All Hail Henry Chadwick!

As anyone who reads “And That Happened” on a regular basis knows, I’m a box score fetishist, and because of it, I’ve often thought of Henry Chadwick — the man credited as inventing the box score — as the feature’s patron saint. Except it’s not quite that clear that he did invent the box score.

As NPR’s Mike Pesca explains in this wonderful feature on Chadwick (that link is to the audio, which should be up shortly here’s a link to the text version), the box score, like most things in baseball, was less a product of invention than evolution, though Chadwick certainly formalized and popularized many of the box score’s conventions. Great stuff, including the obligatory appearance of Bill James, that is definitely worth a listen and/or a read. This may be my favorite part, though:

Back then, according to Chadwick biographer Andrew Schiff, “the box score was the only way of showing the game, there really was no photography. So the writer really was the person at the center between the fans and the player at the game.”

Let us laud Chadwick for his contributions to the box score, but let us lament the fact that he is inadvertently responsible for those writers and broadcasters who continue to place themselves at the center between the fans and the player at the game.

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  1. ElBonte said...

    I love the NPR baseball stories.  We’ve got a couple vintage baseball teams in southeastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee Public Radio did a story about one of the teams.  Scroll down to “Huzzah! A Vintage Base Ball Story”

    For anyone with a team in their area, I would recommend checking out a game; it’s a lot of fun.

    Also, FYI: the link to the audio in the post is broken.

  2. lar said...

    Good link, Craig! There’s a great piece about early box scores over at Walk Like a Sabermatrician:

    It mentions the evolution aspect of the modern box score design. He then goes into a (valuable) digression about how things might have been different if the early box score designers had made just one or two decisions differently. Here’s a good excerpt:

    I wonder if or how the development of conventional statistical wisdom would have been altered had the box score column remained “outs” instead of “at bats”. The move to at bats obscured the fact that at bats = outs + hits. By hiding the outs in the broader category of “at bats”, which are easily dismissed as simply a playing time measure, they were hidden from the view of casual fans.

    Of course, unless you also consider walks, the result might be the same; valuing hits in relationship to outs is ultimately the same as valuing them in relationship to at bats. But if a hits/outs ratio was used rather than a hits/at bats ratio, there would be many more people who would inherently accept that outs are the proper denominator for an overall offensive rate stat. One of the big steps in converting a lot of people to a sabermetric outlook is to convince them that using outs and not just total opportunities (AB or PA) results in the best model of true offensive value.

    I don’t necessarily think that that would’ve been the best change, but I definitely agree that it may have changed the way we think about the batter-pitcher matchup. It’s an interesting thought exercise, at least.

  3. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    Yet sadly, Craig, those of us who know how to keep score are becoming fewer and fewer. I’m universally assumed to be a scout in my perch behind home plate, and in my younger days, presumed to be tomorrow night’s pitcher (I’m 6’4” and ~180) but the reason I keep score is that I simply don’t enjoy it as much when I don’t, maybe because I don’t pay as close attention, or maybe because it’s just the best way to tap into the DNA of the game.

    Lar – I’d like to see putouts and assists make their way back into the box score, but like you, am not sure if outs is necessarily the best way to reflect offensive productivity at a glance. RMU is the closest I’ve seen in the direction.

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