Paul Franz is a Rockies fan, an educator, and recurring P&P contributor. Welcome to Scorekeeping Week..end. His blog is Nicht DIese Tone .
“The end of pitching as we know it.” That’s how SportsCenter would describe the game , in their typically overwrought tones. Still, to a grade-school-aged Rockies fan like me, it was monumental enough that a game I attended in person was leading the venerable ESPN program, much less in biblical – or at least Hollywoodical – tones.
The game in question was a 16-15 affair between the Rockies and Dodgers. It took place on June 30, 1996, just days after my 11th birthday. We attended – my family and I – as my present for the year. Because I was a huge nerd as a kid,* I insisted on keeping score. Where I learned to keep score is a question I can’t answer, as my dad is nearly blind and can’t follow the game, my mom knows next to nothing about baseball, and my brother is younger than me and not particularly a baseball fan. At the time I knew the principles of scorekeeping, but had never done it for a whole game. And, hey, at 11 I reasoned it was about time I graduated from theory to practice.
* As in, when I was a kid my brother and I would play fake baseball games with stuffed animals and matchbox cars. That’s not the nerdy part. The nerdy part is that, while my brother moved the “players” around and generally executed the actions of the game, I actually kept track of the statistics – batting averages, home runs, ERAs, and so on – of the toys involved. I had literally notebooks full of this stuff, all from when I was around six or seven. So yeah, nerdy.
Needless to say, the decision to keep score for this particular game would prove disastrous. Besides the final score of 16-15 (guaranteed to produce a messy scorebook), the Rockies used six pitchers and stole ten bases. The Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo gave up nine runs (only five earned) in five innings. Indeed, the experience was so traumatic for Nomo – as he and Piazza combined to allow the bulk of the stolen bases, including all 6 of Eric Young’s – that he threw a no-hitter in his next Coors Field start. Perhaps a less determined young man – or a smarter one, anyway – would have given up after the Dodgers batted around in the third inning, necessitating jumping into the next inning on the scoresheet. But I was exceedingly, bull-headedly, determined. This was my birthday, dammit, and I was keeping score no matter the consequences. Even as I began bisecting already bisected columns and rows in order to fit all the substitutions, I persevered.
For whatever reason, of the many pieces of childhood paraphernalia my parents kept, this scorecard was not one of them. It could not possibly have seemed significant to them. It likely would have seemed an incomprehensible mess even to someone familiar with such things, thanks to the many divided cells and arrows mapping events to their proper innings. Still, despite the necessary mess – and my less-than-stellar 5th grade handwriting – it would be fascinating to see now.
Sometimes the simple, elegantly designed structures we use to understand, categorize, and generally record our experience of the world cannot cope with the complexity of reality in actionIn retrospect, there’s a lesson in my scorekeeping experience – if I may pontificate for a moment. Sometimes the simple, elegantly designed structures we use to understand, categorize, and generally record our experience of the world cannot cope with the complexity of reality in action. Not all baseball games are tidy 3-2 affairs. Faced with reality, then, we have the option of building more complex, but less aesthetic structures to house our understand in, or we can continue to hope the simple and elegant will serve often enough that it remains desirable.
Unfortunately, in this age of technocracy and commodity, we too often pick the robust over the beautiful, forgetting that there is a very different story one might tell about those times when the simple, elegant, minimalist scorecard confronts 16 to 15. The experience wasn’t disastrous, the scorecard not a hideous mess after all in this different account. It was, instead, elegant in its own way, and heroic besides. A baseball game ought to fit onto a simple scorecard, perhaps, but if it does not, it is up to the scorer not to invent a new, more convoluted, more sophisticated model, but rather to see, behind all the runs and runes, substitutions and symbols, the stolen bases, the errors, and the five-run innings that it is still baseball that is being played. Even that little, inadequate scorecard, all chaos and chicken-scratch, is perfect for the job.