newspaper that called it that is the newspaper that created it: The Washington Times. (Founded in 1894 and closed in 1939, this Washington Times had no connection with the newspaper of the same name today.)

Imagine the time before television, the time before the radio. If you were a fan wanting to experience a sporting event, you had to be there. You could read about it in the next day’s paper, but to feel what the crowd was feeling – to cling to every pitch, to worry about every foul, to rejoice at every home run – you had to be there. And just as seeing a movie in a full house can be superior to seeing just one at home, nothing can compare to the community experience.

The inventors had tried different ways to recreate baseball games from a distance. At the beginning of the 20th century, Washington Henry Rodier built a contraption called the Rodier Electric Baseball Game Reproducer. It was a billboard-sized sign adorned with an illustration of a baseball field. The board was dotted with lights that could be illuminated to show the path of a ball or runner.

The board operator received telegraph feed from the live game and turned on the appropriate lights. In 1909, Rodier rented a building in DC and set up his board of directors there, charging people a quarter to “see” a game between Washington and St. Louis.

The Washington Post was among the newspapers that hung what were generically called Play-o-Graph machines outside their buildings, drawing crowds.

Before unveiling his electric ball court, Rodier had been a typographer at the Washington Evening Star. Perhaps his position in the district newspaper community inspired the inventor of the mime-ball Harry Colman, who ran the photography and engraving department of The Washington Times. Coleman’s innovation was to replace the light bulbs with real humans and replace the rented auditorium with a real ballpark.

On Sunday, October 1, 1922, The Washington Times ran a full-page ad inviting readers to watch Game 1 of the World Series this Wednesday at American League Park, the ballpark near Howard University. ” Something new ! the ad promised.

In effect. The newspaper had hired two teams of Marines – one from the Navy Yard, the other from Marine Corps Barracks – to mimic the action at the Polo Grounds in New York, where the New York Giants would face the New York Yankees.

The action would be transmitted south via four telegraph lines installed especially for the event. Then four stenographers transcribed the exhibits, which were distributed to the waiting Marines who rushed to the field and reenacted them.

“So, from the comfort of the grandstand, Washington fans will be able to witness a hands-on duplication of World Series games as they are played in New York,” The Times promised.

It was called pantomime because no bullets were used. Rather, the Marines mimed the plays, literally going through the motions. Between innings, the 60-piece Navy Band entertained the crowd.

Admission was free. The Times claimed that 8,000 people attended that first game, which the Giants won 3-2.

Crowds have grown over the course of the series. When the Yankees pitcher Ball Joe Bush loaded the bases in Game 5, a pantomime reliever warmed up and fans screamed for Bush to be out. Over 20,000 fans attended this final game and saw the “Giants” defeat the “Yankees” and claim the crown.

Wrote The Washington Times: “It looks a little tame, but the thousands who saw it work got a mighty kick out of it.”

In 1923, the same two New York teams met again in the World Series, and the Times again sponsored a mock game at by Clark Griffith stadium.

“Pantomime baseball has ceased to be an experiment,” the newspaper wrote. “It’s the most effective way to reproduce ball games. Authorities say pantomime is the next step in the game, with no shortage of thrills.

But the radio had the wind in its sails. The 1921 series was the first to air, and this medium will only grow in popularity.

There was no pantomime baseball in DC in 1924. Griffith’s home field was needed for something else: the World Series, which the Washington Senators won in seven games.