Frank: Why are home teams listed last?

From Noah Frank at WTOP on December 3, 2014, with mention of SABR members Peter Morris, Steve Hirdt, and Dick Beverage:

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was looking at Major League Soccer playoff scores and became confused by the fact that they listed the home team first.

“That’s stupid,” he said.

Whether or not you agree on its stupidity, one thing is for sure: It’s un- American.

This is not to insult soccer. It’s simply to point out that every major American sport lists the home team last, unlike European soccer. The incident with my friend made me wonder exactly why that was. And after speaking with nearly a dozen sports historians across baseball and football and around the world of sports statistics, I am only somewhat closer to the answer.

The most logical starting point for such a practice seemed to be in baseball. After all, the home team bats last, so it makes sense to list them underneath the visitors in a box score, to reflect the chronological order in which the offenses take their chances. What I discovered, though, is that this component of the game has not always been this way.

Peter Morris, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and author of the book “A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball,” says the question of who bats last has only defaulted to the home team as the game’s strategy has developed, and that it’s only been a rule for the majority of the sport’s existence.

“Managers were given the choice of whether to bat first or last,” Morris explains. In the 1880s, they almost invariably chose to bat last. Very few people realize it, Morris says, but managers could still choose to bat first until 1950. “But none of them ever did, so at last the rule was changed in 1950 to reflect that reality.”

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Originally published: December 3, 2014. Last Updated: December 3, 2014.