Aug 15, 2008

Foam hand history

We learned two things today via the always-entertaining Freakonomics blog

First: The "#1" foam finger hand was invented in 1978 by Geral Fauss, a high school teacher. Now made of polyurethane foam, originally it was a wooden sign. Fauss says: "I saw the students in the stands holding up an index finger, and shouting 'we're number 1' at the playoff games. Students rallied around the team and kept a fevered pitch during the playoffs. I knew that they wanted something 'big' to show their I thought , why not a large 'hand sign.'" Lots and lots of additional details about the foam hand are here...

Second: Maybe fans should tone it down a bit when cheering for the home team? "Jennifer L. Butler and Roy F. Baumeister, psychologists at Case Western Reserve University, found that people often performed unexpectedly worse in front of supportive audiences than they did in front of neutral ones. (We think of it as choking under pressure.) In Butler and Baumeister’s experiments, the higher audience expectations got, the worse their performers did." (More via Freakonomics)

Aug 8, 2008

"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" turns 100

"Take Me Out to the Ballgame", the unofficial anthem of baseball, turns 100 years old this summer. has a good article about the song, including these highlights:
  • In 1908, the Chicago Cubs won the world series. Coincidentally, in the same year, the song was written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer.
  • The song was popular, but didn't really take off until after 1971: "Chicago White Sox announcer Harry Caray first started singing the song along with Comiskey Park organist Nancy Faust. In 1976, White Sox owner Bill Veeck asked Harry if he could give him a microphone so he could sing for the entire stadium during the seventh-inning stretch. Initially, Harry wanted no part of it. Thankfully, as Caray was doing it one afternoon, WMAQ radio producer/broadcaster Jay Scott decided to open the booth mikes on him without his realizing it and a tradition was born.
  • In 1982, Carayh joined the Chicago, and his seventh-inning performance of the song became legendary.
  • Harry Caray continued that tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” until he died in 1998. At that time the Cubs began a practice of inviting guest celebrities, local and national, to lead the singing Caray-style.
  • A full list of celebrities who have performed "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley Field (up to June 19, 2008) can be found here.
There's a great Bill Veeck story about Caray and the song. As the story goes, Veeck secretly placed a mic in Caray's booth so the fans could hear Caray singing. Veeck told Caray: "Harry, anybody in the ballpark hearing you sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' knows that he can sing as well as you can. Probably better than you can. So he or she sings along. Hell, if you had a good singing voice you'd intimidate them, and nobody would join in!" (From

A few more facts from the Canadian Press:
  • It's the third most frequently sung song in the United States, yet few know all its lyrics. (Happy Birthday and The Star Spangled Banner are #1 and #2.)
  • It's been recorded by more than 400 artists, from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa.
  • The song was a top 10 hit for three recording artists in 1908.
  • It wasn't performed at a ballpark until Pepper Martin and his teammates played it before Game Four of the 1934 World Series at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.
More info:

Who's got the biggest scoreboard? The Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys will have the largest video scoreboard of any sports facility when their new stadium opens in 2009. The scoreboard, pictured above, features two "sideline displays" measuring 159 feet x 71 feet, and two "endzone displays" measuring 50 feet by 28 feet. There will be also more than 3,600 linear feet of ribbon board LED displays. Mitsubishi is supplying the LED screens, and recently revealed these specs:

Center-Hung – Sideline Displays (2)
Width: 159’ 7-1/16”
Height: 71’ 4-3/4”
Total LEDs: 10,584,064
Pixel-Pitch: 20mm
Screen Area: 11,393 square feet
Power Consumption: 635 Kilowatts
Screen Weight: Approx. 170,000 lbs
Video Source: 1080p HDTV
Resolution: 2,176 x 4,864
Installation start date: October, 2008
Installation completion date: June 1, 2009

Center-Hung – End Zone Displays (2)
Width: 50’ 4-3/4”
Height: 28’ 6-3/4”
Total LEDs: 2,088,960
Pixel-Pitch: 16mm
Screen Area: 1,439 square feet
Power Consumption: 80 Kilowatts
Screen Weight: Approx. 25,000 lbs
Video Source: 1080p HDTV
Resolution: 1,080 x 1,920
Installation start date: October, 2008
Installation completion date: June 1, 2009 attempts to give an idea of how massive this scoreboard will be: "Imagine four city buses parked in a line. Now imagine another layer of buses stacked on top of them. Add five more layers and hang the 28-bus cluster over a mental football field."

Sportsline also reports that the cost of the massive screens will be more than $35 million, the amount that the original stadium in Dallas cost to build in 1971.

Meanwhile, at least one fan is worried the huge size of the scoreboard might hurt the fan experience. From

Team officials say [the 60-yard video scoreboard] will give every fan a close-up view of the action, and that's what worries a reader named Diane.

She's concerned that it'll create problems for fans when the on-field action and the on-screen action are going in opposite directions. In other words, it could be a huge distraction trying to watch a 50-foot-tall Terrell Owens streak toward the end zone one way when the life-size T.O. on the field is heading the other way.

"It has never been an issue before because the screens have never been 60 yards wide!" Diane wrote in an e-mail. "It would be impossible as a fan sitting on the Cowboys side to ignore that huge screen, which is of course Jerry Jones' intent."

Cowboys officials said they considered that, but they wouldn't be able to show the action from different perspectives on each side of the stadium.

Team spokesman Brett Daniels said he's not aware of any technology that could reverse the image on the fly for one side of the screen. Diane wrote that she wished the Cowboys would consider hiring a second video crew to shoot separate footage for the other side of the scoreboard.

Previously: Does Kansas City have the biggest video scoreboard?