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I Invented the Fox Box
Written August 16, 2000

 

I invented the Fox Box for baseball.

Well, at least I invented a key part of it:  the little diamond diagram with the corners that light up to show which bases are occupied by runners.

In 1987, I became the Chyron graphics operator for Pittsburgh Pirates telecasts on KDKA-TV.  At that time, following the lead of NBC's Saturday Game of the Week, television graphics tended to show the game situation in two different ways, the Score and the Count.

The Score was the runs, hits, and errors for each team, plus the inning.  The Count included the balls and strikes on the batter, the number of outs, and the location of any runners that might be on base.

We didn't show the Score constantly, but only when it changed and at the beginning and end of each half-inning.  We didn't show the Count constantly, either.

Here's an example of the Count from a national telecast on the Fourth of July, 1992, when the Reds (leading the NL West) visited the Pirates (leading the NL East).

CBS used this graphic 23 times in the first two innings, or roughly once a minute during play. 

Image added to article May 15, 2008

To me, the Count seemed wordy.  Instead of "Ball 1, Strike 1," baseball fans always used a phrase like "1 and 1" or even "1-1."  And why say "Runners on 1st & 3rd" when the same thought could be expressed in a compact diagram that might also be easier to comprehend?

At least as early as August 9, 1986, I had been thinking about such a diagram.  I penciled the possibilities above on the roster card for a Bears at Steelers preseason football telecast that night.

And soon after the 1987 baseball season began, I came up with a workable graphic.  The concept was this:  a green diamond would have bases at the corners.  Home plate was white; the other bases were each labeled with a different color (either magenta, cyan, or yellow).  By choosing an electronic palette in which, for example, the "magenta" color was actually white and the "cyan" and "yellow" colors were actually green, I could light up third base while second and first camouflaged themselves with the same color as the diamond, thus disappearing.

I composed this diagram as if it were a logo, pixel by pixel, and suggested it for use on the Pirates telecasts.

No one had ever seen such a thing before; would viewers know how to interpret it?  (Later, during the first season that Fox used a similar diagram, their announcers had to explain to the viewers on every telecast that the highlighted bases represented the location of the runners.)

I considered inscribing the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the bases, but decided against it.  For the 1988 season I did make the bases smaller and added ON BASE to the center of the diamond so that the viewers would know what the diagram was supposed to represent. 

Usually when we used the Count graphic, we superimposed it over the view of the pitcher and batter from center field.  So when I showed my new idea to KDKA producer Bill Shissler in May 1987, his first reaction was that my diamond was upside down.  From the center-field camera, a viewer saw second base at the bottom of the screen, first base to the left, third base to the right.  He felt that my diagram should be laid out the same way.  So I flipped it over, and that's how it first aired on May 16, 1987, with home plate at the top of the diamond.

But by the next game we had reconsidered, and from then on home plate was at its logical place at the bottom, just as it appears on a scorecard.  After all, in televising baseball we ignore all the rules about consistent camera angles, and the viewers learn to deal with cuts that would be jarring jumps in continuity on any other telecast.  For example, you watch the pitch from the center-field camera.  The batter hits the ball toward you and starts running to first base, toward your left.  Suddenly, in the middle of the action, your viewpoint changes to the camera behind home plate.  Now the ball is moving away from you and the batter is running toward your right!  But knowing how baseball is played and having seen this inversion a thousand times before, we aren't at all disoriented by it.

April 18, 1989:  Barry Bonds of the Pirates faces an 0-2 count with a runner on second base.

July 23, 1993:  David Justice prepares to hit into an inning-ending double play against the Pirates' Zane Smith.

For the sake of compactness, beginning in 1991 I deleted the ON BASE legend and instead placed the count (3-1, 1 OUT) in the middle of the diamond diagram.  Or perhaps the 3-1 was inside the diamond and the 1 OUT was adjacent to it, as shown above.

Since all the graphics came from my single Chyron, neither the Score nor the Count stayed on the air continuously.  I had other graphics to present.  After the batter had been introduced and three or four pitches had been thrown, we would start using the Count between pitches to reorient the viewer to the tactical situation.  It was not until the true Fox Box was invented, using a separate graphics computer, that Score and Count could be shown on the screen at all times.

So I can't really take credit for the Fox Box itself, but I did come up with the idea of the diamond diagram.  Director Roy Alfers, a former Chyron operator himself, agrees that no one had seen the bases that light up before we started using them on our Pirates telecasts.

Now even the out-of-town scoreboard on the right-field wall of the Pirates' new PNC Park has a little diamond with light-up bases alongside the score of each game.

I've had one similar idea in the years since.  I haven't had the opportunity to get it on the air yet, but here it is.

If "Runners on 1st & 3rd" was wordy, so is "Yankees Lead Series 3-1," which is often appended to scoreboards at playoff time.  It's so wordy that it's often omitted from scoreboards at playoff time, which means that the viewer has to know somehow (perhaps from the newspaper) whether the Yankees are in position to close out the series with a win tonight.

But in college sports, viewers have become accustomed to a number to the left of a team's name on a scoreboard:  the team's national ranking.  That's how they know whether the game that they're watching is an important one.

For a best-of-seven pro series, how about four small squares to the left of "Yankees" and four more to the left of "Braves"?  For each win, put a W in a square.  The first team to fill all its squares wins the series.

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.

.

.

.

.

World Series

R

H

E

w

w

w

.

.

.

YANKEES

3

5

0

w

.

.

.

.

.

BRAVES

1

4

0

.

.

.

.

.

.

End 5th Inning

.

.

.

This is so compact, it might even fit on a Fox Box!

 

TBT

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UPDATE — JANUARY 5, 2003

Mike Kobik suggests this modification, to convey some additional information while using only a little more space.

The colored or shaded boxes represent home games for the team of that color.  Now the viewer can see at a glance the locations of all seven games (even those that haven't been played yet) and the order in which games were won.

NYY/home/games:/gold

 World Series

R

H

E

w

w

w
-

w

w

w

w

 YANKEES

3

5

0

 BRAVES

1

4

0

ATL/home/games:/blue

 End 5th Inning

 

UPDATE — MAY 16, 2012

Click here for a 25th-anniversary view of the art of the scorebug.