In the spring of 1998, I was working on the sports desk of The Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho.
I was doing some research to write a preview story about the Moscow High School baseball team playing in the State tournament when the phone rang. On the other end of the phone was the coach of Moscow’s first-round opponent.
The timing of the call was surprising, as was the voice on the other end.
The coach was Jerry Hollow. Yes, that Jerry Hollow.
It was an amazing small-world moment. A Butte Rat who coached high school baseball in the Boise, Idaho area called the newspaper in Moscow only to get another Butte Rat.
After we talked about the days when I watched Jerry play basketball for Butte Central, he asked me for some information on the Moscow Bears. He was looking for a scouting report on an opponent that was so far away that he couldn’t have watched the team play.
I told him what I could without selling out any secrets that I picked up from the Bears players and coaches. I told him which players were left-handed. I told him which pitchers threw hard and which ones were crafty.
For the most part, though, I did not tell Jerry much more than what he could have learned from reading the season’s box scores.
The box scores would tell him the lineups the Bears used, and he could figure out their top hitters — for average and for power. It would tell him which Moscow players stole bases. The same box scores told him that the Moscow coach had a quick hook for his starting pitchers.
The Moscow starters only went a couple of innings. Sometimes they would go three, but they would never go four.
All of that information was right in the box scores.
Box scores tell you the story of the game, and they help you keep a record. Box scores — along with the next day’s pitchers and the horse race lineups — are probably the reason newspapers had sports pages in the first place.
Whether it is football, basketball, baseball, or any other sport, box scores are also such an important part of history.
The game story above the box score is important. It gives the game life. The box score is the heart.
The late Pat Kearney went through newspapers over a century to calculate accurate records for the football and basketball programs at Butte High and Butte Central. He did that by reading the box scores.
Today, box scores are nowhere to be found in most papers. Oh, you might find the Major League Baseball box scores for the day before — or from two days before for the games out west — when you open a newspaper, but you will rarely find box scores from the high school teams.
Part of that is the demise of local print journalism. Part of it is laziness, and part of it is that writers have their hands cuffed by corporate greed.
Last week, Lee Enterprises announced another round of layoffs in Montana. That comes after the company I used to work for cut 400 jobs nationwide in 2022.
A Missoulian reporter said she returned from her two-week, unpaid furlough — something all Lee employees are shamefully being forced to take — just in time to learn of her layoff.
Lee owns The Montana Standard, Missoulian, Helena Independent-Record, Ravalli Republic and Billings Gazette.
Those papers are just a shell of what they used to be, following a national trend of a dying industry.
That is a dangerous trend, too.
As Butte journalist Kathleen McLaughlin recently pointed out in a piece in The Nation, that erosion of local journalism has led to the hyper-partisan ways of the country. Voters identify with parties instead of issues.
That is because there is less and less reporting on local issues.
In Montana, voters know way more about Florida governor Ron DeSantis than they do about our own governor, WWE International Champion Greg Gianforte.
We used to be able to rely on great reporters like Chuck Johnson to tell us who our political candidates were. Now, we only know about the candidates what the attack ads tell us.
We vote based on the national campaigns, and then we just fill in by party when we get to the local races.
We do this while the newspapers are mistaking text-message journalism — where reporters tweet pictures of legislative vote boards, rollcalls or polls — for real journalism.
That is how we end up with an anti-public education Superintendent of Public Instruction in Elsie Arntzen, who last year was caught racing past a school bus with its lights flashing and crossing arm extended.
We got in this situation because corporate-owned newspapers keep making cutbacks in order to make their profits look better for the stockholders.
I saw those short-term, shortsighted cuts made repeatedly when I worked for the Standard from 1998 to 2012.
I saw them cut out the press men and the printing press to cut corners and save money. Then they started to make deep cuts in the newsroom.
A little more than 11 years ago, I knew the business was in big trouble when I got a call telling me that sports editor Bruce Sayler was laid off. His major crime was that he was about to turn 60.
Of course, they didn’t put it that way. They “eliminated the position” of sports editor, asking the rest of us to pick up the slack and work harder for the same pay.
It’s the new normal in American industry, especially the media industry.
Knowing that I didn’t want that to happen to me, I decided to go to work with Butte Broadcasting, where we started ButteSports.
Then, I watched from afar as great Montana journalists like Walter Hinick, Carmen Winslow, Bob Meseroll and Chuck Johnson got the same treatment from Lee that Bruce got.
We need more veteran journalists like that, not less. That goes for news and sports.
When Bruce was in charge of the sports desk, we had a story for every game. Every game.
And we had box scores from those games, too.
It was the same way with Meseroll when he was the sports editor at the Missoulian.
Now, only two or three sportswriters in the entire state ever type a box score, and that is just too bad.
They say the newspaper is the first rough draft of history. When it comes to local sports reporting, it is usually the last draft, too.
Without box scores, we would have had no idea just how historic the past two seasons were for Butte Central seniors Dougie Peoples and Brooke Badovinac. We would have no idea when Lexie Nelson broke Butte’s all-time scoring record in 2010.
Instead of box scores, today we get more text-message journalism. Sportswriters tweet short videos clips from games — something every mom in the crowd already shared on Facebook — instead of typing up box scores.
I don’t blame the writers, many of whom have never been taught how to type a box. I blame their bosses.
Those videos might be fun and the feature-type stories are entertaining, but they will do absolutely nothing 50 years from now when someone wants to do some real historical research.
Hopefully, football and basketball coaches are on top of things and keeping their own records. Hopefully, every baseball and softball team is on an app like GameChanger so fans can see a real box score.
Hopefully, someone is saving this history because newspapers have given up that responsibility.
And far-away coaches looking for a scouting report could be out of luck.
— Bill Foley, a proud member of the Life After Lee gang, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
I hate the sports page now- no local sports- I subscribe to both the Standard and the Tribune- no local coverage no local box scores it’s a shame.