Reading the Box Scores

Baseball isn’t for everyone, but for those that do love the sport and the numbers game that goes with it, Tim Kurkjian’s piece about ending his 20-year streak of collecting every MLB game’s box score is like lifting a very specific history-sports-math nerd veil.

The box scores start every day for me because there’s always a chance you’ll see a pitching or batting line that you’ve never seen before, and might never see again, such as Ben Petrick’s 3-0-0-4 a few years ago. Four RBIs without a hit! “I thought I had a bad day,” Petrick said, “until I looked at the box score.” The box score is where we once saw the battery for the Tigers of Glenn Abbott and Marty Castillo — Abbott and Castillo — and the Giants’ famed Bud Black-Steve Decker battery — Black and Decker, of which great writer Steve Rushin wrote: Decker wore “the power tools of ignorance.”

In the upper left-hand drawer of the desk in my office, I keep the box score from the Rangers’ 30-3 victory over the Orioles on Aug. 22, 2007, because it was historic in so many ways, including the batting line of the eighth and ninth hitters for the Rangers: Saltalamacchia 6-5-4-7 and Vazquez 6-4-4-7. And I can still remember John Kruk laughing at me in the background as I made a complete fool of myself on national TV when I could not control my enthusiasm at the sight of a box score never seen before in baseball history.

This year, like every year, has been filled with great box-score items, including one from Wednesday night when the Red Sox, for the first time in their history, got a home run from their first baseman, second baseman, shortstop and third baseman in the same game. Also this year, the White Sox became the first team to use five pitchers in a game and all five recorded three strikeouts. The Blue Jays got home runs from Jose Bautista, John Buck and Travis Snider, the first time in Toronto’s 34-year history that its 7-8-9 hitters homered in the same game. Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Ryan Zimmerman homered in the same game, the first time that players with the last name starting with U, V and Z did so in the same game. And Gavin Floyd started against Brian Bannister, the first Floyd-Bannister pitching matchup; Floyd Bannister is, of course, Brian Bannister’s father.

I still devour box scores every day, making sure to check, among other things, that the Mets’ Angel Pagan didn’t get hit by a pitch: He has never been hit by a pitch in his major league career. The difference is, I just don’t cut the box scores out anymore and tape them in a book like a fifth-grader doing a current events project. I don’t miss the black ink on my fingers, I don’t miss lugging around a notebook as thick as a phone book and I don’t miss the looks of disbelief from my wife that a grown man would do such a stupid thing for 20 years.

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