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100 Years of Scoreboard Watching

Scoreboards have come a long way since the turn of the 20th century, when operators climbed ladders to update boards with chalk or hang a different number to indicate the start of a new inning or quarter. Manually operated boards slowly gave way to more efficient electric boards, which eventually incorporated video and grew bigger and brighter by the year. Here's a look at how scoreboards have evolved over the past 100+ years.

Early Scoreboards

Leave it to a couple of Ivy League schools to pioneer the use of scoreboards, or score boards as they were known at the time. Harvard claims that its athletic association unveiled the nation's first scoreboard during a football game on Thanksgiving Day 1893, while others credit Penn, which opened Franklin Field in 1895, with that distinction. For what it's worth, one of the earliest mentions of a score board in the New York Times was on November 11, 1894, in an account of Penn's 12-0 win over Princeton at the Trenton Fairgrounds.

Scoring Goes Electric

In 1908, Chicago inventor George A. Baird developed an electric baseball scoreboard that recorded balls, strikes, and outs. While Baird's invention was tested by Boston's two major league clubs, it didn't immediately catch on across the league. Team owners were hesitant to provide information to fans for fear that it would cut into the sale of scorecards, but the electric scoreboard signaled an eventual shift in the in-game experience at stadiums and arenas. Over the next two decades, manually operated scoreboards evolved to feature more information than the score. Lineups with player names and numbers were displayed, along with scores and pitchers' numbers from games around the league.

The Origins of Gametracker

While baseball teams weren't initially keen on electric scoreboards, newspapers embraced the technology. Before games were broadcast on the radio, fans could gather outside of newspaper buildings to follow games that were reproduced using lights and simple graphics on boards operated by workers who received telegraph messages from the site of the game. Crowds in excess of 10,000 would sometimes gather in front of these scoreboards for World Series games.

Scoreboard Watching at the Theater

Around the same time that newspapers debuted their own electric scoreboards, fans could pay for admission to theaters and clubs to follow games on even fancier scoreboard contraptions. As early as 1901, college football fans gathered in New York's Knickerbocker Athletic Club to track games taking place across the country on a scoreboard invented by Arthur Irwin, the brains behind the scoreboard that Harvard reportedly unveiled in 1893. The "Coleman Life-like Scoreboard," which is pictured above and featured in a series of fascinating photos on Shorpy.com, debuted in 1913 at the National Theater in Washington, DC. Advertisements for Coleman's invention, which took 10 years to build, heralded it as "the greatest baseball invention in the world." Operated by five men, including a telegraph operator, the scoreboard featured 19,000 feet of wire and 400 stereopticon slides. Light bulbs translated play-by-play information received via telegraph into graphical displays on a 30-foot screen. "You see every play as it is made upon the field, with life-like pictures of players that hit the ball, run the bases, get put out or slide to safety," the ads proclaimed. "The ball sails through the air, actual players run, catch, or pick up the ball and make the play"¦Bring the ladies."

Dial-a-Down

Stadiums primarily featured manually operated scoreboards throughout the 1920s and 30s. This diagram from a 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics depicts an innovation that allowed a single operator to update a football scoreboard while remaining hidden from view. The operator would watch the game through a peephole and rotate numbered metal disks that displayed the score, quarter, down, and yards to go.

Yankee Stadium and the "Electronic Miracle"

When Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, it featured a large manually operated scoreboard in right field that was visible to every spectator in the park. In 1950, the Yankees unveiled an electric scoreboard that the team called "the most efficient scoreboard ever built and, in general, a big stride forward." The Yankees' new scoreboard was operated by two men as opposed to five and featured a non-glare enamel covering.

Before the 1959 season, the Yankees made another upgrade, installing the first scoreboard to feature a changeable message display. The New York Times, which dubbed the new scoreboard "the electronic miracle," provided the specifics: "The board will contain 11,210 lamps with a wattage of 115,000, 619,000 feet of electric cable, will weigh 25 tons (not including the steel supporting structure), will have more than 4,860 push buttons on the master control console and will have a total face area of 4,782 square feet."

