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The fan experience is important to consider when building a baseball stadium. Fans must be entertained as well as kept informed about what is going on in the game.
This is where scoreboards come in handy as they provide the necessary information fans need to keep up with the game as well as some extra information to keep them entertained.
Most baseball scoreboards display the following numbers: the number of runs scored each inning, each team’s total runs (R), total hits (H), total errors (E), balls (B), strikes (S), and outs (O). The runs, hits, and errors are normally displayed on top of the balls, strikes, and outs.
This is normally the bare minimum that is displayed on the scoreboard to help the fans, players, coaches, and umpires keep up with what is going on in the game. There are some other figures that are sometimes included on the scoreboard that will be discussed later in the article.
Scoreboards are an important part of any sport, but baseball scoreboards display information unique to the sport, and understanding how to read them is an important part of the fan experience.
Let’s first learn what all of the information on the scoreboard actually means before discussing it more in-depth:
- The number of runs scored each inning – Each team’s run total for each inning is displayed from left to right next to their team name.
- Total runs (R) – To the right of the inning breakdown, the total number of runs each team scores is displayed in the run column which is sometimes labeled as R.
- Total hits (H) – To the right of the total runs, each team’s total number of hits is displayed in the hit column which is sometimes labeled as H.
- Total errors (E)- To the right of the total hits, each team’s total number of errors is displayed in the error column which is sometimes labeled as E.
- Balls (B) – The number of balls is displayed as they are thrown and called by the home plate umpire.
- Strikes (S) – The number of strikes is displayed as they are thrown and called by the home plate umpire.
- Outs (O) – The number of outs in the inning is displayed as they are achieved by the defense.
- Hit/Error (H/E) lights – These two lights are often located near the outs. The hit light lights up if the previous play is ruled as a hit. The error light lights up if the previous play is ruled an error.
- Visitor/Guest – This represents the visiting team who traveled from somewhere else to play the game. If both or neither team traveled to the game, then the team that bats first is considered the visiting team or guests.
- Home – This represented the home team. The home team is the team hosting the game at their ballpark. If neither team is hosting at their ballpark, then the team that hits second is the home team.
- Innings – This shows the inning that the game is in currently.
Here is some information that some of the scoreboards at more advanced levels of baseball may contain:
- At Bat (AB)- The current batter’s uniform number is sometimes shown on the scoreboard.
- Pitcher Number – The current pitcher’s uniform number is sometimes shown on the scoreboard.
- Radar Gun – The radar gun shows the velocity of the pitch in miles per hour.
- Pitch Clock – College baseball and Major League Baseball now require pitchers to deliver a pitch within 20 seconds of throwing the previous pitch. The pitch clock shows how much time is remaining before the pitch is delivered.
Now that you know what these parts of the scoreboard are, let’s talk about them in more detail.
The Original Scoreboard
When organized baseball was first played, the scoreboard did not look all that different than it does now, but how it operated was much different.
The board displayed each inning’s run total, each team’s total runs, total hits, and total errors as well as balls, strikes, and outs. The biggest difference is that the board was operated manually instead of electronically like most scoreboards today.
The scorekeepers would stand out by the board with several cards numbered 0-9. When a team scored, the scoreboard operators would hang the corresponding number of runs on that team’s run total as well as in the appropriate inning.
They did this for each category on the scoreboard throughout the game. As scoreboards advanced, the concept was the same, but newer scoreboards allowed the operators to fit the number card into a slot in the back of the scoreboard to create a cleaner look.
Some Major League fields such as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park still have a traditional manually operated scoreboard, but both places do also have a jumbotron to keep the score electronically as well.
The Modern-Day Scoreboard
As mentioned in the previous section, the main difference between the original scoreboard and the modern-day scoreboard is how they are operated. There are very few manually operated scoreboards left at all levels of baseball.
Electronic scoreboards have taken over as the preferred scorekeeping method. Still, the same information is included in the modern-day scoreboard as the original, but there is some additional information that is often included.
It is not uncommon for these scoreboards to also contain information about the hitter and the pitcher such as his number and other statistics. New to all Major League and some college scoreboards is the pitch clock which enforces the new 20-second time limit between pitches.
