Making the Call: Keeping Score in Baseball’s Toughest Market, Part 2

Sometimes, players, coaches and managers need to be reminded of the rules. (via Scott Orgera)

In part one of this series, we discussed the history of official scoring in New York City and flipped the pages of baseball’s rule book to Section 9.

Part two looks at how calls are appealed, formally and otherwise.

Every press box has an area with reams of paper containing game notes, rosters and other information for members of the media. The most important stack features that game’s lineups, and those sheets are snatched up by every writer, broadcaster, statistician and scoreboard operator in the building.

Prominently featured on that document is the name of that day or night’s official scorer. When an official scorer sees his or her name on that lineup sheet and sits behind the microphone for the first time at the major league level, it’s an unforgettable moment. Each of the New York scorers offered his own memories of that debut.

Sept. 13, 1998 – Toronto at New York (AL)

Blue Jays 5, Yankees 3
WP – Kelvim Escobar (6-2); LP – David Cone (19-6); SV – Robert Person (4)

I was assigned the game two days prior. Both Red Foley and Bill Shannon were unavailable for the game and I had trained with Bill so here I was, scoring a major league baseball game between the Yankees – my team growing up – and the Blue Jays.
– Howie Karpin

April 28, 2000 – Toronto at New York (AL)

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 0
WP – David Cone (1-2); LP – Kelvim Escobar (2-3)

Jose Cruz Jr. asked to see me in the Toronto clubhouse after the game to persuade me that he should have gotten a hit on a grounder that went past Scott Brosius at third in the ninth inning. He had been hitless in his prior eight at-bats. I was not persuaded, and the call stood.
– Jordan Sprechman

Sept. 4, 2004 – Baltimore at New York (AL)

Orioles 7, Yankees 0
WP – Sidney Ponson (10-13); LP – Mike Mussina (9-9)

Sidney Ponson pitched a two-hit, complete game against the Yankees. He retired the first seven batters in a row, so you start to wonder if you’re going to be scoring a no-hitter in your very first game.
– David Freeman

Sept. 9, 2004 – Tampa Bay at New York (AL) / DH Game 2

Yankees 10, Devil Rays 5
WP – Tanyon Sturtze (6-2); LP – Rob Bell (6-8)

The Yankees starter, Brad Halsey, didn’t make it through the fourth inning before he was taken out of the game. Because the Yankees had the lead and never relinquished it, it was, according to the rules, up to the official scorer to award the win to whichever subsequent pitcher I determined pitched most effectively. It’s a fairly rare occurrence. Fortunately, Tanyon Sturtze – who relieved Halsey – threw three-plus scoreless innings so that was a … pardon the pun …relief. I also recall having to call my first error, on a dropped foul popup by third baseman Geoff Blum near the stands that extended an at-bat by Gary Sheffield. There were runners on base, and after the error Sheffield singled two runs home. He got the RBIs and the pitcher wasn’t charged with earned runs, so no complaints from either team.
– Billy Altman

(Not So) Appealing Calls

There was a time when many official scorers performed double-duty, writing for their respective newspaper or wire service while also scoring. This, of course, meant that the scorer would need to interact with managers and players following the game to fulfill their writing obligations. This also meant that scorers occasionally found themselves face to face with a player who was unhappy with an error he received sometimes only minutes earlier, a pitcher miffed over the number of earned runs in his final line, or a manager who didn’t agree with a call that went against one of his men.

Even if they weren’t writing on a given day, the official scorers were still permitted access to the clubhouse. Because emotions can run high in that environment, especially following a loss, what often began as levelheaded discussions between the official scorer and a member of one of the teams periodically escalated into heated arguments.

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“(My) most memorable ‘run-in’ was in June, 2002,” Karpin recounted. “The Mets were hosting the Kansas City Royals at Shea Stadium. A player was angry with me because I scored an error on his at-bat with the bases loaded. After the game, I was offered his opinion during a phone call to the press box. The incident made the newspaper with a full-page column.”

Occasionally, this indignation is relayed through a third-party. Altman recalled:

“I had a Mets game a few years ago where a player bunted for a hit in the ninth inning. The opposing pitcher came off the mound in time to make the play but he took his eye off the ball, and so didn’t pick up the ball cleanly, and then threw late to first. I ruled an error and didn’t think much about it until after the game when I got word that the player wasn’t happy with the call. I then found out that he had a hitting streak on the line and the call prevented him from keeping it going. I said I was sorry that I couldn’t help him, but to me it was an error. Hitting, pitching, or fielding streaks are the furthest thing from a scorer’s mind during a game. At least they should be.”

