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A Box Full Of Goodies
Henry Hecht
April 04, 1983
As every serious baseball fan knows, the best way to start a summer day is with a heaping helping of big league box scores
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April 04, 1983

A Box Full Of Goodies

As every serious baseball fan knows, the best way to start a summer day is with a heaping helping of big league box scores

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Schwartz says such box-score lines are "beautiful." He especially remembers Sandy Koufax box scores. "You would see one walk and 13 strikeouts," he says, "and that's a very attractive thing to see on paper. It's articulate, pleasing to the eye. There's nothing like it in the whole world."

Darrell Berger is a Unitarian-Universalist minister in the Boston suburb of Scituate and a committed Tiger booster. He once gave a sermon entitled "Why A Tiger Fan? A Passionate Attachment To Non-essentials." Berger gets his box scores in once-a-week bursts from The Sporting News. It saves him about $100 a year in newspaper costs. Between issues of TSN, he stays up-to-date by listening to the major league scores and highlights as they are reported on Red Sox broadcasts. Berger sees the box score as "an aspect of preserving time. Box scores build upon one another into a season and that comprises history."

Says Statistician Bill James, a superfan who never takes anything for granted and who annually writes the fascinating Baseball Abstract, "You can track what an individual is doing day-to-day during the course of his professional life in this simple little form."

The first stirrings of James's skeptical faculties may have come as a result of a box score he saw as a boy almost 20 years ago. "One game, Tommy Harper had four hits and scored no runs and drove in no runs, a 5 0 4 0 game," James says. "I can remember the account of the game said, 'Tommy Harper had four hits to lead the Reds....' and it seemed puzzling to me that he was credited with leading his team to victory."

The "simple little form," as James calls it, has been around since 1845, or as long as there has been organized baseball. Melvin L. Adelman, an assistant physical education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found the earliest box score—New York Ball Club 37, Brooklyn Club 19, Oct. 25, 1845—in The New York Herald while researching his dissertation, "The Development of Modern Athletics: Sport in New York City, 1820-1870." Adelman, who grew up in Brooklyn, has a scrapbook containing every box score of the L.A. Dodgers' 1963 championship season. He also has ideas as to why box scores appeared so soon after the game of baseball began to take shape, and why box scores have been so important for so many years.

"Quantification is a phenomenon of modern society," Adelman says. "It allows you to mechanize and systematize, it's part of the industrial process of modernization, and in the United States, as the most modern of all societies, we have a preoccupation with keeping records, with being first, with measuring."

That first box score (see box, page 89) was rather scanty. "Hands out" translates to unsuccessful times at bat. Because Brooklyn and New York each had 12 Hands out—ignore the 137-year-old typographical error that would make Brooklyn's total add up to 13—it's assumed they played a four-inning game.

"I was looking for other things," Adelman says. "I never figured there'd be anything in the newspaper. In fact, this is the first newspaper reference of any kind to baseball. All of a sudden I see this and I don't believe what I'm seeing. So I called a friend to make sure I wasn't hallucinating."

By the 1860s, box scores were no longer a rarity, and by the 1870s The New York Clipper, a weekly paper costing six cents that called itself the "American Sporting and Theatrical Journal," carried as many as 50 an issue (page 89).

The tabular or top section, of the boxes was still limited to runs scored and unsuccessful times at bat (H.L., an abbreviation that stumps historians). But the summary underneath the tabular section and line score was already rich with information. You want quantification? "Time of game" was already a box-score staple.

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