Thorn: Keeping score at ballgames

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on January 29, 2018:

I offered this talk on Saturday, before the annual meeting of MLB’s official scorers, the most knowledgeable baseball crowd I have ever addressed. They were kind and indulgent, laughed at the lame jokes, and registered (or convincingly feigned) interest throughout. Why can an umpire invoke the infield fly rule for a ball ultimately caught by the left fielder? Has a runner nabbed at second base after taking off because a pitcher throws a ball in the dirt been caught stealing — only to find that the catcher, rather than blocking the ball, has snagged it on a bounce — or is he out on an unsuccessful attempt to advance? Only in Nerdville do such matters take on cosmic importance, but count me as a citizen in good standing of that place, and as one whose admiration for official scorers, in their refined thinking and love of the game, is boundless.

When you invite a historian to talk to official scorers about official scoring, the principal danger is not that he will bore you (that is a given) but that he will tell you what you already know, only in greater detail than you ever cared to know it. So let’s leave to one side who won Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Madison Bumgarner or Jeremy Affeldt (I was in the pressbox, and know how the sausage was made!). Let me try instead to place into historical perspective the absolute, undeniable need for your close observation, your accumulated wisdom, and your informed judgment.

Now, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything we count, counts. Intangibles DO exist and, in baseball as in life, they count. But baseball is a game played by people who produce numbers that balance, more or less fairly in a box score — a run scored by one team is a run allowed by the other — in a way unmatched in “real life.” For nerds like me, that was and continues to be part of the game’s allure.

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Originally published: January 29, 2018. Last Updated: January 29, 2018.