On Thursday, September 21st, 1939, Washington, D.C.'s WJSV decided to record an entire day of broadcasting. They captured a major address by President Roosevelt, as well as Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories, the Ask-It Basket, and 30 minutes of a performance by New Orleans Jazz great Louis Prima. And they preserved the last five innings of a baseball game at Washington's Griffith Stadium, whose former site is now occupied by Howard University Hospital, played between the first iteration of the Washington Senators (a dismal 63-83 at the time), who are now the Minnesota Twins, and the Cleveland Indians.
Heard today, the voices in this broadcast originate on the other side of an unbridgeable distance of time and culture. But they speak a language that present-day baseball fans can nevertheless recognize. I've encountered no other cultural artifact that makes the game's history seem more jarringly immediate or real. And I've found few others that so clearly rebut the nostalgia and idealization that dominates American society's engagement with the game's past.
This partly rests on the fact that this is a normal contest, similar to thousands of games that will be played over this forthcoming season—routine, insignificant, monotonous, and of only the most abstract historical import. I have been to dozens of games like this: lopsided late-season afternoons spent between teams with nothing to play for in ballparks barely a quarter full, where hopes of a no-hitter or a 10-RBI performance have long since evaporated. At a game like this, the otherwise unengaged mind starts to hunt for quantum-level dramas that could give some meaning to the whole: things like the resigned sense of duty that spurs a slumping and zoned-out manager to argue a late-inning call, or the September parade of anonymous minor league strivers, or just the slow encroachment of the early-autumn shadows.