In praise of box scores on news print …

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So an old friend and I were sitting on his back porch Friday morning, drinking coffee and lamenting the fact that you can no longer pick up the morning newspaper and read last night’s baseball box scores.

“It’s something I started doing as a kid, five or six years old,” my pal said. “I learned to read, reading the sports page. I learned to do math figuring out the batting averages from the box scores.”

The same was true for me. Journalistic integrity compels this admission: For both of us, this was more than half a century ago – long before ESPN’s Sportscenter and back when morning newspapers were the way you got the news from the night before, especially the details.

Rick Cleveland

I was a Yankee fan – before CBS and George Steinbrenner and all ruined them (at least for me) – and could not wait to get the morning newspaper and check to see if Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris had homered. In the National League, the San Francisco Giants were my team and I always wanted to see how Willie Mays, for my money the best player of all-time, had done.

My father taught me to look to see how all the Mississippians had fared. He had two close friends – Bubba Phillips with the Chicago White Sox and Jim Davenport with the Giants – who were starting third basemen in the Major Leagues. Phillips – “Bubber” my dad called him – hit .300 for the “Go Go Sox” in the 1959 World Series and then ate a steak at our house two nights later. Davenport – “Peanuts” my dad called him – took my brother and me into the visitors’ clubhouse at Houston to meet Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal and all the rest.

I also followed the Chicago Cubs, primarily because Donnie Kessinger, the great Ole Miss basketball and baseball star, played such a splendid shortstop for them.

Sometimes, we had to wait until the afternoon paper arrived to get the West Coast box scores. It was a long, long wait. Finally, it came and the box scores always told the stories.

For my money, the baseball box score is one of the great inventions of the 19th century. That’s right, the box score was invented in 1859, before the Civil War, by a sports writer named Henry Chadwick. Mr. Chadwick, oddly enough, was a Brit who grew up not on baseball but cricket. Chadwick wrote sports for the Long Island Star and the New York Clipper. He is described in his biography as an “intelligent and organized man,” and he must have been because the box score is an intelligent and incredibly organized invention.

Chadwick’s first box score, which appeared in the Clipper, told the story, in names and numbers, of a championship game between the Brooklyn Excelsiors and the Brooklyn Stars. As the box score has been ever since, Chadwick’s first box score was a set of statistics that accounted for the runs, hits, put-outs, assists and errors. His first one looked amazingly similar to the ones you see in newspapers or on your computers or notepads today.

You should know that Henry Chadwick was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown – as well he should have been.

But back to this morning’s back porch discussion.

My buddy’s childhood team was the Dodgers, both before and after the Bums moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. His favorite players were Duke Snider and then Sandy Koufax. He learned quickly that for Snider, box score zeroes were bad, but for Koufax box score zeroes were good.

It is a lesson all real baseball fans learn.

My friend’s morning newspaper contained no box scores, so I got out my computer and asked who do you want to know about?

“I always look for Brian Dozier and the Twins first,” he said.

“Dozier was four for four, a home run and three RBI, but the Twins lost,” I told him.

Freddie Freeman?

“Five for five, a home run, two ribbies. Braves win 9-2.”

You know, I told him, you can get a computer and do this yourself.

“It’s just not the same,” he said.

I had to agree.