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Wednesday, June 20
 
Get me a hot dog and calculus book

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

    "It's like the Pythagorean Theorem for jocks; it distills all the chaos and action of any game in history into a perfect rectangular sequence of numbers. I can look at this little box and know exactly what happened on that day back in 1947; it's like the numbers can talk to me, comfort me, tell me that some things remain the same."
    -- Mulder explaining his love of box scores to Scully on "The X-Files"

Stephen Ambrose doesn't record history as precisely and reliably as those wonderful little boxes of agate.

As part of my research in compiling the daily classic box score quiz (found each day in the upper right-hand corner of ESPN.com's MLB page), I spend a lot of time digging through old newspaper photocopies and microfilm, prospecting for box scores. Billy Crystal could not direct a movie that brings the players and the games so clearly and vibrantly back to life as those box scores do.

Read the line, "Wood 9 1 0 0 0 20" and you can practically hear the fastball popping into the catcher's glove on a gray day at Wrigley. Read the line, "HBP-Conigliaro (by Hamilton)," and you can feel the fastball smashing into Tony C.'s skull. Read the line, "Gaedel ph 0 0 0 0," and you can see Bill Veeck's famed midget wearing the number 1/8 on his back, taking four balls.

As the New Yorker's Roger Angell once said, reading a box score is "like reading a sheet of music. It's like a musician who reads a piece of music and can hear all the instruments playing."

Box scores have evolved steadily over the years, almost always becoming better with each innovation. That is, until recently. Unfortunately, modern box scores are cluttered with so much information that reading them is like wading through the IRS tax code.

Don't get me wrong. I love most additions to the modern box. Frankly, it's hard to remember what life was like before box scores listed a batter's walks and strikeouts, plus batting average, ERAs, pitch counts and inherited runners.

But in their desire to bring us as much as possible, the box score people have so thoroughly overloaded their boxes that deciphering them requires the Rosetta Stone, a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring and Bill James on the phone as your life line.

Consider "runners moved up." This is a well-meaning attempt designed to give credit to the player who advances a runner one base, but just what does this category mean exactly? If a batter comes up with a runner at first and second, grounds into a 4-6 forceout that moves the other runner to third, does he get credit for a "runner moved up'"? Or how about if a batter hits into a double play that scores a runner from third?

No and no. According to Stats, Inc., a player doesn't receive credit unless he makes an out, does not force out a runner, does not hit into a double play and advances at least one runner without receiving an RBI. And you thought the plot to "Tomb Raider" was confusing.

There's the same sort of problem with "runners left in scoring position, 2-out." I'm not sure why a batter who pops up with two outs deserves to be fingered more than a batter who fans with one out, but apparently someone does.

At least in some box scores. Others merely track runners left in scoring position, regardless of the outs. But in that case, does a batter get nicked if he drives in a runner from third but doesn't score the runner from second? And can you get credit for moving a runner up at the same time you leave him in scoring position?

These are fairly worthless categories to begin with, but they lose all meaning when almost no one knows the criteria for their use.

Worse, their inclusion in the box score makes it difficult to find the more familiar and more important stats. Just look at that ever-lengthening paragraph of agate above the pitching totals. This is the densest and least readable text facing readers outside of a Tom Clancy doorstop.

Runners moved up. Runners left in scoring position. GIDP. Season totals for RBI, doubles, triples and even caught stealing. Finding the familiar HR listings amid all the other data is a bit like finding your car in the parking lot after nine innings worth of Budweiser.

All this is part of the unceasing overload of information thrown at us on a daily basis. Stats no longer need to enlighten but must they also obscure more pertinent information the way Richard Garces blocks the sun?

Enough already. Give us a break, folks. Trim the box score to what is clear and concise information. Leave the rest in the composing room.

Remember, even Stephen King edits his copy.

