CHICAGO — With so much poised to change as the Cubs prepare to launch their own lucrative television channel next season, here is a date well worth reflecting upon:
April 16, 1948.
Seventy-one years ago Tuesday, just eight days after signing on the air for the first time, WGN-9 broadcast its first Cubs game, an exhibition with the White Sox.
It was the beginning of a special relationship between the team, its fans and TV, set in motion by P.K. Wrigley, then the team's owner.
As everyone must know by now, that era ends when the Cubs' Marquee Sports Network debuts next year on cable, satellite and streaming services. Their games no longer will be available on free, over-the-air television -- like a summer breeze through an open window -- save for a handful of network dates.
But back in 1948, the question wasn't how few games could be given away, it was how many.
The Cubs had made their local TV debut two years earlier with WBKB's broadcast of a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers on July 13, 1946.
WBKB actually had planned to televise the season opener three months before that but was thwarted by technical difficulties.
With WGN's entry into baseball coverage came a commitment to carry every possible Cubs home game, which was just fine with Wrigley. WGN took on the Sox home games too.
Only a year later, there would be three Chicago stations -- WGN, WBKB and WENR -- carrying Cubs home games, all welcome to broadcast from Wrigley Field the way Wrigley's father once had allowed any and all radio stations interested in calling games to do so.
And the TV stations didn't alternate games the way WGN, ABC-7 and cable's NBC Sports Chicago do today.
They televised the same games.
At the same time.
By 1952, WGN had the Cubs all to themselves. The station carried its first Cubs road game in August 1958.
This was when baseball owners' prevailing attitude was that to televise any home game was akin to giving away product fans should pay to see. Even the Sox grew uneasy about televising night games for a time.
Wrigley, who shepherded the ballclub from the death of his father in 1932 until his own death in 1977, saw putting games on TV as part of building and maintaining a relationship with fans
He saw a lot of things like that. If his mindset cost his team revenue, it built a reservoir of goodwill, affection and unshakeable allegiance from which the franchise subsequently has sought to wring money.
According to Ron Rapoport's new Ernie Banks biography, "Let's Play Two," Wrigley was the sort of owner who decided box seats at the ballpark that bore his family name and brand were too narrow. So he had them ripped out to accommodate wider seats and aisles, at a considerable cost to capacity and revenue.
Another time Wrigley noticed that box seats near the foul poles faced straight across the field toward center rather than the infield, where the action was. So they were reconfigured to angle inward.
"A man who pays for a box seat has a right to see the game without getting a pain in the neck," Wrigley said, according to Rapoport.
Wrigley's Cubs gave free admission to women on designated Ladies' Days, charged half-price for kids and declined to sell thousands of tickets in advance so they could be sold the morning of a game.
Might the teams that played for Wrigley have benefited from an owner who ran his team to maximize cash flow the way major-league proprietors do today? Hard to say. The economics of the game were different in the reserve-clause era.
Fans surely benefited from the fact he didn't need the Cubs to make money to increase his wealth. They probably suffered from a win-loss standpoint because the ballclub was a side business run independently, and Wrigley never warmed to baseball the way his father had.
But so many others did because of him.
When WGN and the Cubs came together 71 years ago, the screens were small and the pictures sometimes hard to make out, but they nevertheless forged a lasting bond with everyone whose fandom began with watching the Cubs on TV, whether in the Chicago area or nationally on the superstation.
A big reason the current owners can put a price on everything is because a previous owner gladly gave so much away.