Jun. 12, 2013

The Disappearing #1 in Sports

by Ira Flatow

Click to enlarge images
Thousands of years ago the number zero was invented to better serve mathematics. And now the number 1 is being eliminated to better serve...whom?
Here's my rant. If you follow sports on TV—MLB channel, ESPN, or elsewhere—a typical score for a baseball game, like the one in the photo above, includes the humber of runs, hits, walks, etc. produced during the game. But what is missing from the scorecard is the number 1. Look at the Red Sox pitching stats above, on the left. The pitcher allowed 10 hits, four earned runs, and some number of BB (base on balls). How many walks? It doesn't say. (I've circled it in yellow.) You're supposed to know that lack of a number signifies a "1." You must mentally insert the number 1 there yourself.
Same as the Rays pitching stats on the right: 3 IP, 2 ER, K. How many Ks? You must mentally insert the number 1 in front of it (again, circled in yellow).
This method of leaving out the 1 seems to have become standard on TV broadcasts. Why? Who knows. My guess is that someone perhaps did it by accident, and the rest of the herd followed.
Some low scoring games require you to mentally insert 1s all over the place. Is this really a giant problem? No. But if you follow sports scores like I do, maybe you'd appreciate that special number added back in, to make reading the scores much easier as they zip by on the screen.
Number 1 is the most cherished numeral in all of sports. Let's not have to re-invent we did the number zero. 
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

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