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The Man Who Made Baseball's Box Score A Hit
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The Man Who Made Baseball's Box Score A Hit


The Man Who Made Baseball's Box Score A Hit
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Next, we have a story that brings together two topics close to many a baseball fan's heart: history and statistics. One hundred fifty years ago, in 1859, a New York newspaper printed what many regard as the first baseball box score. This chart of players and positions, runs and hits is still a mainstay of the game. NPR's Mike Pesca tells about the man who started it.

MIKE PESCA: Grave markers in the Victorian era were frequently topped with a globe - the symbol of eternity. You see a few of them in Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery. Sports writer Henry Chadwick's monument here reads 1824 to 1908. Since Chadwick was born and spent his childhood in England it's no shock to see an orb atop his marker. But Greenwood's historian Jeff Richmond recommends a closer look.

Mr. JEFF RICHMOND (Historian, Greenwood Cemetery): The globe actually has stitches carved into it. And that, of course, would make it a giant granite baseball.

PESCA: Affixed to the monument is a catcher's mask; laid into the ground, four stones carved to resemble bases; and on a plaque, the words The Father of Baseball. There are at least four men buried in Greenwood who at one time or another were called this. But Richman says Chadwick deserves the appellation more than others.

Mr. RICHMAN: We do have several but he seems to have the best claim. He is dubbed 'The Father of Baseball' by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt.

PESCA: Among Chadwick's progeny was the box score. The first one, which maybe an overstatement and we'll get to that in a minute, but the first box score chronicled the game between the Brooklyn Excelsiors and their upstart rivals, the Brooklyn Stars, in 1859. Chadwick recorded the runs, hits, put-outs, assists and errors. He also coined a few of those words in addition to single and diamond. Baseball's establishment, led by Dodger owner Charles Ebbets - he's up on a hill in Greenwood overlooking Chadwick - realized they were indebt to the man whose written description of the game brought it great prominence. This is the 1939 broadcast of the dedication of baseball's Hall of Fame. There among the Hall's first 13 players, innovators and managers: a sportswriter.

(Soundbite of recording)

Unidentified Man: Henry Chadwick, inventor of the box score, baseball writer for half a century.

PESCA: Some baseball historians don't regard the 1859 box scores being the first. Newspapers did print rudimentary baseball statistics before Chadwick's ran in an issue of the New York Clipper. It is perhaps helpful to think of the Chadwick box score's claim on primogeniture as one would regard "The Canterbury Tales" as being the first novel, or "Rocket 88" as the first rock n' roll song. Chadwick innovated and therefore defined what was important. The definition has lasted for well over 100 years. For instance, you may have noticed that walks were not included. Chadwick biographer Andrew Schiff says having grown up watching cricket, Chadwick didn't respect the base on balls.

Mr. ANDREW SCHIFF (Author): The reason why Henry Chadwick didn't like it is that he believed that the game should be played on the field. So a walk or a strike-out, that would take away your chance from a fielder making a play. He believed the beauty of baseball was in the players moving in motion. So he didn't really like the strike-out. He didn't like the home run and he didn't like the walk.

PESCA: Box scores have never really waned in popularity, and some modern ones note such arcana as game-winning RBIs and runners left on base. But they still list the batting order, tell you how many runs and hits a player had, and which team scored and when. And the best known statistic, a player's batting average, is still compiled with a disregard for walks because of the system set in place 150 years ago. Modern day statistical gurus like Boston Red Sox advisor and "Baseball Abstract" author Bill James are refining some of Henry Chadwick's work. James says he became obsessed with box scores within weeks of becoming a baseball fan. He maintains that the box score is still the gateway for many fans, grabbing their imaginations when they're developing passions that could last a lifetime.

Mr. BILL JAMES (Author): Baseball appeals to people in part because it is an extremely orderly universe. I think people often hit upon baseball at about the same age that people often take a liking to math and also take a liking in classical music.

PESCA: Today the savant may wish to tease out the nuances of the box score. And even the casual fan won't notice that he's speaking a kind of code when he says, Jeff Francoeur went four-for-four. For this we owe at least a tip of the cap to an Englishman eager to champion his new homeland's answer to cricket as printed a 150 years ago this summer.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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