SABR Official Scoring Committee: January 2017 newsletter

“You Called That a What . . . ?”
The Newsletter of the Official Scoring Committee
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)

January 2017, Volume 2, Number 1

Past newsletters


Stew Thornley

As usual, keep an eye on our Committee Files page, as the information in there continues to grow.

One valuable addition is a file, Chronology of Scoring Rules 1878-1993; John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, provided electronic versions of these summaries from Total Baseball.

This issue includes a guest column by Alan Cohen, a datacaster/stringer for The stringer’s duties are distinct from that of the official scorer, but the jobs are related in some ways, and ongoing communication between the stringer and official scorer is significant.

Other guest columns are welcome. Anyone wishing to do one may contact me: Stew Thornley.

Hope you enjoy the newsletter.

Go to Top


Conundrum of the Month (or Quarter or Whatever)
Tie game, runner on third in the last of the ninth. Batter hits a drive to left-center that bounces and goes over the fence. Winning run scores. Is the batter credited with a single or double?

a. Double, because the ball bounced over the fence and he is entitled to two bases.

b. Single, because only one base was needed for the winning run to score.

c. Double, but only if the batter continues running until he reaches second base.

See below for the answer.

Go to Top


Scoring the Shift
In the last issue of this newsletter, the question was thrown out to members on how to note if a player fields a grounder while playing in a different spot because of a shift, such as a 5-3 when the third baseman moved to the left side of the infield.

Two people responded, Don Plavnick and your crusty editor, who laid on more to his answer than just noting a shift.

Don Plavnick:
As I mentioned to those present at the meeting in Miami, here is how I score outs made with the defensive shift. First, I will indicate the normal position of the fielders involved, regardless of their actual position when fielding as it is necessary to tally the putouts, assists, errors, and double plays by each fielder, regardless of where they field it. Then, in order to indicate where the ball was initially fielded, I will note in the same scoresheet box in smaller print and in parenthesis the number of the actual physical location. For example, a groundout from 3B to 1B fielded behind 2b would be something like G5(4)-3. The (4) would frequently be marked under the 5-3, or wherever space allows.

Likewise, if an infielder runs into the outfield to catch a popup, regardless of the shift, I will indicate that in the same manner, e.g., a pop up to short RF caught by the 1B would be P3 (s9).

Additionally, I indicate where all batted balls in play go, whether a hit or an out. S for short field, MD for medium deep, D for deep, w/trk for on the warning track, or at the wall. If it’s in the infield, I indicate whether it’s deep or shallow where fielded. When a ball is hit to either LCF or RCF, whether a hit or out, I indicate that, writing first the number of the fielder fielding it, usually in a slightly larger size. Thus, a fly out to LCF fielded by the LF would be “F78” with the “8” slightly smaller. A line single to RCF fielded by the CF would be “L-89”. If it’s a foul out, I put an “F” first. An opposite field hit would be “o/fld” or “o/f”. Some scorers and scoring instructions have the scorer draw a line to the actual landing spot, though that takes up a lot of room.

I distinguish the type of batted ball, hit or out, thusly: ground ball, g; line drive, l; a liner through the infield that becomes a grounder in the outfield, lg; fly ball, f; line/fly, a pop up, p (usually in the infield); a pop fly to the outfield, pf; a foul pop fly, fpf, a high fly (not necessarily a pop up) HF. So, a pop fly out to short RCF fielded by the RF would be “PFs98.” If it’s near the foul line or in the corner, I note that, also. For doubles and triples, I indicate if the batter/runner reaches base by sliding (sl) or standing up (su). A ground rule double would be “GR=”.

I also indicate if the ball is hit hard (grounder or liner) (h), or softly (s). If it is just a tapped ball, or tap back to the pitcher, I put “t1”. If it’s a bunt, “B.” I will put a small star by the position of the fielder making an exceptional play. If it’s an apparent hit-and-run play (or run-and-hit) on a ball in play I put “h/r”. On the bases, I note if the runner is picked off base, caught stealing or advancing via defensive indifference, i.e. fielder’s choice.

