Friday, August 13, 2010

How to Read a Baseball Score Card - and how to Score a Baseball Game

This continuing series of posts will teach not only how to score using the old paper and pencil method, but as well how to score in a blog - in real time, on the internet - with an html scorecard I'm developing, and computer keyboard scoring notation I've developed to work with it.


Part One


How to score a Baseball Game

Part Two

Introduction to Part Two


A few years back I was living at my sister's and scoring Toronto Blue Jays games with paper and pencil. My nephew was interested in what I was doing - out there on the deck after dinner every night, spread out all over the patio table with the radio, coloured pencils, ruler, note book and erasers - when he asked, I explained my scoring notations and pointed out how (almost) everything that happened in the game was recorded on a single sheet of my 14" X 16" artists sketch book. One day a few of years later - I hadn't lived there for several years - I happened to notice a completed scorecard lying on my sister's living room table. My nephew had picked up the craft of scoring baseball games!

I had no example to draw on when I started scoring, drawing perhaps on some 6th sense that was already in my head about what a baseball score card should look like. I don't know why I did it, I felt like it was something that people who watched baseball games did - those that did not were not really watching baseball - they were doing something else. I must have, but I don't know where I'd seen it done. In the age before the internet coming across this century old craft especially up here in Canada was something akin to seeing a palm tree. I must have seen it in movies or perhaps looking at the box scores published in newspapers - which are derivative of a scorecard.

In the last 40 years the history of baseball score keeping, like the history of baseball itself, is going through a period of intense study. What we once thought we knew is constantly being better defined. Gaps in the history are being filled in and mistakes are being filtered out at an alarming rate. 20 years ago I read in a book about the early Brooklyn Dodgers franchise that sporting statistics were first kept by a man working with the Montreal Canadians franchise, around 1900 if memory serves. Today I read at Wikipedia that Henry Chadwick was the first person to keep and publish statistics on the newly forming leagues in and around New York City, in 1857! Sounds more correct than the Montreal story - and the research is backed up with examples, like Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player edited by Chadwick, which includes stats tables as early as 1861 (Baseball-Reference) and this 1876 scorecard from a rival publication fifteen years later.

1876 Scorecard published in DeWitt's Base-Ball Guide (from bibliopolis)

In the spring of 1992 I started scoring Jays games. I had no idea how special a year it would turn out to be, or how lucky I was to have been closely following such a rare season, as the Blue Jays won the division, the American League Penent and then the World Series. By the finish of that endless season I was pretty confident I could score a ball game as well as anyone - but I still hadn't seen anyone else's score keeping! It's around this time that I began playing recreational, co-ed, slow-pitch, and, at these games they had scorecards!

They were all slightly different, and no one in 'rec' ball scores much more than who's on base and who has scored a run - but these scorecards were basically the same as the ones I had been making - everyone has slightly different ways of notating different things, but generally they were alike.

I don't think I'd ever seen a resource back in the early nineties that taught how to score a game. And even today looking in the Toronto Library system I found ONE such book in their new search-able online data base: "The Joy of Keeping Score" by Paul Dickson.

The craft, it seems is either self taught, handed down father to son, or taught coaches to players in leagues. But the internet is changing all that - the knowledge that exits in the "Brain Trust" at all levels of baseball is being published now in blogs. Coaches and managers who would never have been published in print are now creating blogs where they can easily share their knowledge. The images I'll use in this piece link back to some of them.

This continuing series of posts will teach not only how to score using the old paper and pencil method but also how to score in a blog with an html scorecard in real time on the internet using computer keyboard scoring notations that I have developed to work a html scorecard.

Wikipedia has a page for scoring a baseball game, but for some reason the author has chosen as an example, a messy, badly kept scorecard which, as the author goes from one bad example to the next makes it more difficult than it has to be to understand. I expect that in the anarchy of a confusing talley, subtle points may lost on a beginning scorer.

