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The Payphone Stadium Project
March 5, 2012 4:49 PM   Subscribe

In 1990, the avenues of information we have today weren't around. So what was a baseball fan who wanted to know the score of a game elsewhere in the country to do? Compile a list of pay phone numbers at stadiums and get the score from passers by who picked up.
posted by reenum (46 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did they not show baseball live on television in 1990?
posted by ZaneJ. at 4:51 PM on March 5, 2012


i honestly can't imagine a world like this. wow.

(i think both of your links are the same, by the way.)
posted by Avenger50 at 4:51 PM on March 5, 2012


I'll never forget the day in eighth grade, 1992 or so, when some bright spark called my house in Mississippi and asked me if I could get him the score from the last Red Sox game. "I'm ringing from England," he explained, "and, er, I'm in a pub . . . "

From his accent, and the noise in the background, this certainly sounded true. He thought he had called a number in the Boston area -- not anyone's in particular, just somebody's. Being an Anglophile nerdmaiden, I wished I could help him, but our family always threw out the sports section in the morning and I hadn't a clue.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:56 PM on March 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Did they not show baseball live on television in 1990?

All the games being played on any given day? No way.

Besides, it's not just knowing that you could get ALL the scores, but that you could connect to a fan happy to share the score and maybe chat with you a bit.

I think one of the links should have gone to this Baseball Prospectus story.

Ah, here we go:
Our Mission: To obtain the number of a pay phone in each of the 26 major league stadiums.

The Ground Rules: The pay phone location *must* have a clear view of the stadium scoreboard. That way, the person answering can relay the current score and situation of the game to the caller.

Our Goal: To publish - before the beginning of the pennant races - a complete list of stadium pay phone numbers where up-to-the-second game information can be obtained from on-the-scene game correspondents (a guy on his way back from the snackbar, a conscientious usher, a kid on his way to the souvenir stand).

Our Rewards: Instantaneous scores during heated pennant races. Verbal interaction with real fans at stadia across the continent, not pre-recorded 1-900 number yakity-yak...
posted by maudlin at 4:56 PM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Did they not show baseball live on television in 1990?

MLB Extra Innings didn't exist in 1990. On the other end of the spectrum, local games are often subject to blackouts (although for those you could usually listen to the radio).

I very clearly remember filling out an MLB All Star ballot when I went to an A's game back in when I was a kid (I must have been 8 or 9). I was incredibly honored to be charged with such an important commission. Of course I picked every A's player.
posted by muddgirl at 4:59 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I initially misread this as 1909 and thought to myself "Oh, those charming old-timey days."
posted by mhum at 5:03 PM on March 5, 2012


I always find it to be a bit of a mindfuck whenever I think that as recently as 20 years ago, if there was a miscommunication of rendezvous plans, you'd be pretty close to being completely fucked.

But at least the electric guitar had been around for decades by that point.
posted by triceryclops at 5:11 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did they not show baseball live on television in 1990?

On what channel? Cable TV wasn't in half the homes in the country until the mid-'90s, so most of the country had maybe six channels -- the Big Three networks, Fox (which only ran like eight hours of programming a week back then), a PBS affiliate and some random UHF channel that mostly played old movies and weird Ukrainian cartoons they could get for free. Sports news was two things: tomorrow's paper and the six o'clock local news, which told you how the local team did gave you a quick flash of scores from around the league, and then it was on to the weather.

Pepper Hastings deserves a goddamn Pulitzer Prize, with 22 years of interest.
posted by Etrigan at 5:12 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I haven't used a payphone since high school, so it never occurred to me that one might just ring and that I could just break the rules and answer it. Nowadays, everyone has their own number, so you don't even get random chance talking to different members of a household, much less someone even more random. What a delightful chance to connect to a stranger.
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:15 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I was living in a college dorm in 1990 and we just watched SportsCenter to get the scores.
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is called "making book".
posted by telstar at 5:22 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


In 1990, I'm pretty sure not many local Brewers games were aired on TV (I could be wrong though). We were far more likely to watch Cubs games on WGN.
posted by drezdn at 5:26 PM on March 5, 2012


I trust some of these calls were placed from pay phones using red boxes.
posted by Tube at 5:29 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The AP wire was available looooong before 1990; every media organization would have had access.

