P039: On Shorthand and Sportsball

In the past weeks, we’ve taken a glance at some topics in high density communications, so tonight I’d like to dive a little deeper into what makes this all possible. A fundamental requirement of effective communication – verbal, physical or otherwise – is an agreement between the parties communicating that the message sent is transmitted in a way that the receiver can understand it. But once that baseline is established, the sender will often begin to sacrifice explicit clarity for the sake of brevity, creating a shorthand that opens up all sorts of possibilities and pitfalls. Let’s explore this idea through the lens of the Fox Box from last week.

Fox Box

The agreement between Fox’s MLB broadcast and the viewer is that anyone watching is familiar with the rules of the game of baseball. They understand scoring, innings and the counter-clockwise progression of the baserunner. Further, by providing the pitch count, the graphic gives hints to the novice that this is An Important Stat and might be worth noticing.1 Having constant access to this information has fully transformed the way we enjoy sports on TV.

But for someone who is not at all familiar with sportsball, the Fox Box is the hamburger menu of their TV experience – a cryptic symbol that keeps an endless bounty of knowledge locked away out of sight. And while it is true that viewers of a televised sporting event are pretty much a self-selecting segment, this shorthand is both a barrier to entry for the new fan and completely in character for baseball, a game whose ancient knowledge and Satanic numerology practices are passed down through the generations.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron


  1. Stat-geek aside: I’d like to see that pitch count in context. If Tyler Clippard has thrown 7 pitches, how many does he have left before he becomes Not Tyler Clippard? Maybe calculating xFIP over bands of pitch counts based on the average pitches per outing? If you can find a point where that xFIP goes over 3.8, you can turn that into a progress bar that shows how many pitches he has left in the tank…