Judging THE Judges : Inconsistent Hiring, Training of Baseball’s Official Scorers Revive Charges of Home-Team Bias


As Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles closes in on the major league record for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop, his performances are being watched closely by Bill Stetka, a former baseball reporter who already has had a significant impact on the streak.

Serving as the official scorer in Baltimore, Stetka charged a leaping Ripken with an error for failing to bring down a relay throw from center fielder Mike Devereaux. That seemingly ended the streak at 67 games, five shy of Ed Brinkman’s American League record.

The next day, Stetka gave the error to Devereaux, preserving Ripken’s streak, which is at 83 games--five shy of the major league record held by Kevin Elster of the New York Mets.


“I probably change 10 to 12 calls a year,” Stetka said. “Sometimes it’s news and sometimes it isn’t, but my only concern is to get it right, which is what I felt I did in the Ripken case.

“People have called it a hometown decision, said I was trying to protect Ripken, that I was pressured into doing it, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

“If I had been pressured, I’d have quit on the spot. We get paid $65 a game as official scorers, and I’m not the first to say that $1 of that is for making the calls, $1 for filling out the paper work and $63 is for the grief.”

Grief comes with the job, as it does for umpires. The best scorers, like the best umpires, go about it quietly, anonymously, but at some point they are certain to hear from a manager, coach, player, agent, club official, fan or member of the media. They are certain to be second-guessed.

“Some years, no one knows we’re alive, but we’re not perfect, we’re not God,” said Bob Rosenberg, the official scorer at Chicago White Sox games. “I mean, no official scorer wants to be part of the story, but the nature of the job probably makes it inevitable.”

Rosenberg became part of the story recently when he made three pivotal calls that preserved the no-hitter pitched by Andy Hawkins of the New York Yankees in a 4-0 loss to the White Sox.

Scoring decisions are critical to statistics, salaries and the stuff of memories.

Take away five hits from 500 at-bats, and a .300 batting average becomes .290. Add five earned runs in a span of 200 innings, and an earned-run average rises from 2.50 to 2.73.

Statistics, it has been said, are the wheel on which baseball turns, but there are no defined criteria for picking the people who help establish those statistics through their scoring, and no system of schooling for them.

The role, for a half-century or more, was filled by active baseball reporters who covered 100 or more games for three consecutive years. Then, papers began to view the pay and the arguments as conflicts of interest. Reporters now serve as official scorers in only six of the 26 major league ballparks.

They have been replaced in recent years by a liquor store owner, a real estate broker, an Oriental rug dealer, a driver-training instructor, a retired fireman and a sandlot umpire, among others.

Stetka, the former Baltimore reporter, is now the alumni director at Towson State University in Maryland. Rosenberg, the scorer at Comiskey Park, is a statistician and scorer for several teams in Chicago.

Ed Munson, scorer for Angel home games, runs an advertising agency and was once the club’s publicity director. Wayne Monroe, who scores most of the games at Dodger Stadium, works for the Racing Form after previously reporting on sports at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Seymour Siwoff, head of the Elias News Bureau, which maintains baseball’s statistics, said he laments the current system of hiring scorers.

“Sure, there were isolated incidents when the writers did it, but looking at the total picture, it was a terrific system because you had a built-in roster of people who had seen lots of games,” Siwoff said.

“Now, I think baseball has a problem it hasn’t addressed. There’s no training and no backlog of potential scorers. We’ve had cases this year where the scorer wasn’t available and the club’s public relations man did it. I mean, that’s unacceptable.”

Some scoring aspects are defined by the rule book. Others are left to judgment. Players contend that there is no consistency, that home-team bias exists in some cities but not in others.

“The consistency varies greatly from city to city,” Ripken said at the All-Star game. “People say to me, ‘What do you care, you’re making all that money, it’s none of your business.’ Maybe that’s true, but I do care. A hit here and there does matter. I try not to worry about things I can’t control, but it’s only human nature to get upset. This is my career, my profession.”

Said Stetka: “When Terry Crowley was the hitting coach here, he used to call all the time and say things like, ‘Hey, we’re the home team, we should get that call,’ or, ‘Why don’t you give the kid a break, he’s a rookie.’

“Those things are at odds with the rule book and can’t have anything to do with the way you score. I think most of the Orioles would tell you they don’t consider me a friend and that I’m one of the toughest scorers in the league, but I actually get more complaints from people in rotisserie leagues than from the players.”

Nevertheless, scoring can prove to be a risk. Johnny Temple, the former Cincinnati Reds second baseman, once punched reporter Earl Lawson for charging him with an error. When Bob Considine deprived the Washington Senators’ Joey Kuhel of a hit, he stormed the press box and made yet another error by punching the wrong man, Shirley Povich of the Washington Post.

“Players like to test you to see if they can intimidate you,” said Charlie Scoggins, a veteran baseball reporter with the Lowell, Mass., Sun. He still acts as a scorer but says it isn’t a conflict because it forces him to watch the game more closely and generates conversation with players who wouldn’t talk to him otherwise.

