Saturday, May 3, 2014

Make the calls, wait for the reactions

This type scorebook was my friend
 for almost 40 years
      Baseball scorekeeping, Part 3 ...
      Before I get to the story of how a one-time World Series hero called me in the press box to complain about an error I called on him, some observations about being an official scorer in baseball.
       No matter what level (recreation, high school, college, professional), scoring games was always fun for me, never a chore. Took it seriously, but remembered these were just games. It's not like it was that important.
       What you learn -- especially at the pro level -- that managers, coaches and players were concerned about the statistics, about hits, errors, earned/unearned runs, etc., and they all want the scoring calls to go their way.
       So the official scorer sometimes hears their opinions -- either gently or in a suggestive manner, but also vehemently or downright ugly.
       One of the expectations teams have is that the official scorer should "protect" the home team, that is, slant the calls that way. I did not score games by that premise, thus irritating a few home-team folks when I told them I wasn't operating by their rules. I was scoring plays, regardless of the uniform.
        I have been chewed out by former major-league players, future major leaguers, managers, coaches, even high-school kids if you go back to when I was in high school myself. That's only 50 years ago.
        So I've experienced a few scorekeeping tales, but don't get this wrong. I'm not complaining or bitter or holding grudges. In the long run, it was all enjoyable -- even the controversies. And it's given me a few columns and blogs to write.
         A couple of our infielders at Woodlawn High School, a year older than me but guys I liked and admired, at times badgered me about hits I didn't give them or errors I did. They might be irritated, but they weren't irate.
         Irate would describe a former Woodlawn outfielder who transferred to Fair Park, maybe because he wanted to help win a state championship (and did). He was unhappy with me the first summer I scored American Legion games at old SPAR Stadium in Shreveport, coming up to the press box after his game and complaining about a hit he felt he deserved. He yelled at me for a minute, then turned away after saying that I was "just a pissant."
          I've told that story to a few friends, and one of them -- I have been told not to use his name -- loved it. Guess what he calls me whenever he wants to rib me about something?
          SPAR Stadium was the site of several scorekeeping "moments" when I was not the scorer involved -- one I didn't see but heard about, one I witnessed, and one when I became the target.
           -- Larry Mansfield was a huge (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) first baseman out of Memphis and the University of Tennessee, a power hitter whose five-year pro career ended after 63 games with the Shreveport Captains (Angels' organization) in 1972. He batted .212 that season, which is why he might've been upset about a couple of hits he thought he deserved. But Bill McIntyre -- sports editor of The Shreveport Times and official scorer this night -- called errors on the plays.
           So after the game ended, McIntyre was alone in the press box totaling his boxscore and preparing to write his story when the giant Mansfield suddenly (and angrily) appeared before him in a darkened ballpark.  Must've scared the bejeebers out of McIntyre.
            I didn't see this, but Bill -- my first professional boss -- told us this story the next day in the office. We were all laughing at the thought.
            McIntyre was as pleasant and as sharp as anyone I ever worked with, and as good an official
scorer as I've known. And I'm pretty sure he didn't change those calls.
            -- A few years later, one of my good friends was the scorer for an afternoon Captains' game.
 He twice charged the Captains' second baseman with errors on ground balls; I thought he was right on both calls.
           The second baseman didn't think so. Moments after the game ended, he was up at the press box and screaming at my friend. He was a Latin American player who didn't speak much English, so what he mostly screamed, and repeatedly, was two words. The first word started with an "f"; the second word was a barnyard epithet concerning a horse.
            It wasn't funny ... except it was.
            -- Another year, another Captains game, two errors charged to the Captains' shortstop by the official scorer (not me). I was working for the ballclub and as I came down from the press box after the game, the shortstop was in front of the dugout yelling at me about the errors. I just shook my head "no" and continued on to the club office.
            The shortstop didn't go to the clubhouse; instead, he came to the office and he was hollering. I told him I wasn't the scorer, but I agreed with the calls. That infuriated him even more. The argument escalated. Let's say there was a stapler and a baseball bat in the vicinity, and I put them into play until cooler heads prevailed. I took those two errors for the team.