Better I think to go with a PERFECT scorecard. There is no such a thing - but when I begin to score a game, that is my intent at any rate. I've been trying to score a baseball game 'perfectly' for 20 years - it still hasn't happened. But then I haven't scored a game where both pitchers pitched perfectly either; in which case one might expect to have a simple, perfect scorecard - although an infinity long...

MLB has a specific set of rules for scorekeepers to follow that guarantee a 'Box Score' can be created from the complete game scorecard. Because of space limitations, newspapers like to publish only 'Box Scores', rather than the complete game scorecard - over the years as scorecards were lost, these newspaper box scores were the only remaining historical record of many games.

To the left is an old newspaper clipping from a 1908 New York Times article with a box score at the bottom. Below, is an example of a typical Box Score from the internet era, this one is from an August 7th 2010 game between the D-Rays and the Blue Jays published at

We're seeing the top half of the page (see the whole thing), not shown, below the fold, are lists and tables and paragraphs showing each teams totals numbers; base hits, triples, home runs, and errors. Also there are tables and lists and paragraphs showing the names of pitchers who pitched in the game; pitch totals, walks, base hits, strike outs, ERA's and so on .

I'm boycotting MLB because of their pay-for-view meme, I have more experience at ESPN so I'll use a typical ESPN Box score an an example here. Every MLB game is recorded at ESPN on 4 separate pages: Recap, Box Score, Play-by-Play and Pitch-by-Pitch - for a total of 18 FEET of computer screen. All that information can be recorded on a scorecard like the one below - which is 17" X 11", times two teams equals 34 inches by 11 inches.

Below is a typical scorecard (for one team):

I've built an html scorecard that allows people to use a computer keyboard to make notations and score a game in Blogger that has ALL the information ESPN records on 18 feet of screen - in 5 feet on my scorecard. AND it's in an at-a-glance table format like the age old paper and pencil method that for example, allows you to quickly scan the AB boxes and see immediately who was the game MVP, and how and when runs were scored.

How to score a Baseball Game

Below is an example of a recent game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I scored this with my html score card, it was "live-blogged" (I clicked publish after every at-bat) and remains an historical artifact at the Internet Baseball Score Card Blog.
This is the complete game score card scoring of the game I used as an example of a box score from MLB above from August 7th 2010, D-Rays at Blue Jays. These are the Blue Jays at-bats.

To explain how to score a baseball game I'm going to use image examples of my keyboard scoring method - along side images of the old paper and pencil method.

The Box Score you see in print media newspapers are only a tiny part of the complete game scorecard. Essentially, the box score is a synthesis of the totals columns in a score card.

At the end of each players row of At-Bat boxes (AB box) for example are these headings (from the image on the right).
  • AB = at bats
  • R = runs scored
  • H = hits
  • RBI = runs batted in
  • SO = strike outs
  • BB = bases on balls

AB boxes

AB boxes describe every plate appearance in the game.

In the close-up on the left, at the top are the players names : the lead off hitter and just below the number two hitter... . To the right of the names in this image are the first and second inning AB boxes - where the life cycle of a player's actions in the offensive half of each inning are recorded. The defences actions are also recorded in these boxes.

While scoring a game, it is always on the scorekeepers mind that the totals columns need to be completely and accurately filled in at the end of the game. The notations you make in the AB boxes must allow you to fill out the totals columns accurately later.

In my paper and pencil scoring days I used the 'diamond from above' style, like in the image above - it's the easiest way to show the base runners progress with pencil and paper. I now use notations that I can produce with a computer keyboard.

To the right is a close up of the scorecard above, it shows the first and second batters (Snider and Escobar), and first and second inning AB box (just like the paper and pencil image above). This html AB box consists of five boxes; four little boxes - one on top of the other where pitches thrown are recorded - and a long rectangular box where the 'life-cycle' of that batter's activity in the first inning, and the defences plays as well, are recorded. In this case lead-off hitter, Travis Snider walked on 6 pitches. The 'BB' means base on balls, the '<>' means he eventually scored a run.