There have even been some instances where a player expressed his displeasure with a scoring call while still on the field, for everyone in the ballpark to see. One such incident took place at The Ballpark in Arlington on May 6, 1998.

With his club down to the Yankees 9-0 in the third inning, Rangers right fielder Juan Gonzalez plated two runs with a hard-hit line drive that second baseman Chuck Knoblauch could not field cleanly. Knoblauch was charged with an error, so Gonzalez was not credited with driving in the two runs.

The incensed slugger would eventually score and upon returning to the dugout he threw a fit, his actions played out on camera for the television audience.

Gonzalez homered the next inning, and after crossing home he stopped in his tracks and glared menacingly towards the press box in official scorer Kurt Iverson’s direction, gesturing emphatically.

He did this several more times throughout the game, and there was no mistaking the target of his ire.

Iverson spoke with Knoblauch about the play after the game, eventually reversing the call based on that discussion and crediting Gonzalez with a hit and two RBIs. The reversal was made because of Knoblauch’s explanation of how the ball came toward him, not because of Gonzalez’s antics.

Not all such interactions are negative. It’s actually quite the contrary in most cases, although on one occasion in Queens a popular Mets player may have accidentally relieved his frustrations at an official scorer’s expense.

“My all-time favorite as an official scorer was calling an error on Carlos Delgado and about two innings later he hit a foul ball that found its way to hitting me in the Shea Stadium press box,” Freeman remembered.

For the most part, there is a certain level of appreciation between the men on the field and the person in the official scorer’s seat.

“Never had a run-in with an official scorer,” said Ron Darling, the former Mets star turned television analyst. “I respected what they did and I hoped they viewed us the same. Professionals acting accordingly. It would be the same as getting mad at the grounds crew person because the mound wasn’t quite right. We all have a unique job to do and the overlap, to me, is negligible.”

And vice versa.

“I have always found them (players and managers) to be respectful and thoughtful,” Sprechman said. “Of course, it helps to be respectful and thoughtful in return. In 2009, the Yankees asked me to ask Mike Scioscia, the Angels manager, whether he thought Derek Jeter should have gotten a triple on a ball I scored a three-base error on the right fielder the day before. Scioscia started saying, in an animated way, that, as much respect as he has for Jeter, if that ball wasn’t an error, then Major League Baseball should just do away with errors and call everything a hit.

“I had to interrupt him to remind him that I had called it an error and was asking only because the Yankees had asked me to. At which point he started asking me why I had not given Juan Rivera an RBI on a single he had hit earlier that game that had scored a run.”

These one-on-one conferences are now a thing of the past, as the collectively-bargained appeals process dictates that a player or team must submit a review request directly to the commissioner’s Office if they disagree with a scorer’s judgment call.

“With as much as is at stake financially for everyone involved, I understand the appeals process and everyone’s fighting for what he thinks is a just outcome,” Sprechman said. “Any time a scorer’s judgment call is reversed, it is a reflection on the judgment of the scorer, and I think you would not be human if you didn’t take a reversal personally, especially if you take seriously the injunction that scorers’ judgment calls are to be reversed only if they are considered to have been ‘clearly erroneous’. If I thought a call was clearly erroneous, I wouldn’t have made it in the first place. But once an appeal has been decided, there is no further appeal. So, like everyone else in baseball, I just turn the page and, in my case, try to learn from the episode and get the next one right.”

The official scorers themselves can still ask a team to set up a discussion with a player if they’d like to get more information about a particular play from the field personnel’s point of view. This can help if a scorer is considering overturning a call right after a game, but it has to be initiated by the scorer and not the team.

If a call is appealed, the scorer is given the opportunity to explain the initial ruling.

“Since I invested the time to make the call in the first place I’ve always taken the time to follow up with an explanation of my reasoning for the original call,” Freeman said. “When the call is deemed ‘correct,’ everybody wins, so whether my call was upheld or reversed I’m fine either way.”

Also gone are the days of an official scorer double-dipping by writing about and scoring the same game, a practice retired before any of the current New York group scored their first games.

Even so, today’s official scorers are strongly discouraged by the commissioner’s Office from visiting the clubhouse on those days for any reason at all – a restriction that helps avoid unpleasant encounters.

The refined appeals system has changed the official scorer position in other ways, and has checks and balances to avoid being abused by overzealous players or teams.

“It’s added a whole new dimension to the job. We’re not allowed to reveal how many appeals we get on a personal basis but you know your numbers,” Karpin said. “I think there are some ridiculous appeals and by now, I’ve gotten a sense of what calls will be appealed and what calls will not. Not all appeals get to a final decision by MLB. There is now a screening process to keep the ‘silly’ ones from wasting everyone’s time.”

