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?

Blue Apron’s Memorial Day Sale Will Save You $60 On Your First Three Boxes

Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

If you’ve gone through all the recipes you had bookmarked on your phone and are now on a first-name basis with the folks at the local pizzeria, it might be time to introduce a new wrinkle into your weekly dinner menu. But instead of buying loads of groceries and cookbooks to make your own meal, you can just subscribe to a service like Blue Apron, which will deliver all the ingredients and instructions you need for a unique dinner.

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With the company’s Signature plan, you’ll get your choice of meat, fish, and Beyond foods, along with options for diabetes-friendly and Weight Watchers-approved dishes. The vegetarian plan loses the meat, but still allows you to choose from a variety of dishes like General Tso's tofu and black bean flautas.

To get your $60 off, head to the Blue Apron website and click “Redeem Offer” at the top of the page to sign up.

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Bo Knows Everything: Remembering Nike's Legendary Bo Jackson Ad Campaign

Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Mike Powell, Allsport/Getty Images

It may have been difficult for Nike to conceive of any athlete being able to do more for its company than Michael Jordan. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chicago Bulls star was omnipresent, helping turn their Air Jordan line of sneakers into a squeaky chorus in school hallways and gyms around the country. Even better, the company had scored big with “Just Do It,” an advertising slogan introduced in 1988 that became part of the public lexicon.

There was just one issue. In spite of Jordan’s growing popularity and their innovative advertising, Nike was still in second place behind Reebok. No other athlete on their roster could seemingly bridge the gap. Not even their new cross-training shoe endorsed by tennis pro John McEnroe was igniting excitement in the way the company had hoped.

In 1989, two major events changed all of that: An advertising copywriter was struck with inspiration, and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson slammed a first-inning home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The ad man’s idea was to portray Jackson as being able to do just about anything. Jackson went ahead and proved him right.

 

Bo Jackson was an ideal spokesperson for Nike's new line of cross-training sneakers. The Auburn University graduate was making waves as a rare two-sport pro athlete; he was playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football for the Los Angeles Raiders. Early commercials featured Jackson sampling other sporting activities like riding a bike. “Now, when’s that Tour de France?” he asked. In another, he dunked a basketball and pondered the potential of “Air Bo.”

At a Portland bar near Nike’s headquarters one evening, Nike vice president of marketing Tom Clarke and Jim Riswold of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy were pondering how best to use Jackson going forward. Clarke wanted to devote the majority of their budget for the cross-trainers to an ad campaign featuring the athlete. The two started lobbing ideas about other people named Bo—Bo Derek, Beau Brummell, Little Bo Peep, and Bo Diddley, among others.

The last one stuck with Riswold. He thought of a phrase—“Bo, you don’t know Diddley”—and went home to sleep on it. When he woke up the next morning, he was able to sketch out an entire commercial premise in minutes. Riswold envisioned a spot in which Jackson would try his hand at other sports, punctuating each with a “Bo Knows” proclamation. Jackson soon realizes the one thing he can’t do is play guitar with Bo Diddley, the legendary musician.

It took longer to shoot the commercial than to conceive of it. The spot was shot over the course of a month, with the crew going to California, Florida, and Kansas to film cameos with other athletes including Jordan, McEnroe, and Wayne Gretzky—all of whom Nike had under personal appearance contracts.

Fearing Jackson might hurt himself trying to skate, the production filmed him from the knees up sliding around in socks at a University of Kansas gymnasium rather than on ice. But not all attempts at caution were successful. When director Joe Pytka grew frustrated that Jackson kept running off-camera and implored him to move in a straight line, Jackson steamrolled both the equipment and Pytka, who had to tend to a bloody nose before continuing.

In portraying any other athlete this way, the campaign may have come off as stretching credulity. But Jackson had already been improving his game in all areas, hitting a 515-foot home run during a spring training win over the Boston Red Sox. In April, he hit .282 and tallied eight home runs. Even when he struck out, he still stood out: Jackson was prone to breaking his bat over his knee in frustration.

 

After Jackson was voted into the 1989 MLB All-Star Game in July, Nike decided the telecast would be the ideal place to debut their Bo Knows campaign. They handed out Bo Knows pennants for fans and even flew Bo Knows signs overhead. Bo Knows appeared in a full-page spot for USA Today. Even by Nike standards, this was big.

There was, of course, a chance Jackson would be in a bat-breaking mood, which might diminish the commercial’s impact. But in the very first inning, Jackson sent one into the stands off pitcher Rick Reuschel. With a little scrambling, Nike was able to get their ad moved up from the fourth inning, where it was originally scheduled to run. In the broadcast booth, announcer Vin Scully and special guest, former president Ronald Reagan, marveled at Jackson’s prowess. Scully reminded viewers that his pro football career was something Jackson once described as a “hobby.”

A Bo Jackson fan is pictured holding up a 'Bo Knows Baseball!' sign at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989
A Bo Jackson fan shows his support at the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. That summer and into the fall, Bo Knows was quickly moving up the ranks of the most pervasive commercial spots in memory, second only to Jordan’s memorable ads for Nike and McDonald’s. Jackson turned up in sequels, trying his hand at everything from surfing to soccer to cricket. Special effects artists created multiple Bo Jacksons, a seemingly supernatural explanation for why he excelled at everything.

It was a myth, but one rooted in reality. After 92 wins with the Royals as a left-fielder in 1989, Jackson reported for the NFL season that fall as a running back for the Raiders. In one three-game stretch, he ran for over 100 yards each. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in November, Jackson ran 92 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 950 rushing yards. That winter, he was named to the Pro Bowl, making him the only athlete to appear in two all-star games for two major North American sports in consecutive seasons.

Nike was staggered by the results of Bo Knows, which helped them leap over Reebok to become the top athletic shoe company. They eventually secured 80 percent of the cross-training shoe market, going from $40 million in sales to $400 million, a feat that executives attributed in large part to Jackson. Bo Knows, bolstered by Jackson’s demonstrated versatility, was the perfect marriage of concept and talent. His stature as a spokesperson rose, and he appeared in spots for AT&T and Mountain Dew Sport, earning a reported $2 million a year for endorsements. A viewer survey named him the most persuasive athlete in advertising. If that weren’t enough, Jackson also appeared in the popular Nintendo Entertainment System game Tecmo Bowl and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989.

 

In 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury during a Raiders game, one that permanently derailed his football career. He played three more seasons of baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring from sports in 1994.

Jackson's relationship with Nike was dissolved soon after, though the company never totally abandoned the concept of athletes wading into new territory. In 2004, a campaign depicted big names sampling other activities. Tennis great Andre Agassi suited up for the Boston Red Sox; cyclist Lance Armstrong was seen boxing; Serena Williams played beach volleyball. The Bo Knows DNA ran throughout.

Jackson still makes periodic references to the campaign, including in advertisements for his Bo Jackson Signature Foods. (“Bo Knows Meat,” the website proclaims.) In 2019, Jackson also appeared in a Sprint commercial that aimed for surrealism, with Jackson holding a mermaid playing a keytar and having a robot intone that “Bo does know” something about cell phone carriers.

The other key Bo—Diddley—never quite understood why the campaign worked. After seeing the commercial, he reportedly said that he was confused because it had nothing to do with shoes.