Television is a device which allows to show images and sounds of an event, live or pre-recorded, on receivers in another location which can be very distant. Its invention dates to the 1930s, although it only began to gain popularity in the late 1940s, when it revolutionized the entertainment industry, its development having been slowed by the advent of World War II. Originally only capable of broadcasting in black and white, it began accepting color in the 1950s, and high-definition images in the early 2000s.
The first televised baseball game was a college game between Princeton University and Columbia University on May 17, 1939. The first televised major league game took place on August 26th that same year in a contest between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Red Barber announced the game, which was witnessed by more spectators in the stands than on TV. It was broadcast on NBC's experimental television outlet. The 1947 World Series was the first such Series to be televised. In 1951, CBS aired the first MLB game in color. Television was blamed for devastating many areas of baseball, especially the minor leagues. Fans did not turn out to see the local club when they could watch a major league team on television and many minor leagues folded during the course of the 1950s, baseball's dark era. There was a fear that all live entertainment was threatened by the new medium, and politicians held hearings about the threat posed to America's fabric. However, television did not just have a bad side in baseball: the additional attention on the major leagues increased the star power of that time's players like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ted Williams. There have been several TV programs devoted to baseball which did not focus on the game itself, such as Home Run Derby.
Television also helped certain baseball players increase their visibility. Don Drysdale and other players appeared as themselves (as celebrities) in a number of programs in the 1950s and 1960s. Buck O'Neil is perhaps the most notable player who earned his celebrity status from television instead of his performance as an adequate first baseman in the Negro Leagues. Based on his role in the documentary Baseball by Ken Burns, he was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame as a result of his role as ambassador for a bygone era, quite an impact.
In the 21st century, cable television rights became one of the major sources of revenues for major league teams. All major league games were now broadcast, the majority on premium cable channels, and all teams set up lucrative agreements to reap a significant percentage of advertising revenue generated by these broadcasts. Some teams, such as the New York Yankees with the YES Network even controlled the cable channels themselves, reaping even more revenues. This business model was developed by media pioneer Ted Turner, who first broadcast Atlanta Braves games well beyond the team's geographic area through his ownership of WTBS, one of the first "superstations" to be available nationally through cable distributors in the late 1970s.
With cable television losing popularity in the 2020s, MLB began exploring alternative ways of delivering images of games, by selling exclusive rights to broadcast certain games to non-traditional outlets available by subscription via the internet. This became more urgent when one of the largest regional cable providers, Bally Sports, teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2023. Already, MLB had been a pioneer in making its games available via the internet through MLB.TV, available via subscription but also airing a number of free telecasts to entice other potential viewers.
- George Castle: Baseball and the Media: How Fans Lose in Today's Coverage of the Game, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8032-6469-4
- James R. Walker and Robert V. Bellamy: Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8032-4825-0
- Robert D. Warrington: "The First Televised Baseball Interview", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 44, Number 2 (Fall 2015), pp. 37-42.