Fun with box scores

I still remember a time when I had to wait for the morning paper to see the final score of a Yankee game. This was during the infancy of my baseball fandom – 1999, 2000, 2001. The routine was always the same. The Yankees played at 7:05pm, and I would go to bed in the sixth or seventh inning, usually around 9:15. This wasn’t because I had a bedtime or anything. I just liked to sleep. I still do.

I would wake up the next morning, grab the newspaper at the end of the driveway, and check the scores over breakfast.* I would check the box scores not just from the Yankee game, but from all the games, and I would try to memorize the players’ batting averages and season stats, and I’m not sure this is how other kids started their day, but it worked for me. All I was missing was a cup of coffee,** my AARP card, and my pills. God forbid it was a west coast game – man, I hated those away games in Seattle and Anaheim. They would always end past midnight, and then I would have to wait another day to read the box score.

*This was after I finished the 6:30am episode of Pokemon.

**I didn’t start drinking coffee until college. This was probably a good thing.

And then I started staying up later, and the internet came along, and I got a cell phone, and before long I didn’t need a newspaper to read the box score. Newspaper box scores have become all but irrelevant. Sure, ESPN and Yahoo and the other sites out there post a faux electronic box score, but it’s not the same. Of course, things are better now.  I don’t take for granted that all of this information is available instantaneously. It’s just that, with progress, you also lose things.

The traditional box score is, of course, AB-R-H-RBI for a hitter and IP-H-R-ER-BB-SO for a pitcher. I remember seeing a 4-4-4-4 once. I liked the 1-1-1-1-1-1 line for a pitcher. I always took a small pleasure in some of these odder box scores.

Below are some of my favorites from over the years. Some of these I read in the paper, others are from long ago, but all are quite extraordinary in their own right.

Harvey Haddix – May 26th, 1959

In 2009, Sports Illustrated wrote an excellent article on this game. It was titled The Greatest Game Ever Pitched. It may very well have been. No pitcher in the history of the game has thrown a perfect game of more than nine innings. Haddix was perfect after nine, but his visiting Pirates had failed to score a run against the Milwaukee Braves, so the game went to extra innings.

Haddix returned for the tenth, and the eleventh, and the twelfth, and as the night wore on, no one reached base. 36 up, 36 down. Then, in the bottom of the thirteenth, the Pirates’ third baseman Don Hoak rushed a throw, pulled the first baseman off the bag, and was given an error. The perfect game was over. The next hitter laid down a sacrifice bunt. The next hitter was Hank Aaron, and he was intentionally walked. The next hitter was Joe Adcock.

Adcock was lanky, but he had surprising power—the first player to hit a ball into the centerfield bleachers at the Polo Grounds and the first to hit a ball over the leftfield stands in Ebbets Field. Haddix had attacked the righthanded hitter with sliders on the outside corner all night, so Adcock knew what was coming. The first pitch was a slider outside. The second was a slider that Haddix left high. “I wanted it low,” he said. “I was just getting tired.” Everyone in the park knew as soon as the ball jumped off Adcock’s bat. It was gone.

And so the game was over. By the way, you’ll notice that Haddix is credited as giving up just one run, even though Adcock hit a home run with two runners on. This is due to one of the fluckiest scoring decisions in baseball history. The ball landed between the outfield fence and another fence behind it, and Hank Aaron thought it was a ground-rule double. After touching second, he cut across the pitcher’s mound to the dugout, while his teammates stormed out of the dugout and yelled for Aaron to turn back. But, it was too late – Adcock had already passed him and touched third. The umpires conferred and ruled that the final score was 2-0.The next day, National League officials ruled that because Adcock had passed Aaron, Adcock was out and his home run was a double. The score was changed to 1-0.

Perfect games have become more common – there have been six of them in the last five years – but at the time this would have been just the fifth in the modern era, and the first-ever in the National League. Haddix didn’t just throw a perfect game, he threw 1-and-a-third perfect games, against one of the better lineups in the league – the Braves had future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, who finished second and third in the MVP voting in 1959. But Major League Baseball did not – and has not – recognized it as an official perfect game. Haddix’s Hall of Fame teammate Bill Mazeroski does not agree.

“What Major League Baseball ruled wasn’t right,” says Mazeroski. “Twenty-seven up, 27 down is a perfect game—why not 36 up, 36 down? All I know is that I was there for the greatest game ever pitched, and the game deserves recognition.”

