Caple: Keeping score as baseball’s ultimate art form

From SABR member Jim Caple at on August 29, 2013, with mention of SABR members Paul Dickson:

Is the digital age killing off scorekeeping? Walking through ballparks, I don’t see many fans keeping score anymore. One of the few I saw at a Cubs game earlier this season was a 75-year-old fan named Ron Swanson.

“Now you’ve got everything you pretty much need on the scoreboard, so I can understand the next generation not wanting to do it,” Swanson says. “But in my day, you pretty much had to keep score to know whether this guy got a hit or whatever. Like today, the first 14 batters in a row were retired; and if you’re not keeping score you wonder, ‘Gee, did someone walk?’

“And at my age, you also get a little more forgetful.”

Fans have been keeping score since long before Swanson scribbled his first 6-3 onto a scoresheet. In “The Joy of Keeping Score,” [Paul] Dickson writes that official scorers can be seen along the first-base line in early engravings of baseball games. “The urge to keep score is as old as the game itself and borrows significantly from the book-keeping instincts of British cricketeers,” he writes.

In fact, Henry Chadwick started out covering cricket before switching to baseball and becoming the father of scorekeeping in the 1860s. As Alan Schwarz writes in his wonderful history of baseball statistics, “The Numbers Game,” Chadwick “invented his own personal scoring form in the hope it would become standard.” Similar to the ones we use today, Chadwick’s scoring grid was nine batters deep and nine innings wide and was coded with letters for what the batter did and numbers for which fielders handled the ball.

That system evolved over time, but at least one notation remains the same as it did more than a century ago: a “K” in the scorebook means the batter struck out. Chadwick originated the “K” because he used the last letter of an out — in this case, “struck” — as his way of identifying it in the book.

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Originally published: August 29, 2013. Last Updated: August 29, 2013.