The Mystery of ESPN's Missing Tapes
The ESPN videotape library. It's in this warehouse and it's a couple of miles from the main ESPN campus. It's so vast. There's no room for it on the main campus anymore. It is the largest sports tepe library repository reliquary anywhere in the world. Jeremy Shop is an ESPN reporter and the host of e sixty if you remember the scene scene at the end of readers lost Ark. It's supposed to be like the National Archives. It just keeps moving out in showing you the fastness of the warehouse. It's like that except for sports games. Everything is in there just about everything you could possibly imagine that. It's taking place in sports in the last. I four years but we really wanted which holds his very special place in the history of the network wasn't there. ESPN broadcasts first game. Forty years ago. It was a key moment in the history of sports but when our Jeremy SCHAAP set out to find the tape it was missing today a mystery that went unsolved for decades times. It's Tuesday December. Thirty first this is. ESPN daily presented by Dell Small Business. You're a small business owner and there's nothing small about what you do. That's why Dell small business technology advisers give you trusted advice. One partnership in tailored tech solutions like computers with Intel core processors servers servers storage networking plus thousands of top brand electronics accessories and software. No matter your technology needs Dell is here to help your small business do big big things call eight seven seven buy Dell to speak with an advisor today. That's eight seven seven by Dell Jeremy. You've worked this company for quite some time now. Did you always know what the first game was that was ever broadcast by ESPN. I think it would be dishonest to say that back in nineteen ninety-three when I was a mere child and I was hired that I knew back then but I think over the years. It's one of those things that you acquire in terms of your knowledge of the company the history of the company at some point what I learned it was a professional softball game but I don't remember precisely win and I didn't know the details of the game but yeah a softball game. Of course I what else would you start with September seventeenth nineteen seventy nine the day that ESPN went live. What was the network like back then although I have been around for a while me? I haven't been around quite that long but this is secondhand I've learned. ESPN on its first. Day was a bunch of production trucks in a parking lot. Essentially that had not been paved in Bristol Connecticut it was truly in its infancy. The concept was only about a year old and in a short amount of time they had gone from concept to funding to a network going on the air that would be seen across the country. Hi I'm Lee Leonard Welcoming you to Bristol. Connecticut one hundred ten miles from New York City. Why Bristol because here in Bristol is where all the sports action is is as of right now and we're just minutes away they didn't have NFL rights and they didn't have major league? Baseball rights did have rights grand slams it have rights to anything that boosts people would wanNA actually watch so they had to improvise. Is that how we ended up with softball on the first day. That's how we ended up with softball is the very first live event on ESPN. I think it was an hour after going on the air period with the very first version in addition sportscenter softball. All is one of those rare sports that everybody knows something about why we all play on Sunday when we drink a little beer the guy who runs pr for this professional softball league in the Midwest West he reads about the launch of this new network and the brother of one of ESPN's original anchors. The brother of George Grand. He's one of the team owners of the team in new who even which is only like thirty miles from Bristol Connecticut. So it's kind of a natural fit. It's almost fate destiny that this softball league would be featured as the first event ever on. ESPN they came up with an agreement that they would broadcast not just this game the entirety of the world series that year. Not The baseball world series. which would be versus the pirates but the softball world series? so you decide to do a piece on this very first I game game. One of the nineteen seventy nine world series the professional American slow pitch softball naturally. What happens when you go to our archives and you ask for it if you were to go to this vast reliquary repository in you asked for the first event that ever took place on? Espn you you would be met with disappointment because it was simply not in the library the SPN ESPN would save everything now. Now literally anything that's taking place on. TV anywhere in the world in sports they roll on and they save in this library. But if you wanted to find that game the game that started it all all. They didn't have it. It had been lost to the ages through the sands of time and it was particularly a disappointment and a source comparison for the man who's run the library for decades. Who is that can boudreau? I'm Ken Boudreau. I'm one of eight employees. That are left here that started in nineteen seventy nine. Currently I am senior. Director and production operations can do drove the emperor. The Grand Poobah Bob of the video tape library man who knows where all the tapes are buried where every show is archived. Probably the only person in the world who can and find almost instantaneously. Whatever you need in that library? Ken Hated to admit because he considered almost a personal personal failing that the tape wasn't in library and we had no record of. We have no idea where they are. I don't know I was not working at tape. Library technician running master control. Well that's convenient so you go to the library can grow tells you you. We don't have it. What are you guys do next? It's kind of a two pronged process because we want to tell the story of the game itself what it was who was playing in it what the stakes were and at the same time. The story of its place in history at ESPN and it's absence from the library. Obrero so we go in pursuit of this very important inconsequential story and that means pursuing suing all leads even if they seem that they might lead nowhere following the money. The really wasn't any money. But you know what I mean and going to Milwaukee Walkie which is where this game took place in which was the home of one of the two teams playing this game. The Milwaukee Schlitz obviously who were playing Kentucky Bourbons who were from Louisville. So we went to Milwaukee. We found his many players as we could manager of the team. And the owner of the team. Perhaps most crucially. So you tracked down the owner of the Milwaukee Schlitz softball team. A man named John Cornick. What clues did he have about the missing tapes shapes Simon Baumgart our producer? He calls John Cornick to set up an interview with him. He still living in Milwaukee. He's no longer longer in the softball team ownership business. But he's still out there and he has a lot of memorabilia. We want