The Official Scorer
Any fan attending a baseball game knows at least some of the players. Many of the more astute fans will know at least one of the umpires. But the one person who has an effect on the game who usually goes unnoticed is the official scorer. This person is appointed by the league, sits in the press box and determines whether a play is a hit or an error, a wild pitch or a passed ball or even sometimes no play at all.
But just who is this person and why is there a need for one anyway?
The Official Baseball Rules contain the following definition in section 1.01:
"Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each, under the direction of a manager, played on an enclosed field in accordance with these rules, under jurisdiction of one or more umpires." Section 10.01(a) states: "The league president shall appoint an official scorer for each game. . .The scorer shall have sole authority to make all decisions involving judgment, such as whether a batter's advance to first base is the result of a hit or an error."
Section 10 continues on to explain the details of how these decisions are to be made, including the following sentence: "The scorer shall not make any decision conflicting with the Official Playing Rules, or with an umpire's decision."
Players, coaches, managers, broadcasters and fans all see a play on the field and have an opinion as to what the call should be. However, most people's decision is biased in favor of their team. The official scorer provides an unbiased look at each play to determine what that play was and how it shall be recorded.
These scoring decisions feed the box score of each game and the box scores feed the statistics for each player and team. Ultimately, each call becomes part of the official record of baseball and can affect many aspects of the game, such as league leaders, post-season awards and the record book. But these decisions have a more far-reaching effect because statistics drive player salaries and eventually Hall of Fame voting.
Until 1980, newspaper writers held these positions. However, those papers decided that this was causing a conflict of interest for someone who had to interview field personnel to write a story. Thus, baseball started hiring independent contractors to fill the job of official scorer.
The qualifications for a scorer are: (1) knowing the rules, especially section 10; (2) knowing how to apply the rules; (3) having the integrity to make the correct call regardless of the consequences; (4) understanding that someone who questions a call is upset at the call not the person making it; and (5) being aware of the entire field during a play.
Let's look at each of these points in more depth.
The tenth and last section of the Official Baseball Rules is titled "The Official Scorer." The 24 parts of the section cover game situations and are divided by topics such as "runs batted in," "hits," "caught stealing," "assists," and "earned runs." In this section the rules committee has spelled out what the decision should be for each type of play. Some of the phrasing is more precise than other parts but this is the text that determines how a scorer does his job.
For example, section 10.12 states: "Credit participation in the double play or triple play to each fielder who earns a putout or assist when two or three players are put out between the time a pitch is delivered and the time the ball next becomes dead or is next in possession of the pitcher in pitching position, unless an error or misplay intervenes between putouts."
This seems simple but in order to apply this rule you also have to understand rule 10.10 on putouts and 10.11 on assists. Also, the last phrase requires some interpretation. Just what is "an error or misplay?" Let's look at a sample play. With a runner on first base, the batter hits a ground ball to shortstop, who tosses the ball to the second baseman covering the bag for a force out. The relay throw to first base is wild and bounces to a stop near the stands. The batter/runner sees this and starts toward second while the catcher retrieves the ball in foul territory. The backstop's throw to the second baseman is in time to put out the batter/runner. This is not a double play because the wild throw to first is a misplay between putouts which caused the batter/runner to attempt the advance to second. The correct scoring here is a 6-4 putout on the runner and a 2-4 putout on the batter/runner but no double play for the team.
If the batter/runner reached second base safely, then the correct scoring would be to charge the second baseman with an error on the throw to allow the batter/runner to advance.
There are many times that a scorer has to know how to interpret or apply the rules. The previous example is one example but here is another version of the same play. The throw by the second baseman is right on target, in plenty of time to put out the batter/runner at first base. However, the first baseman drops the ball, thus allowing the batter/runner to reach safely.
Many people will use the phrase: "Don't assume the double play" to rule on this play. This comes from rule 10.14(c): "No error shall be charged against any fielder when he makes a wild throw in attempting to complete a double play." However, there is also a note after this rule that says: "When a fielder muffs a thrown ball which, if held, would have completed a double play, charge an error to the fielder who drops the ball and credit an assist to the fielder who made the throw." Therefore, this play is considered a double play. Rule 10.04(c) about RBI also applies here.
Some scoring rules reference playing rules in other sections of the rule book. For example, rule 10.07(e), which concerns the concept of determining the value of base hits, states: "When the batter/runner is awarded two bases, three bases or a home run under the provisions of Playing Rules 7.05 or 7.06(a), he shall be credited with a two-base hit, a three-base hit or a home run, as the case may be." So the scorer must know and understand rules 7.05 and 7.06 to correctly use rule 10.07.
