The greatest of all baseball writers, Roger Angell, began his first collection of baseball writing, "The Summer Game", with a short piece titled "Box Scores". Angell calls the box score one of his "favorite urban flowers." In the piece, he talks about a "New York newspaper strike" that "threatened to extend itself into the baseball season," thus causing "the prospect of a summer without daily box scores."
That got me thinking. What would a summer without box scores look like? And then I realized that there have been many summers that I have barely even glanced at a box score even though they've been nothing but a mere click away.
Not that I wasn't paying attention to the game, it was quite the opposite, I had never been more engrossed by the daily pleasantries of the season. But I was getting my baseball information from other sources. So what is it that kept me away from this, as Angell put it, "precisely etched miniature of the sport itself"? And is there a need for the box score in today's game? Has the box score been dying a slow death along with that of its original distributor, the newspaper?
Are You Still Here, Box Score?
The simple answer to the question above is yes. Sure, the box score is still here. The daily scores on the MLB app have box scores. The daily scores on the Athletic app don't have anything called a "box" or "box score", but they do have a "stats" area, which is their version of a box score. The same thing can be found on every other baseball-covering sports app. The box score is still alive and in use, but the question now is, is it being used in the same way that it used to be?
Before the advent of the internet, the PC, and the smartphone, the daily information providers of baseball (and anything else for that matter) were radio, television, and the newspaper. If one missed the game, and or the highlights, on the radio or TV, you could rely on the newspaper, more specifically the box score to convey the action of the game. It was the baseball fan's daily bible. If you wanted to keep up with the game, the baseball fanatic turned to the box score.
Picture this: It's 4 a.m. The newspaper truck has just delivered a stack of newspapers to young Christopher who is trying to earn some extra cash to fuel his baseball card addiction. Christopher assembles the papers and wraps a rubber band around the finished ones, putting them in the basket of his bike. Once finished, he pedals around his neighborhood and throws newspapers onto the driveways of the publications subscribers. Christopher returns home tired, but his pockets are fatter.
The residents of the homes wake, rub the sleep from their eyes, head into their kitchens, get pots of coffee brewing, and make their way out to their driveways where newspapers are waiting for them. They grab the papers and head back inside. Their houses smell of coffee and they put the newspapers on their kitchen tables. They make breakfast, settle down at their tables, and dive into the daily, finally reaching the sports page where, nestled a few pages in, are the box scores.
Picture this: It's 6 a.m. Your alarm goes off. You wake up, turn off the alarm on your phone, and roll over on your back. The phone scans your face, recognizes you, and lets you proceed. The MLB app is on the first screen, top row. You press the app with your index finger. You already know that the Minnesota Twins won on a walk-off by Byron Buxton in the bottom of the 10th against the Detroit Tigers. It would be hard not to know this because you have your alerts turned on and you watched the game last night on two different devices. But, you want to watch some highlights of which there are plenty.
You start with Buxton's walk-off. Then watch a nice play made by Sonny Gray, followed by three more videos of Buxton and celebrating teammates. You are curious how many hits Buxton had that day, and if Carlos Correa is finally getting his average up, so you check the box score. Buxton had two hits and Correa is still hovering around .200. You close the app, get out of bed, and continue with your day.
Is the box score dying or is its purpose just mutating? It used to be how one kept up with the game. It took the fan from New York to Chicago to Florida to Texas to California and everywhere else in between in the span of a printed page. Now the fan, or the majority of fans, prefer to transverse the country with a single tap of the screen and watch videos of the action, see the interviews, and hear the commentary almost instantaneously, and with a single tap of the finger. The information can be overwhelming and convenient at once. And part of this instantaneous information is the box score, but it has been pushed behind all of the rest and used as a secondary source instead of the primary source it used to be.
Reading a box score is like reading a short story. Every detail is not presented like it is on the silver screen. Nobody is telling you exactly what to think and feel. When you look at a box score and see that Shohei Ohtani went 3 for 4 with a double and 2 RBI, you have to use your imagination. Where did he hit the ball? Who was on base? You can picture his fluid swing and his long effortless stride as he rounds first and does a popup slide into second. But maybe he didn't slide into second? Maybe he had a standup double? You can't know for sure, but it's fun to imagine, it's fun to guess. And who cares if you're right because the imagined belongs to you. It doesn't matter if you're right or wrong.
So much about the game is found in the box score. Sure one doesn't know exactly what happened, but do we really need to know? Ultimately, the answer is up to the consumer. Is one way of getting the information better or worse than the other? This may be a case of beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The stat hungry fact finder is going to prefer the modern information onslaught. While the dreamer may prefer a cup of joe and page six.
It's quite possible that the box score is needed now more than ever. With so much happening and so many distractions, it would be nice to have a "precisely etched miniature" where a person may have the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the game how it used to be, in a way without so much noise.