These electronic scoreboards in Major League parks are so big these days that more information can be shared with fans. Most parks have a scoreboard on their large jumbotron but also have other smaller scoreboards with less information throughout the stadium as well.
They do this because the scoreboard on the jumbotron is not displayed at all times. If a video or a graphic plays between innings or at-bats, the scoreboard goes away and then comes back when it is over.
These other scoreboards, which often consist of the essential information (runs, hits, errors, outs, etc.), allow fans to have access to the information necessary to keep up with the game.
It is rare to go to a Major League park these days that does not have a radar gun on display on its scoreboard or jumbotron. Even more college stadiums these days are displaying the speed of the pitch to fans in the stadium.
This feature is more for fans than it is for anyone else as it allows them to see how hard pitchers are throwing. It creates more entertainment.
This is why some people don’t trust the velocity displayed on the scoreboard. It is there for entertainment, so some players and fans believe that those numbers are sometimes a mile an hour or two higher than what they really are.
As pitchers’ velocities continue to increase so will the number of baseball stadiums at lower levels that display radar guns on or next to the scoreboard to create more entertainment value for fans and even players.
Scoreboards at Lower Levels
If you have ever attended a youth baseball game or even a high school game, you may notice that the scoreboard is much smaller and doesn’t display all of the information you may see at a Major League game.
To be honest, most youth leagues and high schools cannot afford scoreboards as big and as technologically advanced as the scoreboards seen in professional and college baseball. Because of this, many of them have smaller scoreboards with less information.
Most scoreboards at the youth level display the following information: each team’s total runs, the current inning, balls, strikes, outs, and a hit/error light.
To save space, these scoreboards only display the current inning instead of the number of runs scored in each inning. They also leave off the team’s total hits and errors to save space as well.
The hit/error light is there to show fans if the last play was scored as a hit or an error. This is most often used on close plays that can be scored either way. After the play, the scoreboard operator selects hit or error and the corresponding light lights up on the scoreboard.
Since the total hits and errors are not displayed, fans (mostly parents) need a way to know how the last play was scored; in turn, the hit/error light was created.
How the Scoreboard is Operated
Depending on how advanced the scoreboard system is, it is sometimes operated via computer. At most youth levels of baseball, the scoreboard is operated by a box with a specialized keypad that connects to the scoreboard system.
The system is typically located in a press box and requires the scorekeeper to sit in the press box to keep score.
More advanced systems can sometimes be operated by a computer or mobile phone connected by Bluetooth. Most Major League scoreboard systems are completely digital and require a trained staff member to operate them.
The Scoreboard is NOT Official
An important note for players and fans is that while the scoreboard often displays accurate information about the game, it is NOT considered the official score.
At the beginning of each game, an official scorebook is determined. At the youth level, this is often charged to the home team. At the college and professional level, someone is often hired to keep the official scorebook for the game.
This is the person who is consulted if there is a dispute in the game’s score, the number of outs, balls, strikes, etc. Umpires are charged with keeping up with balls, strikes, and outs on their clickers, but they sometimes have to consult the official scorebook as well.
At all levels, the person keeping the score on the scoreboard is not always the same person charged with keeping the official scorebook. Therefore, the information displayed on the scoreboard can sometimes get miscommunicated.
Coaches, especially at the youth and high school level, should encourage their players to pay close attention to the game to keep track of balls, strikes, and outs on their own. The scoreboard operator at these levels is often a parent who may be prone to losing track of the game from time to time.
All it takes is one missed strike by the operator to confuse everyone in the ballpark. This is why the scoreboard is never an official score. It is simply there to reflect, as accurately as possible, what is going on in the game.
Who invented the scoreboard in baseball?
It is unclear who invented the original scoreboard in baseball, but George A. Baird is credited with developing the first-ever electronic scoreboard in 1908. His invention did not catch on at first, but nowadays almost every stadium’s scoreboard is electronic.
Why are runs, hits, and errors displayed on a scoreboard?
Runs, hits, and errors, known as the R/H/E line, are the team statistics recorded in baseball box scores when games are completed, so they are also shared on the scoreboard during games. For more information about the R/H/E line, check out our article “What is R/H/E in Baseball?”