Memories & Dreams: The Birth of Instant Replay

by Marty Appel

Using video tape instant replays has changed the way we watch sports over the last four decades. The idea that people saw Bobby Thomson’s historic home run in 1951, and never saw it again until movie theater newsreels a week later is almost unthinkable today.

Although the major broadcast networks each stake out claims to being “the first” to employ taped replays, the honor actually goes to the New York independent station WPIX, the flagship station of the Yankees.

The date was July 17, 1959. Videotape was just beginning to be used to show game highlights on Red Barber’s post-game show. On this date, Yankee right-hander Ralph Terry was pitching a no-hitter through eight innings against the pennant-bound Chicago White Sox. It was one of the great pitching matchups of the season, for Chicago’s Early Wynn had given up only a single – to Terry – in the sixth.

Leading off the ninth, Chicago rookie Jim McAnany dropped a single in front of Yankee leftfielder Norm Siebern to break up the no-hitter. In the broadcast booth, broadcaster Mel Allen, aware that the tape was being saved for the post-game show, asked director Jack Murphy – on the air – whether he could somehow replay the moment right there.

Murphy, working with assistant directors Don Carney and Jimmy Hunter, managed to execute the task and viewers were treated to the first ever replay in a game, although it was not quite instant.

As for the game, McAnany’s hit was followed by a fielder’s choice, a sacrifice, a walk and a base hit by Jim Landis, and the Sox built two runs. In the last of the ninth, Siebern singled off Wynn, but that was it – the White Sox won 2-0 on matching two-hitters, and video tape replay was born.

The real heroes? How about Charles P. Ginsburg and his team of researchers at Ampex Corporation who are credited with inventing videotape in the mid-1950s.