The Box Scores

Affectionate arithmetic


On the first day of October, our city’s daily newspaper, the oldest continuously published newspaper on the West Coast of these United States, issued daily since 1850, before Oregon was even a state, ceased to be delivered daily to its subscribers, who now receive only four papers a week. This was a sensible, if difficult, business decision, having to do with advertising and resources and digital presence, but I am sure I was not the only citizen in Oregon that morning, and on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays since, to mourn my lost daily delivery of newsprint.

The rattling truck of the deliveryman long before dawn; the way he deftly wrapped the paper in plastic on days of epic downpour; the careful parsing of the paper for various members of the family, sports here and comics there, news to one and business to another; the poor classifieds heading right to the parakeet’s cage, where perhaps he read them quietly; the bemused reading-aloud of horoscopes, and thorough reading of ships in port, and ships expected, and cargoes thereof, mostly grain leaving and cars arriving; the way the comics somehow always acquired a patina of jam, while butter illuminated the business section; the snap and flutter of the paper being folded just so, for easier digestion; and most of all, best of all, the box scores.

All sports have their inky spoor and gnomic codes, after the event, and perhaps all sports reward poring over their exquisite numbers, for the stories hidden therein. But baseball and basketball box scores I rank above all others, and the very thought of not running a forefinger daily down the boxes, summer and winter, saddens me. Baseball’s stolen bases, hit-by-pitches, batting averages computed to the infinitesimal thousandth; the innings pitched, pinch-hitters, attendance; the minutes played in basketball, the shooting percentages, the assist totals, the technical fouls; how many hundreds of times did I tell my small sons a game could be understood full well just by reading the minutes-played column, and noting the rebounding and assist totals, far more important than profligate points?

Many times, boys, many times.

And then, after the paterfamilias had read the boxes with care, and marked the most notable numbers in yellow highlighter, and left the paper folded open to the annotated box scores for his sons to find, he would rise from the table, happy in some small huge odd sweet mysterious way, and gird for work, pleased somehow that Jason Kidd had once again posted a classic Jason Kidd box score (11 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds) and that Dennis Rodman had posted a classic Dennis Rodman (zero points on zero shots, but 25 rebounds and five blocked shots and four steals and two technical fouls and one intergalactic press conference afterward). Happy that Steve Nash had again approached a perfect shooting game from the floor and the free-throw line while stacking up a dozen assists, or that LeBron James once again had come tantalizingly close to the rare glorious quadruple double, or Kobe Bryant had again somehow played a game in which he never once passed to a teammate for a basket, despite 40 minutes on the floor.

The box score, that lovely tiny poem in the paper, is no more, at least not every day, and not in Oregon. But at least my sons spent their childhoods with inky fingers, and knew how to read that sweet subtle story, and many times called out the most amazing ones to me, from the table where they sprawled, as I was in the other room donning corporate armor; and perhaps it is this last thing I will miss the most—not so much the box scores, but the way they could be an arithmetic of affection, a code for love.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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