Many plays cannot be adequately recorded with just numbers or symbols, so I make generous use of written explanations, either with abbreviations or full words. Typical events/entries would include close plays where the runner is just barely out or safe, 1-hop balls to an infielder or 1-hop off the outfield wall, balls hit over a fielder’s head, over-the -shoulder catches, shoe-top level catches, back-hand catches on the ground or in the air, broken bats on balls in play, plays where a fielder drops or bobbles a ball where it affects the play and umpire challenges where the game is stopped. When a player is hit by a pitch (HBP), I write out what part of his body he was hit.

To get an instant recognition of offensive output, the purpose of the game, I record all plays reaching base (hits, walks, HBP, and runs scored, etc.) in red. That makes it easy to see the offensive output and scoring at a glance. And, I always score using erasable-ink pens, a life-saver. For major changes, I carry a small correction tape dispenser.

The way I record home runs is beyond the scope of this report. If anyone is interested, I will elucidate.

Also, I record every pitch, in sequence thrown, including 2-strike fouls. I also note checked swings and foul tips.

All this may seem excessive or intimidating to some but it’s not really when you get the hang of it. You can tell almost anything about a game by looking at a scoresheet so recorded.

Hope someone may get some new ideas from this. I would welcome any suggestions.

Stew Thornley:
Regarding the shift, if there is a 5-3 with the third baseman on the right side of the infield, I note the 5-3 and write SHIFT under it. That doesn’t indicate if the third baseman moved around the shortstop or both the shortstop and second baseman, but it at least shows that he wasn’t in his normal position.

The first team I remember doing this a lot when I started official scoring was Cleveland in 2007. Cleveland sometimes had shortstop Jhonny Peralta move to the right of second-baseman Josh Barfield, leaving third-baseman Casey Blake as the only player on the left side of the infield. As the official scorer, I announced that Peralta retained his position as shortstop. Now this kind of stuff is so common that I no longer announce it.

Once in a while we get a five-player infield, such as in a July 16, 2016 Cleveland at Minnesota game. In the last of the 11th Cleveland brought left-fielder Jose Ramirez in and stationed him in front of second base. To the left of the box for that batter on my scoresheet, I wrote 5-6-7-4-3 to note the alignment.

Regarding basic things, I mark most fly outs merely with the number of the outfielder: 9, not F-9. I use the F only if it’s caught in foul territory. Like Don Plavnick, I sometimes add a little more, such as 9L (with the L smaller than the 9) if the ball was caught near the foul line, D8 for a deep fly ball, L7 if it’s a line drive, and S9 on a shallow fly ball. On any fly ball to an infielder, I use an L for line drive or P for pop up.

The Minnesota Twins’ programs in the early 1960s had some tips I picked up, including how to indicate the advancement of a baserunner. (From what I see, many people keep score without any way of showing how runners advanced.) I put the defensive position number of the batter advancing the runner. So, if Rich Rollins went from first to third on a single by right-fielder Bob Allison, I mark Rollins’s advancement and put 9 in the area for third base. If Rollins had stolen second with Allison up, I’d put in SB9. Yeah, it can get confusing if a player switches positions during the game, but it works. I know some people, instead of a player’s defensive number, use his number in the batting order. Whatever works, but in my opinion, there should be something to indicate baserunner advancement.

When I was a kid, my dad had the Official Baseball Guides by The Sporting News. I loved the play-by-play that was included for the All-Star Game and World Series games. I’d enter the games in my scorebook, and I wanted to make sure that, when I was done, I could replicate the entire play-by-play as it had been listed in the Guide. This could include marking if a hit was a ground ball or line drive. I think I got that from the instructions for keeping score that came with the Wilson scorebook, which was my favorite. For no particular reason, Wilson said to put a line under the diamond if it was a ground ball and a carat if it was a line drive.

I’m sure I kept score sometimes in the program you could buy at the ballpark, but I preferred having my own scorebook. A lot of people liked the C. S. Peterson scorebook, especially since it showed all the defensive positions by number, but I found it a little too busy and preferred the cleaner look of the scorebook from Wilson Sporting Goods. And there was still room to mark balls and strikes (and two-strike fouls so you could have a complete pitch count). Eventually I designed my own scoresheet. The scoresheets go into a folder when I’m done.