Aside from streamlining the process and eliminating in-person disputes, it’s helped even the most experienced scorers get a better feel for where MLB stands on certain types of judgment calls.

“There have been a couple of occasions where the appeals process has helped clarify what the commissioner’s office (view) is of a certain play, and that has been helpful,” Sprechman said. “In one case, Daniel Murphy, then of the Mets, lost a ball in the sun that I thought he should have been able to play, so I scored that an error. That was reversed to a hit. That clarified the commissioner’s office view that balls lost in the sun under pretty much any circumstances should be called a hit.

“Another time, Jacoby Ellsbury with the Yankees, trying to steal from first with runners on the corners, got caught in a rundown. The ball was thrown away during the rundown and Ellsbury reached second. I gave him a stolen base and that was reversed to a caught stealing and an error. That was helpful clarification that an out can be assumed if a player is caught in a rundown.”

The Modern Game

Several of the scoring rules that dictate whether a batter should be credited with a base hit contain the phrase “ordinary effort.”

9.05(a)(3) The official scorer shall credit a batter with a base hit when the batter reaches first base safely on a fair ball that takes an unnatural bounce so that a fielder cannot handle it with ordinary effort, or that touches the pitcher’s plate or any base (including home plate) before being touched by a fielder and bounces so that a fielder cannot handle the ball with ordinary effort.

9.05(a)(4) The official scorer shall credit a batter with a base hit when the batter reaches first base safely on a fair ball that has not been touched by a fielder and that is in fair territory when the ball reaches the outfield, unless in the scorer’s judgment the ball could have been handled with ordinary effort.

9.05(a)(6) The official scorer shall credit a batter with a base hit when a fielder unsuccessfully attempts to put out a preceding runner and, in the official scorer’s judgment, the batter-runner would not have been put out at first base by ordinary effort.

9.05(b)(3) The official scorer shall not credit a base hit when a pitcher, the catcher or any infielder handles a batted ball and puts out a preceding runner who is attempting to advance one base or to return to his original base, or would have put out such runner with ordinary effort except for a fielding error. The official scorer shall charge the batter with a time at bat but no hit.

These two words, “ordinary effort,” rank near the top of the list in official scoring jargon, as they are often the key in determining whether a play results in a hit or an error. With the exaggerated defensive shifts that have become so prevalent in today’s game, the definition of ordinary effort has taken on new meaning in some cases.

“The official scorer is the one person not on the field who needs to be watching every single thing that happens,” Freeman said. “Each team shifts differently, so the need to verify which fielder is where before every pitch is just reinforcement of what you’re already supposed to be doing. The shift has also created new ‘ordinary effort’ for infielders playing balls on the outfield grass. If the manager makes the effort to put you out there, he expects you to make the play and so should we.”

Shifting has also added a new wrinkle to traditional methods of keeping score, as well as how certain defensive metrics are tallied.

“There’s an ongoing debate as to why a play is 5-3 (third baseman to first) when he’s positioned on the second base side of the bag,” Karpin said. “There also is a subjective factor that is now added to a play where the infielder plays the ball in short right field and has to make a longer throw. The scorer now has to be more aware of where the fielders are because some managers shift during an at-bat.”

The constant shifting certainly requires a heightened level of concentration, something every official scorer is accustomed to.

“It is hard to keep track of what are basically the infielders on the left side moving here, moving there, moving, moving, everywhere,” Sprechman quipped. “Those guys probably ought to be paid by the mile.”

As other changes are implemented in the modern game, the official scorer must adjust accordingly. When an umpire replay review takes place, for example, the official scorer is expected to track and announce the amount of time it took to complete – even though it’s not considered an official delay.

To keep up with a growing game and to ensure that the quality of scoring, a select group of scorers meets each offseason to discuss a wide range of topics about the job.

“It’s an interesting get-together that started a few years ago,” Karpin said. “We go over scoring rules, suggestions for changes and other items of note. We go over a number of plays from the previous year and there are some heated discussions over those. It’s interesting when they come up on the screen and you wonder if it’s your call that they’ll be showing.”

Winding up: Some New York Stories

Here are some memorable moments from Gotham’s major league scorers.

From Billy Altman: “I had a Mets game a while back where David Wright came up with runners on first and third and one out and hit a popup to short right field that the second baseman called for and then dropped. As soon as the ball fell in, the runner from third raced home. Meanwhile, the second baseman picked the ball up and threw to the shortstop covering second to force the runner from first, with Wright safely getting to first on the play. I called ‘FC, 4-6, RBI’ and a few people in the press box questioned me for crediting Wright with an RBI on what logically should have been an error, and thus no RBI. The force out, though, made the dropped ball a moot point, and according to the rules I had to give Wright an RBI.”

