Saturday, April 01, 2006

Beautiful Baseball Box Scores

I am, without a doubt, a football guy. When I was 8 I received my first football encyclopedia, and quickly became a vast repository of football history and statistics. And even as I get older, football still holds some magic- a sense of urgency that other sports can't hope to match.

Yet with yet another baseball season upon us, I find myself drawn in to the game that used to be America's unanimous past time. No, I don't plan on watching all that much baseball- I don't have the time to watch 100 games a year or more like I used to. And no, not to watch any particular team- As a Mets fan I am eternally pessimistic. While other Mets fans are hoping for a return to the Fall Classic, I have visions of an injured Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner, another sub-par year from Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado hitting 0.220.

No, baseball is still magical for another reason, one that can survive, and perhaps is even assisted by the internet era. And that is the baseball box score. So simple, yet complex- a small statistical table that can tell the full story of a three-hour game.

The other sports can't compete with baseball's statistical genius. As someone who has tried to follow basketball through box scores, I can tell you it is next to impossible. Basketball statistics don't show you the flow of the game- they don't tell you which shots were good, and which shots should have never been taken in the first place.

My beloved football statistics are just as bad, if not worse. In blowouts, losing teams pile up yardage, while winning teams willingly give such yardage up. And given the complexities of football, each 10 yard chuck of yardage can have completely different meanings.

Baseball statistics on the other hand tell a story. The box score gives you the complete picture, and the further you delve into statistical analysis (take for example, a player's batting average in the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning, in 1-run games, with 2 outs and runners on base.) the more detailed the picture becomes.

This is precisely why baseball was the most popular sport for such a long time- Prior to cable television, insta-highlights, and the internet, baseball was really the only sport that relatively isolated sports enthusiasts could follow. And while baseball may have declined in popularity in the modern world, it still holds a special place in my heart. Beautiful baseball box scores, statistical treasures that make sports accessible to all of us, from the 10-year old boy in 1932, to the busy law student of today.


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