Monthly Archive for March, 2011

MLB Caps: The Worst of All Time

Last week I ranked my best and worst MLB caps of today, stirring up some good conversation. Some of the best input and discussion covered the worst hats, or at least hats low on the totem pole. There was also some good discussion of old school hats, and the venerability of classic designs.

Those last two points got me thinking: was there something inherently better about the old designs? There are obviously lots of great ones, but I wanted to find some heinous caps from ages past. I succeeded. Here, with very little scientific criteria and in no particular order, is a list of some of the worst MLB baseball caps that history has to offer:

1926 Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have made some bold fashion choices over the years. Here, I can see the concept: we’ll cross the socks as though they were swords on a crest. But there’s something unnerving about the reality of it: two socks standing stiffly remind me of the recent Seattle Mariners commercial in which Jason Vargas presents a couple of lucky socks that have hardened into nauseating freestanding boots. Check out this cap on a player, who I think is Spencer Harris.

Early 1930s Boston Red Sox

Let’s get these preposterous sock hats out of the way early, shall we? This eye-burning red-striped number continues the theme of unnaturally stiff, phantom-footed socks. In this photo, Joe McCarthy sports the cap, which looks like an “L.” So it’s a cap that doesn’t look like what it wants to, which takes the team name too literally, and doesn’t even look like the misguided object it’s supposed to. It doesn’t seemed to have lasted long.

1940 Pittsburgh Pirates

The white stripe cuts across the sad figure of this cap like a sash across the wide waist of a lowly Victorian baronet who’s been begrudgingly invited to a party above his nobility.

1969 Seattle Pilots

The idea is a clever one: make the baseball cap look like a captain’s hat like this fellow is wearing. It’s also a bold use of the bill, which I can’t recall seeing elsewhere. That said, the use of the bill with the laurel leaves and the use of the terribly ungraceful bar running across the bottom of the upper combine to create a heinous panoply of ugliness. In action, sort of, on this Sean Connery lookalike.

The last word on the topic: even Ichiro can’t make this cap look good.

(date corrected, thanks ralf)

2000 Anaheim Angels

The “dark, dark Disney era,” as John called it in the comments of the cap rankings post. The Angels “A,” which is usually decorated with a subtle gold ring, is bear hugged in this design, clung to desperately by a co-dependent angel’s wing that could’ve been plucked from the main character in an epic cartoon movie. The “A” looks more like a hieroglyphic representation of a playground slide than a letter. Fly away, ugly design.

2000 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

This devil of an ugly cap was hard to track down, and it may be some kind of alternate, which would, I suppose, exempt it from serious conversation. This image, though, of Wade Boggs seems to suggest it was a regular cap. The gradient neon coloration, from pale aqua to iridescent teal to sick yellow, qualifies the Hypercolor people for some royalties.

Conclusions

This survey suggests that, while the predictable eras yielded their fair share of fugly caps, antiquity alone doesn’t exempt any cap from terribleness. The argument, therefore, that we like a hat just because it’s old doesn’t hold water.

Also, this list shows that with great risk comes great failure. The hats on this list are bold attempts to change the paradigm of hat design, and to use graphic design to rethink the way ideas can be represented on the forehead. For every bold and great cap design, like the busy late-70s to early-90s Blue Jays design and the Brewers’ much-heralded MB logo cap from the same time period, there are twenty missteps and eye sores. If anything, I applaud these blunders, and praise those who fail greatly. Except for Disney.

Final note: For epic amounts of uniform data of all kinds, check out Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s crisp, clean, and epic.

Everyday Ichiro #001: Return of the Routine

via Yahoo!

The first opportunity to watch Ichiro take an at-bat after a long winter off from baseball is always a joyous thing indeed. – Conor Dowley, Pro Ball NW

Last year I took a stab at blogging about one team on a daily basis: the Mariners. The blog was called Everyday Ichiro, and the experience was humbling and illuminating. I watched the team play every day, scoring the game in my own style–a sort of running play-by-play and scouting report–and synthesizing my observations into regular posts.

I had never watched so much baseball, or learned so much about a team so quickly. Blogging a team daily required a Zen centeredness, a spiritual calm, and a sense of patience that I’ve rarely drawn upon. My attention span increased, and my awareness of the broader trends of a baseball team expanded.  But, alas, my experiment lasted just half of the season. It didn’t help that the Mariners turned out to be, without exaggeration, one of the worst baseball teams in history.

The daily baseball blogger, working for little to no pay, year after year, is a folk hero.

The primary inspiration for the blog was the opportunity, as a then-new Seattleite, to watch Ichiro Suzuki play every day. Such a privilege deserved notice, and I devoted a section of most of my game analyses to his at bats. Every game, Ichiro used his unique skills and speed to coin a novel way to hit a single or make an out. So distinct is his game that his failures are often just as compelling as his successes, which, in a game of failures, is an aesthetic boon. Each at bat was and is an aesthetic experience.

So, while Everyday Ichiro the blog expired and now floats aimlessly in Fire Joe Morgan/Walkoff Walk Dormant Baseball Blog Purgatory, my goal is to carry on the core concept: the chronicle the exploits of Ichiro, right here on Pitchers and Poets,* with Eric throwing in his two cents as well.

