|Wednesday, June 20
Get me a hot dog and calculus book
By Jim Caple
-- 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
Lilly walked as many batters in that game as Pedro Martinez has since May 2.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
From left field
Here's a look at the cream of that year's crop:
Win Blake Stein's money
Q. Who played third base for Baltimore the game before Ripken took his place and began his playing streak in 1982?
A. Floyd Rayford.
Voice of summer
-- 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.