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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.

September 19, 2017   No Comments

Tasks for youth baseball scorekeepers

There are three distinct tasks that baseball scorekeepers perform:

  1. Base charting
  2. Judgement of errors
  3. Compilation of statistics

Base charting is the act of recording plays as they happen, on the players/innings grid of the scorecard. It is, by far, the most important part of scorekeeping for youth baseball.

It is the scorekeeper’s responsibility to judge whether a particular play is counted as a Hit or an Error or a Fielder’s Choice, and in the case of a batter reaching a base beyond first, whether it is some combination of these. The scorekeeper determines whether a run is an Earned or Unearned run, which can include a reconstruction of the way an inning would have proceeded had an error not taken place. The scorekeeper also decides between a passed ball and a wild pitch, and whether a baserunner advances on a steal or defensive indifference.

In leagues where statistics are important, where statistics feed into salary negotiations, or where scouts for professional teams look over them, these judgements are tremendously important. In youth baseball, this is not the case. Assigning errors is of little use, and it is complicated by the often terrible field conditions on which youth games take place. It is really not fair to charge a fielder with an error when the ball takes a strange bounce on a stray rock on the field. And what should define “ordinary effort”–the benchmark by which errors are determined–when youth games have such a wide range of skill?

The compilation of statistics is to be done after the game is over–confusingly, not all instructions point this out. Most commercial scorecards have separate columns for recording player statistics, after the columns for innings. Typically, these include At-Bats, Hits, Runs, Runs Batted In, and Errors. These are a subset of the 18 separate statistics that the official scorer is required to provide to the league, as defined by Rule 9 of the Official Baseball Rules1

In a youth game, statistics may be useful to a coach, but they also may be a distraction. It may be useful to have a count of a player’s total plate appearances, if a coach wants to organize the batting order to give players as close to equal chances at bat as possible. The coach of my son’s travel team didn’t want any statistics, with the occasional exception of pitch counts. But in any case, the compilation of statistics is done after the game, and since the numbers will end up on a computer one way or another, one might as well start that way. That is to say, in a youth scoresheet, I’d rather devote extra space to clearer base charting than to the post-game compilation of statistics.

Back to base charting. In the best-case scenario, nobody needs to ask the scorekeeper anything throughout the entire game. But questions do arise, and by far, the most important thing a scorekeeper keeps track of in a youth game is the score. The coaches and umpire usually know the score, but it isn’t the umpire’s job to know the score. You need to know the score in a close game, of course, but also in a blowout, to determine whether a mercy rule applies. A scorekeeper should adopt a system that allows the immediate recall and announcement of the score at any time, without needing to tally up runs.

It is the umpire’s job to keep track of balls and strikes, and of outs and innings. Very rarely, an umpire has asked me as a scorekeeper to verify the count. More commonly, but still rarely, a scorekeeper will verify the number of outs, when, for example, a coach and the umpire disagree. When I’ve needed to do this, I give a brief narrative summary: “lead-off batter was number 53, who struck out. Number 6 walked, number 8 hit a double, number 9 grounded out to short, number 9 walked, number 13 struck out.” Umpires and coaches alike are often unsure of the inning, and will ask the scorekeeper where the game is.

For any aspect of the game, the clearer one’s scorebook is, the better evidence one can supply to bolster one’s version of the game, even in the face of rules that give preference to the home team scorebook. I’ve had a case where, as the visiting team scorekeeper I kept a full scorebook, while the home team just used tally marks to record runs; the umpire trusted my book. Fortunately, in the end, it was a decisive win for our team, so it didn’t matter much.

Finally, the scorekeeper is a check on the batting order. Despite rules that say to give an umpire a copy of the lineup, most youth umpires don’t want a copy and don’t check for inconsistencies.2 A travel team usually knows its batting order, even if it changes from game to game, but on rare occasion I’ve seen the wrong batter on-deck and alerted the coach.

  1. formerly, Rule 10, before the 2015 reorganization of the rulebook. Most publications about scoring, having being written before 2015, refer to it as Rule 10. []
  2. Catching out-of-order batters is the opposing team’s responsibility anyways. []

June 15, 2017   No Comments

You should score youth baseball, even when you don’t need to

Back when I started this blog, I could have hardly imagined that baseball would be what brings me back to blogging after several years of blog dormancy. But my older son has become obsessed with baseball and has been playing since the second grade.

I’ve been keeping scorecards of his games, even back in the machine-pitch league where there is no record of scoring and no standings. It might seem against the recreational spirit to keep a scoresheet for a game where there isn’t supposed to be a winner or a loser. But even in such a game, there are many things to keep track of, and keeping a scoresheet using some version of the traditional scorekeeping methodology is the best way to do this.

Without an electronic scoreboard, it turns out to be easy to lose track of the inning, and even the number of outs. Youth baseball innings can last a long time; in the bottom of the 2nd you might wish it was the bottom of the 4th. In a machine pitch game, there are no balls or called strikes. There is usually a maximum number of pitches per plate appearance, but if your pitching machine keeps placing balls way out of the strike zone, you’re reluctant to charge the batter with pitches if the adult pitching machine operator is struggling to tweak and adjust the machine. Your memory can only hold so many events, and before you know it, you’ve forgotten how many are out.

Likewise, games can tediously drag on in the first season of kid pitch as well, when most pitchers are wildly inaccurate. You’ll have a sequence of several walks in a  row, occasionally interrupted by a strikeout and maybe a hit-by-pitch. Youth baseball games have a two-hour time limit, and even so, I’ve been at games that barely get into a third inning. And most everyone–players, coaches, parents–would expect that more of a game could have been played in that timeframe. And so without a scoreboard to glance at, one loses track.

 

So at the youngest levels, it’s not so much scorekeeping, but outs-and-innings-keeping. One could do this with the sort of click-wheel counter that umpires use. I’ve used these, but it’s not that difficult to get an extra errant click. Or to forget whether you’ve clicked, especially on a drawn-out play.

In addition to outs and innings, a scorecard also tells you who is up next to bat, and if your team uses a different batting order each game (which it probably should), then the players will likely not always be aware of their turn to bat. There is a lot of sitting around in baseball, and young players will often find ways to amuse themselves which don’t involve paying attention to the game. So somebody needs a definitive record of who is up next to bat.

Many leagues have rules to keep a game from becoming too lopsided: a team might be restricted to hitting once through the batting order in an inning, or there may by a maximum number of batters. There’s also a common rule that limits a team to scoring 5 runs in any inning that’s not the last inning. In all of these situations, you’ll need some sort record of what’s happened, and they’re automatic if you’re keeping a scorecard.

Perhaps one could come up with an alternative method of tracking outs, innings, runs, and batters, but it’s hard to imagine a system that would be simpler than the traditional baseball scorecard. At its essence, a baseball scorecard is a grid with columns for each inning and rows for each batter. Defensive players are numbered 1-9, and a strikeout is a K. The result of a batter’s plate appearance in a particular inning is recorded in the appropriate box on the grid. There are many common conventions but little else is standard. As a player grows older and the game becomes more competitive, you might need to track more things; the scorecard can become as complex as need be. And an advantage of using a traditional scorecard from the start is that it gives you practice for the more sophisticated scorecards that will come later.

So, keep a scorecard, even if you aren’t keeping score.

 

May 25, 2017   No Comments