Quick colour sketch in a park near where I live.
More finger painting here.
A wee bit of self examination. Bigger here.
Before the start of game three of the World Series, Fox Sports showed this map to their viewers. It is awful. Let me tell you why.
(A caveat: While I have ended up doing a lot of infographics, I’m an illustrator/artist, and not a data visualisation expert, so my opinions do not and should not have the weight of people like Edward Tufte.)
We live in an age where, just like love, bad infographics are all around. I have made bad infographics in my life. Plenty of them. I like to think, though, that when I look back at those bad graphics, I learn from the mistakes I made. To that end, let’s look at some mistakes in the Fox Sports map.
We can start by putting our fingers in our mouths to mime vomiting at the aesthetic of Fox’s on-screen graphics. All the shiny stuff that is way more appropriate for Robot Wars than baseball. Add in blurry bits of orange and white in the background, and lay it all over a blimp shot of St. Louis.
Maps should be easy to read, especially if they are going to be on screen for fewer than 15 seconds, as this map was. Your eyes and brain have to read and understand which categories of data are being shown and then process those categories when looking at the map. The way this map has been laid out makes that difficult.
Firstly, the colours they have chosen to represent each team. One of the teams has “red” in the name. Which colour is that team assigned on the map? Blue. With so much to take in in a short space of time, that one should have been a no-brainer, and they got it wrong. Of course, both teams have red as their main colour (and cardinal is a shade of red, I guess), which does make it more difficult, but, in my opinion, the team with the name of the colour in their name gets first dibs on that colour.
Fox is showing us four kinds of states here: heavily in favour of either team, or slightly in favour of either team. That’s fine. I’m all for less black and white and more grey in data analysis in general. But does the key to understanding this information really need to take up a third of the screen?
And that giant key is so difficult to read. For one thing, the key area is dominated by the chopped team logos on black backgrounds. (This is a bug of mine with a lot of sports broadcasts: designing their on-screen graphics with no regard to keeping the logos intact. Here, we can see the middle half of the Red Sox’s cap insignia, which at a glance looks like a badly-drawn H. Note that TV networks never do that with their own logos.) Those logos add nothing to our understanding. They are visual junk. And they also create an overpowering amount of white in the area we are supposed to be able to quickly read and understand. Squint your eyes (or just take your specs off, nerds) and you’ll see that the most noticeable part of that key is a whole load of white.
The relevant information in that third of the screen should be the colours used on the map and what they represent. But the colours that they’ve used on the map are shown on the bracket-y end bits of their Terminator-ish graphics. Those end brackets contain the most important information for understanding the map, yet they are almost invisible.
Look closely at those faux-shiny brackets: they’re not even the same shades as those used on the map. This graphic used blues and reds that are too close to each other. It’s difficult to differentiate between “leaning” and “heavily,” even if you did manage to figure out that the brackets on the partial-logo cartouches are the whole key to the map.
One last thing: The Red Sox’s home city and state and region is, as we all know, in the north east of the United States. The whole map is tilted away from us. Massachusetts and the rest of New England are already small states, in terms of land area, compared to the states in the west of the country. In fact, both of the teams’ home states are in the half of the map tilted furthest from us. If Fox Sports absolutely must tilt the map, it would’ve been preferable to flip the elements of the graphic, so the map could be titled with the east coast closest to us. This is if and only if you insist on tilting the map at all.
The failures of this map irked me so much that I spent almost ten whole minutes on remaking it. Imagine this quick Tumblr post as me showing you the plans of a house. I’ve not put the sofas, carpets and curtains in. Despite the knocked-off-in-ten-minutes-ness of this, I think it’s already a heck of a lot easier to read.
Whether you like my choices of colour, or my somewhat tedious tendency to always use Gill Sans, or the flatness that banishes all reflections and light source tomfoolery, I think it’s a lot clearer. I have made the map flat so that New England is a lot easier to see. Because we read left to right, the key is on the left so it’s the first thing we look at. There’s space at the top left where you could place the words “World Series,” “Fox Sports,” and “Facebook Fandom Map.”
Because of our familiarity with temperature gauges going from hot to cold, or map topography colours on regular maps, I’ve re-ordered the key from being most pro-Cardinals to least pro-Cardinals (that is, most pro-Red Sox), rather than Fox’s heavily-leaning-heavily-leaning ordering. Our brains are impressive things, and we pick up how to read graphics over the years. It’s only when people do things that confound our knowledge that data visualisation gets confusing. I mean, how else would we know that the Cardinals are popular in the Midwest?
