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?
"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."
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.
Here are some sample plays to call. The answers appear at the bottom of the column.
Answers For Sample Plays
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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