First woman baseball commentator is KC native, began broadcasting with the Kansas City A's

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Kansas City's Morning News
March 30, 2018 - 5:00 am

Before they moved to Oakland, the old Philadelphia Athletics baseball team set up in Kansas City in 1955 and played in Municipal Stadium until 1967. 

A's owner Charlie Finley was known for gimmicks to draw attention and in 1964 added a woman to the radio broadcast booth.

Betty Caywood was that woman. She was a model and performer. And she became a baseball announcer midway through the '64 season.

She was not an expert on the game, and she let Finley know it.

"Frankly, we're doing it to get women interested and get the publicity," Caywood, 88, recalls being told. "I knew I was a gimmick."

"Charlie, I know nothing about baseball at the level at which you require to actually broadcast," she said.

The boss didn't care. He only wanted Caywood to say yes.

"Charlie was always trying to do something for publicity, whether it was a stunt like Farmer's Day or Auto Industry Day or having a fire truck go around the stadium and squirt the Yankees in the dugout," said author John Peterson.

"It was basically just a stunt to promote the team," said Peterson, who wrote a history of the team, The Kansas City Athletics

She took the job because Finley offered her a lot of money, plus the team covered moving expenses. The A's even hired a caretaker for Caywood's children for when she was on the road.

Caywood experienced some discrimination on the road. The Boston Red Sox in those days offered a nice luncheon for the broadcasters and print reporters. Women were not allowed. Caywood ate in the broadcast booth with the other A's announcers, George Bryson and Monte Moore.

Working women in the 60s had to develop a thick skin. Caywood said she was more amused than offended by the way she was treated. She knows now that she was breaking a glass ceiling because there were no women on the TV news back then.

As the baseball season was ending, Caywood went to Charlie Finley to ask if she could do another season, but the gimmick was played out.

"I really, really loved it," Caywood said of her time in the booth.

The experience with the A's led to an appearance on one of the biggest TV game shows of the time, What's My Line?, where celebrities ask questions of contestants to figure out their line of work.

Show regular Bennett Cerf correctly guessed Caywood was a member of the Kansas City broadcast crew. Buddy Hacket was way off when he theorized she was a forest ranger.

Skip to 3:00 in the video to see Betty's appearance

The original gimmick and Caywood's limited experience behind a microphone in Kansas City didn't mean she lacked talent.

At one point, Caywood received a call from a young woman named Barbara Walters was working the early morning shift.

"She was working for the Today Show as a journalist, a very bright lady," Caywood said. "My agent was contacted by Al Morgan, who was then head of the Today Show."

Caywood went in for an interview and NBC hired her as a host. 

"The Today Show at that point was probably the biggest that a woman had on TV," Caywood said.

Caywood signed a lease in New York and started looking for a school for her small children, but the city, with all its concrete and crime, left her feeling cold.  

"I realized at that moment that I was a midwesterner," Caywood said. "I went back to them and said, I can't do this, I can't move to New York."

Barbara Walters stepped in, asked for the job and was hired as host.

"I would have been better because I didn't have the speech impediment," Caywood said.

Caywood does not regret turning down the historic NBC job. She met her husband a couple of months later, a case of love at first sight.

Today, Betty Caywood Bushman lives on the Plaza with her husband. They will celebrate their 53rd anniversary this year.

Asked for her favorite memory calling games for the Athletics, Caywood laughs when she says, "Probably cashing my checks."

"Now it's very common to see women in locker rooms after games, in the broadcast booth, on-field interviews," Peterson said of Betty Caywood's legacy.

"I think she was a pioneer in the field."

 

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