Box score line of the week
Ted Lilly had an amazing game Sunday in the finale of New York's subway series. The Yankees starter was almost unhittable, allowing one hit in 5.1 innings while striking out seven. The problem was he also had a little trouble with the strike zone, walking eight batters. His line: 5.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 8 BB, 7 K

Lilly walked as many batters in that game as Pedro Martinez has since May 2.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
Cal Ripken retirement notes: Ripken's longest playing streak this season is five games and he hasn't played in four games in a row since early May. Ripken is one of 11 players who played at least 21 seasons, all of them with one team. The other 10 are all in the Hall of Fame. ... Transaction of the week: When the Cardinals put J.D. Drew on the disabled list, they brought up Stubby Clapp to take his spot on the roster. No lie. Stubby Clapp, surpassing Pokey Reese for the game's best name. Too bad Stump Merrill isn't around to manage him. ... Ichiro note of the week: Ichiro has almost as many votes (1,151,051) as the leading vote-getter from Cuba (Rey Ordonez, 258,208), Canada (Larry Walker, 415,949), Venezuela (Omar Vizqual, 301,777) and Curacao (Andruw Jones, 205,822) combined (1,181,756). ... Seattle starter Paul Abbott has a three-game hitting streak that dates back to June 10 of last year and consists of three hits. Darin Erstad has 214 hits during that span. At Abbott's present rate, he will break Joe DiMaggio's record in 2020. ... Glacier-like John Olerud hit his first triple in three years Saturday and it gave him the cycle. Despite just six triples the past five years, he's hit for the cycle twice and is just the second player in history to hit for the cycle in both leagues (the other was Bob Watson).

From left field
Ripken's first major award was the 1982 rookie of the year, an outstanding achievement considering the quality of that year's rookie class, one of the best ever. That group produced three certain Hall of Famers (Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs), a fourth probable Hall of Famer (Ryne Sandberg) and many very, very good players. All told, the 1982 rookies won 15 batting titles, four MVPs, produced three members of the 3,000-Hit Club and two Cy Young winners.

Here's a look at the cream of that year's crop:

Player Position The skinny
Wade Boggs 3B .328 average, five batting titles
Brett Butler OF .290 average, 1,359 runs, 578 SB
Chili Davis OF 350 HRs, 1,372 RBIs
Gary Gaetti 3B 4 Gold Gloves, 360 HRs, 1,341 RBIs
Tony Gwynn OF .338 average, eight batting titles
Kent Hrbek 1B 293 HR, 1,086 RBIs, excellent fielder
Willie McGee OF .295 average, two batting titles, '85 MVP
Cal Ripken SS Two MVPs, 421 HRs, all-time Iron Man
Ryne Sandberg 2B 1984 MVP, 1,318 runs, 282 HR, 344 SB
Steve Sax 2B 444 SB, nearly 2,000 hits
Frank Viola SP 176-150, 3.73 ERA, 1988 Cy Young
Jesse Barfield OF 241 HRs, two Gold Gloves
Steve Bedrosian RP 3.38 ERA, 184 saves, 1987 Cy Young

Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category is: Giving Up His Position Was Like Letting El Guapo Step In Front Of You At The Sizzler Buffet Line.

Q. Who played third base for Baltimore the game before Ripken took his place and began his playing streak in 1982?

Power rankings
1. Cal Ripken
What, you mean he didn't retire last year?
2. Mariners
Voting surprise: Seattle also had four players voted into Japanese Parliament
3. Cubs
Somewhere, Harry is smiling (or is it just Happy Hour?)
4. Lara Croft
Lara Croft
Tomb Raider's next impossible quest: search for life inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium
5. Miami Hurricanes
At least someone can still play baseball in Florida
6. George Bush
Controversial defense plan: a nuclear shield around Rangers pitching staff.
7. Ken Griffey Jr.
He'll play in All-Star Game if elected -- and in Home Run Derby if subpoened
8. Phillies
Bowa's latest complaint: Rolen always steals Larry's soap
9. Tiger Woods
Had trouble getting ball through the barn door and into clown's mouth on tricky 15th hole
10. Energy crisis
California crisis worsens: Rolling shutouts hit Anaheim's lineup

A. Floyd Rayford.

Voice of summer
"I thought it had to be a Major Soccer League score. Honestly, I go, 'Man, Kansas City and Arizona?' It caught me off guard."

-- San Diego general manager Kevin Towers on the interleague series between the AL Central Royals and the NL West Diamondbacks

Jim Caple is a Senior Writer for ESPN.com.







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