When Retrosheet was getting started, I made copies out of my scorebooks from the 1960s and sent them to Dave Smith. Retrosheet might have had this information anyway, but I hope it helped. One thing I was able to provide Dave was the play-by-play of a partial inning erased by rain in an August 25, 1975 Houston at St. Louis game. The game was tied 3-3 when Cliff Johnson homered (the sixth straight game in which he had homered) off Bob Gibson in the top of the 11th. However, the game was called by rain with two out in the last of the 11th, and, under rules of the time, the score reverted to the last full inning. Everything that had happened in the 11th was wiped out and lost to history, but fortunately I had it in my scorebook. (Johnson’s home run, of course, was erased, and his home-run streak ended.)

Before I bought my Wilson scorebook, my dad drew some lines in a spiral notebook so I could keep score of a June 23, 1963 Baltimore at Minnesota game. I’m glad I was able to find that sheet, which I’m including below. It’s a little choppy, but you can probably track the entire play-by-play from it (the image of this scoresheet is below).

I love keeping score.

Article from The Sporting News

(Click image to enlarge.)


Go to Top

Interview with Ben Trittipoe
John McMurray of the SABR Oral History Committee recently interviewed Ben Trittipoe, who has been an official scorer for the Washington Nationals since 2005 and the minor-league Potomac Nationals/Cannons since 2003. Ben has also worked for the athletic departments of Shippensburg University, George Mason University, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, amid an extensive career as a sports journalist.

John posted the audio of this interview on the Oral History Committee site, and it is also available on the site for the Official Scoring Committee. Click on the link below to listen to the interview (MP3):


Go to Top

Guest Column
My Life as a Stringer, by Alan Cohen

After 40 years in my day job as an insurance underwriter, I retired in 2011 and began my second career as a baseball researcher. I also looked to find work with our local minor league club, the New Britain Rock Cats. In 2013, I made my way to the press box as a stringer. (The official, but rarely-used term, for this job is datacaster.)

What does a stringer do? This job is relatively new and is a child of the computer age. Since baseball became organized, box scores have appeared in various journals. These were compiled by the official scorers. With the need for more and more data, not play by play, but pitch by pitch, computer programs have been devised allowing for the coding of each pitch. This coding is done by stringers.

Stringers first started appearing at major league games around the turn of the century. The early computer programs came with a coding seemingly devised by the Marquis de Sade on a bad day. The name of the program is “The Client.” This was a term with which I was familiar from my day job days but is unlike any client I ever had. The program was expanded to the minor leagues starting in 2006.

Before I began my work in 2013 (the second season that the Rock Cats were using the system), I went through training on my computer at home. Sean Geraghty, who is the senior manager for stats at Major League Baseball (MLB), sent me some sample games and I had to code the various plays. He also sent me the “MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM, often referred to as BAM) Datacaster Handbook,” 87 pages of gruesome detail on what I would be doing from the time I entered the press box until the time I left the ballpark. I would, on occasion, leave the ballpark after mostly everyone else, including the guy who turned out the lights.

On the day of a game, the stringer is one of the first arrivals at the ballpark. He or she picks up the starting lineups, checks for any roster changes (they must be phoned in), and enters the lineups into the computer system. Then comes a bit of waiting, as the support staff (each stringer has a support person) will instant message you to see if you are ready. At that point you connect to the network. Seemingly everything is tracked from the weather to the umpires to the time when the pitchers start warming up. During the game, they even track pickoff throws and visits to the mound. By the time that “Play Ball” is shouted, the official scorer has taken his or her place next to the stringer, and the partnership between us is vital to the success of this venture. For example, as we enter balls and strikes, it is best that everyone from the scoreboard operator to the stringer to the announcer be in synch. This is not always the case. On occasion, I would have count as 1-2 and hear the announcer say it is 2-1. I would then glance at the official scorer who would occasionally say, “Don’t listen to that man behind the curtain.”

