Every year American sports fans gear up for the World Series. Learn how Salt Lakers used to get their baseball fix on the streets of downtown.
Throughout its storied history, the game of baseball has been broadcast via the internet, on television, and over the radio. During the early days of radio, the play-by-play of baseball games were relayed to radio stations and newspapers by telegraph. Starting in 1915, Salt Lake Tribune sports editor John Derks received those Morse Code messages and translated them instantly to baseball fans gathered in the streets outside the newspaper’s building by way of “Old Ironsides.”
“Old Ironsides” was a large electric scoreboard bearing a painted baseball diamond and colored lights. Controlled by Derks and others at The Tribune, the board resembled a pinball machine when bulbs lit up to trace the play of away games. Red lights signified runners, and white lights showed the placement of hits. The number of balls, strikes, and outs were tracked, and the path of a pitch was followed from the pitcher spot to home plate, and then to wherever the ball was hit. “Old Ironsides” was mounted on the side of the Tribune building at 145 South Main Street where downtown fans could easily follow the games.
The Tribune used “Old Ironsides” to broadcast the away games of the Salt Lake Bees until 1925 when the team left town. After that, The Trib brought out “Old Ironsides” each October for the World Series. People packed Main Street to follow the games. In 1928, “Old Ironsides” began running in conjunction with live broadcasts from NBC Radio, a combination that was very modern for the time. Watching the World Series on “Old Ironsides” became a classic community tradition.
“Old Ironsides” did not vanish from the public as much as it faded in importance. With advances in radio, and later television, the old scoreboard became both obsolete and more novel through the 1940s and 1950s. Its story is a reminder of the importance of America’s pastime, the World Series, and the excitement of October.
See Harold Schindler, “The Echo Of Baseball 'Old Ironsides' Gone But Baseball Thrills Are Not Forgotten,” Salt Lake Tribune, 10/9/199.