Baseball and television have a long history, dating all the way back to August 26, 1939, when a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field became the first broadcasted on TV … the three Americans with sets at that point must have eaten it up!
Fast forward a few decades, and you could find baseball players here and there all over the dial — from variety shows to sitcoms to game shows to dramas.
To celebrate that history, here is a list of 1970s TV shows — and specific episodes — that featured Major League players in one way or another.
Enjoy the memories, and let me know in the comments if you have other favorite baseball player cameos to share.
The Brady Bunch, “The Dropout” – September 25, 1970
The Brady Bunch featured a lot of baseball content over the years, not surprising considering that the Los Angeles Dodgers played in the Bradys’ backyard and that Greg was a hotshot high school player.
When young Mr. Brady decided his future was on the diamond and he didn’t need school, though, Daddy Mike called in the big guns to set him straight.
In this case, “Big Gun” was Dodgers righty and future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale.
That Girl, “There Sure Are a Bunch of Cards in St. Louis, Part II” – November 6, 1970
In this two-parter, Ann headed to St. Louis to meet her future in-laws and to act in a play. While there, she bumped into Cardinals legend Stan Musial, which was bound to happen considering that Stan the Man basically owned the town.
Mission: Impossible, “Catafalque” – February 6, 1971
In February of 1971, Johnny Bench had just won his first National League Most Valuable Player award and was just about the best baseball player on the planet. He was able to parlay that status into this cushy role on Mission: Impossible, where he played the leader of a group of guards charged with protecting a dead body.
Guess that’s sorta like blocking the plate, right?
Sale of the Century – 1971-74
Joe Garagiola wasn’t much of a baseball player, but he was affable, articulate, and an overall great guy by most accounts.
That combination of goodness got him in front of the camera plenty in the last two-thirds (or so) of his life, beginning as a sports announcer and working his way onto the game show circuit before landing on big-time news programs.
By 1971, Garagiola was popular enough to secure a gig as the first host of Sale of the Century.
Would you buy from Joe?
Hee Haw, Episode 94 – January 20, 1973
By January of 1973, Johnny Bench was back in the MVP winner’s circle and also had a Hee Haw credit under his belt (February 1972).
With that much going for him, how could the country-music hoedown not invite him back, this time to sing Jim Croce’s “Big Jim”?
Why, JB was the next Elvis, I tell you! Wonder whatever happened with that.
Ryan’s Hope – Episode #1.46, September 8, 1975
Nolan Ryan struck out 367 batters in 1974, but then made only 29 starts in ’75. Judging by his appearance here on Ryan’s Hope, his absence from the diamond may have had something to do with the crappy hospital where he sought treatment.
And, possibly, being attacked by a group of sneaky kids.
Ball Four, September 22-October 27, 1976
Did you know that Ball Four is not just a tell-all book written by former Major League pitcher Jim Bouton?
Nope, Bouton managed to develop the tome (not to be confused with Thome) into a CBS sitcom in 1976 and even landed the starring role of Jim Barton (original!).
It lasted five episodes, so you’re actually some sort of 70s/baseball trivia genius if you did know about this thing.
Fantasy Island, “Superstar/Salem” – March 28, 1978
May, how great would it have been to visit Fantasy Island and have Mr. Roarke grant your wish? Or maybe just kick back with Tattoo and sip some lemonade?
Pretty darn great, and I’ll bet at least some of your fantasies would have involved baseball.
That’s what Radar … um … Joe (played by Gary Burghoff from M*A*S*H wanted, too — to play with some Major Leaguers.
Who knows? Maybe this is the episode that engendered all those real fantasy baseball camps in the ensuing decades.
Diff’rent Strokes, “Father and Son Day” – November 14, 1979
Mr. Drummond may have been Daddy Big Bucks, but his physique didn’t exactly inspire visions of athletic greatness.
Adopted son Willis noticed that puniness, too, with a YMCA father-and-son competition fast approaching. So … he reached out to a jacked neighborhood dude named Larry.
And who do you think played Larry?
None other than Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.
The expected hilarity, hurt feelings, reconciliation, and lessons learned ensued.
WKRP in Cincinnati, “Sparky” – December 24, 1979
Cincinnati lost an icon when the Reds fired manager Sparky Anderson on November 28, 1978, after two straight second-place finishes in the old National League West division.
Just over a year later, Sparky made a return engagement to the Queen City when Mr. Carlson hired the new Detroit Tigers skipper to host a sports talk show on WKRP.
Sparky was a mess on the air and got the ax — again.
Said Anderson afterward:
Every time I come into this town, I get fired!
M*A*S*H, “A War for All Seasons” – December 29, 1980
OK, technically this episode did not air in the 1970s, but M*A*S*H was one of the great television shows of the decade, so it counts.
Anyway, though no ballplayers actually appeared in this one, the fabled 1951 National League pennant race played a key part of the plot, with Klinger and Charles wagering on the Giants and Dodgers.
In the end, Bobby Thomson clubbed his famous home run, and Charles took it in the proverbial financial shorts.
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