On October 27 of 1962 an obscure British musical group called The Tornadoes entered the WLS Silver Dollar Survey in Chicago with a catchy instrumental that was named after a communications satellite that had been launched in early July. The title of the song was Telstar, and the song made it to the top spot by November 24, where it remained for three weeks. It was still in the second spot when the year ended.
I remember that song vividly because it gained popularity exactly at a time when we were driving across the country from upstate New York to San Francisco in the family’s 1959 Chevrolet. As we moved from state to state the song probably played twice an hour for six continuous days.
The satellite from which the song took its name was launched on July 10, 1962. Belonging to AT&T, Telstar was the first satellite to relay television pictures, telephone calls, and the first television feed across the Atlantic.
Telstar ceased to function long ago, but it’s still up there, somewhere between 500 and 3,700 miles above the earth, depending on where it is in its orbit.
Unlike today’s communications satellites, Telstar was placed in a non-geosynchronous orbit, which meant that it was available for transatlantic signals for only 20 minutes in each two-and-a-half hour circuit of the earth.
On this date in 1962, July 23, the satellite had been tested and found ready for the first transatlantic signal available for public viewing. The first broadcast, aside from still pictures, was to have consisted of a short speech from President John F. Kennedy.
And HERE IS THE PART I LOVE.
And if you’re a Chicagoan, you should, too.
The signal from the satellite was acquired earlier than expected, and the President was not ready to go on the air. So to fill time the feed was transferred for a short time to Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs were playing the Philadelphia Phillies.
The feed lasted for exactly one-third of an inning. Tony Taylor of the Phillies hoisted a fly ball from Cubs pitcher to right field, where George Altman caught it for the out.
Tony Taylor, who actually started his major league career with the Cubs in 1958, was into his seventh season in the bigs in 1962. He played for Philadelphia in all but two games that year, driving in 43 runs and banging out 162 hits. According to Wikipedia he was involved in one of the strangest plays in Major League history. According to the online source on June 30, 1959 the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Cubs. Stan Musial was at the plate with a count of 3-1 when Cubs pitcher Bob Anderson threw a pitch that Sammy Taylor couldn't corral behind the plate. It rolled all the way to the backstop with the umpire calling ball four, a ruling that immediately prompted Anderson and Taylor to protest, claiming that Musial had hit a foul tip. The argument continued with a live ball resting against the backstop, prompting Musial to try for second base. Alvin Dark, the Cubs third baseman, ran all the way to the backstop to get the ball, which at that point had somehow ended up in the hands of Pat Piper, the Cubs' field announcer. Dark got it back, but by the time he did the umpire had handed a new ball to Taylor, who, noticing that Musial was headed for second, promptly threw the new ball over Tony Taylor's head and into the outfield. Dark, in the meantime, threw the original ball to shortstop Ernie Banks, who tagged Musial on his way to third, where he was headed after seeing the umpire-issued ball sail over Taylor's head into the outfield. The out stood.
Poor George Lee Altman, except for one-year stints with the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals, played his entire major league career with the Cubbies, a team that compiled an ugly record of 475 and 634 in the years that Altman suited up at Wrigley. He was an All-Star in 1961 and 1962 and hit a pinch homer in the 1961 All-Star game. He led the National League in triples in 1961 with 12 and on August 4 of that year became the first player to hit two home runs off Sandy Koufax.
Cal Koonce was drafted by the Cubs in 1961 out of Campbell University in North Carolina. In 1962, his first season, pitching for a team that finished with a record of 59 and 103, Koonce had a 10-10 record and a 3.97 E.R.A. He was soon converted to a reliever and never won more than seven games again although he did burn the Cubs after they traded him to the New York Mets in 1967. In the fateful 1969 season Koonce was the senior member of a relief corps that consisted of Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw, who backed up as fearsome a line-up of young starting pitches as has played the game.
We were just beginning the 60’s back then. There were no Beatles, at least not that we knew about, no assassinations, and Vietnam was still a country that had a name we couldn’t pronounce, much less pick out on a map.
I remember that song by The Tornadoes, I remember that satellite, and I remember that awful team that played in a park in which they didn’t even bother to open the upper deck on game days.
But . . . in that historic transmission across the Atlantic back on this date in 1962, at least the Cubbies got the out.