Walking around my neighbourhood (Coyoacán) the other day, I was thinking about the Montreal Expos, and seeing people setting up stuff for the Day of the Dead, I put those two things together and drew an ofrenda for the teams that relocated:
Milwaukee Brewers, moved and became St. Louis Browns in 1902
Baltimore Orioles, moved and became New York Highlanders in 1903
Boston Braves, moved to Milwaukee in 1953
St. Louis Browns, moved and became Baltimore Orioles in 1954
Philadelphia Athletics, moved to Kansas City in 1955
Brooklyn Dodgers, moved to Los Angeles in 1958
New York Giants, moved to San Francisco in 1958
Washington Senators, moved and became Minnesota Twins in 1961
Milwaukee Braves, moved to Atlanta in 1966
Kansas City Athletics, moved to Oakland in 1968
Seattle Pilots, moved and became Milwaukee Brewers in 1970
Washington Senators, moved and became Texas Ranger in 1972
Montreal Expos, moved and became Washington Nationals in 2005
The inspiration for trying to tell a history of Major League Baseball came from a style of Mexican sculpture called Árbol de la Vida (Tree of Life). They are very beautiful, and should you ever visit Mexico City, I highly recommend visiting the Museo de Arte Popular and Museo Nacional de Antropología where you can see some wonderful examples. (Or you could just google it.) When I first saw a Tree of Life sculpture at the National Museum of Anthropology, I had a vague idea to do some sort of drawing about baseball history based of this style of sculpture. This, two years later, is that drawing.
What I have tried to do is have three people represent each decade. (In later decades, there are four each, and just three representing the 19th century.) I’ve also tried to represent as many franchise as I could. It would be easy to fill this with Yankee players, but I only wanted a maximum of three players per franchise. Even then there are several franchises without any players represented. And if you think about how to represent the Yankees with just three figures, for example, who would you choose? It’s a tough one. Babe Ruth has to be in there. Lou Gehrig, too. But then you have Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, etc etc. I figured that Ruth and Gehrig represented the start of that franchise’s great successes. And therefore they also covered the bases that many of their other great players would cover. The one era of Yankeedom that felt different to me is the 70s, so that’s why Billy Martin is the third Yankee.
It became more difficult in later years to represent three players per decade and represent all of the expansion teams; that would’ve meant using 14 figures from the 1960s to 2000s just making sure every team is represented. Doing so would have created a false view of each of those decades. Indeed, would you want the 1990s solely represented by players from the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Devil Rays and Marlins? Instead, and twisting things to fit in my own head, Randy Johnson is there in a Diamondbacks uniform, representing all four of the 1990s expansion teams. And even if there isn’t a player from every team, every team is referenced with another element somewhere. There are no Marlins players, for example, but I added part of the home run sculpture at Marlins Park to represent that franchise.
There are no Negro League players because this is a representation of Major League Baseball. I toyed with the idea of including a handful of players from the Negro Leagues, but in the end felt that sticking to Major League Baseball, with its pre-Jackie Robinson flaws, was a better idea.
If that wasn’t enough, I wanted it to be fun, too. And if you’re still thumping the desk that I’ve not included your favourite plater, it’s a pretty fun exercise to wrap your head around, so try and do it: three players that represent each decade, trying to cover as many franchises as possible. It would be completely possible to do this drawing again and easily fill up my three per decade rule and still miss a lot of great players.
Anyway, for want of a better word, this is art. And I am the artist, and I stand by my choices. I’ve used a fair amount of words defending myself, though, but that’s because I’m English, and didn’t grow up with baseball, and I just don’t want you the viewer to think that I haven’t put in a ton of thought. I’ve been working on and amending this drawing on and off for two years. I’m glad it’s finally finished.
There is a wee bit of guesswork going on with the uniforms of 19th century teams. The Dressed to the Nines uniform database only goes back to 1900, so I sourced as many images as possible, and chose colors from illustrations on cigarette cards for Monte Ward, King Kelly, and Old Hoss Radbourn (or contemporaneous team-mates). I’ve also had to guess at the colour of John McGraw’s cardigan because the only sources I’ve come across are black and white photos. I decided that because their uniform at the time featured dark blue and red, that the cardigan should have the same colours.
The use of text within the drawing is referencing two things. First, the idea of lovers carving initials on a tree. I have come to love baseball over the past decade, and I’m digitally carving light brown pixels onto dark brown pixels. Second, it’s a fairly blatant reference to the work of Howard Finster.
Hopefully, my drawing skills are good enough for you to recognise most of the players and stuff. But here’s a list of everything in the picture, starting at bottom left in the 1800s and snaking up the tree to the present day.
