BOSTON — EVER since Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck's scoreboard literally exploded onto the scene in 1960, scoreboards have increasingly become a source of entertainment at a baseball game.
Today, it is computers - not fireworks - that provide the show.
"Computer technology has changed dramatically" in the past 15 years, says Gail Robertson, market manager at Daktronics, a Brookings, S.D., company that makes electronic scoreboards. "The heart of it is the computer horsepower and the software systems that drive the display scoreboards."
From awkward and slow computer systems, control rooms have gone to faster personal computers. Now the power of the software is the only limit to the scoreboard display.
Jeff Goldenberg, director of scoreboard operators at Fenway Park in Boston, says fans want to see what they see on television.
"People are so oriented to statistics," he says. On televised games, viewers see statistics and replays constantly.
"So when people come to the ballpark, people don't want to miss that. So we show all that."
Well, maybe not all that.
With the advent of higher technology, scoreboard operators must follow major-league baseball guidelines: No live action may be shown on the scoreboard's TV monitor while a player is in the batter's box; no swinging or called strikes or other controversial plays may be shown. That includes fights.
All that visual display is not low-powered or cheap.
The main scoreboard at Camden Yards in Baltimore, opened last year, is 24 feet high by 64 feet long and has 24,576 30-watt bulbs. At maximum power, it draws 6,144 amps - enough to power 300 average-size households.
The first-ever large-screen stadium television was installed at the Houston Astrodome in 1965. Cost: $2 million. It was the largest scoreboard in the world at the time, measuring 474 feet long and 40 feet high, with 50,000 light bulbs. It was renovated in 1988 and made smaller to accommodate 10,000 new seats.
Next year, the Cleveland Indians' new stadium will have the largest combination scoreboard, with an animation board, a statistics board, an auxiliary board, and an out-of-town scoreboard.
The electronic board at Fenway Park, installed in 1976, is one of two in major-league baseball parks (Olympic Stadium in Montreal is the other) with a screen that uses U-shaped fluorescent tube technology, so it can be seen better in bright sunlight. The cost of a scoreboard today ranges from $5 million to $20 million. The 33-by-115-foot Sony Jumbotron in the Toronto Blue Jays' Skydome cost $17 million.
"Every professional team," says Robertson, "is coming to the realization that they are in competition for entertainment dollars.... They have discovered that in order to maintain fan interest, they have to provide entertainment and the pure sport."