Clearing the Scoreboard at Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field's iconic 89-foot scoreboard was built in 1937 under the direction of flamboyant club treasurer and future White Sox owner Bill Veeck, whose father was team president until he died in 1933. Most of the original Wrigley Field scoreboard, which still stands today, is manually operated, but the batter's number, balls, strikes, and outs are displayed electronically in the center portion of the board. The original control panel is still in use. While no baseball player has managed to hit the scoreboard, golfer Sam Snead cleared it with a drive from home plate in 1951. Snead was invited to take aim at the scoreboard while he was in Chicago to get an X-ray of his broken right hand. According to newspaper accounts, Snead hit the scoreboard with a 4-iron before clearing it with a 2-iron.

"What's baseball coming to?"

That's what former White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes asked after Comiskey Park's exploding scoreboard, which featured multi-colored pinwheels and shot off fireworks after every home run by a Chicago player, was unveiled in 1960. "All I know is that if I was a pitcher whose home run ball had started that Fourth of July celebration, I'd fire my next pitch at the head of the next hitter," Dykes told a reporter. While some opponents resented the extravagant display, which was another one of Veeck's ideas, the unique scoreboard design was retained when Chicago's current stadium opened in 1991.

Bigger and Better

When the Houston Astrodome opened in 1965, its 474-foot wide scoreboard was the largest in all of sports. The scoreboard featured 50,000 lights that erupted in a 45-second animated display of cowboys, ricocheting bullets, flags, steers, and fireworks after every Astros home run or victory. The display was set to a soundtrack that included "The Eyes of Texas."

Diamond Vision

The Los Angeles Dodgers unveiled a $3 million, 875-square foot video board at the 1980 All-Star Game. Mitsubishi's Diamond Vision, which enabled operators to show replays using a VCR, was the first video board of its kind and a sign of things to come. Similar video boards soon became standard in stadiums and arenas, as the resolution and functionality of the screens improved and Sony entered the market with its popular JumboTron. In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys unveiled the world's largest high-definition video display, an LED scoreboard developed by Mitsubishi.

Other Iconic Baseball Scoreboards

In baseball more than any other sport, the scoreboard helps define a stadium. Here's a look at some of the more famous baseball scoreboards from the past and present:

Ebbetts Field

The scoreboard at Brooklyn's Ebbetts Field featured a "Hit Sign, Win Suit" advertisement for Abe Stark. The "˜h' or the "˜e' in the Schaefer beer sign would flash to indicate the official scorer's ruling on hits and errors. Oriole Park at Camden Yards pays homage to that creative detail by flashing the "˜h' or the "˜e' in the sign atop its scoreboard.

Crosley Field

The 58-foot tall scoreboard at Cincinnati's Crosley Field was installed in 1957. Houston's Jimmy Wynn, a Cincinnati native, hit what is considered the longest home run at Crosley Field in 1967. Wynn cleared the scoreboard with a blast than landed on I-75.

Fenway Park

The manually operated scoreboard at the base of Fenway Park's Green Monster was installed in 1934. The initials of the team's former owners, Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey, are written in Morse code in two vertical stripes on the scoreboard.

Anaheim Stadium

The Big A, the 230-foot high scoreboard support in Anaheim, cost $1 million and was unveiled in 1966. It was moved to the parking lot in 1980.

Kauffman Stadium

The Royals replaced their 12-story, crown-shaped centerfield scoreboard as part of their $256 million renovation to Kauffman Stadium in 2007. The new scoreboard, which was unveiled on Opening Day 2008, is 8,736 square feet, more than twice the size of the original.

Herschel Greer Stadium

Minor league ballparks feature some noteworthy scoreboards, too. The guitar-shaped scoreboard at Herschel Greer Stadium, home of the Nashville Sounds, was installed in 1993.

Have you been to a ballpark with a scoreboard that deserves to be mentioned?

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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