But I suppose "Beckett Baseball Card Monthly" wasn't sufficiently deep-pocketed to warrant getting wire access, in which case this would be useful. However, he should have just called the PR offices of the ballparks, who would have been happy to help him, rather than take a chance on someone picking up a ringing payphone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:31 PM on March 5, 2012


I would happily do this today if payphones still existed.

(In a true sign of the times, my iPhone tried to change "payphones" to "PayPal.")
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:36 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think the point was for Beckett Baseball Card Monthly to get scores (yes, they would get that from AP or from the pr office). The point was for fans to be able to call and get instantaneous scores. It's clearly a bit of a gag.
posted by muddgirl at 5:37 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reading this, my first thought was 'Why didn't they just look at Ceefax?'. Lacks the romance of the long distance telephone call, admittedly, but having a crap version of the web on every telly was pretty handy for this sort of thing.
posted by jack_mo at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2012


The AP wire was available looooong before 1990; every media organization would have had access.

You didn't have to have an AP hookup. A big chunk of the news feed was available on CompuServe as far back as 1982-1983... either $6/hr, or $6/hr and a small surcharge.
posted by crapmatic at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2012


One of the random facts I filed away at some point is that Ronald Reagan (I think) once had a job doing play-by-play with the game conveyed to him by telegraph.

Of course, it's still the case that the scores elsewhere are read off periodically from the wire. It's a sign of how removed from baseball I've become that I can't remember the name of the bloke on WGN who read the scores off the wire. Phil something or other.
posted by hoyland at 5:56 PM on March 5, 2012


What is this pay phone you speak of? :)

Years ago I would call the phone outside the downtown mall in my city. Punks, homeless and weirdos hung out there. It was fun just to talk to a random person.
posted by hot_monster at 6:15 PM on March 5, 2012


we did a lot with telephony back in the day
posted by halekon at 6:22 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think this was completely necessary in 1990. Lots of people would have ESPN. The 10 or 11 o'clock news would have a quick rundown of games. There were free automated ad-sponsored telephone services that would have scores.

But I could still see the appeal. I remember something similar in zines of the day. Things like "tired of being stuck in BFE? Here's a pay phone in Grand Central. Talk to a stranger today."
posted by honestcoyote at 6:25 PM on March 5, 2012


From the Prospectus article:
I took it upon myself to call the nine numbers listed for these five stadiums and none connect. Some numbers are kind of enough to give you the "We're sorry, but that number has been disconnected" message, but most only give you a busy signal. The busy signals (in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Oakland) give me hope that the payphones still exist in the same spot, but that does us little good if we're hoping to use them as Hastings envisioned it 20+ years ago.
My immediate assumption when someone says they got a "busy signal" calling a likely-bad number is that they just don't know the difference between the sound of a normal deeeet deeeet busy signal and the fast-busy dee-dee-dee-dee of a reorder tone, and that they're probably hearing the latter. In which case the hopes above are probably even more in vain than suggested.

So I tried calling all the Chicago, LA, and Oakland numbers. The bad news is that LA and Oakland and Wrigley Field all gave up verbal "non-working number" complaints. So those are definitely not hooked up, to a payphone or anything else.

The sort of good news is that the numbers for what I guess would have been Comiskey Park in 1990 don't give disconnected numbers. They ring into generic voicemail boxes instead. I doubt payphones are doing that, of course; but if someone really wants to try leaving a message at either of those numbers asking for a callback to say whether it's a baseball stadium and by the way could they call someone and ask what's the score over at The Cell, who knows.
posted by cortex at 6:31 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back in the '80's, I vacationed from Florida to San Francisco and picked up the number to a payphone on the corner of Haight n Ashbury. On special occasions, I would call to see who would answer and what they were up to. RPC. Random Payphone Chat. Good times.
posted by Jezebella at 6:32 PM on March 5, 2012


The bad news is that LA and Oakland and Wrigley Field all gave up verbal "non-working number" complaints. So those are definitely not hooked up, to a payphone or anything else.

