I love scoreboards. Yes, I know it’s a rather weird obsession and a rather weird confession. I have other obsessions too, but I have no plans to confess any of those just yet.
I’ve been enamored with scoreboards for as long as I can remember. I suppose for most people, a scoreboard is simply a device, perhaps almost a necessary evil, for showing what the score is, how much time is left, what quarter, inning or period it is and, to a lesser degree, down and distance, where the ball is, how many timeouts remain, if a team is in the bonus, how much time is left in the power play, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve recently started a Twitter account and a Facebook group called Vintage Scoreboards that I’d like to invite you to follow or join (or whatever verb is appropriate). I really didn’t expect much reaction out of either of them, except maybe from my immediate circle of Facebook friends and whatever lunatic fringe I might attract on Twitter.
However, the response has been rather surprising, especially on Twitter. For about a week, the only two people following the account were me and my son Mark. Then I plugged it on my own Twitter page and it took off pretty well, if you call 73 followers pretty well, and I do. Even Keith Olbermann follows it. So … that’s something.
As the name implies, I concentrate mostly on older scoreboards, i.e., pre-1990. This is primarily before every scoreboard became a videoboard. So we’re talking light bulbs, not LEDs.
The thing I like most about scoreboards is they record history. Sometimes it’s a no-hitter, sometimes it’s a big home run. Most of the time it’s nothing at all, but even then, they’ll show players who eventually became Hall of Famers or remind someone of a favorite player from back in the day (as the kids say — or said, back in the day).
So I started collecting photos of scoreboards through this big thing they call the Internet. A lot of these photos simply snapshots, taken on film a long time ago. Many times the scoreboard in the shot isn’t even the primary subject; it just happens to be in the background. As such it still serves to communicate what was going on at the precise moment the photo was taken.
It wasn’t always abundantly clear what old-time scoreboards were trying to communicate. This was especially true in baseball. There were more doubleheaders back then, so you’d often see a column with the heading “1G” or “F” on it. That was to show the score of the first game during the second game. Want to know if the play you just saw was a hit or an error? In some ballparks, you’d have to look at the advertisements for Schaefer or Rheingold beers. They’d light up the “H” in each beer’s name if it was a hit or the “E” if it was an error. I kid you not.
A big thing in baseball was the out-of-town scoreboard. In those pre-Internet and even pre-TV days, there was no better way to find out what was going on in other games around the majors. Some old scoreboards put the entire score by innings for out-of-town games and made you add it up. A lot of boards would put up the uniform number of the pitcher in the game for each team. The way you would find out what number went with which pitcher was to buy a program. Some boards cared only about the league the home-town team played in, so you might see only the National League games at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
And by the way, there were a lot of out-of-town scoreboards that had no idea how to abbreviate Cincinnati. The most logical (and correct) way was “CIN” but you’d often see “CINN” or “CINCY” or “CINCI.” When the Giants moved to San Francisco, teams weren’t content to simply put “SF.” A lot of them put “FRISCO” or “S FRISCO.” Of course, “Frisco” is one of the biggest insults you can give a San Franciscan, but who knows? That might have been the very reason they did it.
During the era of multipurpose stadiums, converting scoreboards from baseball to football wasn’t always elegant. In the 1950s, around the time of the NFL’s “Greatest Game Ever Played” between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, they would put it in an additional scoreboard at Yankee Stadium, given that you needed a clock for football. I remember reading that the Football Giants radio broadcasters used to announce from inside the baseball scoreboard, where it was either freezing or roasting.
Scoreboards for pro basketball and hockey have been fairly interchangeable, going from personal fouls to penalties and from timeouts remaining to shots on goal.
I’ve had the opportunity to run a few smaller scoreboards. These days, scoreboards run on wireless connections, add the score for you, synchronize with TV graphics and compute time remaining down to the tenth of a second.
But being a nostalgic kind of guy, I like the old-fashioned type better, back when a degree in hieroglyphics helped quite a bit.