Baseball’s Scoring Slump
Why scoring baseball is becoming a lost art.
Written by Filed under Sports
Major league baseball has changed a lot in the past 25 years: Players’ salaries have skyrocketed, teams are wearing an ever-expanding assortment of caps & jerseys, and pitchers are filling more specialized roles. The fan experience has changed too. Sure, the sights, sounds and smells at the ballpark remain essentially the same. There’s the crack of the bat, green grass on the field, and the comforting ritual of the seventh inning stretch. But tickets and concessions are now often prohibitively expensive, stadium facades are dominated by advertising, and scoreboards are equipped with the latest bells and whistles. Longtime baseball observers have noticed that something is missing from today’s ballparks; fans engrossed in the old-fashioned and low-tech practice of scoring games.
Once upon a time, you could find a scorecard-and-pencil-equipped fan in virtually every row. Yet, at a recent game between the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics at Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, California, those clutching scorecards were few and far between. At best, one person in each section could be found, head down, body scrunched forward, dutifully recording every play, using an archaic notation system that has been passed down from generation to generation of baseball lovers.
To the initiated, scoring is a relatively simple practice. Each defensive player is assigned a number (1-9, for each of the nine players on the field). Whenever a ball is hit the scorekeeper writes down the sequence of how the play unfolded on a pre-printed grid. For instance, a ground ball to the third baseman (indicated by the number “5”), and thrown to the first baseman (indicated by “3”) for an out would be recorded as “5-3.” A pop up to the third baseman would simply be indicated by “5.” Plays that don’t correspond to a particular fielder are indicated by letters. Some of the most commonly used letter symbols include “K” for strikeout (swinging), a backwards “K” for strikeout (looking) and “BB” for base on balls. A few less common designations are “HB” for hit batsman and “BCB” for bench clearing brawl.
The modern system was pioneered in the 1860s by a newspaper man named Henry Chadwick, and although the earliest baseball box score dates back to October 1845, he is generally considered the “father” of scoring. To those unfamiliar with Chadwick’s scheme, the dizzying array of letters, numbers and symbols can be downright intimidating. Even those who are well versed in baseball terminology can be frustrated. Alan Fitzgerald, a 58-year-old usher at Network Associates Coliseum (who reports seeing about a half-dozen people scoring per game) insists that a scorecard interferes with an otherwise blissful day at the ballpark. “I don’t like it because I spend more time figuring out what to write down than watching the game,” he says.