These might be a case of area codes changing over time.

Dodger Stadium is no longer in the 213 area code so the little recording that the number is now in the 323 area code probably expired 13 years ago after they switched.

Oakland switched from the 415 area code to 510 in 1991.

Chicago near Wrigley went to from the 312 to 773 in the mid 1990s.

When the area code changes, you keep your old number in the new area code. Eventually your number in the old area code is reassigned. And I remember way back in the day learning the the phone companies would reserve 9xxx numbers for pay phones in many places (note on the list how most of the pay phone numbers listed in 1990 ended in 9xxx).

San Diego plays in a different ballpark and the old stadium is still there so maybe those numbers will work at the Q.
posted by birdherder at 6:55 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cute story, but not really the norm in my opinion. Seems like something a few dedicated uber sports nerds might have employed and done. But even the 80's where most folks didn't have cable tv yet ( I only got cable in 1992) it wasn't necessarily the dark ages either. Sports fans had many options to get their fix and be updated, albeit not near the information overload we have available since the the late 90's.

---I remember sportsphone here in NYC 976-1313 and you could hear a recording of updated sports scores every 15 minutes. In fact there was a whole array of phone services for weather, lottery scores, horse racing and stock results. Here's a sample list from Google books

In fact George Steinbrenner actually did a TV ad for them once. His line was, "If you can't get to the game, get to the phone."

---AM radio always had at least 2 all news stations that had sports updates multiple times an hour.

and of course if you had a local game on, the announcers would keep you up to date on out of town scores in different sports across the board.
posted by stavx at 9:01 PM on March 5, 2012


This is awesome, I wish I'd thought of it when I was young.

I grew up listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon do Cardinals games on the radio. That was pretty much the only way to get near live scores and updates.

For TV we had a black and white set with rabbit ears and actual dials to tune in channels. Even so it was only Cubs games on WGN and Braves games on TBS. If I saw the Cardinals on TV it was because they were playing one of those two teams or in the playoffs. Eventually we did break down and get the 13 channel basic cable package available in my hometown. I watched Ozzie Smith's iconic home run in the 1985 NLCS on a 13 inch black and white Zenith TV in my kitchen. My dad threw a beer up to the ceiling. Go crazy folks, indeed.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:04 PM on March 5, 2012


In 1990, I'm pretty sure not many local Brewers games were aired on TV

When I was a baseball-following youngster in Wisconsin (1986-87), I'm pretty sure at least some games were on WVTV. That was the only Milwaukee station we got, along with the Madison stations, and I always figured it was just the Brewers channel.
posted by aaronetc at 9:28 PM on March 5, 2012


Beckett was pretty much the price guide for baseball cards, btw, and this was at the height of the baseball card boom of the late 80s and early 90s. Beckett had to have been fairly flush with cash at that point. This was just after Score and Upper Deck started making cards and maybe a year before the crash.
posted by empath at 9:31 PM on March 5, 2012


When I was young, we got numbers from a very different sort of places for a very different (and vastly more fun) sort of "sport". ;-)
posted by Goofyy at 9:37 PM on March 5, 2012


One of the random facts I filed away at some point is that Ronald Reagan (I think) once had a job doing play-by-play with the game conveyed to him by telegraph.

He did, for the Cubs.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:18 PM on March 5, 2012


I never had any luck calling payphones here... "call cannot be completed as dialed". This would have been the early-mid 90s, and the payphones were all owned by AGT.

Though I remember once hearing a payphone ring at a LRT station around that time. When I picked up, some creepy teen kid told me he was watching me. I wasn't fooled by that and asked how he was able to call a payphone. He wasn't any help.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:31 PM on March 5, 2012


back in 1990 i used to keep a list of numbers from various el platforms around the city of chicago. i'd call them when i got bored and tried to engage whoever answered. guessing fro that experience i'd say that it would often take two or three tries before being able to get the information you wanted.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:38 PM on March 5, 2012


back in 1990 i used to keep a list of numbers from various el platforms around the city of chicago.