One decision by Scoggins resulted in a publicist from a visiting team screaming at him in the press box. Another prompted a Red Sox player to throw a can of beer at him. He has been telephoned by whining player agents, begging him to change decisions that were going to cost their clients money. He was called by Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays, who asked that a hit be changed to an error, so that he wouldn’t lose the American League’s earned-run average title. Stieb apparently went into the clubhouse and calculated his ERA before picking up the phone.

Any scoring adjustment must be made within 24 hours. After that, it requires intervention by the league.

Most scorers acknowledge that replays have made it easier to get their call right the first time, but the pressure is greater because of the link between statistics and escalating salaries.

The Ripken reversal was merely the latest in a series of famous reversals.

In 1917, Ernie Koob of the St. Louis Browns pitched a no-hitter with the help of a generous scorekeeper who got caught in a streetcar tie-up and missed a first-inning hit he later ruled an error, based on the testimony of press box colleagues.

In 1952, Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers was credited with a no-hitter after an early inning hit was changed to an error in the sixth inning.

A New York scorer, on the final day of the 1945 season, changed an error to a hit, permitting Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees to edge the White Sox’s Tony Cuccinello for the batting title. One year later, in Washington, the Senators’ Mickey Vernon edged the Cleveland Indians’ Al Rosen for the batting title because of a similar change.

Former Oriole manager Earl Weaver, seeking to have a player credited with a single on a bunt that was clearly an error, called the press box and said: “I’m having trouble getting this guy to bunt. If you don’t give him a hit on that, I’ll never get him to bunt.”

There have been obscenities and obscene gestures directed at scorers. Chicago Cubs Manager Don Zimmer made an X-rated call to scorer Monroe at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago after Monroe did the unthinkable, justifiably charging Cub second baseman Ryne Sandberg with a throwing error. It was a no-win proposition for Monroe because Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia lost a run batted in on the call and also was upset.

Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda has called angrily. Steve Garvey, still in uniform, once made a personal visit to appeal a decision. Brian Downing of the Angels came charging into the press box at Anaheim Stadium to berate John Weyler of The Times after being erroneously told that a comment by Weyler influenced Munson to charge Downing with an error, ending his American League-record streak of errorless games by an outfielder.

Said Monroe: “I’ve been doing this for 11 years and am not as easily intimidated as I once was. I’m not going to accept abuse, but if someone calls and talks decently, I’ll listen, I’ll take another look.

“I want to do what’s right, and I don’t want to be known as a homer. I mean, in some cases the players have a legitimate gripe. They go on the road and see hometown decisions and expect the same thing here. It makes my job that much tougher. I was watching a game from New York recently in which the calls were so embarrassing that I called the (National) League office to complain.”

Players who criticize scorers may be losing sight of the main issue--which is winning and losing. That might be affected by an umpire’s decision but not by the ruling of an official scorer. But there are cases when a scoring decision is a lifetime thing.

Angel announcer Ken Brett recalls a 1976 game at Anaheim Stadium. It was late in his career, and Brett, pitching for the White Sox, was one out away from a no-hitter in a scoreless duel with the Angels when Jerry Remy hit a check-swing grounder toward third baseman Jorge Orta, a defensive liability. Orta got a late jump and the ball skipped under his glove. The late Don Merry, covering the game for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, called it a hit, the only hit in Brett’s 10-inning, 1-0 victory.

“The win somewhat paled compared to the potential no-hitter,” Brett said. “You come that close, you want it. It’s a piece of immortality. Everyone remembers a no-hitter, and I felt that was a makeable play.

“I was upset, and so were others. It’s impossible to forget.”

The strange thing about the Brett game is that many scorers believe that the first hit in a potential no-hitter has to be absolutely clean, free of doubt.

Rosenberg, who scored Hawkins’ no-hitter, said: “A hit is a hit. I mean, if I’m going to give an infield hit early in the game, I’m going to call it the same way late in the game. What’s the difference?”

Rosenberg called three errors in the eighth inning of Hawkins’ game, when the White Sox scored their four runs.

The first, on a grounder that third baseman Mike Blowers mishandled, caused some confusion when the scoreboard flashed hit.

“The Yankees were screaming at me from the dugout, and I hadn’t even made the call yet,” Rosenberg said. “There was a new scoreboard operator, and he put up hit, even though I was still watching the replay. I had no doubt about it. It was an error all the way.”

Stetka decided to review his initial decision on Ripken after an Oriole public relations official asked him to look at the play from different angles in a production truck. Those views, combined with subsequent conversations with the people involved, convinced Stetka he was wrong, though his pursuit of a right decision, he said, became comical.

“I was trying to talk to people, and I’ve got all these writers and cameras following me from one side of the field to the other,” he said. “I’ve been there, of course, as a reporter and PR man, but I wanted to say, ‘Give me some room; I’ve got to make a decision.’ ”

There are those who contend that scoring should be left to former umpires or players, with scorers working a geographical region rather than the same city, to do away with bias. Stetka said he puts up with the $63 worth of grief because he loves the game and wants to stay involved, but he agrees that the system isn’t good; that when the clubs are allowed to select the scorers, “it leads to the risk of hometown unevenness.”

The answer? “I don’t have one,” said Stetka, who had the right one as far as Cal Ripken Jr. was concerned.