Official Scorer’s Goodby : It’s So Long to Headaches Caused by Job; Farewell to Press Boxes and Cold Shoulders
After seven years of being a part-time employee of the National and American leagues, it’s time to hang it up. I have scored my last game for major league baseball. So long, it’s been nice.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the official scoring duties were the exclusive domain of baseball beat writers. Beat is the right word. Too many beatings by high-salaried players with incentive clauses caused newspapers to ban their supposedly scrupulous writers from handling the chores.
Beginning in 1987, baseball will hire its own scorers.
So after 300 games, it’s time for me to say farewell. They won’t retire my pencil or eraser; no speeches, no gold watch, no fanfare, no thanks.
Official scoring used to be an art. Maybe it still is.
It requires a knowledge of the rulebook, something I discovered many players and managers don’t even own. Moreover, it requires a thick skin.
The ancedotes from the days of a scorer for both leagues are intriguing only because they show where the game has gone in the 1980s.
In 1980, former Chicago Cubs first-baseman Bill Buckner hit a routine grounder back to the mound. Randy Jones of the New York Mets, always a slick fielder, couldn’t handle it. Buckner safe. A simple E-1, right? After the game, Buckner confronted me.
“Have you ever played baseball?” Buckner asked.
How could he have known about my Little League pitching days in Clayton, Mo.?
“Sure,” I said.
“Well, you don’t know (many expletives deleted) and don’t come around my locker anymore,” Buckner said. “Go ask Randy Jones. He’ll tell you it was a hit.”
Sure he will. Why admit to an error unless it’s his earned run average at stake?
Well, that would have been the end of it except Buckner was involved in a tight race for the batting crown that year. Was my depriving him of a hit going to cost him the title in favor of the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez? Nope, Buckner won it without my help.
In 1981 at Comiskey Park, Pete Vuckovich was pitching for Milwaukee, having been acquired from St. Louis. In the third inning, I gave a hit to a White Sox batter. Nine runs came in, all charged to him.
Harry Dalton came down to me and politely asked, “Wouldn’t you like to change that hit to an error?” Why would he want me to charge a Brewer with an error?
It dawned on me, weeks later, the reason Dalton wanted a Brewer error was to preserve Vuckovich’s ERA, making the trade look all the sweeter.
Last year, the running St. Louis Cardinals had runners on first and second, Willie McGee and Vince Coleman. Double steal. Easy call, right? Except Coleman overslides the bag at third and gets caught in a rundown and eventually scores, McGee to third.
When in doubt you call Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Bureau. All I could get was, “Hmmm, have to call you back.” Thirty-minutes later, the call came.
“Got to be a double double steal,” they say.
Sounded to me like an order at Burger King but I went ahead and announced it.
After the game, St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog, who should have been thrilled with the call, said I didn’t know what I was talking about.
At the World Series, he came up to me.
“I was wrong. You made the right call. I didn’t know that when someone is in a rundown and advances, it’s a stolen base, not a fielder’s choice,” he says.
I never scored a no-hitter, although that usually is the fear all scorers have. Not so with a perfect game. That’s the easiest one in the book to score. No calls are made.
Some parks are scorers’ headaches. Wrigley Field on a windy day with a high sky. Wrigley Field when the Cubs have a lousy team. Wrigley Field when it’s so dark you can’t see left field.
Some players and teams are headaches. You can tell when a club is ready to go into the dumper when, after the game, they all want to know who the official scorer is rather than bask in the glow of a 14-1 win.
Blake Cullen, the National League umpire supervisor, has won me over. It’s time for the leagues to hire full-time scorers to judge the game.
“It’s simpler and fairer,” says Cullen, who must find the money in the budget to pay for such a luxury.
However, one thing that has remained the same. No official scorer has ever won or lost a game for any team in baseball. Not yet.
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