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December 06, 2019 2 min read

Somewhere, there is a professional baseball game being played. Someone in the stadium, usually seated in the nosebleeds, is hanging a ‘K’ for each strikeout the pitcher records.

Of all of baseball’s quirks, this may be one of the more commonly seen. Why exactly do we use a ‘K’ to score a strikeout in baseball?

What is a strikeout anyway?

Many people who are at least vaguely familiar with baseball understand or have heard the phrase “three strikes, you’re out”. But who established that rule? And why is a pitcher allowed four balls to three strikes?

Apparently, we should all be thankful for this rule. In the earliest days of the game, pitch counts would get out of control. One game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and Brooklyn Excelsiors saw 665 pitches in three innings, with batters facing 40-50 pitches per at bat.

This is because there was simply no balls or strikes rule; batters simply waited until they found a pitch they wanted, and the play resulting from the ball in play would determine an out or not.

Over time, various rule changes were instituted before the balls and strikes rule we know was established in 1889. At some point before that, though, a man named Henry Chadwick started tracking statistics in a revolutionary way, and is responsible for the ‘K’ that may confuse us today.

Henry Chadwick_Base 2 Base Sports
image source: baseballhall.org

Henry Chadwick

The origin comes from the grandfather of baseball statistic, Henry Chadwick. A sportswriter in New York City in the 1860s, Chadwick came up with the system for scorekeeping that is mostly still used today.

Baseball’s scoring system is uniquely complex, and this can be attributed to the work of Chadwick and his colleague MJ Kelly. Though complex, the scoring system is designed to allow the reader of a box score to understand not only exactly what happened, but when and how. They achieved this by establishing a letter or number for every possible play on the field.

When choosing which letters or numbers would stand for what instances on the field, Chadwick assigned a number to each position (1 for pitcher, 9 for right field, etc.), and a single letter or combination of letters for different occurrences. There was a crossroads between “sacrifice” and “strikeout”. In the end, the former won the coveted ‘S’, the latter ‘K’.


Australian Baseball Scoring_Base 2 Base Sports


How the “K” is used

Chadwick originally established that a ‘K’ as it is written means a strikeout swinging, whereas a backwards ‘K’ signifies a strikeout looking. This system is still used today in the United States, though here in Australia it is slightly different.

The American ‘K’, meaning strikeout swinging, would be scored as “K2” in Australia. A backwards “K” in America would be a “KC” here, and a “K” in Australia means a tipped third strike caught by the catcher.

On the other end of pitching outcomes, the walk similarly lost a letter battle with the ‘win’ statistic, instead being assigned ‘BB’, or base on balls.

Last Word

In the end, it may still be confusing to read a stat sheet, but taking some time to get familiar can open up your eyes to the game and the beautiful perks it offers its fans. Go baseball.