Scoresheet norms

As a slightly early birthday present, I bought myself a ticket for the Nationals/Padres game this evening -- a really good seat, just behind the visitor's dugout down the first base line. I showed up early, got my complimentary Jose Guillen bobblehead (got to love baseball promotional items), and sat down, prepared to score the game in my typically exacting style -- I record every pitch, something that is basically impossible to do when attending a game with kids. So this was my treat: going to the game myself, and scoring the whole thing.

Scoring a baseball game is a very peculiar activity. Everyone has their own particular quirks when recording the salient points of a game; some people record hit locations, some just the results of plate appearances, others take more detailed notes on fielding. For me it's all about the pitcher, so that's what I focus on and that's what I really try to record: pitch counts, ball/strike ratios, and the like. But scoring is also odd because even fans who aren't scoring the game themselves know what scoring is, and someone who is bent over their scorecard or notebook [in my case I have my own design for a scoresheet, and I print pages out to bring to games, along with a hard writing surface and a pencil-sharpener] occupies a particular role in the culture of fandom. Several people asked me questions about the team, the players, and the like, as though the fact that I was keeping score indicated some profound knowledge about the Washington Nationals. There was also a striking plate appearance by Ryan Zimmerman in the 8th that went to 10 pitches before Zimmerman walked; a couple of people wanted to know how many pitches and what sequence they were in, and asked me. So there's a presumption there.

Most of the plays that happen during an average baseball game (and this was a pretty average baseball game) are "routine," which doesn't mean that you or I could do them, but means that your average major league player can be expected to do them reliably. As the game unfolds, the innings stack up, and by and large they results are pretty easy to record: here's a ground ball to third base that is thrown to first base for an out, a simple "5-3" on my scoresheet. Ho-hum. Even Zimmerman's bad throw in the third inning -- not bad enough to be an error -- that pulled Nick Johnson off first base and allowed Mike Cameron to reach base when he probably should have been out only merited a brief note. Complicated innings with many base-runners and runs being scored (the fifth for San Diego, the sixth for the Nationals) are a little trickier, but not too much.

Then there are plays like the one that the Nationals turned to end the eighth inning. Josh Barfield has walked, stolen second, and then made it to third on a ball four pitch that went past the catcher; Mark Bellhorn had walked and was on first. New pitcher (Mike Stanton) comes in, gets Dave Roberts to pop out and strikes Mike Cameron out. Bellhorn takes off for second with the strike three pitch to Cameron, so they thrown down to second to try to get him. He's safe, but Barfield decides to make a break for home, and here's where the fun begins: they throw home, and Barfield is caught between bases, so they keep tossing the ball back and forth between infielders trying to get close enough to tag him, which they eventually do. But scoring this play is rather complicated, both because a lot of hands touched the ball and because the rundown was such a beautiful play that while watching it I completely forgot to try to track it -- I momentarily lost my scorekeeper's detachment. After we all applauded I went to record the out on my scoresheet and realized that I had no idea what the sequence of throws had been. I was about to just write "rundown" and move on, when the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked: "How do you score that play, huh?"

"Well…" I began. "It went 2-5-3-something, didn't it?" [All of the players on the baseball field are assigned a number referring to the position that they are playing; by convention, 2 is the catcher, 5 is third base, 3 is first base.]

"Nah, they started off throwing to second."

Another guy piped up: "And when they threw home, they threw to Johnson [first base], not to Fick [catcher]."

Another guy: "Didn't Clayton [shortstop, the number for which is 6] have the ball at some point too?"

A discussion ensued about the sequence, in which we finally settled on 2-4-3-5-2-6-5 as reflecting what happened. In theory we could check this against video or something, but that wasn't the issue. Instead, there were two norms invoked here that I could see:

1) Help Out People Keeping Score. If someone is scoring the game, then you as a fan can be an extra pair of eyes for them and help them record things that they may have missed -- especially in complicated sequences like that one. I've done this myself at games where I wasn't keeping score, so I know the rule well: offer help, but don't contradict the guy keeping score; let him ask you.

2) Scoresheets Should Be Complete. If someone is scoring the game, they are expected to score all of it, and are expected to want to make all of the information to be as accurate as they can get it. So writing "rundown" wouldn't be sufficient -- something the other folks recognized in offering their help, and something I recognized by the slightly guilty feeling I experienced when recording the sequence we'd agreed on and thinking that I almost just gave up and wrote "rundown."

So thanks to those norms, and to their invocation in that particular time and place, I ended up with a reasonably comprehensive record of the game written in my own handwriting on my own piece of paper. And I verified, unintentionally to be sure, that scoring a game from the stands still commands a certain kind of respect or at least distinction within the culture of the baseball fan. Heck, I even got to sit in my seat tallying up the totals for a few minutes after the game ended, when the ushers were shooing people out of the stands: a small privilege, but a privilege nonetheless.

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