100 Years of Scoreboard Watching

Phil Inglis, Getty Images
Phil Inglis, Getty Images

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?

Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?

Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT
Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT

Before anyone brings home the hardware, let's answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman's Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn't really Heisman's Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer—he consistently received rotten reviews—and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere—in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

Possibly, but Heisman didn't have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists—Vinny Testaverde won that year—and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time."

What's a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

Steve Spurrier playing quarterback in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Steve Spurrier playing quarterback for the University of Florida in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol' Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida's student government thought Spurrier's generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he'd get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World's Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman's Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn't show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren't totally clear—some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion—the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

Attention Football Fans: The Buffalo Bills Are Paying People $12 an Hour to Clear the Stadium of Snow

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are asking fans to prove just how dedicated they are following a snowstorm in western New York this week. As Buffalo News reports, New Era Field is hiring snow shovelers to clear out the stands and the field in time for Sunday's game—and it's offering free tickets as an incentive.

This Friday, workers will be paid $12 an hour to remove snow from the stadium—a $1 pay increase from last season. Shovelers who complete at least a four-hour shift will receive a free ticket to the game against the New York Jets on Sunday, December 9. They're encouraged to bring their own shovel, but tools will be provided to whomever shows up without one.

According to Weather.com, Buffalo has the worst weather of any NFL city, with intense cold, wind, and snowfall throughout the season. In November 2014, a storm buried Buffalo under nearly 7 feet of snow, with 220,000 tons of it ending up in New Era Field. Locals were also called upon to lend a hand and a shovel that time around, but as no one could leave their homes, the game had to be relocated. The Bills ended up beating the Jets 38-3 in the Detroit Lions’s indoor arena.

With a few home games still scheduled for this season, it's possible that local snow shovel owners may be asked to help out again if they miss this opportunity.

[h/t Buffalo News]

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