The Pressure Is Increasing for Baseball’s Official Scorers
One of baseball’s beloved bromides advises us the best umpires are the ones we don’t notice, and the same can be said of official scorers.
Next to an umpire’s questionable call, there is nothing in the game that will give a player a case of the galloping hots quicker than a questionable call by a scorer.
While scorers do not determine the outcome of games, they directly affect baseball’s lifeblood -- its vital statistics -- by determining hits, errors, earned-run averages and winning and losing pitchers. Their calls can influence hitting and fielding streaks, batting titles, no-hit games. In turn, these can determine whether a player wins a Cy Young Award or Triple Crown, or even if his name is placed in the Hall of Fame.
Intensifying the adversarial climate is this era of lucrative incentive clauses and salary arbitrations based on individual statistics. Players have submerged team goals beneath a growing me-first attitude.
“Definitely, there is more pressure being a scorer today because of all the big money tied to personal stats,” said Red Foley, who has been scoring 80 to 90 Yankees and Mets games a year since 1980, more than anyone else in the country.
Foley, a retired baseball writer who worked for 35 years at the New York Daily News, has been at it more than two decades. His credits include three World Series and three All-Star Games.
“I can’t remember the last time I changed a call,” said Foley, considered one of the best. “My first judgment is usually the right one. I don’t make incorrect calls, I make unpopular ones. These are judgment calls and I don’t have to explain judgment calls any more than an umpire does.”
Why are the players’ nerves so touchy? Scoring decisions, which may take away five hits from 500 at-bats, can reduce a .300 average to .290. Five more debatable earned runs in 200 innings pitched can inflate an ERA 23 points, from 2.25 to 2.48.
On every either-or, 50-50 decision by the scorer, somebody is going to get steamed. A manager trying to impress a player will sometimes attack a scoring decision on the player’s behalf. Hitting and pitching coaches take sides, believing their jobs ride on the hits and ERAs of their pupils.
During a game, the scorer is as near as his phone from an outraged player in the dugout. “I don’t take phone calls from players,” said Foley.
Television’s instant replay has been both a help and hindrance within the system. “It gives you another angle on a call, but my mind is usually made up before I watch it,” Foley continued.
Players, who should be more concerned about the outcome of the contest, use videotape during the game to critique scoring calls that went against them. Armed with taped replay and supportive teammates, they can launch a debate with the scorer coming to the clubhouse for post-game interviews.
“That’s where I have an advantage,” said Foley, “I’m not writing. I don’t have to go down there unless I want to. And I can’t be intimidated by them like a scoring beat writer.”
Many sports editors have decreed their writers cannot score because such arguments get in the way of reporting the game and because being paid by the leagues for scoring, in effect, places them on the payroll of the the sport they’re covering. For instance, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald and The Cmurant do not allow their writers to score.
Charlie Scoggins, veteran baseball writer for the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, scores Red Sox games. He disagrees it is a conflict of interest and interferes with his job.
“I concentrate more on every play when I’m scoring,” said Scoggins. “You have more problems with players because of what you write. Actually, discussing a scoring call is the only way some (Sox) players will talk with you. The only conflict of interest I’ve come across was with a big-money Rotisserie League. When I gave a Toronto pitcher a victory, I was accused of being in collusion with my brother, Colin, who owned him in the fantasy league.”
But scoring baseball writers have become a dwindling breed in this decade. Baseball Writers Association of American members, who once did all the scoring, are on duty in only eight of the 26 major league ballparks. In recent years, active writers have been replaced by an Oriental rug dealer, real-estate broker, liquor-store owner, driver-training instructor, sandlot umpires and baseball coaches and a retired firefighter.
Mike Lefkow of the Contra Costa Times, in his first season scoring San Francisco Giants games, was urged by the Philadelphia Phillies front office to change an error to a hit in what became Mike Schmidt’s last at-bat before retiring. Lefkow refused.
The story hit the national wire, and he has decided to quit scoring after this season. “I feel I should be writing the news, not making it,” he said. “There is no way to avoid making news today as an official scorer.”
Although both leagues discourage scorer-baiting, players continue to make obscene gestures from the field and sometimes get physical. Years ago, Reds second baseman Johnny Temple socked Cincinnati scorer Earl Lawson on the nose for charging him with a fielding error. When Bob Considine deprived Washington Senators first baseman Joey Kuhel of a hit, he stormed the press box and threw a punch at the wrong man, Shirley Povich of the Wcshington Post. It was another error for Kuhel.
Scorers receive $60 a game for making the calls and filling out a voluminous form they send to Elias Sports Bureau in New York, the record-keeping house for baseball. In the scorers’ views, they call the game and record it for free, the $60 hardly covering abuse from players, coaches, managers, club owners and even the fans. Once in Anaheim, Calif., when the crowd booed a decision, the scorer’s wife stood up and yelned to people around her to shut up, that her husband was the scorer. Then they booed her.
Scoggins has been screamed at in the press box by a publicist from a visiting team, who later apolgized. A former Red Sox second baseman threw a can of beer at him. The player didn’t apologize.
“Players like to test you to see if they can intimidate you,” said Scoggins. His rulings in a game against Toronto a few years ago cost Dave Stieb the ERA title. “He tried to get me to change a hit to an errop. The Sox scored six cheap runs on chop hits, but they were all earned runs.”
Scoggins has been phoned by whining player agents, begging him to change a decision that was going to cost the agent’s client money. Any scoring adjustment not made within 24 hours cannot be changed by God or the commissioner himself.
“I consider it a good year if I feel I have to change only a couple calls,” said Scoggins.
There have been some memorable reversals. Ernie Koo’ of the St. Louis Browns was handed a no-hitter when an early-inning hit was changed to an error. In 1952, Virgil Trucks’ one-hitter was changed to a no-hitter in the sixth inning. On the final day of the 1945 season, a New York scorer changed an error into a hit, allowing Yankee Snuffy Stirnweiss to edge Chicago’s Tony Cuccinello for the batting title. A year later, an error was changed to a hit giving Mickey Vernon the batting title by one point over Cleveland’s Al Rosen.
Favoritism by home scorers can taint the system. A few years ago, a St. Louis scorer ruled a hard-hit grounder between short and third was an error in the eighth inning. Cardinals pitcher Bob Forsch went on to pitch a no-hitter. Another time, a California scorer ruled a hit to center an error to keep Nolan Ryan’s no-hitter alive. Both castigated scorers became national stories. A survey revealed more than 70 percent of baseball’s no-hitters have been pitched in the home park.
“Players come crying to me that they should get a break at home,” said Foley, adding that players believe decisions usually go against them on the road. “I pride myself on being consistent. Being consistent is the key to good umpiring and scoring.”
Each major league team selects the scorers in its city and submits their names to the league offices for approval. To qualify, one must see 100 games for three consecutive seasons. The question of whether writers should double as scorers has gone unanswered’for 25 years. Clearly, however, scoring members of the BBWAA are going the way of the dodo bird.
Umpires have been lobbying for a five-man crew, the fifth ump to serve as official scorer. Hiring full-time teams of traveling scorers would cost both leagues a mountain of money, and there is no guarantee their judgment calls would be any better than the current lineup in the nation’s press boxes.
Some suggest a cadre of former players and coaches be trained with videotaped game situations and written exams. But favoritism would continue to exist and former pitchers would be favoring pitchers and former hitters would be favoring hitters.
The problems of official scoring have long been identified, but a solution continues to be lost in the sun like a high fly ball that’s still up there, somewhere.
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