Hit or Error? : A Question of Judgment : Fans and Players Don’t Really Notice Official Scorers -- Until Controversy Arises Over One of Their Decisions


Two seasons ago, the baseball world was infuriated with official scorer Mark Frederickson, but it wasn’t because he had made a questionable call to give the Atlanta Braves their first no-hitter in 18 years.

And it wasn’t because Frederickson made that call with two out in the ninth inning.

And it wasn’t even because he gave Terry Pendleton an error on a high bouncer that Pendleton lost in the lights and never touched.


What still bothers people occurred after that game, around the lockers of the three pitchers who had combined on the no-hitter: Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena.

Frederickson was there with his scorecard and a pen.

He was asking for their autographs.

“I know, that was a no-no,” Frederickson said.

Actually, it wasn’t.

For the caretakers of baseball’s sacred scoring rules, there are no rules.

--They can drink on the job. And some do.

--They can “own” players in rotisserie leagues. And many do.

--They can fraternize with players. And many do.

--They can even score a major league game without having seen one before.

While that last scenario is unrealistic, consider the case of Howard Sinker, a writer who formerly covered the Minnesota Twins.

His first game as an official scorer was Game 1 of the 1987 World Series.


The people who determine players’ earned runs, hits and errors are unregulated, unsupervised, and, in some cases, unqualified.

“I find it ludicrous that there is so much riding on scoring calls . . . and the leagues pay so little attention to a scorer’s job,” said Wayne Monroe, longtime Dodger scorer who retired after last season.

Granted, since Henry Chadwick invented the box score in 1865, there have been certain scoring issues that the leagues will never be able to resolve.

Chiefly, was that ball a hit or an error?

Every season a scorer makes a controversial call that either makes history or makes somebody very angry.

“Because we are dealing with somebody’s judgment, there will always be disputes over calls, and there isn’t anything anybody can do about it,” said Seymour Siwoff, general manager of Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s statisticians.

In 1952, the story was Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers, who was given his second no-hitter that season after a ground single in the third inning was changed to an error in the seventh inning.

And this was before the invention of instant replay.

In 1979, the story was Dick Miller, then the scorer for the Angels, after he called an error on a sinking line drive to center field in the eighth inning of a potential no-hitter by Nolan Ryan.

In the press box, Miller was subjected to a verbal assault by Buzzie Bavasi, Angels executive vice president.

Last season, one of the many stories was the Dodgers. Their fielding was so bad, pitchers were calling the press box during games complaining that teammates weren’t being given enough errors.

There are a few things about this $75-per-game job, however, that are indisputable.

--Most scorers are hired strictly on the recommendations of local public-relations directors.

No experience necessary.

Only the National League administers a test, but it is an open-book exam.

“Only an idiot couldn’t pass it,” one scorer said.

Neither league requires even an eye exam, leaving baseball open to recent charges that a couple of aging scorers can no longer see.

And neither league has rules such as the one enforced by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America requiring a writer watch at least 100 games for three consecutive seasons before serving as a scorer.

Since the late 1970s, the rule has been mostly meaningless, because most sports editors have prohibited their writers from scoring because of the possibility that a scoring decision could become part of the story they were covering.

The league has been left to choose people who are, among other things, teachers, nursing home operators and librarians.

“If a P.R. guy tells me they have a guy who knows the rules, I trust him, because otherwise he would just be hurting his team,” said Phyllis Merhige, American League vice president of administration and media affairs.

“We still go by that old baseball writers rule,” said Rob Matwick, veteran public-relations director of the Houston Astros. “Maybe that’s why it’s always so hard to find people.”

Merhige has fired scorers, but she admitted that she has never turned a candidate down.

--Because scorers are essentially hired by publicity directors, they often feel indebted to them. Too often, critics say, scorers rely on team public-relations types to make calls.

“You officially work for the league, but, in reality, you work for the public-relations director,” said Steve Ellis, former Seattle Mariner scorer who resigned this season after eight years. “There is a pretty significant learning curve in this job, and you depend a lot on the public-relations director early on.”

Matwick disagreed.

“In fact, as part of the selection process for most P.R. guys, we look for people who can be impartial,” he said.

Ellis, a library consultant, finally resigned after being asked to take a lesser role by Merhige. She was responding to various complaints, which included a petition signed by the Mariner players asking for his removal.

While such complaints by players are not unusual, neither is the appearance that the scorer and home team are working together.