Jay Witasick – November 3rd, 2001

If Haddix’s game is the best-ever pitched, then this might be the worst. Except this was Game 6 of the 2001 World Series. Andy Pettitte only lasted two innings, and journeyman reliever Jay Witasick replaced him in the third. The Diamondbacks destroyed Witasick, and by the time he exited in the fourth, they were beating the Yankees 15-0. I still remember seeing that FOX scoreboard in the fourth inning – NYY 0 ARZ 15. These are things that stick with you when you’re ten years old and your dreams are crushed.

It was one of the biggest blowouts in the history of the World Series. And, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can see the whole game for yourself, though I don’t know why you ever would.

The most amazing part of this line is that Witasick managed four strikeouts, which means that every ball hit into fair territory was a hit, all ten of them. This goes against every logical law of BABIP. Sometimes even the hardest of hits are hit right at someone. On average, about 30% of balls hit in play turn into hits. It was just an incredibly unlucky break for Witasick, and the Yankees, who went on to lose Game 7 in a much closer affair.

Vin Mazzaro – May 6th, 2011

In the history of baseball, no pitcher has allowed 14 runs in fewer innings.

The Royals’ starter that day, Kyle Davies, didn’t make it out of the first inning, so the Royals relied on Mazzaro to eat up some innings. What is interesting about is that Mazzaro pitched a perfect first inning. Three up, three down. And then the series of at bats that followed in his second inning of work are almost comical:

Single, one run scores
Double, three runs score
Single, one run score
Double, two runs score
Home Run, three runs score

But no, Mazzaro wasn’t done. He returned for another inning, gave up four more runs, and was finally removed. Mazzaro was sent back to the minors after the game, but he has since returned to the majors and actually had a nice season for the Pirates in 2013.

Omar Vizquel – August 31st, 2004

I remember watching this one on a late summer night in August 2004. It was awful. The Indians destroyed the Yankees 22-0. It is the worst defeat in the history of the organization.

Omar Vizquel started the game 6-for-6, and in the ninth inning he had a chance for his seventh hit. It is rare to see a player hit seven times in a nine-inning game, and Vizquel was not only coming up for his seventh at bat, he was on the verge of history. Only one player had ever managed seven hits in a game – a guy by the name of Rennie Stennett in 1975. Baseball records are broken every now and then, but single-game records are almost impossible to attain because, well, there are just so many games.

It was an odd feeling. I wanted Vizquel to get that hit. Because, by this point, I was so frustrated with the Yankees that this would have been a fitting cherry on top. Of course, he didn’t get the hit. He flied out to right.

Five years later, the Indians once again scored 22 runs against the Yankees, this time on a rainy April afternoon. Those are the only two times this century that a team has scored 20+ runs against the Yankees – both at home, both against the Indians. The second time, the Yankees managed to score four runs.

Kerry Wood – May 6th, 1998

Old-timers like to refer to Haddix’s game as the best ever pitched, and maybe it was*, but I think Kerry Wood’s was the most dominant. The highlights are hypnotizing.

*It’s a philosophical question, really. What would you rather have? A perfect game into the thirteenth inning? Or a one-hitter with 20 strikeouts?

There’s a stat out there called Game Score, which Bill James invented in order to determine the strength of a pitcher in any particular game:

  1. Start with 50 points.
  2. Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.
  3. Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth.
  4. Add one point for each strikeout
  5. Subtract two points for each hit allowed.
  6. Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.
  7. Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed.
  8. Subtract one point for each walk.

Got it? Good. In theory, the highest possible game score in a 9-inning game is 114 if a pitcher strikes out every batter he faces. Kerry Wood came remarkably close – his Game Score was 105, the highest ever in nine innings. It wasn’t a perfect game, or a no-hitter, but by one measure it was the best. Wood faced 28 guys who are paid millions of dollars to hit a baseball, and he struck out 20 of them. It was an incredible display of dominance.

Ben Petrick – September 20th, 2000

This was pretty wild – three at bats, no runs, no hits, 4 RBI’s. How is this even possible? Who the heck is Ben Petrick?

Petrick was a backup catcher who played for the Rockies and Tigers from 1999-2003. He is mostly forgotten by probably every single person ever, but this one game from 2000 was pretty neat.

In his first plate appearance, Petrick grounded out to the shortstop, and a run scored. 0-for-1, 1 RBI

In his next plate appearance, Petrick hit a sacrifice fly. 0-for-1, 2 RBI

In his next plate appearance, Petrick grounded out the shortstop. No runs scored. 0-for-2, 2 RBI

In his next plate appearance, Petrick grounded out to the second baseman, and a run scored. 0-for-3, 3 RBI

In his final plate appearance, Petrick walked with the bases loaded. And there you have it. 0-for-3, 4 RBI

After the game, reporters asked Petrick about his day. “I thought I had a bad day,” Petrick said, “until I looked at the box score.”


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