In real time, a base on balls (BB) would look like these images that I made to demonstrate. below left is the html score card - the one on the right, is a typical pencil and paper scoring...

..note the pitches that were called BALLS by the umpire are noted in the html scoring example, in the small boxes on the left as 'B'. 'S' is a STRIKE (swinging), and 'C' is a STRIKE (called) by the umpire.

The 'BB' on the second line in the large rectangle, in the life-cycle box means that the player received a 'base on balls' as ruled by the umpire. The '-', indicates he is standing on first base. Similarly a notation '--', indicates 'on second base'; a '---', indicates 'on third base'. A run scored is indicated by '<>'.

In the pencil and paper version the called balls are noted with pencil dots (in the upper left corner), the line drawn on the bottom right side of the diamond indicates the player is standing on first base, the 'BB' outside of the diamond, below and to the right of the line, indicates how he got there.

In our example game the next batter is Yunel Escobar hitting second, after lead-off hitter Travis Snider. As you can see in the image on the right, the first pitch to Escobar was a called strike, 'C'. The next pitched ball was put into play by Escobar, hitting it ('X'), in this case, very hard...

The notation on the second line of the life-cycle box, '2BH7(8)' means Escobar hit a 'two base hit' [2BH] to left-centre field [7(8)]. It means neither the left fielder, nor the centre fielder could get to the fly ball before it hit the ground between them and bounded to the wall. Because Escobar was able to get to second base it becomes more likely in the readers mind that the ball probably bounced all the way to the wall before the left fielder '7' finally got to it and threw it in, while the centre fielder '(8)' backed up the play.

(The number 7 comes first because the player playing that position got to the ball first - (8) indicates location, half way between the 7 position (left field) and the 8 position (centre field) - thus 7(8).)

The next line, 'RBI' means 'run batted in'. Travis Snider the man who was on first, came all the way around and scored (now the reader knows for sure the ball went all the way to the wall). Snider's run scored is the 'run' in the 'run batted in' (RBI) that Escobar was credited with. Snider's run is indicated in his life-cycle box by changing the '-', to a '<>'.

In a paper and pencil scorecard the scorer would complete drawing a line on each of the three sides of the diamond that were not lined yet, and then in many cases, the diamond would be penciled in solid so the reader can easily see when, and by whom, runs scored.

[Some people like to leave them these plated runs diamonds open because they put 'HR' inside the diamonds that represent home runs hit. These HR moments are bigger than the game, bigger than the team's standing for some of these people - they are very sick, pay no attention to these people. ;) ]

Next, under the run batted in notation in Escobar's life-cycle box is the notation, '--' indicating Escobar is standing on the second base bag.

So... you may say,

'You've showed me what goes on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th lines of the life-cycle box, why did you leave the 1st line of the box empty?'

And that would be a good question.

The answer to that question is:  that is where the note goes for what happens before the ball was struck into the field (or the batter was called out by the umpire). For example if Travis Snider had stolen 2B while Escobar was batting, notes would be written into both Escobar's and Snider's life-cycle boxes. In Snider's box: SB 1,2 (stolen base (SB) from first base (1) to seconf base (2) ) - and in the top line of Escobars box would appear: #1 1,2 (the first batter in the order (#1) moved from first base (1) to second base (2) ) --- to show the reader when Snider stole the base.

Now Jose Bautista is up - and still no one out!

There is a run in, a runner is in scoring position at second; and Baseball's best home run hitter this year is up.

Yay! :)

To be continued in Part Two...

Image links:

Typical newspaper column - report of a baseball game, New York Times 8.01.1908

Batters totals boxes, and at-bat boxes from, "Guide to Scoring Baseball" by Christopher Swingley.

A typical box score, from MLB (August 7th 2010)

Empty scorecard example, from Lefty

Scorecard example from, Internet Baseball Score Card Blog, Saturday, August 7th 2010.

Typical pencil and paper scoring images from, "How to score baseball"


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