OUT OF LEFT FIELD
In Appreciation of Baseball Box Scores
...dreamed up box scores
Box scores tell you almost all you need to know
By STAN ISAACS
This is the time of the year you hear right-thinking people say, Ah, baseball is back. And some of those people also say, Its good to be reading box scores again.
Ah, the box scores. Numbers and names. Names and numbers. No first names.
Numbers for batters: (AB) at bats, (R) runs, (H) hits, (RBI) runs batted in and (Avg.) average. And for pitchers: (IP) innings pitched, (H) hits, (R) runs, (ER) earned runs, (BB) walks, (SO) strike outs (NP) number of pitches and (ERA) earned run average.
In the body of the box score we find out how pinch hitters did, how many runners were left on base (LOB), doubles (2B), triples (3B), home runs (HR) and stolen bases (SB). I have never been able to figure out why runs batted in (RBI) are repeated in the body of the text.
The nuances of the game are captured by such as (RLSP) runners left in scoring position, (RA) runners advanced, (GIDP) grounded into double plays, (DP) double plays and (HBP) hit by pitch.
Above them all is the line score, the inning-by-inning scoring of the two teams. The nine innings of a baseball line score have a linear beauty not matched by the line scores of football, basketball and hockey.
The origin of the box score traces to Henry Chadwick in the late 1800s. He adapted it from cricket. The first box score was a grid with nine rows for players and nine columns for innings. The K for strikeout, we are told, came from the last letter of struck in struck out. I cant prove it, but I like to think I was the first baseball scribe to write in a reverse K to indicate that the batter was called out, not swinging on a third strike.
My first reading was of box scores. I read them before I read reading primers, school work, and certainly with more interest than grocery shopping lists handed me by my mother. The box scores were simpler years ago. Todays box scores identify which batters received walks, who struck out. An argument could be made that there is too much data in these box scores; I dont know what (IR-S) stands for in the pitchers section.
As a youth in the 1930s, I opened to the back pages of The New York Daily News and looked at the magic names of the New York Giants players: Terry, Bartell, Ott, Danning, Hubbell, Castleman, Schumacher. A friend told me Joe DiMaggio was his hero. If DiMag got a hit or two, I didnt mind if the Yankees lost. I felt the same way about Mel Ott with the Giants.
The line score atop the box score of an April 15th game this year reads:
Milwaukee 000 021 120-6 13 0
Chicago .010 010 14x-7 12 1
It shows that the Brewers of Milwaukee had a 6-3 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning only to see the Cubs win the game with a four-run rally. The box score doesnt reveal all. A short wire-service story informs that the Cubs of Chicago won on two-run singles by Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot in that eighth inning.
A youthful Brewer fan might note with some satisfaction that despite the defeat, slugger Prince Fielder had two hits including a double. A Cubs fan could take pleasure in Theriots 4-for-5 game (four hits in five at bats).
The significant items in the pitchers lines were these: Brewer reliever La Troy Hawkins gave up the Cubs four runs in the eighth and took the loss. Carlos Marmol earned the save for the Cubs with an eminently satisfactory line: he struck out all three batters, throwing 15 pitches.
Boys read box scores then. Now girls, too, are introduced early to box scores. When I listen to some of the anchors hosting ESPN report, I detect box-score devotion in their girlhood.
In days of yore when all games were played in the afternoon, the sports pages in the east had the full complement of the days box scores. That changed when teams went west. Early deadlines eliminated west coast box scores; readers have to go to the internet to catch the west coast box scores. Westerners, lucky bozos that they are, have the full card of box scores in their newspapers. (How long theyll have newspapers is another story.)
If I recall correctly, the power of box scores was made evident by a happening in one eastern city some years ago. The editor of one of their papers found out that USA Today had a higher circulation in his city than other cities. He came to the conclusion that his papers early deadline missed most of the late game box scores. He ordered a later deadline; the sports section had more late box scores-and circulation went back up.
I cant verify the story but I believe it.
There were reports during spring training that Pittsburgh Pirate manager John Russell would continue the practice he introduced last year of having the pitcher bat eighth instead of the usual ninth. I checked the opening day box score of the Pirates and there it was: the starting pitcher, Zach Duke, batted eighth and shortstop Ronny Cedeno batted ninth. (It turned out that Duke went out for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning who won the game for the Pirates with a three-run double.
A friend told me, I never had a particularly high opinion of Bear Bryant, the exalted Alabama U. football coach. But one day I read that the first thing he did in the morning was look at box scores over a cup of coffee. I liked him then.
John Keats never wrote, A box score is a thing of beauty, a joy forever. But he might have.
©2010 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted April 19, 2010.
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