Baseball is Digital, Football is Analog

Posted By BrokenClaw on September 9, 2007

In general terms, digital means that information is contained in discrete elements, with nothing in between. For example, a digital clock with an Hour:Minute display shows you the time as discrete elements of minutes. By glancing at the clock once, you cannot tell how close you are to the next minute. There is no in-between. A digital clock can not only show you the time, it can also tell you the time. Since digital time is just a number and not an abstract point in time, it can transfer that information easily to other devices.

The opposite of digital is analog. With an analog clock, with hands in constant motion, you can see how far past or close you are to a minute. The analog clock can show you the time, but it cannot tell you the time. In other words, it can’t transfer its information to another device. Think of the old cartoon time bomb with an alarm clock attached. The bomb has no idea when it’s going to go off. It has to wait for the alarm clock to ring.

For a slightly more technical explanation, read Digital Bits and Bytes.

Baseball is digital

A baserunner can only be on first base, second base, or third base. He can’t be on 1 and a half base. A batter can have a count of 0, 1, 2, or 3 balls, 0, 1, or 2 strikes. There’s no such thing as 2 and half balls. There can only be no outs, 1 out, or 2 outs. You can stop a game for rain, come back, look at the scorebook, and put the game in exactly the same condition. They do it all the time.

Football is analog

The ball is placed on the field where the play ends. Football records are digital, by downs and yards and points, but the play of the game is analog. If a team has the ball with 2nd and 7 at the 35 yard line, can you reproduce that by the numbers? No, not without seeing exactly where the ball and the chain were located between the yard markers. The field can show you the precise location, but it can’t tell you the precise location. The officials demonstrate this limitation every time they use the chain to measure for a first down or move the ball at the end of the first and third quarters.

Basketball wants to be digital

Sports that use a clock, like basketball, have used digital clocks for a long time. Sports fans over 50, or anyone who’s seen the movie, Hoosiers, knows that the time clock for basketball games used to be an analog sweep second clock on the wall. But everyone switched to digital clocks in the 1960s. With a digital time clock, you can see how many seconds are left in the game. But even that has proved insufficient, since the clock can stop and start between ticks of a second. As a result, they now use a digital clock with tenths of a second as the game winds down.

Table Games

Most table games, like checkers, chess, Scrabble®, and Battleship®, are digital in nature. In other words, the pieces on the board are placed at specific positions. That’s why they are easily converted to computer simulations. But you can’t play pick-up-sticks on the computer, because it depends on analog placement and movement of the pieces.


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