A distinction often is made between participant and spectator sports, but the line between them needn’t be as firm as it’s usually drawn. For instance, horse racing is a participant sport in my book because without betting there’s no racing, and anyone who takes the trouble to bet intelligently is participating, even though he doesn’t get manure on his shoes doing it.
Similarly, one can participate in baseball from the stands by keeping score, or, more precisely, keeping a scorecard. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and it’s one of the main things that draws me to the game. With pen or pencil in hand, I not only record each play but also describe and evaluate it. Indeed, in some hands scoring can approach art, and if the artist usually is the sole appreciator of the work, much of art is like that.
It’s worth noting, I think, that of our Big Three sports (baseball, football and basketball) baseball is the only one that offers the evaluator role to its fans. Every ballpark in the land has scorecards for sale, and a fair number (albeit, sadly, a shrinking one) of people use them.
You can buy scorebooks for basketball, and I used one as a young reporter who had to produce his own box scores for high school games. Eventually I became a pretty fair hand at it. But the hectic pace of most games pretty well precludes their employment by the folks in the stands.
There’s no standard way to keep track of football action, leaving everyone in the press boxes to his own devices. I had my own play-by-play format, using players’ uniform numbers and abbreviations, but the product served mainly to tide me over until the home team distributed its official, spelled-out sheets. I’ve never seen a football fan even try this.
Baseball lends itself particularly to scorecard keeping because of its leisurely tempo and static player positioning. Its basis is a system that assigns a number to each player on the field, to be used when he figures in a play. Pitcher is 1, catcher is 2, first baseman 3, second baseman 4, third baseman 5, shortstop 6, left fielder 7, center fielder 8 and right fielder 9. A shortstop-to-first groundout is recorded as 6-3, a routine fly ball to the left fielder as a 7.
Hits normally are inscribed by tracing the outline of a diamond with each base advanced; some score sheets come with faintly outlined diamonds in each box to facilitate that process. An extra fillip, which I use, involves noting to which field a hit was made; for instance, I record a single to center as /8. If you want to be more detailed you can note whether the hit was a line drive (8L), grounder (8G) or bloop (8B).
One way of scoring a home run is to trace the full outline of the diamond and either fill it in or put a dot in its center. I circle the letters HR and add the number of the field to which it was hit (e.g, HR9). I find that it stands out better that way.
Additional standard symbols come into play. “E” is for an error, “W” for a walk, “IW” for an intentional walk, SB for a stolen base, HB for a hit batsman, U for an unassisted putout and “K” for a strikeout. That last thing was the invention of Henry Chadwick, an early baseball writer and historian, who thought that “K” was the most prominent letter in the word strikeout. Many scorekeepers use a straight “K” for a swinging strikeout and a backward version of the letter when strike three is called. Alternatively, you can score them as Ks or Kc.
There’s plenty of room in scoring for creativity and individuality. I reward a particularly good fielding play with a star or an asterisk; others use an exclamation point. If a fly ball is deep, I score it, say, 7D. If it’s to the warning track it’s 7WT, or to the wall 7W.
If you think a batter reached base on an error, and the official scorer gives him a hit (that happens quite a lot), you can mark the play with a question mark or just go ahead and record an error. It’s your card, so why not?
When Phil Rizzuto, the old Yankee broadcaster, went off on one of his tangents, he marked the boxes of the batters he missed with the notation “WW,” for “wasn’t watching.” He had a lot of those.
Back in the day, getting a proper scorecard was easy; I recall that the Cubs used to sell a really good one—large and made of sturdy cardboard—for 15 cents. Having lived in Arizona for the last 15 years, I haven’t been to Wrigley Field lately, but they probably don’t do that anymore. I’ve noticed that some parks now offer score sheets only in ad-filled, slick-papered programs that are bulky, hard to write on and sell for several bucks, so I’ve bought by own scorebook and take it with me to games. I know that’s nerdy, but I don’t care.
A main advantage of scorekeeping is that it keeps your attention on the field, where it belongs. With all the distractions today’s game offers, that can be hard to do. I once asked Jerome Holtzman, the great baseball writer, if he ever got bored covering a couple hundred games a year, year in and year out. “When I get bored with baseball I watch the game,” he replied.