The third qualification is integrity. Official scorers are often the target of yelling and name calling. It seems that everyone has an opinion about the correct call to be made. A fan yelling is annoying. A player or manager calling the press box and yelling is more disturbing. Rarely does the complaint get more violent than just yelling but it does happen occasionally. A scorer has to make the correct decisions regardless of the consequences.
Many times a manager will talk to the scorer about a decision hoping that it will be changed. Even if that call is not changed, the manager hopes to influence the scorer in future decisions so that calls will be more favorable to his team. Calls can not be changed simply to quiet complaints. If a rule was misapplied, then change the call but a scorer cannot bend to the will of a team employee who complains about a call.
This leads into the next qualification. If someone is upset, it has nothing to do with personalities. It is the call itself and not the person making that call that is at issue. A scorer cannot take it personally if someone complains. Some jobs just draw complaints - this is one of them. Thinned-skinned people need not apply.
The last qualification is very important. The scorer must be aware of every player on the field who is participating in a play. If there is a runner on first and the batter hits a ball down the right-field line, the scorer has to watch the ball and the fielder for a possible misplay. However, the scorer also has to watch the runner to see what he does.
If the fielder mishandles the ball slightly and the runner scores from first, whether or not the batter is credited with a run batted in is determined by the actions of the runner and the third base coach. If the runner stops at third but then runs home because of the misplay, then there is no RBI and the fielder is charged with an error. If the runner never stops or slows down at third, then credit the RBI and no error. See rule 10.04(d).
Good judgment on the part of the official scorer is critical to success and the scoreboard cannot affect the call. If a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter when there is a mishandled ground ball in the infield, the scorer should make the call based on the play and not the fact of the no-hitter. If a batter scores on a ball hit to the outfield that is mishandled by a fielder, then the scorer must determine if that misplay rises to the level of an error regardless of the concept of an inside-the-park home run.
About 90% of all calls can be made by most people. The official scorer is hired to make the other 10% of the calls. Rule 10.18 is probably the most misinterpreted rule in the book. It relates to earned runs and requires a lot of interpretation on the part of the scorer. The issue comes from this sentence: "In determining earned runs, the inning should be reconstructed without the errors (which include catcher's interference) and passed balls, and the benefit of the doubt should always be given to the pitcher in determining which bases would have been reached by errorless play." Some of these innings are easy but many are not. These innings always come under the 10% rule.
So there you have it - a short look at what it takes to work a job that has the potential to upset someone every day.
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Here are some sample plays to call. The answers appear at the bottom of the column.
With a runner on second base, the pitch gets away from the catcher. The runner tries to advance to third but is thrown out. Your call?
With a runner on third and one out the batter hits a fly ball in foul territory down the left field line. The fielder moves over near the ball but lets it drop. Your call?
The runner on first attempts to steal second base. He beats the tag but overslides the base and is tagged out before he is able to scramble back to the bag. Your call?
With runners on first and second, the batter hits a slow roller between the pitcher's mound and the third baseline. The pitcher fields the ball while running toward the line and flips it to the third baseman. All runners are safe. Your call?
Runners on first and third. The runner on first breaks for second on the pitch. The catcher throws to second and the runner on third starts for home. Seeing this, the shortstop runs in front of the bag, catches the ball and throws it back to the catcher, thus allowing the runner to reach second base. The backstop blocks the plate and tags out the runner. However, the ball pops out of his glove and the umpire waves the runner safe. Your call?
A tie game is rained out after 6 innings. What do you report to the league?
The batter hits the ball down the right field line and runs to second base. He takes a few steps past the bag and the right fielder throws the ball to the shortstop at the bag. The shortstop tags out the batter/runner before he can return safely to the base. Your call?
The runner on first base starts for second base on the pitch. The ball sails over the catcher's head to the backstop and the runner reaches third safely. Your call?
With a runner on first the batter bunts the ball in front of the plate. The catcher's throw to first is wide and both runners are safe. Your call?
With runners on first and second and no outs, the batter hits a popup near second base. The shortstop moves over under the ball and the umpire calls "infield fly." The runner on second is struck by the ball while not standing on the bag. Your call?
The batter hits a ball toward the mound that the pitcher deflects toward the second baseman. The latter fielder grabs the ball and throws out the batter/runner. Your call?
The home team is ahead 3-0 in the top of the fifth inning when the starting pitcher leaves the game due to an injury. Two other hurlers appear in the game for the team and the score remains 3-0. The second pitcher works through the end of the eighth inning and the third works the ninth. Your call?
With the bases loaded the batter is awarded first on catcher's interference and a run scores. Your call?