John Montgomery Ward, New York Gothams/Giants
The flag of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, representing baseball’s roots
King Kelly, Chicago White Stockings
Great Pyramid of Giza, where the Chicago White Stockings visited on their world tour in 1889
Old Hoss Radbourn, Providence Grays
Connie Mack, Philadelphia Athletics
Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers
Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates
Wrigley Field’s win flag
The T206 Honus Wagner card
The flag of Cuba, representing the first Cuban players (Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans) in the majors in 1911
Addie Joss, Cleveland Bronchos/Naps
The flag of the United States, representing the national anthem being introduced at games
Walter Johnson, Washington Senators
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Chicago White Sox
Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals
Eddie Grant Memorial at the Polo Grounds
John McGraw, New York Giants
The frieze from Yankee Stadium
Babe Ruth, New York Yankees
Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics
Hank Greenberg, Detroit Tigers
The flag of Mexico, representing Mel Almada, the first Mexican in the majors in 1933
Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees
Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox
The flag of Venezuela representing Alex Carrasquel, the first Venezuelan player in the majors in 1939
Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers
A goat. You know why
The Crosley Field floodlight, the first ballpark to have lights
Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals
The flag of Puerto Rico, representing Hiram Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican in the majors in 1942
Willie Mays, New York Giants
The “Infield Back?” and “Yes” and “No” signs from the St. Louis Browns’ Grandstand Managers Day
Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs
Warren Spahn, Milwaukee Braves
The flag of the Dominican Republic, representing Ozzie Virgil, the first Dominican in 1956
Mr. Met, New York Mets
Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
The flag of Japan, for Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player in 1964
Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirates
Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium
The HERE flag from Baltimore Memorial Stadium where Frank Robinson hit a home run out of the stadium
A green weenie
The flag of Canada, representing the Montreal Expos, the first non-US team in the majors
Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves
Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds
The Big A from Anaheim Stadium
Billy Martin, New York Yankees
Montreal’s Olympic Stadium
San Diego’s Famous Chicken
Chalet and beer mug from Milwaukee County Stadium
Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros
Short Stinks banner from RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. unfurled by fans at the last game before the Senators were relocated to Texas by owner Bob Short
Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles Dodgers
Charles O. Finlay’s orange baseball
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies
Rickey Henderson, Oakland Athletics
Bo Jackson, Kansas City Royals
Roberto Alomar, Toronto Blue Jays
A cloud from the ramps at the SkyDome
One of the purple row seats from Coors Field
Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks, with a (live) dove on his head
Anaheim Angels Rally Monkey
Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants
Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Cownose ray, from the Rays Touch Tank at Tropicana Field
Beer and hot dog, just because
The Comiskey Park pinwheels
A Marlin from the home run sculpture at Marlins Park
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Bugs (above Albert’s head) from game two of the 2007 ALDS at Progressive Field
A King’s Court sign from Safeco Field
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
The text on the tree, from top to bottom:
My oh my!: Dave Niehaus
9-6-2: The Jeter flip
Mercury symbol: Mercury Mets on Turn Ahead the Clock Night
42: Jackie Robinson’s number retired league wide
He is… safe! Safe at the plate: Sean McDonough’s call of Sid Bream scoring the winning run in the 1992 NLCS
.649: Montreal Expos’ win percentage in 1994
Merci Expos: on the video screen at the Expos’ final home game
2,131: Cal Ripken passes Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played
Hits 0 LSD hits 1: Dock Ellis’ no-hitter
I don’t believe what I just saw!: Jack Buck’s call of Kirk Gibson’s home run
Three and two to Mookie Wilson: Vin Scully calling the game six of the 1986 World Series
61*: Roger Maris breaking the single season home run record
Holy Cow!: Phil Rizzuto’s call of above home run
California: baseball moves west
1/8: Eddie Gaedel’s number for the St. Louis Browns
The art of fiction is dead: Red Smith writing about Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World
A million butterflies: Vin Scully calling Sandy Koufax’s perfect game
If it stays fair…: Carlton Fisk’s home run
2,130: Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played
BB and LL: Bustin’ Babes and Larrupin’ Lous, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s teams on their 1927 barnstorming tour
Diamond: Who’s on first?
No gambling allowed: because no gambling was allowed
But I’ve got an awful lot to live for: Lou Gehrig’s speech
Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is: what Shoeless Joe supposedly said when asked if it was true
8.17.20: Ray Chapman dies.
M.C.B.B: The Philadelphia Athletics’ $100,000 infield: Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and Frank Baker
Jan 28, 1901: American League founded
M.F.W: Moses Fleetwood Walker of the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings, the first African American to play Major League baseball until Jackie Robinson
Feb 2, 1876: National League founded
Sash: word used in a telegram by Jim Devlin of the Louisville Grays to indicate that he willing to throw a game for money
Tinker to Evers to Chance: From “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” a poem by Franklin Pierce Adams regarding the Chicago Cubs infield turning a double play
Notes: Take Me Out To The Ball Game
And in the background: palm trees for Spring Training, and autumnal trees of the World Series and the end of the season
Prints of this drawing coming soon.