With DC Beer Festival taking over Nationals’ Park last weekend (March 23-24), it provides a timely reminder of how closely intertwined baseball and beer are with one another.
Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, a New York Yankee homerun was “a Ballantine blast” in Mel Allen’s famous calls. Up in New England, it was Curt Gowdy greeting viewers with “High Neighbor, have a Gansett” for Narragansett Beer, a major sponsor of Boston Red Sox broadcasts and telecasts.
National Bohemian advertisement from 1955
In these parts, National Bohemian, a well-known Baltimore brewery, sponsored both Nats’ and Orioles’ games in the 1950’s.
But it might have been a different story here in DC were it not for a highly unfortunate incident that caused local brewery Heurich’s to cancel its sponsorship of Nats’ telecasts in 1947.
The ‘mad men’ running the advertising business in those days had developed a tried and true method of selling beer to baseball fans. A commercial announcer would pour a glass of beer on camera in between innings, then take sip while praising the beer’s great taste, full body, mellow flavor etc.
Trouble was, WTTG-TV’s announcer liked Heurich’s Old Georgetown Beer just a bit too much. Veteran announcer Johnny Batchelder wouldn’t just take a sip, he’d drink half the sudsy glass on camera. By the seventh or eighth inning, he’d be wobbly and by the second game of Sunday afternoon doubleheaders he’d be nearly under the table in the broadcast booth.
So Bob Wolff, just starting the first of 15 brilliant seasons as the play-by-play man for the old Washington Senators, came up with a bright idea. Why not bring a bucket into the booth, so Batchelder take a swig of the beer on live TV, then as soon as the red light went off, he could spit it out into the bucket. That way he could sell the beer and not be completely smashed late in the game.
You can guess what happened in the second game of a twinbill on a hot August afternoon at Griffith Stadium. Batchelder spit the beer out before the camera went off. Click here for the You Tube video. (Just kidding, they didn’t have You Tube in those days)
Understandably, Heurich’s didn’t see the humor it. Management was furious and their sponsorship “went right down the drain,” in Wolff’s words.
Wolff, now 92 and still working as a sportscaster in New York, still likes to tell the story. So much so that the anecdote became the title of his memoirs, published in 1995: “It’s Not Who Won or Lost the Game…It’s How You Sold the Beer.”