I think that a person actually at a baseball game would be more likely to tell you the score than a random commuter would be willing to chat. Especially if the scoreboard is in sight.
posted by clorox at 12:45 AM on March 6, 2012


Meanwhile, in futuristic Britain you could just stick on Ceefax.
posted by ninebelow at 2:21 AM on March 6, 2012


Around 1990 ESPN began showing a baseball game most nights during the season. They had a promo where they would advertise which game would be on, and then say but that if that game got rained out, they'd show you something else, "Sure to be a key matchup!!" My exhusband and I were tickled by that phrase, and used it a lot ourselves.

Looking back, yeah 1990 was the era when everything was *starting* to change, informationwise, but living in the moment it was hard to see what was happening, and what was about to be possible. In 1990 I really didn't see the point of having a personal computer, except maybe for games or heavy duty writing.

And while it was certainly getting easier, if you had cable tv, to get scores for the big sports, for smaller sports it was still almost impossible. I had a friend who set up a phone-in "hotline" (a recorded message on an answering machine) so people could call in and get the latest results of that year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships,and this was only possible because she was going to be there herself, watching. This was around 1992. You could SOMETIMES get skating results on A.P. or Reuters through Compuserve or Prodigy, but only during the week; when the weekend came around, there would be nothing, and skating events tended to finish on the weekend, so you'd be left hanging.
posted by JanetLand at 3:48 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the random facts I filed away at some point is that Ronald Reagan (I think) once had a job doing play-by-play with the game conveyed to him by telegraph.

As recently as a couple of months ago, the Big 10 Network was calling a Purdue woman's basketball game with nobody actually at the game. The game announcers were in the studio in Chicago, watching the same video feed as anybody else. Fans were not amused.
posted by COD at 6:00 AM on March 6, 2012


What's the difference?
posted by empath at 6:35 AM on March 6, 2012


There's a slight lag between the actual broadcast and the feed viewers get, which is why it is tough to watch a game and listen to commentators on the radio.
posted by reenum at 10:05 AM on March 6, 2012


I missed this post on MeFi, but just saw the same story posted by a friend on the Facebooks. What a great story!

BTW: Bunch of buzzkills in this comment thread. March is about a baseball fan looking forward to the upcoming season, full of promise, hope springing eternal and all that. And here's a story about how people who didn't have cable (or Compuserve) or didn't live in NY or maybe didn't have a local game on TV/radio to get out-of-town updates could briefly obsess about their team in the heat of a pennant race. Who cares if it wasn't very widely used, or if there were other alternatives for some people?! It was an early kludge of a social network organized by and for people who love the game of baseball. It's friggin' cool!
posted by jsr1138 at 10:45 AM on March 6, 2012


Nowadays it would be called crowdsourced stats and it would probably be a well-funded Kickstarter project.
posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on March 6, 2012


What's the difference?

Well, for one thing, if the announcers are 200 miles away in a studio calling the game by watching the TV feed, they can't see the 90% of the game that is happening off camera. It makes their call of the game very shallow, because they can't see the off-ball screen that just set up a 3 point shot, or can't see the big guys inside coming to near blows, or don't see the fouls that happen away from the ball, and thus can't add anything to the call about what the hell just happened.
posted by COD at 11:40 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember how great it was when (what used to be) CNN Headline News first used a ticker, just for scores. And I think it was a while before even ESPN followed suit. But it was a bit rough on college football Saturdays.

Back in the old days when the only offseason coverage you ever got was Peter Gammons' "Diamond Notes."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:33 PM on March 6, 2012


For TV we had a black and white set with rabbit ears and actual dials to tune in channels. Even so it was only Cubs games on WGN and Braves games on TBS.

Well, considering that WGN was only available via non-cable means in Chicago and TBS (then WTBS) in Atlanta, your rabbit ears must've been *amazing.*
posted by mreleganza at 7:06 AM on March 7, 2012


^Yeah, my memory may be a bit foggy, as it was quite long ago.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:58 PM on March 7, 2012


ninebelow: "Meanwhile, in futuristic Britain you could just stick on Ceefax."

Meanwhile, on futuristic Metafilter, people don't read the entire thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:13 PM on March 12, 2012


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