Merhige has formally requested that all American League scorers sit far away from the home public-relations director.

This followed similar action taken by writers in Kansas City in the mid-1980s, when they felt the scorer was allowing the publicity man to make every call.

The National League has no such rule.

So while Cincinnati scorer Glenn Sample sits in an isolated glass booth adjacent to the press box, he nonetheless shares that booth with public-address announcer Jon Braude . . . who also happens to be the Reds’ public-relations director.

“It is an understanding among players that the home scorer consistently gives the home team a break,” said Monroe, the former Dodger scorer. “I never subscribed to that theory myself, but after watching games on television, I can see what they are talking about.”

--Rotisserie leagues have become a favorite pastime for many of the league’s scorers. It has widened an already-large credibility gap.

“Sure, I get ribbed for being in fantasy leagues,” said Frederickson of Atlanta. “Guys say, ‘Man, you gave that guy a hit, you must have him on your team.’ But I don’t think it makes any difference.”

Of the eight scorers or former scorers interviewed for this story, four were in fantasy leagues during the time that they scored.

As the award money in these leagues increases--winning teams can collect several thousand dollars--some scorers believe it is only a matter of time before one call makes a difference.

“The scenario is out there waiting to happen,” said Sinker, who was in a “small-time” fantasy league during one of his seasons as scorer. “If an official scorer can make more money off a borderline call than he will make scoring the entire season . . . Just think about it. The temptation is there.”

Ed Munson, longtime scorer for the Angels, agreed, saying: “Being in fantasy leagues is a direct conflict of interest.”

Siwoff, however, said he has no problems with scorers in fantasy leagues.

“It is very difficult to be predisposed to making a call a certain way when your own vanity is at stake,” he said. “If you make an outrageous call, you are going to hear about it. It becomes a matter of pride.”

--There is no evaluation process for scorers.

Monroe said that not once during his 13 years was he checked by the league.

“I heard from them at the beginning of every season with a letter certifying me as a scorer, then at the end of the season with my check,” Monroe said.

Several years ago, when Monroe suggested that baseball purchase and distribute a book about interesting problems faced by scorers, he was told to buy it himself.

“I used to say it would be great if all the scorers got together at the All-Star game for a seminar,” Monroe said. “We could discuss things like, how do you handle fly ball lost in the sun? But the league ignored me.”

Munson of the Angels was one of three scorers picked to test a teaching video for scorers several years ago. But the three did not agree on many of the tricky plays. The video was never funded.

“We’ve discussed seminars, handbooks, films . . . but they just weren’t cost effective,” said Katy Feeney, National League vice president for media and public affairs. “Judgment is just not an easy thing to teach. Errors are often just a matter of opinion. And in the end, it usually all balances out.”

Monroe said the only advice he received was from former scorer Gordon Verrell, longtime Dodger beat writer with the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

“Gordie told me the only two things that he was ever told--know the rules and watch the game,” Monroe said. “You can’t believe how many people doing this are unqualified to do it. There is a saying among scorers now: The league doesn’t care how you call the game as long as you get the paperwork in on time.”

--The league does not monitor a scorer’s behavior, including drinking and socializing with players.

“Sure, I’ve had a couple of drinks during a game,” Monroe said.

It has become legendary that several important scoring calls in baseball history were made by a scorer who was drunk at the time.

“If I found a guy who had a fifth hidden away by his press seat, sure, I would do something about it,” Merhige said.

Just as worrisome, critics say, are scorers who are close friends with team members.

This potential problem arose at Dodger Stadium last season when KMPC radio reporter Larry Kahn, longtime friend of several Dodgers (including Tom Lasorda), became a scorer.

In fact, Kahn admits that after games, he sometimes asks Lasorda’s opinion of close calls. But he says he has never changed a call.

Kahn said he became a scorer because he saw too many scorers who let personalities influence judgment.

He remembers once informing a scorer in St. Louis that infielder Lenny Harris admitted he should have caught a ground ball that was ruled a hit, costing pitcher Roger McDowell several earned runs.

“The guy refused to even listen to me,” Kahn said. “He said, ‘I don’t care, McDowell was terrible, he deserved those runs.’ ”

Several proposals have been made as potential solutions to baseball’s scoring problems, but baseball remains unmoved.

One was that a fifth umpire would be added to every crew. That umpire would serve as the scorer.

