When it comes to the wide array of sports played during the dog days of summer, few can compare to the popularity of America's favorite pastime: baseball. No fan likes to see his or her favorite player swing and miss three times while he's at bat. However, strikeouts happen frequently in the sport, much to the frustration of both the players and the fans, especially during a critical moment in the game.
Whether you are looking up the number of strikeouts each player on your team's roster has each season or you're watching a game live and see the symbol for a strikeout pop up on the scoreboard behind center field, one question you might be wondering is, "Why is a strikeout call a K?"
Scorecards and the scoring system
Although the vast majority of fans are familiar with the feeling they get when their team's prized player leaves a runner stranded in scoring position with a strikeout to end the inning, many aren't familiar with the history of the sport's one-of-a-kind scoring system. Since the inception of the American sport in the 19th century, fans, coaches, managers, owners and professional scorekeepers have kept track of each player's at bats on a physical scorecard comprised of a pencil and a piece of paper.
Every aspect of the game is tallied and tracked throughout the season, with a unique series of symbols used to refer to the players' pitches, hits, runs, walks and strikeouts. The style of scorecards used to record each play has varied slightly over the years. However, the information presented on the card always includes a play-by-play account of the game and a tally of each player's at-bats, runs, hits, walks and strikeouts.
Why a strikeout is called a K?
Most of the markings that appear on a Major League Baseball scorecard—such as 1B when a player reaches first base with a hit, HBP when a player is hit by a pitch, and W when a player is walked—make sense to the average at-home viewer or in-park attendee. However, some—such as using the letter "K" to indicate a player has struck out—can be a bit confusing if you aren't familiar with the abbreviations that comprise the sport's scorecard system. This system was created by a newspaper reporter named Henry Chadwick (1824-1908). Commonly referred to as the "father of baseball," Chadwick is credited with developing a series of markings to keep track of pitches, hits, runs, walks and outs that is still widely used to tally each player's at bat today.
The logical abbreviation for a strikeout during a player's at bat would seem to be a simple "S." However, when Chadwick was recording the scores of baseball games in the latter portion of the 19th century, that symbol was already taken—being used to indicate a "sacrifice." In order to differentiate between the two vastly different plays, Chadwick turned to the word "struck" as an alternative for "strikeout," opting to use the word's last letter, K, as the mark that indicated a player had struck out at the plate.
Further, this K is written backward on scorecards if the player was called out on strikes without attempting to swing at the pitch. Chadwick was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in honor of his lasting contribution to the sport.