At a young age, long before tweetstorms and self-publishing, most of us were told not to believe everything we read. This is especially true of advertising, personals and the scroll on the bottom of the screen of some “news” channels.
But nowhere is a warning label about the possibility of mistakes and outright lies needed more than on websites that include prep boxscores.
I was reminded of this yesterday. I went to a baseball game the night before knowing there was a chance for it to be ugly, but, being the optimist that I am, I hoped to write about a dramatic win, or at least a competitive game.
OK, that’s a lie. Optimists are not common in newsrooms, especially in sports departments, which are often snake pits of cynical, borderline-alcoholic has-beens mixed with eager young people who haven’t yet lost the will to live.
But I digress.
The fact is it was two teams we cover playing each other, and I hoped for the best.
I learned long ago that a Pulitzer Prize-winning epic about a local team losing will be ignored, while mailing in a routine story about a win will result in a flurry of “Hey, great story” comments for days. But this one was so bad there was not going to be a story at all. I don’t have the heart to write about a game which is 22-0 with one out in the top of the second, which is when I fled the scene.
But I figured I could get the final off of GameChanger.com and put it in the prep roundup. It didn’t appear until 5:45 a.m. the next morning, so that wasn’t happening. But here’s the point: When I left the field, the home team had six errors on the scoreboard. (I always keep score myself. Always. But this isn’t about me. Trust me, it never is.)
So I click on the game to check the box score. There was one error. ONE. The winning team scored 28 runs in two innings, and the website indicated one error. The odds of that happening in a prep baseball or softball game are roughly equal to the odds of me running the bases without passing out.
So what does this really matter? I knew you would ask.
First, I can go to one game a night. Sometimes our part-timer, Colin Damms, also goes to a game. The rest we don’t see in person. We have to trust websites to tell us what’s going on.
(And right now, let’s say that more teams need to get on board with this. A few teams are always in the paper, and others never are. We need that to change, so please spread the word about getting games online. GameChanger is the most useful, but more complete numbers on Scorebooklive.com or MaxPreps.com would work.)
If one source says there were six errors and another says there was one, that also means batting averages are different, RBIs are different and who knows what else is different. Think about it: If a two-run double down the line is actually an error on the left fielder, the batter is now 0 for 1 without an RBI. Do this five times and the statistics in the box become meaningless.
Please understand I am not saying one number or the other is correct. But the chasm between the two is unacceptable.
A couple of years ago, annoyed at the incredible lack of credibility in online box scores, I wrote a column for my previous newspaper. But I started with a bigger, more obvious mistake. Enjoy a small sample of the calm, rational way I discussed incompetence for the nice people of Nye County, Nevada:
This was the situation: A batter came up with a runner on first. She hits a routine, little-effort-required comebacker. The pitcher fields the ball cleanly but then sails her throw to first well down the line in right field. The batter winds up on second, and the runner on first comes around to score.
And then we heard it, from the little booth housing the announcer: “Base hit! RBI!”
NO! and NO!
Look, I’m sure the announcer is a very nice person who is good to her kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and great-great-grandkids (OK, I might be guessing on those last two, but she was old. Very old. Excited to win the right to vote old.), but she had no business being at the mike for a state championship game. Is it that hard to find someone who knows anything about the game to do that? Everything should be first-rate around a state tournament, from the playing field and the umpires on down.
But the impetus for that column stemmed from looking at two versions of a box score of a game I attended, just out of curiosity. And I confirmed what I already knew: Don’t believe everything you read or hear.
I’m not talking about anything totally absurd, like the government is going to ban hamburgers or something equally silly, just simple box scores.
Sadly, the old GIGO acronym applies well to online box scores: Garbage In, Garbage Out. This usually manifests itself in what is a hit and what is an error, but when you realize RBIs are tied to hits vs. errors, and then realize that runners are getting credit for stolen bases on wild pitches and passed balls, and a single and an error turn into a triple, you also realize that, aside from things such as strikeouts and the final score — one hopes — nothing can be trusted.
Anyway, it was a game I attended, and I scored it myself. I score every game I go to, and my pad often becomes a mess.
But when I put statistics in the paper from a game I covered, you can believe everything you read. Or at least you should. I have plenty of flaws, but I am obsessed with statistics.
Anyway, the game was played on a hot Friday afternoon, which is no excuse. We’ll start simple. The winning team had 20 hits on one website, 30 on the other. Seriously, a difference of 10 hits. Miraculously, I had 20 as well.
Errors? Site one read 10. Site two read zero. Have you ever watched high school baseball? Zero errors, even for a good team, is cause for either a celebration or an investigation. With small schools, it’s almost always the latter.
A player for Team A is listed in one box score as going 5 for 5 with 3 RBIs, a double and 6 runs scored. In another, he was 3 for 5 with 2 RBIs, no extra-base hits and 6 runs scored. On my scorecard, he was 2 for 5 with one RBI and 6 runs scored.
Clearly, scoring a run is so obvious everyone had it right. Rah!
So why am I telling you this? Well, partly because it’s 4 a.m. and I need to fill space. (My game yesterday was postponed. See you Thursday, Trojans.) But also because there will come a time when you or your son or your daughter has statistics that don’t match up with statistics from another source. And you might be tempted, as one parent I can recall back in New Jersey (three prep sports jobs ago) was, to make two phone calls and one visit to the office to tell us that her daughter did not score four points in her first varsity basketball game. She scored six. College recruiters need to know, she said. Yep. Six entire points.
The next year, she wasn’t on the team.
The lesson: Normal people don’t need to worry about it, just those of us whose work requires getting accurate statistics.
Keep all of this in mind when you check box scores online. And please don’t worry about anyone being shortchanged. If a kid is good enough to play at the next level, he or she will get noticed. If not, who really cares about anything other than the final score?
Well, besides me.