With a 2-1 count on the batter the pitcher is removed from the game. The new pitcher walks the batter. Your call?
It is the last game of the season and the home team needs to win to clinch a playoff spot. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth inning and a runner on second base, the batter hits a ball over the right-field fence. The runner from second scores. The batter rounds first and is mobbed by his teammates. They celebrate and eventually leave the field without allowing the batter to complete the circuit of bases. Your call?
The batter hits a foul popup which is dropped by the catcher. The batter then hits a home run. Your call?
With the home team ahead 5-0, the bases loaded and two outs, the manager brings in his closer. The next batter makes the final out. Your call?
With a runner on third base and no one out, the catcher calls for an intentional walk for the batter. The second intentional ball sails very wide and high past the catcher and the runner on third scores. Now the catcher resumes his usual position behind the plate and the upset pitcher throws two balls unintentionally out of the strike zone. Your call?
With a runner on third base and one out, the batter hits a fly ball to center field. The runner on third scores after the catch. After the ball is returned to the pitcher he tosses it to the third baseman who steps on the bag and looks at the umpire. The arbiter calls the runner out on appeal for leaving the base too soon. Your call?
Answers For Sample Plays
There is no official name for this play. The runner is not charged with a caught stealing [rule 10.08(h) note]. Simply record the out as 2-5 and announce no caught stealing.
No play. If the fielder deliberately allows the ball to fall in foul territory to prevent the runner from scoring after a catch no error is to be charged. [rule 10.14(e)]
The runner is charged with a caught stealing. Credit the catcher with an assist on the play and a putout to whichever fielder made the tag. [rules 10.08(h)(3), 10.11 and 10.10]
If, in the scorer's judgment, the pitcher had no chance to put out the batter/runner at first base, then credit a hit. Otherwise, it is a fielder's choice; charge the batter with a time at bat and no hit. [rules 10.05(f) and 10.06(d)]
Many rules apply here. The scoring runner is charged with a caught stealing. Assists are credited to the catcher and shortstop and an error is charged to the catcher. The runner from first advances on a fielder's choice – no stolen base. [rules 10.08(f), 10.08(h)(1), 10.11, 10.13 and 10.08(d)]
This is a regulation game. The record of all individual and team actions count up to the moment the game ends. Since it is a tie, no winning or losing pitchers are entered into the record. [rule 10.03(e)(1)]
Credit the batter with a double, an assist to the right fielder and a putout to the shortstop. The runner ran past the bag and did not slide past it so he gets credit for the last base reached; if he had slid past the base he would have been credited with a single. [rules 10.07(c) note, 10.07(d), 10.11 and 10.10]
Credit the runner with a steal of second and charge the pitcher with a wild pitch. [rule 10.08(a)]
Credit the batter with a sacrifice and the catcher with a throwing error. [rules 10.09(a) and 10.13]
This is an unassisted double play for the shortstop. [rules 10.10(b)(1), 10.10(b)(2) and 10.12]
Credit an assist to the pitcher and the second baseman and a putout to the first baseman. [rules 10.11 and 10.10]
The starter can not get the win in this game since he did not pitch the required five innings. The relief pitcher who was the most effective in the judgment of the official scorer is credited with the win. In this case, the second pitcher can be given the win and the third pitcher a save. [rules 10.19(c)(1) and 10.20]
Credit the batter with an RBI and no time at bat. Charge the catcher with an error. [rules 10.04(a], 10.02(a)(1)(iv) and 10.13(f)]
Charge the walk to the first pitcher. [rule 10.18(h)(1)]
Credit the run to the runner on second, an RBI and a single to the batter. The home team wins by one run. [rules 10.18(a), 10.04 and 10.07(a)]
This is an unearned run because the batter's time at bat was prolonged by the error. [rule 10.18(b)(1)]
Credit a save to the finishing pitcher since the tying run was on deck when the pitcher entered the game. [rule 10.20(3)(b)]
The run scores on a wild pitch and the walk is not intentional. Only an intentional ball four makes the walk intentional. [rules 10.15(a) and 10.16(b)]
Credit a double play to the fielders involved (at least the center fielder, pitcher and third baseman.) [rules 10.12 note, 10.11 and 10.10]
David Vincent is a long-time member of SABR and was presented with the organization's highest honor, the Bob Davids Award, in 1999. Vincent is the founding secretary of Retrosheet, which is collecting play-by-play accounts of every game in major league history. He has served as an official scorer in four minor leagues, working over 800 games and is now the official scorer in the Washington Nationals debut season. He is known around baseball as "The Sultan of Swat Stats" for his expertise in the history of the home run.
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