Column: Brief scoreboard malfunction for Chicago White Sox induces temporary panic for modern-day baseball fan

The center-field scoreboard at Guaranteed Rate Field suffered a temporary glitch Saturday night during the third inning of the Chicago White Sox’s 3-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians.

The only graphics visible were the inning-by-inning totals, the count, the number of outs, runs, hits and errors and the remaining mound visits.

Gone were the lineups and team records, the starters’ pitch counts, the defensive alignments and a photo of the batter with his birthday, date of his MLB debut, when he was acquired, the round in which he was drafted, his birthplace and four significant stats: batting average, on-base percentage, home runs and RBIs.

Even the secondary video board on the facade of the Fan Deck underneath the main scoreboard was black, denying fans the pitch speed, pitch type, exit velocity and launch angle.

Panic ensued in the press box, though admittedly it was limited to one person with a Tribune seat. Still, how was anyone supposed to watch a baseball game without all the necessary information to process?

Fortunately the glitch was fixed in a couple of minutes and we returned to our regularly scheduled modern-day baseball game, already in progress.

My anxiety level dropped and the game went on without further interruption.

But the brief absence of information reminded me how much I depend on the scoreboard, whether it’s to catch up on a scoring decision to update my scorecard or to see whether Martín Maldonado’s batting average has climbed over .100 yet. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?

We’ve come a long way since a baseball scoreboard functioned primarily as a place for scores — of both the game you were attending and the out-of-town ones. If you wanted any other information while at old Comiskey Park in the 1960s, you’d usually have to count on the Sox-O-Gram to provide it.

Technology marches on, for better or worse. Now these gargantuan structures are used as analytics providers, billboards, marketing tools and for people-gazing. If you’re at a Sox game these days and haven’t been shown on the video board, you’re just not trying.

The Cubs’ old, hand-operated center-field scoreboard at Wrigley Field remains a true relic of the past, the baseball equivalent of the ruins in Athens. For decades it provided relief for old-school fans who preferred watching games without seeing — and hearing — loud advertisements or people waving to the cameras after spotting themselves.

But Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, bowing to the modern age and the idea of making more money, added a giant video board in left field in 2015 that takes most of the eyeballs away from the old board with its sponsored ads, graphics and player “interviews” that make Wrigley as generic as any other ballpark in North America.

Most fans like the video board, especially the replays, which became necessary with replay reviews. And one of the biggest moments of the Cubs’ last homestand was a Caleb Williams sighting on the video board, which led to a standing ovation for the new Bears quarterback.

Last year the Cubs even began putting metrics such as exit velocity, launch angle and distance on the video board during batting practice, which seemed meaningless considering the velocity of BP pitches is much lower than your average 95 mph fastball.

“A lot of it is (showing) zone awareness,” Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly said. “It shows where the pitch is in the zone, and the guys have fun with hitting it hard. A number of major-league teams have done it in the last year.

“The players love it. Some guys pay attention to it. Other guys aren’t trying to hit the ball hard in BP. It’s more of a feel-good (session). Then other guys want to see where that pitch was in the zone and how to hit it.”

Whether it has helped the Cubs offense remains to be seen. But if everyone else is doing it, might as well join the fun.

Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck is credited with changing how teams viewed scoreboards by introducing the exploding scoreboard at old Comiskey Park in 1960. In his autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck,” he called it “the best promotional gimmick I have ever come up with, and certainly the least ignorable.”

Veeck modeled the board after a pinball machine from the film “Time of Your Life,” which is why the spinning, pinball-like circles remain part of the digital display on the current scoreboard.

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Veeck wrote that he asked himself: “Why should a scoreboard just stand there and do nothing when it can contribute to the day’s enjoyment?”

Like Ricketts, Veeck wasn’t averse to making money either — and more fireworks back then meant more fans. Sox fans loved it, though shooting off fireworks after a Sox home run was controversial back in the day.

The New York Yankees poked fun at the idea, lighting sparklers in the visiting dugout and bullpen after home runs by Clete Boyer and Mickey Mantle during a game at Comiskey on June 17, 1960. The Tribune reported a call to the paper from a “law-abiding, statute-wise” citizen who demanded the entire Yankees team be arrested for “setting off fireworks inside the city limits without a permit or licensed supervision.”

Yankees-hating has never gone out of style.

Veeck’s exploding scoreboard was a brilliant move and one of the few Veeckian touches, like the bleacher showers, that Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf brought across the street to the new Comiskey in 1991. Unfortunately for Sox fans, the team began Sunday ranked second-to-last in the majors with 29 home runs, including only 19 in 20 home games. Until Luis Robert Jr. returns, the fireworks budget figures to remain low.

But fireworks nights are still a draw for a last-place Sox team, and if Reinsdorf ever finds a way to fund a new stadium in the South Loop, hopefully he’ll keep the tradition going.

And who knows what kind of technological advances and newfangled analytics will be in place by the time the next version of the Sox scoreboard is introduced? At this rate we’ll be watching the scoreboard more than the game itself by then.

For some of us — gulp — we’re already there.