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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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But that was only the beginning. Henry Chadwick, known to baseball scholars as Father Chadwick, compiled the game's first printed rule book, edited the first weekly publication devoted entirely to baseball and created the modern box score, which included at bats, runs, hits, putouts and assists for each player (page 89). It was in wide use by 1876, the year the National League was born. In fact, the only major change for the better in the last 107 years has been the addition of the pitching box. Other significant changes have reduced the content of the old box score, dismaying purists, as we shall see.

The pitching box first appeared on April 8, 1942 in the Los Angeles Times, which developed the form IP H R ER BB SO for the Pacific Coast League games of the Los Angeles Angels. "It just seemed to us that the box score didn't take care of the most important guy on the team," says Paul B. Zimmerman, 79, the paper's retired sports editor. The Times' brainchild was almost immediately adopted by The Sporting News, which has been printing box scores since starting publication in 1886. But the wire services didn't add the pitching box until 1958. Today, the pitching line reads: IP H R ER BB SO, and the box includes won-lost records and save totals.

Zimmerman recalls the furor that erupted when his paper stopped running all the Dodger and Angel box scores in 1964. "Because it was an Olympic year, I was following track, and while I was gone, some smart managing editor decided the box scores didn't mean anything anymore. When I got back, the circulation department was screaming and our rival, the Examiner, was running advertisements that said: 'Only metropolitan newspaper carrying box scores.' So I went to Otis Chandler, the publisher, and he said, 'See the managing editor.' Well, the silly s.o.b. said he wasn't going to change his mind. There was an uprising among the readers. They kept calling the sports department, and I kept telling them to call the managing editor. Very shortly the box scores were reinstated."

Alterations to the basic box instituted in 1958 and '64 are mourned by purists to this day. These were made by the wire services at the behest of newspapers, primarily to accommodate the box score to narrower columns as the papers adopted smaller pages and secondarily to trim the length of the box score as the sports boom brought a flood of summary matter.

In '58 individual putouts, assists and errors were dropped from the players' lines in the upper part of the box and lumped below as team stats, while RBIs were introduced on the player's line—a net reduction of two items in box-score width (see box, page 90). In '64, putouts and assists were eliminated entirely, along with the names of umpires, double-play specifics and individual listings for pinch hitters and the results of their turns at bat (page 90).

Red Foley, 53, a recently retired baseball writer for the New York Daily News, is among the severest critics of the modern box. "I miss the old box scores tremendously," he says. "Take the case of a Tommy John, for example. If the shortstop had six assists, the third baseman five and the second baseman five, you could assume Tommy John was Tommy John. Win or lose, he was getting the ball down. But now, as good as the box score is, you're missing something, and kids today don't know they're missing it. They think the garbage today is a 100 percent box score. It's plastic now. It used to be solid steel."

Foley is not the only one who wants the putouts and assists back so he can better gauge the performance of a Tommy John. The Angels' John, who started reading box scores as a kid in Terre Haute, wants them back, too. "We took the Star because that was the Republican paper and I would religiously study the box scores," John says. "I wanted to see if Big Klu had hit a home run, or if Robin Roberts had won his 15th game. It's different for me now. Today I look for information. When I played for the White Sox, our manager, Eddie Stanky, would come up to you on the bench and ask. 'Who's the hot hitter on the team you start against next?' "

Today John looks not only for the hot hitters but also for new names in the stolen-base section. He also checks up on friends and former teammates and the good young players. Last season, for example, he kept special track of the Twins' Kent Hrbek. He also pays attention to players trying to accomplish something splendid, like the stolen-base record, that the A's Rickey Henderson set last year (below right). In fact, Henderson's pursuit of the record brought about the latest box score adjustment—the inclusion of a player's cumulative stolen base total. (Season totals for home run hitters have been included since 1964_) For John and other players, the box score provides a means of checking on the other guy, on all the other guys.

Managers study the boxes, too. Whitey Herzog of the Cardinals says, "The first thing I do in the morning when I get up is to pour some coffee and check the box scores." Herzog grew up in Belleville, Ill., 35 miles from St. Louis, and he used to deliver the Globe Democrat—but only after he had spread open the paper and perused the boxes.

Herzog fondly recalls the days when The Sporting News cost a dime and carried an entire week of major league and minor league box scores. "It was only baseball then," Herzog says. "You could go all the way through 55 minor leagues. When you went on a bus trip in the minors, you'd take The Sporting News and a couple of cigars and spend the 400 miles reading box scores."

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