David Freeman: “2007-Pirates/Yankees. Bottom of the first, Derek Jeter on second, Jorge Posada at the plate. Posada singles to left fielder Jason Bay and Jeter gets waved home by third base coach Larry Bowa. Bay throws through the cutoff and the play at the plate is close, but Jeter is called safe.

“It’s that one play that’s tough to see from the press box: both the catcher and the umpire were blocking my direct view. I watched every replay, couldn’t figure out how Jeter missed the tag, so it seemed to be an easy call: single and an RBI for Posada.

“At the end of the inning, one of the Pirates’ announcers comes over to me questioning the call, because on the replay he saw it was clear catcher Ronny Paulino dropped Bay’s perfect throw. I told him to show me the replay, and I followed him into his booth and watched a replay never shown on the NY feed. So I went back to my seat, changed the call to an assist for Bay, an error for Paulino, and no RBI for Posada. The entire press box looked at me like I was nuts, and somebody remarked, ‘the Yankees are not going to be very happy about that’. The funny thing was that nobody from the Yankees ever asked me to look at the play – probably because Larry Bowa saw exactly what Pirates fans saw on Pittsburgh television.”

Howie Karpin: “I scored an error on Mets center fielder Mike Cameron that cost Ken Griffey Jr. three runs batted in. It was a sunny day and the Reds had the bases loaded with two out. Griffey hit a high fly ball to center. Cameron looked like he had it all the way but it hit his glove and he dropped it. Even with the bright sun, he saw it enough to catch it but didn’t hold on.”

Jordan Sprechman: “One time, with the bases loaded and one out, Roberto Alomar, playing second for the Mets, fielded a grounder and flipped the ball to Joe McEwing at second to try to start a double play. McEwing, in his effort to turn two and save a run, didn’t get the out at second and didn’t get it at first, either. I originally gave Alomar the error, but after reviewing the replay at the Mets’ request I saw that McEwing could have gotten the force had he held the bag. He abandoned it early rushing to get two. Even though Alomar could have made a better throw (and he could have), for scoring purposes McEwing had a responsibility to get at least one out, and he didn’t. So I changed the call to give McEwing the error.”

Scott Orgera is a sportswriter, datacaster and statistician who has covered baseball for multiple outlets since 1995. He has written for the Associated Press, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, among others. Follow him on Twitter @ScottO_NY.
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Kevin A Garney
Kevin A Garney
Very interesting article with great insight. Thank you. As an avid fan of the game, I regularly keep a homemade box score scorecard of all All Star games,post season games and New York Mets games that I am able to view at home. I also enjoy listening to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin calling the New York Mets games (No offenses intended GKR! -Y’all are great as well😀) Living in North Carolina, I also enjoy visiting and scoring games for the 12 to 15 minor league clubs that are within a two hour radius of my home. I once drove… Read more »
Psychic... Powerless...

Fascinating read. It makes me want to be a scorer someday!

Jetsy Extrano
Jetsy Extrano

Great stories and I love the scenarios at the end.

Paul G.
Paul G.
Very cool. I really enjoyed these two articles. I have been a scorekeeper on various levels – nothing professional – and I can vouch it can be tough sometimes. If you do not pay attention for a second, you can miss a play and lacking instant reply you have to ask someone else what they saw, which is embarrassing. Trying to score elaborate rundowns is frustrating. You also have to answer to players who are probably sitting directly next to you. It is also interesting being questioned by opposing teams about so-and-so actually batting 400 (he did), when you know… Read more »

These two were first-class baseball writing. Worthy of The Baseball Almanac if they make a volume 2.

Dan Jeffers

Are there instances of scorers trying to “make up” for a bad umpire call? What would have happened if the scorer had ruled it an error when the umpire missed the call (unreviewable) at first that cost Detroit Tiger Gallaraga a no hitter? I doubt his teammates would have objected.

Edward Egan
Edward Egan
This article is incredible. I’ve been a Mets fan for 40 years. And I’m always baffled by the calls the other teams official scorers make from time to time. And on the other hand very impressed at the great job the guys from the NY teams do. And if you watch every game like me, Gary, Ronnie and Keith have lots to say on the subject when we’re out of town. Since this is an ongoing subject over the years I’ve always wondered what happened behind the scenes. The writer of this article did a wonderful job and illustratrating what… Read more »

I loved both of these articles. Thanks so much!