           The biggest chewing-out (telling it like it was, a cussing-out), I received face-to-face -- compared to at a distance, as I described in the previous blog -- was by a future three-time major-league All-Star catcher. This was in Jacksonville (Southern League) in 1995.
           But Jason Kendall was only 21 when he played for Carolina that season and declared me "the worst scorer I've ever seen."
           Actually, his tirade was filled with profanities and ended only when the team's manager, Trent Jewett, came into the dugout, heard what was happening and said, "Jason, go warm up."
           I had gone to the dugout before the game to get the lineup and it was the day after a Carolina batter had lined a single to center field, the Jacksonville center fielder had come in to field it and simply missed the ball. The ball rolled practically to the fence and the batter came around. I called it a single and a three-base error; the Mudcats -- including Kendall -- thought it should have been an inside-the-park home run. No way. No bad hop; the outfielder, in my opinion, had a routine play and messed it up big-time.
           Anyway, Jewett -- whose team (the Pirates' Class AA affiliate) that year was 89-55, dominated the league and won the championship -- stopped the tirade. Then he asked me why I'd made the call I did, and he wasn't happy with it, either. Oh, well.
           Kendall played 15 years in the majors, was a .288 hitter and a fine player, retiring in 2012. Jewett was a minor-league manager for 17 years, and that 1995 season was his biggest success. He is now bench coach for the Seattle Mariners.
           I didn't forget their names. I don't think they cared to know mine.
           I was scoring a game one night at Wolfson Park in Jacksonville in 1994 and called an error on the Suns' third baseman on a hard-hit ball. The next half inning, with the Suns batting, the phone rang in the press box and the team official who answered it handed me the phone.
            It was the third baseman, and he was unhappy with the call. His name was Luis Quinones, who had played eight years in the majors as a utility infielder and was one of the heroes of the Cincinnati Reds' 1990 World Series sweep of Oakland. But by 1994, he was back in Double-A ball.
           So I guess he felt entitled to call the press box in the middle of a game. But on the play, he was practically next to third base and the ball was a two-hopper to his right ... so he took about a half-step before the ball got to him and got away. Yes, it was hit fairly hard, but I didn't think it was a difficult lay. Thus, the error call.
           As I wrote in a previous blog, in my official-scorer days, I never had benefit of TV/video replays. It was one look, and make a call.
           But as I thought about Quinones' call, something came to mind. One of the Jacksonville TV stations had a photographer at nearly every Suns' game, shooting a few of the early inning plays for the night's sportscast. The guy had been sitting next to me that night, so I thought he might have this play on film.
            When the game ended, the Suns' manager, Marc Hill, called the press box, as he did several times that season to ask about a scoring call. He asked me if Quinones had called the press box during the game and I told him yes. "I don't want my players doing that," Hill said. "I will talk to him about that. You let me know if that ever happens again."
            He then asked me about the call, saying he thought it could be a hit, and I told him I would think about it. What I didn't tell him was that I had called the TV station -- which was located very close to the ballpark -- and had arranged with the photographer to come look at the play as soon as I got my boxscore totaled and sent to the league office.
             So I went to view the film. I looked at the play about a half-dozen times and again my feeling was that Quinones hardly had to move to field the ball; he just had let the ball play him. I didn't change the error to a hit.
              And maybe I'm bragging here, but it was the type of conscientiousness I put into my official-scorer duties. I didn't get them all right, in some people's opinion, but I put thought into it.
              These days the official scoring is compiled by computer, rather than by hand in a scorebook, but it still requires judgment calls. At the college and pro levels, the scorer most often has the benefit of looking at replays, so that's a big help.
              I haven't scored games in 15 years, but the process still interests me; I pay attention to the calls that are made. I'd do it all again because I loved the game. If I couldn't play, I could keep score. And, after all, I'm "just a pissant."  

1 comment:

  1. From John W. Marshall III: Really enjoyed your latest post on scorekeeping. Lots of memories. Good story on McIntyre – good guy and good writer whom you really were fond of, I know.
    Those Peterson’s Scoremasters … how ubiquitous and indispensable they were. To think that was all we had for so long. It really is cool the way things are today, but it really requires more work in certain ways … someone has to be recording every pitch -- what it is, where it is, whether it was swung at or not, exactly where and how every ball is hit.