to interview him. In almost as an aside Solomon mentions. We don't have these tapes and Cornick says lie got him. And it's it's one of those Eureka moments mints. I mean it's not like finding an original copy of the declaration of independence or something like that but for our purposes and at that time it felt like we had struck video gold. And why did he have them in the first place cornick had these tapes because in nineteen seventy nine is. The holiday season rolled around round. He wanted to give his players a keepsake from this world series. I called up. ESPN and I told him that I wanted the ESPN tapes. Tapes one is this. This was probably a month after the after the world series. They did send I made tapes but they charged me seven hundred fifty dollars he calls ESPN. He says I'm the owner of the Milwaukee Schlitz I one copies of all the games the world series and whoever's in the video tape library said okay we'll dubbed these off for you And it's seven hundred and fifty bucks. I've we've had a special safes on the base where keep him locked up. I don't want anybody touch it. No no they're in a closet. Forty thirty years forty years. These tapes have been sitting and John cornyn basements unwashed unloved on archived this this precious gem that had been ignored a coming up for the first time in forty years. ESPN gets a look at the broadcast. Cast that started it all the ESPN daily covering the greatest sports stories in history. We know what makes the Dream Team. And when you're hiring for your business you need the recruits roots. 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Accomplished you bring them back to Bristol. No one has seen the footage for forty years. What does it show well? This was not a highly sophisticated operation. Good evening to you. Everyone from from Jake's field in Lannon Wisconsin. I'm Joe Boyle along with former New York Yankee Star. John Blanchard set to bring you all of the action of tonight's American Slow Pitch Professional Softball League League world series. This was not a place where they should have been showing a nighttime softball game. I mean they brought in lights at the last minute. They barely did the job. It's basically basically a municipal park softball field in the Milwaukee suburbs with no real stands. No real lights. There's nothing professional shnell looking about it except the players who were awesome softball players but it looks like what you might expect on the first night in the first hour of the history of startup. TV network the game itself a clash of the titans. The Milwaukee Schlitz. Yes the Kentucky bourbons. Were these two teams big rivals. These teams hated each other. That's completely genuine talking to these guys even forty years later it. It was clear that they really did not like each other at all on a personal level. It wasn't just friendly rivalry. They resented each other. My a sense was I'm a Schlitz Guy. I was always Schlitz Fan. In this rivalry. The schlitz were the working class. Milwaukee I mean what softball supposed to be about right. It's guys who did this. Because of their love of the sport because represented an opportunity to go have some beers with their buddies and it was about beer a a softball demeaned. Frankly I know the guys who doesn't mix the same weights just something else. These guys kind of fashion themselves as kind of blue grass bourbon royalty like they were the real kings of softball and the Schlitz guys were some kind of pretenders. This was the slow pitch softball world series. How seriously the big ticket? Oh these guys. This is deadly serious. So The star of the Kentucky Bourbons kind of their Babe Ruth. They're they're big personality. Was this Guy Bill Guy and he was one of the big studs in the sport at the time on a national level and this sport meant so much to him. This rivalry meant so much to this championship meant so much. He approached this with true seriousness and commitment to extent that surprised us. I took the game seriously. I prepared myself. I get the right kind of sleep. My wife she'd be beating my chest. One WanNa have sex and I've got to play ball. I gotta play ball later today. That's how intense I was. This was professional right. It's in the title of the series. This was professional. These guys were getting paid big money for the time they took. I wouldn't say inordinate I would say an ordinate amount of pride in this these guys their lives revolved revolved around softball. And this rivalry and the fact. That was a national television albeit available in about twenty thousand homes or thirty thousand homes that first tonight I think raised the stakes for everyone involved. Milwaukee is about to take the field rick reader men who was to the Schlitz what Bill Godley was to the Bourbon. He was one of their best hitters. He was their star Star. Pitcher in Rick Witter goes down in history. I mean maybe maybe this is in quite the equivalent of Roger Bannister. Something like that run in the first four minute mile but he does go down in history. Rick Liederman Rick you personally occupy a very special place in television history for underway with the first pitch to the game. It's a called strike your first pitch in game. One is the first athletic thing anyone ever did on on. ESPN that way I go. Wow look what I started i. Athletics thing is a AH excellent qualifier. I'll put that on a plaque. So what happened in the Game Kentucky. Bourbons won the first game ever on. ESPN this first. Event the Milwaukee Schlitz lost but the bourbons go down in history. GotTa give them credit. They won the first event in the history of Espn always have that but then went on to lose the rest of the series tries to go up the middle white. Herman cut set off throws to first for the out. Lock throw to third day would like not out of their brittle diabetic right now. Very happy thought ball players they had won the world champion of the American Professional Slow Pitch Softball League as a guy. I'm sure you're thrilled as Schlitz guy. I take inordinate pride so ultimately intimately whatever happened to the tape they get it back in the library. The tapes were restored to their rightful place in the veto videotape library. North Campus Bristol Connecticut. And for me I frankly it was an emotional moment but it was really. I think Ken Boudreau. Oh our library for him. It was the culmination the crowning achievement of his career really. I know I'm being a little facetious here at over the top but I think genuinely admits up to the network to get him back because we do care about our history and we celebrate our history at ESPN. This is a are kind of declaration of independence are Magna Carta. What what else? What else can I throw out there? it's big Thanks Jeremy I'll see you in the reliquary. Thank you mean. That's the only story story I want you to know today but we do have a postscript. Ken Boudreau the so called Emperor. The library retired in December after forty years in charge of ESPN's ends Videotape Archive. I mean it comes this has espn daily and that's it for twenty nineteen. I'll talk to you next year Ah.