Whither the boxscore?

April 10, 2008 |

A week into baseball season, and the  Orioles’ hot start has been tempered by something our local daily newspaper has done. Yes, The Sun has bastardized the baseball boxscore.

Go ahead, check it out in the morning paper. Oh, it looks like the same recap you’ve become accustomed to seeing. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some disturbing trends — all in the name of saving precious space and making things fit nicely.

For now, we’ll concentrate on the pitching lines. Yes, there’s still a W and an L to signify the winning and losing pitchers. You’ve got to know the pitchers of record, right? But what happened to the records, as in:

Sarfate, W (2-0)

Well, you’ve got to dig deeper. That information has been removed from the traditional pitching line and banished to the bottom of the boxscore in paragraph form. So has the pitchers’ ERAs and the number of saves.  Now you’ve got to pore over lines of agate type to find information that used to be easily accessible.

At least the Orioles are in the American League. What’s happened in the N.L. makes the designated hitter look appropriate by comparison. The starting pitcher remains in the lineup for each team. And if someone pinch-hits for the starting pitcher, or a relief pitcher who follows him, the pinch-hitter is listed. But not the relievers. They are shown only in the pitching recap. Simply put, they’ve disappeared from the traditional recap. Lord only knows how these agate masters will work complicated double switches during extra-inning games into the boxscore. But the days of being able to read the boxscore and discern the events of the game appear to be gone the way of the four-man rotation.

Why has this been done? Insiders tell me it’s a space-saving measure. All those lines add up to enough room for an extra brief or a slightly larger photograph. And the way the A.L. and N.L. recaps are laid out, it allows the page to look nicer. The boxes are all about the same length and the stories approximately the same number of words. Remember the old New York Times slogan — “All the news that’s fit to print”? It’s as if The Sun has adopted a new mantra: “All the news that fits, we print.”

Every baseball fan, every roto geek, every kid who ever raced to see the morning paper before leaving for school should be outraged at this cheap tactic. But it’s not surprising. A few years ago, The Sun shrunk the boxscores so they would better fit the page design. Now it’s happened again.

I usually don’t vent at my media brethren. Stone-throwing ain’t my style. But when I called the paper to complain — as a loyal home delivery subscriber, not a reporter — I got the big brush-off. Yes, I was told, they’ve gotten complaints. No, I was told, it probably won’t be changed. Thanks, I was told, for sharing my opinion.

Something tells me a deluge of calls might have an impact. Just don’t try to find the number for the ombudsman — the role The Sun turned into the “reader representative.” Turns out it was discontinued a few months back in anothe wave of changes that are supposed to benefit the paper.