On a good night, there will be little communication between the stringer and the support person. Those nights are relatively rare. Something always seems to come up. Not all the coding is simple. A routine grounder to shortstop is 63/G, but if errors or multiple fielders are involved, things can get complicated. We had a cheat sheet that provided for every contingency. The coding complexities could make for some time-consuming data entries. For example, with a runner on first base, the batter hits a fly ball to left field that falls in for a single. The left fielder than commits a throwing error, allowing the runner to score and the batter to advance to third base. The code is S7/F.1-H(E7/TH); B-3. Of course, while the stronger is entering this, play continues the field, and it is not uncommon for the stringer to miss a couple of pitches. There are times when the official scorer will reverse a call, resulting in the need to “back-edit” a play. Also, when substitutions are made, they may not be noticed right away. Of course, if a left hander is in the outfield in lieu of a right hander, we know that there has been a replacement. We just hope that the new guy can turn around so we can see his number. And occasionally the support person, seeing an unusual coding, will ask, “Did that really happen?”

Between the 2014 and 2015 seasons there were significant changes to the computer program, which have made life easier. After I had become a veritable wizard at coding, they did away with the coding and devised a program where through the wonder of a mousepad, one could follow the path of a play, and check various boxes to indicate things like errors and double plays. Also, instead of there being a separate loadable computer program, the client is now just a link away on the internet with real spiffy graphics. Updates to the program are done continuously and when we log on, the changes are uploaded at the touch of a button.

As I mentioned earlier, there is generally not much chatter between the stringer and the support person during a game. Often one support person will be handling several games at once. Of course, after a while we do get to be friendly with each other and during the dead time, we can message back and forth about the food in the press box and the weather, but generally it is all business. With the new system, all editing is done by the support person and the horror of the stringer being several innings behind is, for the most part, a thing of the past. A little green box appears on the screen indicating all changes are made, and I am good to go.

The stringer, like seemingly everyone else in the press box, keeps score the good old-fashioned way. This is particularly important as we track at-bats by number and may have to make changes. I mentioned, earlier in this piece, that I was among the last to leave the ballpark. After the game is complete, there is printed a computer-generated box score based on my entries. The official scorer reviews this to make sure that the numbers in the box score, especially total hits and errors, are consistent with his or her numbers. Once we are all in agreement, I hit “Send Final,” and the box score is released to the baseball universe. NOT SO FAST! On one evening (it has happened more than once) as I and the official scorer were making our way out of the press box, we were intercepted by the media director. The team manager had looked over the box score and wanted us to change a hit to an error. (This decision is up to the official scorer, but often the scorer will consult with the stringer.) If it is deemed a change is to be made, I send an email to MLB scoring and the change is made. Then we leave.

You never know who you will encounter in the press box. One rainy evening, the pitchers charting the game came in out of the rain. The scouts would come up before the game to partake in the food that was available. They told some great stories. There were the radio and public address announcers, team officials and even, on occasion, the sportswriters from the local newspapers. There was the time, in 2014, when our new general manager came by to say “hello.” He had really come up to say that my car had been hit in the parking lot.

In all, it has been a fun gig.

Go to Top


Obstruction: Error or Not?
Jim Wohlenhaus submitted the following article from the May 25, 1963 (page 10) The Sporting News:

Scoresheet from 6-23-1963 Baltimore at Minnesota game

(Click image to enlarge.)


Note (from Thornley):
Rule 10.13 (f) in the 1963 Rule Book: “When an umpire awards the batter or any runner or runners one or more bases because of interference or obstruction, charge the fielder who committed the interference or obstruction with one error, no matter how many bases the batter, or runner or runners, may be advanced.”

The current rules include this comment: The official scorer shall not charge an error if obstruction does not change the play, in the opinion of the scorer.

We have talked about this in our official scorer meetings. If a player is in a rundown and is awarded the following base because he was obstructed, then we will charge the obstructing player with an error. The runner should have been out, so the obstruction changed the outcome.

Larker would have scored if not for the obstruction; that was the judgment of Doug Harvey, indicated by his awarding of home to Larker (who should have still run hard and not assumed obstruction would be called). Under today’s rules, no error would be charged, and the batter is credited with what he would have credited with if there had been no obstruction: no at-bat, sacrifice fly, run batted in. Does a technical interpretation of the 1963 rules support an error, as The Sporting News contends? Even without the comment, it could be argued that Doug Harvey did not “award” a base to Larker but merely removed the effect of the obstruction.

