What I Learned from Scorekeeping Week

by Thomas Hawk

What did I learn from Scorekeeping Week, after baseball fans of different stripes and styles weighed in on their scorekeeping tics and habits?

I learned, mostly, that a scorecard is a living text, and that the act of scorekeeping far exceeds in value what the resulting document offers. Our contributors, commenters, and friends around the web enjoy keeping score, not the kept score. Watching a baseball game, the scorekeeper watches the game, sees something differently, participates in a new way, or in an old way. They grip the scorecard and pencil like the handles hanging down on a subway car, crowded among all the other passengers on this baseball train.

I’ve learned, during Scorekeeping Week, that keeping score is an action, and a scorecard lives brilliantly for a particular time, rolling out in tune to the game like Kerouac’s single scroll of On the Road manuscript. Downhill writing, recording each moment and that moment’s connection between the fingers and the pencil or the typewriter. Recording oneself watching.

Writing a scorecard, you never get to stop. Mistakes happen, the game goes on, the game goes crazy, columns bleed into one another, time marches on. There are no second drafts, no revisions. Downhill writing, time-saving codes that lay another layer of meaning over top, another translation. What’s lost in translation is what is gained.

The personality of the scorer defines his or her scorekeeping. The expressive marks of the emotional fan, like Alex Belth, who only scores the games whose results he cares about, are bound to stray and straggle. The pragmatic baseball broadcaster’s book will be color-coded and clean, a fast and functional reference point to help verbalize the game in real-time. The designer’s book will reflect, from curated cover to the least last leaf, the fashionable modes you’d expect to see in an urban coffee shop or ad firm. The scorecard of the doodler will fill up with lines that wander as the mind that guides them wanders.

The truth is relative, in baseball like in any arena. Witness the Hall of Fame debates, the steroid hunt, the sabermetricians and their resistors. Even professional scorekeepers disagree over the judgment calls. Baseball is said to be a highly quantifiable game, and it is. But for all of the concreteness of scoring a baseball game, of making sure that the indisputable facts go down in the record, the divergences are the most intriguing, when facts give way to debate, and when the complicated spiderweb of action goes madly down in the book like it was written on a Doc Ellis bender.

A scholar named Bruner once said that literature “renders the obvious less so.” Poetry, in other words, makes the ordinary seem strange. The scorecard and the act of scorekeeping translate a simple act–playing a baseball game–into another, equally simple-seeming, but wholly mysterious and reflective one, the art that we here at this blog and countless other bloggers and zine-makers and novelists and journalists pursue at their own risk: the perilous act of writing things down.

Peter, of A Building Roam, put it nicely in a comment on Patrick Dubuque’s Poetics of Scorekeeping (as did Patrick, in the piece itself):

When I was growing up, I always had to escort my grandmother to church (which I hated). She was so devoted that every single time she’d be holding the book, keeping up with everything that was read and singing with every song and I know this was because she was there to have an EXPERIENCE. I haven’t been to church in years and would never go back, but I consider the ballpark to be a cathedral, a site of gathering for ritual, and to keep score is like the grandmothers keeping up with the readings and songs. Having an experience.

Amen.

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