Longtime scorekeepers keeping the flame alive
Scoring games by hand an increasingly lost art, but devotees swear by it
Scorecards are like snowflakes.
No two are the same.
When recording a strikeout, some people will chart "K," while others will pencil in an "SO." Same goes with "BB" and "W" for walks. Some track pitch counts, some record where a ball landed, some use different colors to delineate certain actions. Some tally strikeouts and innings pitched, others putouts and assists.
"One of the great things about scorekeeping is that no two people do it the same way. I'm still working to develop my own method, and that is a big part of what makes it fun," said Chris Hendrixson, 30, a relative newcomer to the scorekeeping world. "Scorekeeping is a beautiful shorthand language that tells the story of a baseball game. How you want to tell that story is up to you."
Keeping score is perhaps the best way to immerse yourself in a baseball game. You discover trends in teams and players, learn basic game strategy and gain a deeper appreciation for the game itself. And you've got a tangible record to prove it.
The game Othello bills itself as only taking "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master." Scoring a baseball game's the same way. Maybe that's why people take it up.
"I found myself watching the game differently [when I kept score], longing to draw a forward-facing K when the opposing team is batting and finding great delight in marking a hit, or especially a home run, when a Reds player is up," Hendrixson said. "Scorekeeping is also a great way to learn more about the game of baseball. A lot of people think baseball is slow or boring, but there is actually a lot of complexity to it. Just like most things in life, baseball is a game that you start to really love and appreciate the more you learn about it."
Mark Newsom has been a disciple of the art of scorekeeping from a young age.
"[Keeping score] definitely keeps you better in tune with what is going on in the game. If you are just watching without keeping score, I think you miss out on a lot of the strategy that is being used," Newsom said.
"[One] thing I love about scoring is when fans are lost or confused on calls made or a play they missed, I can just turn around and tell them what happened. It may not seem like much, but it's the best feeling in the world when I can share my baseball knowledge with others," added Maggie Hoffecker, 16.
Danielle Thomas is "the kind of fan who thinks watching every single pitch is enjoyable, so keeping score feels like a natural extension of that.
"I keep all of my Reds scorecards because I love having a tangible keepsake of the game that is more meaningful than a ticket stub, especially because I don't get to attend many Reds games in person," Thomas said. "I always write extra little details in the card's notes section -- about where I sat, who I went with, how many turned out for the 'titanic struggle,' and anything unique or interesting from the game. It's fun to look back at old cards for those little details I'd forgotten."
Reds fans can follow assistant director of media relations Jamie Ramsey as he tweets his scorebook in-game once a homestand (@Jamieblog).
But ask anyone who's been around the game long enough about the state of the scorekeeping tradition, and you'll likely receive some variant of the words "lost" or "dying art."
"It harkens back to a different time in baseball," explains Jason Harbison, an anchor for ESPN 1450's Redlegs Radio Report.
Hendrixson calls scorekeeping "a wonderful tradition that has been around since the late 19th century." He adds: "By participating in this traditional act, you feel a small connection with the many generations of baseball fans that have come before us, and that is a really beautiful thing."
But while the scorekeeping following may be dwindling among fans, it is alive and well in Major League Baseball -- as it must and always will be. Statistics are more essential to the history and vitality of baseball than for any other sport, and the official scorers are the gatekeepers of the league's statistics through their scorekeeping.
At Great American Ball Park, those gatekeepers are two men: Ron Roth and Mike Cameron. Roth's days as an official scorekeeper date back to 1980.
"The sportswriters were doing all of the official scoring at the time," Roth said. "Then they notified Major League Baseball that they were no longer going to furnish people to score, because it was really a conflict between the writers and the players. They sit up here [in the press box] in judgment on hits and errors, and then they would go down into the clubhouse after the game, trying to get an interview with the players. The players would be upset because the writers ruled on a hit or an error."
So it was that MLB started to employ its own scorers. The rest is history for Roth. And Cameron became his teammate in the scorer's room when legendary Reds scorekeeper Glenn Sample died in 2008.
The two rotate the responsibility of being the official scorer for the day's game. The other is there to back the other up with his record. Each spreads out a 12-inch-by-19-inch scorecard in front of him, armed with an array of colored pens and highlighters, at the start of each game. Theirs are the most meticulously kept scorecards of anyone's.
At the end of the day, they'll check their numbers against one another's and fax in a final Elias Sports Bureau score sheet for each team to MLB headquarters in New York City.
Roth and Cameron face a fair amount of scrutiny.
"There is pressure because a lot of people are awaiting our decisions, from the scoreboard operator to the media to the TV and radio people," Cameron said. "We want to make the right decision, but to do it in a timely manner. But I always go back to something Ron told me: We always want to get it right, and if we have to change our decisions later on -- which we have -- that's OK."
"The integrity of the game and the statistics come from us," Roth said. "We don't affect the outcome of the game, but we do affect the statistics of the game, and that goes along with the integrity of the game. And that's what we have to get right."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.