“Umpiring and scoring are entirely different things,” Feeney said. “I’m not sure we want an umpire ruling hit or error one day, then working down there on the field the next day calling safe and out.”

Another solution would be to hire professional scorers who travel like umpires.

“That might solve what is perceived to be the problem,” Merhige said. “But there would still be the same conflicts.”

Several scorers think they know the biggest problem.

“The bottom line is, baseball is too cheap,” said John Hickey, veteran beat writer and part-time scorer for the Oakland Athletics. “That is why there are some scorers in this league are who absolute jokes.”

Said Sinker: “Baseball, basically, gets what it pays for.”

In the long run, the cost may be much higher.

“Scoring may be just a small part of the game,” Sinker said. “But it is a small part of the game’s integrity.”

You Make the Call

A look at the open-book screening quiz for official scorers in the National League:

* 1. An official scorer has 48 hours from the conclusion of the game to make a scoring decision. TRUE or FALSE.

* 2. If a player bats out of turn and is put out, and the proper batter is called out before the ball is pitched to the next batter, how is the play scored?

* 3. If a regulation game is forfeited, are any records of individuals included?

* 4. With the bases loaded, player “Smith” is at bat. He is awarded first on catcher’s interference. Does “Smith” get an RBI?

* 5. Batter “Smith” hits a fair ball and overruns second base. He is tagged out returning to second. Is he given credit for a double or a single?

* 6. Runner on first is running before pitcher delivers the pitch. Ball bounces on plate and goes to the screen. Runner winds up on third. How is play scored?

* 7. How do you “prove” a box score?

* 8. Runner “Smith” on first attempts to steal second. The throw from the catcher has him beat. However, the shortstop covering second drops the throw and runner is ruled safe. Give all the scoring rules that are involved.

* 9. In the event a batter is called out for refusing to touch first base after receiving a base on balls, what is the scoring?

* 10. Can a pitcher ever receive an assist on a strikeout?

* 11. With one out and a runner on third, batter hits a fly ball to left. It is caught. Runner on third breaks for the plate and beats the throw. Time is called. Ball is returned to the pitcher. An appeal is made at third and upheld. Runner is called out for leaving too soon. Is this considered a double play?

* 12. An infielder must touch a ball to be charged with an error. TRUE or FALSE?

* 13. On an attempted steal of second, the catcher’s throw sails over the base, no one covers and runner advances to third. Is any error charged? If so, to whom?

* 14. On the “second end” of a double play (if the out is made at second), can an error ever be scored, if there is no advance?

* 15. With two strikes, the batter attempts to bunt, resulting in a foul pop caught by the third baseman. Does the pitcher get credit for a strikeout?

* 16. With a 3-and-2 count, a batter is substituted for. The next pitch is ball four. Who gets credit for the walk, the original batter or the sub?

* 17. Is there any circumstance in which a starting pitcher can pitch fewer than five innings and get credit for a victory?

* 18. In a 14-2 final score, there is no way a save can be credited. TRUE or FALSE?

Quiz Answers

* 1. False. The official scorer must make all changes on judgment calls within 24 hours after a game.

* 2. Charge the proper batter with a time at-bat and score putout and assists the same as if the current order had been followed.

* 3. Yes, the records of all actions up to the time of the forfeit count.

* 4. Yes.

* 5. Double.

* 6. Stolen base, wild pitch.

* 7. The total of the team’s times at-bat, bases on balls received, hit batters, sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies and batters awarded first base because of interference or obstruction must equal the total of that team’s runs, players left on base and opposing team’s putouts.

* 8. Caught stealing, error on shortstop, assist to the catcher.

* 9. Putout for the catcher, no walk.

* 10. Yes, if a pitcher fields an uncaught third strike and throws it for a putout.

* 11. Yes.

* 12. False. If a ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs or a pop fly falls untouched and in the scorer’s judgment the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, an error shall be charged.

* 13. An error is charged to the fielder who, in the scorer’s estimation, should have been covering the base. (Most scorers use the axiom that a second baseman should cover when a right-handed hitter is batting, and a shortstop should cover when a left-handed hitter is batting.)

* 14. An error is scored if the fielder making the putout drops the ball. The fielder making the throw receives an assist.

* 15. No. The play is ruled a foul out, with the third baseman receiving the putout.

* 16. Substitute batter.

* 17. No.

* 18. False. A pitcher can be credited with a save if he pitches effectively for three innings, as long as he finishes the game and is not the winning pitcher.