These plays happen once in a while. One, in the 2013 World Series, ended a game. Allen Craig was obstructed by Will Middlebrooks at third as Craig tried to get up and score on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s wild throw. Craig was thrown out at the plate but then awarded the plate because of the obstruction. The error was charged to Middlebrooks (and has stuck and will be there forever after). Many of us (official scorers) maintain the error should be on Saltalamacchia. If not obstruction—in the judgment of the umpires, indicated by their awarding home to Craig—then Craig would have scored it would have been the result of Saltalamacchia’s wild throw.

Consider if Craig had tried to score from second on a base hit, was obstructed at third, thrown out at home but awarded home on the obstruction. The batter would get an RBI. It would be treated as though Craig would have scored on the single. I can cite similar instances of this where there was no error and their was an RBI. The same principle applies with Craig scoring on a wild throw.

The awarding of a base because of obstruction is not a “penalty” in the sense of, for example, a balk that incurs a penalty of one base for each runner. It is determining what would have happened if the obstruction had not occurred.

It’s the same thing as fan interference. Normally the umpires give two bases all around, but they can determine that a runner from first would have scored if not for the interference (this happened in the 2003 All-Star Game — see below for Retrosheet play-by-play). The batter, of course, gets an RBI.

HASEGAWA REPLACED MOYER (PITCHING); Sheffield walked; Helton homered [Sheffield scored]; Rolen singled to right; Lopez flied to center; Vidro was called out on strikes; FURCAL BATTED FOR RENTERIA; Furcal singled to center [Rolen to second]; GUARDADO REPLACED HASEGAWA (PITCHING); JONES BATTED FOR EDMONDS; Jones doubled [Rolen scored, Furcal scored]; fan interference in LF corner; Rafael Furcal awarded HP; AL manager Mike Scioscia argued call on 2nd run; Pujols singled to left [Jones scored]; infield shifted; Bonds grounded out (first unassisted); 5 R, 5 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. National League 5, American League 1.

The Sporting News article has been added to the “Articles” file in the Official Scoring Committee Files within the committee website.

Go to Top


When Did Official Scoring Become an Issue in a Seinfeld Episode?
“The Wink” aired October 12, 1995. Kramer has to get a card signed by the Yankees from a kid named Bobby in the hospital. Bobby agrees to give the card to Kramer if his favorite player, Paul O’Neill, hits two home runs in the next game. Kramer watches the game with Bobby, and O’Neill homers his first time up. Late in the game, O’Neill hits a drive into the gap and makes it all the way around for an inside-the-park home run, his second homer of the game.

However, as Kramer is taking the card from Bobby, the television announcer says that the official scorer was ruling it a triple and an error on the shortstop for his wild relay to the plate. (Now that would be a strange call, wouldn’t it?) Kramer is still able to get the card back but only with the promise that in the next game O’Neill will catch a fly ball with his hat.

Check out Kramer asking O’Neill to hit a pair of dingers: Paul O’Neill on Seinfeld

Go to Top


Conundrum Answer
Single. Unless a batter hits a home run out of the playing field, the batter can be credited with only as many bases as are advanced by the runner who scores the game-ending run. This is the case even with an automatic extra-base hit.

Rule 9.06(f): Subject to the provisions of Rule 9.06(g), when a batter ends a game with a safe hit that drives in as many runs as are necessary to put his team in the lead, the official scorer shall credit such batter with only as many bases on his hit as are advanced by the runner who scores the winning run, and then only if the batter runs out his hit for as many bases as are advanced by the runner who scores the winning run.

Rule 9.06(f) Comment: The official scorer shall apply this rule even when the batter is theoretically entitled to more bases because of being awarded an “automatic” extra-base hit under various provisions of Rules 6.09 and 7.05.

Go to Top



Stew Thornley—(Chair and Newsletter Editor)
David Vincent—(Vice Chair)
Marlene Vogelsang—(Vice Chair)
Gabriel Schechter—(Vice Chair)
John McMurray—(Vice Chair and Liaison to the Oral History Research Committee)
Art Mugalian—(Assistant to the Traveling Secretary)

Go to Top

© SABR. All Rights Reserved