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A youth scorekeeper’s ethical dilemma

It’s the bottom of the 5th inning, my son’s 10U team at bat. They’re up 5-3. The first five batters get on base, and three score. With runners at first and second, a passed ball to the half-inning’s sixth batter advances the runners. With a 1-2 count, the batter strikes out, but it’s another passed ball, and another run scores while a runner advances to third. Nine to three. The seventh batter grounds out to third base, but the runner on third scores. A batter walks, another singles, and we have runners on the corners as the tenth batter is up. My son, incidentally, is on deck. The tenth batter strikes out. So the inning’s over, right?

I’m a scorekeeper, so I’m looking at a record of all of this. There’s another dad who’s scoring the game also, using GameChanger on his smart phone. We both understand the half-inning to be over.

Yet the umpire seems to think there are two outs. So do the coaches for my son’s team, and the coaches for the opposing team. So, apparently, do all the opposing players. The opposing team has no scorekeeper. My son says that he thought there were three outs, and started to walk to the dugout, when the umpire called out “batter up”. My son’s coaches later explain that they forgot about the sixth batter’s strikeout–possibly because a run scored on the third strike, which got by the catcher. The same thing probably happened to the opposing coaches.

Thinking the inning was over, I had started to get up from my chair to stretch, and the other scorekeeper dad and I tried to figure out what was going on. I might have looked a bit more agitated than usual, but ultimately we just said nothing. My son took his turn at bat, and grounded out, and the inning was really over. The other team didn’t score in the 6th, and our team won 10-3.

The question is: should we have spoken up? There’s a sort of easy argument why we should have, something about following the rules and making everything fair. Anyone can make that argument. So I’ll discuss the reasons why we should not have spoken up.

First, as parent-scorekeepers, we’re in sort of an ambiguous position. We’re not appointed by the league, and we’re not even a part of the team; we’re there as spectators and fans, but are also keeping fair and honest scorebooks. In a professional game, there is only one scorekeeper, who is appointed by (and paid by) the league (Rule 9.01(a)), and is an “official representative” of the league (Rule 9.01(c)). But not so in youth baseball. The rules for our league only mention a “home scorebook,” and thus implicitly a visitors scorebook, but does not mention a scorekeeper. Rules for Little League refer to a scorekeeper, but do not mandate one, and never say how a scorekeeper is appointed. Rules for the Babe Ruth League mandate each team keep a scorebook, but make no mention of a scorekeeper.

But in the Official Baseball Rules, by which MLB play, there is only one circumstance in which the scorekeeper is to alert the umpire of a mistake: Rule 9.01(b)(2) says: “If the teams change sides before three men are put out, the official scorer shall immediately inform the umpire-in-chief of the mistake.” This was not the mistake that happened in my son’s game. Although Andres Wirkmaa notes that having an inning end with less than three outs would “cause havoc statistically and otherwise,” and this is a similar situation, it’s not the same. Wirkmann states that OBR Rule 9, about scorekeeping, makes it clear that “the scorer… is a passive observer.”

This is particularly relevant in the case of appeal plays. The rules of baseball in other situations require vigilance. There are three situations that can be called on appeal: a runner who missed a base, a runner who didn’t tag up, or a batter who is out of order. In these situations, the umpire does know whether the offensive player tagged or missed the bag, but very explicitly does not alert the defensive team about the opportunity to put the runner out. The umpire will call the runner out if the appeal is made, but if the defense throws a pitch to the next batter, then they’ve lost their chance and the play stands.

The case of the wrong batting order is much more likely to be noticed by the scorekeeper than an umpire, and to this end, the Official Rules of baseball explicitly tell the scorekeeper: Rule 9.01(b)(4): “The official scorer shall not call the attention of any umpire or of any member of either team to the fact that a player is batting out of turn.” Here, Little League concurs: “The umpire and scorekeeper shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter’s box of an improper batter. This rule is designed to require constant vigilance by the players and managers of both teams.”

I would note the use of the word “the” in the Little League rule. That’s for the case where there is one scorekeeper, a representative of the league, whose job is to be neutral. That’s generally not the case in youth baseball and is not the case for our league either. Rather, each team needs to maintain its own scorebook, whether it’s kept by a coach, player, or parent. As parents, we’re there unapologetically of fans of our kids’ team, doing our bit to help.

So I will (and have) alerted our coach when our players are about to bat out-of-order, and would let them know if I saw the other team out-of-order. We only have two coaches; unlike a professional game, there is no bench coach who is keeping track of the opposing roster. In fact, despite rules which instruct coaches to give lineup cards to the umpires, most umpires don’t want the lineups, and the exchange of lineup cards is often handled entirely by parent-scorekeepers. All total, our role is more akin to that of a junior bench coach than that of a league official.

Certainly I would speak up if our team was on defense, put three out, but the umpire thought there were only two. And if the umpire, or opposing coach, or scorekeeper for the other side asked what I had for the number of outs, for the inning, for the score, or even for the count, I would say completely truthfully what I had logged in my scorebook, which I strive to make as accurate as is possible. And I would expect the same of an opposing scorekeeper. But here, nobody asked. It’s not my place to bring errors in our favor to anyone’s attention, except perhaps our own coaches, if I can alert them confidentially. This is a league that doesn’t compile statistics, much less appoint a scorekeeper to gather official statistics, and thus there’s much less to cause havoc with in the case of an extra out.

So what could have prevented this? The coaches are always reminding the players to talk to each other on defense. “Play’s at first and second, two out!” That sort of thing. Make sure everyone on the defense is aware of the situation. Constant vigilance. What was the defense not doing this weekend in the bottom of the 5th? Talking to one another. They weren’t calling out each out after it happened and they weren’t reminding each other of the the game’s situation. Now our team has a first-hand look at what can happen when you don’t talk. And if this episode can convince them that they do need to talk, then we certainly did the right thing by remaining passive observers.


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