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Be Nice to the Scorekeeper
Recently, a few articles have popped up in which pointed questions and raised eyebrows have been directed at the drop in errors in major league games. The current rate of errors per game is the lowest in baseball history, and many scoring decisions are being questioned in tweets and articles, complete with video.
There’s a conspiracy afoot, some allege, implying that an MLB directive may have been issued to scorers to be lenient in awarding hits. The recent off-season rules changes in defensive alignment were intended to see an increase in batting averages, the theory goes, so MLB has a vested interested in seeing more hits. Fewer error rulings equals more hits, which equals a higher league batting average, which makes the rule changes look effective.
Now, I don’t have any clue how much or little of that speculation is true. It’s possible that there was some influence exerted by Major League Baseball, sure. It’s also possible that this is just the continuation of a long-standing trend in errors being called less frequently. Maybe fielders are just better, or official scorers are just nicer.
Regardless of the reason, what I know from personal experience is that the scorers themselves have a hard enough job without the rest of us questioning both their competence and their integrity.
I can say that because I am the Greatest Baseball Scorekeeper in the History of the World.
No, really, I am. Here’s the proof:
Technically, yes, it says “Best Scorekeeper Ever” and not “Greatest Baseball Scorekeeper in the History of the World,” but I think that’s implied by the exclamation point. Don’t you agree?
That lovely memento is hanging on the wall of my office, a gift from the coaches and other parents of the players on my son’s baseball team, for which I faithfully served as scorekeeper for nearly a decade. And, as you can see, I was obviously awesome at it. I mean, I still have actual Excel spreadsheets of statistics from 2007 to 2010.
If you don’t have sixteen-year old spreadsheets where you calculated your kid’s Fall Ball OPS, then you’re just not the type of person who’s going to be in the running for Most Fabulous Keeper of Scores In Human History.
In all seriousness, it’s a pretty thankless job. At the youth amateur level, where I was, a series of pretty unpleasant tasks goes along with it.
When your team is in the field, you have to be the person who decides if one of the kids committed an error. Sometimes that’s the coach’s kid. Almost always, it’s the kid of a parent you consider a friend. Sometimes it’s your own kid.
If you decide to call it a hit instead, now you have to explain why the poor pitcher on your team is dinged with another hit allowed, and possibly earned runs that go along with it instead of unearned ones.
When your team is batting, the reverse situation applies. Now you have to decide if Chance or Aaron or Sam gets credited with a hit, helping their batting average, or if they reached by error, hurting their batting average.
Then here’s the “combo platter”, as I liked to call it. Let’s say Johnny hits a ball into the outfield, and no one catches it. It gets between two outfielders and rolls pretty deep. Throws are made, maybe two or three, sometimes good ones, sometimes not, but they don’t arrive in time. Johnny slides into home, safe. Everyone in the stands is happy, right? Nope, not the scorekeeper. That poor person now has to figure out: A) Was it a hit at all, or should one of the outfielders have caught it. B) Even if it was a hit, was it a true home run, or was it a “Little League Home Run,” meaning terrible fielding turned a routine single into a homer. C) If it wasn’t a true home run, what was it? Single, double, triple? When did the error(s) begin? D) God forbid there were runners on base when Johnny hit the ball, because now the poor scorekeeper also has to figure out if Johnny gets any RBI as a result of that “hit”.
The parents around you are not above campaigning for their kids. In fact, that’s the norm. More on that in a moment.
You have to deal with the opposing team’s scorekeeper, and sometimes they stink at the job. They lose track of the score and come ask to see your scorebook. They argue with you that your book is wrong. They send their kids up to bat in the wrong order, and you have to be the lineup police and tell your team’s coach.
And as if this isn’t enough, you’re doing all of this while being a parent yourself, one who simply wants to watch your own kid play baseball without all of the other distractions and responsibilities.
The worst of all those issues, by far, was the other parents. I could handle telling my son after the game that I ruled the ball he hit was an error instead of a single, or that the one that rolled between his legs at third base was an error on him. I was never a “participation trophy” kind of parent. When my kids did something great, which thankfully was often, I would tell them that, and give them all the praise they deserved. But when they didn’t, I wasn’t going to lie to them and pretend they played perfectly. So giving him the real low-down about his performance after the game was just an extension of how I parented anyway.
But not all parents are like that. Some of them never said “No” to their kids a single time. Everything little Johnny or Mary did was perfect and special and awesome and needed to be acknowledged by everyone around them immediately and without question, or there would be PROBLEMS. You’ll be shocked to learn that there’s a disproportionately high percentage of this kind of parent in the suburbs, and an even higher percentage among those who can afford to pay for private hitting lessons for little Johnny or Mary.
So it was not enjoyable AT ALL when little Johnny would have a routine ground ball bounce off his glove for the thirty-fifth time in a 20-game schedule, and Johnny’s mom or dad would launch their campaign. “It’s okay, Johnny,” they’d yell to him. “That was a scorcher.” Then they’d turn to another parent, and say the same thing, loud enough for me to hear, as if I hadn’t already heard them scream it to Johnny. Then they’d crane their neck and try to see what I was writing. And then they’d finally say something to me directly.* “Hey Paul, how’d you score that?” This was a nice group, generally, so that was the most common way it was asked. Sometimes, one of the more aggressive ones would phrase it in a way that didn’t leave room for discussion. “You have that as a hit, right?”
*Sometimes the moms would add another move. Instead of saying something to me directly, they’d give their husband a look that would be the signal for him to sidle over to me and make an inquiry. It was a top-shelf passive-aggressiveness by proxy move.
My approach with them was to just be consistent. “Hey, Ed, sorry man, but that’s been an error all year. I can’t change now.” Folks knew I scored fairly, even when my own kid was involved, so there wasn’t much they could say most of the time. I think they respected that. Hell, they framed something that confirms I’m the Most Exalted Example of Scorekeeping in the History of the Known Universe, so whatever I was doing worked. Plus, these were basically nice people, and I never had to resort to putting them in their place, like some Little League umpires have sadly been forced to do in recent years.
Now picture all of that, only the players involved are millionaires.
Millionaires who have contract incentives based on their batting average, or earned run average, or fielding percentage.
Millionaires who have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.
Then add the media scrutiny. The color announcer is being paid by the team, and is a former player, and he has Expert Opinions that he is paid to share, and has to go into the clubhouse every day and interact with players. Is he going to give an unbiased view of whether that play should be scored in a way the players won’t like? Maybe, but probably not. He’s likely going to throw the scorekeeper under the bus instead.
The play-by-play guy is being paid by the team to explain everything they see. Some of those teams will go to extreme lengths if the announcers describe things in an unflattering way. No, they won’t usually suspend them, like the Orioles recently did, but it’s not unheard of for a team to change announcers after the season ends, looking for someone a little more upbeat. So the play-by-play guy is also a bit more likely to throw the scorer under the bus.
Then there are influencers, folks on social media who have accounts dedicated to scrutinizing some aspect of the game. It could be baserunning blunders, or umpires’ strike zones, or questionable scoring plays from official scorers.
And, right there in the ballpark with you, are tens of thousands of critics who will boo you when an E or H is flashed on the scoreboard when they think it should be the opposite.
So please everyone, be nice to your local scorekeeper. They’re doing a thankless job as best they can. Most of them are doing it for free like I did. Even those in the major league are only getting a whopping $35 an hour, which means an official scorer is collecting less than a hundred bucks each night to sign up for all of this public abuse. And they aren’t even The Grandest Intergalactic Scorekeeper Poobah Since The Dawn of Civilization.
There’s only one of those.
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