*I know that I live in Seattle, and that Mariners ball isn’t on everyone’s radar, but it’s my belief that Ichiro is among the players who transcend the limitations of franchise and make us all happy to be baseball fans.

via Yahoo!

Without further ado, here is the first edition of 2011’s Everyday Ichiro:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011, vs. MIL

With the first televised Mariners Spring Training game, there’s the chance to once again bathe in the routine of Ichiro. I missed it–as did Conor at Pro Ball NW quoted about–without realizing how much I missed it.

Ichiro’s routine balances the regularity of his tics, stretches, and postures with the irregularity of his batting style. He lofts easy pop ups, chops grounders, swings at bad pitches, takes awful swings, and dribbles swinging bunts to every side, even as every single pitch he brings the bat up in a salute, brings his hand to his cheek, glances past the pitcher, and swings the bat back up to the hitting position as predictably as if they were the hands of a grandfather clock.

To paraphrase Grampa Simpson and his description of Jonny Unitas’ haircut, Ichiro is a player you can set your watch to.

1. In his first at bat of the evening, against the Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, Ichiro takes a couple of pitches, then rolls a smooth grounder right to the shortstop, and is thrown out at first by a quarter step. The return of the image of Ichiro, and his unnatural quickness to first base.

2. Nobody dodges an inside pitch like Ichiro. He dances gracefully away from danger. Gallardo’s straight fastball and his good curve keep Ichiro on guard, and he fouls away pitches until the count goes full. An easy grounder to second retires the batter, who has important things on his mind after natural disaster wreaked havoc on his homeland.

On these shores, baseball was back, and Ichiro was back. The sun had gone down in Seattle, and the dog was asleep. I followed quick on his heels, and wouldn’t see if Ichiro hit again, or even if the Mariners won the game.

Ted’s 2011 MLB Cap Rankings: A Response

Over at The Cardboard Connection, Brett Lewis created an illustrated list ranking all of the 2011 MLB caps.

I don’t know about you, but for me, such a list represents an irresistible opportunity to piggyback on Brett’s idea and create my own. The fun of a rankings list is disagreeing with it, and the best way to right history is to make your own. So make sure to check out The Cardboard Connection, because it was his idea first, and below you’ll find my response in the form of Ted’s 2011 MLB Cap Rankings, worst to first:

30. Cleveland Indians

I’m over racist mascots, and that includes incredibly offensive caricatures of oppressed peoples right on the cap. Also, the alternative C cap has the feel of a JV high school team.

29. Arizona Diamondbacks

Snakes in the shapes of letters are for stoners.

28. Milwaukee Brewers

While they earn a few points for using the good retro design, the modern Brewers hat is playing so far below replacement level that it cancels out the throwback. I get the concept, logo designer, but the cap doesn’t have to look exactly like a Miller Light Can.

27. Tampa Bay Rays

The powder blue highlights are a bold design choice, and I can respect that (however, for more on the drop shadow see below). This cap, however, just feels stilted. The letters seem gangly and awkwardly conjoined, like two middle schoolers slow-dancing to “You Look Wonderful Tonight.”

26. Texas Rangers

These primary colors make my head hurt. I’d also like to introduce the idea of the offensive drop shadow. A drop shadow should just barely exist, offering a subtle effect without being prominent (I am not a designer, but this feels intuitive). The Rangers cap drop shadow is also one of its main colors. Worsening matters, the regular and alternative cap just flip flop colors between the main color and the drop shadow. Bleh.

25. Cincinnati Reds

At first glance, this cap looks like a venerable classic design still in use. As I stared at the logo, however, I realized that there is another offensive drop shadow! The old school C is there, but it’s laid on top of black in two versions, and white in the other, like some kind of lame Tron 3D-style reboot. Johnny Bench and Pete Rose didn’t need three dimensions, and neither do I. Also, that black cap is just ugly.

24. San Diego Padres

The Padres have slowly sapped all personality from their uniforms over the last few years, and the hats are no exception. These hats have the classic logo, which is decent, but it’s colorless; there’s no blood pumping through its veins. The only bit of spark comes from the military connection, and the camo design is bold, but it’s ruined by the fat-edged treatment of the logo, and the same sort of visual flatness.

23. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Rare is the cap that uses the same color in the logo that it does for the cap itself. For good reason, I’d argue. I find it a bit weak to use the little barbs on the sides of the A. It’s a letter, let it be a letter! There’s already a halo perched on top, why do you need to ornament it further? And with its inner glow on the A, and the halo on top and the lack of contrast, the whole cap design feels cramped and excessive.

22. Colorado Rockies

The purple is coming! Read these caps from left to right and tell me there isn’t a disturbing invasion of purple into the cap design. I’d agree with Brett that “the color scheme fits Colorado perfectly,” but that may only be a result of their stubborn commitment to the hue that made the nurple famous.

21. Houston Astros

I’ve never much liked the Astros’ brick, black, and cream color scheme, a fact that sinks the overall cap design (the star itself I don’t mind so much, even if it’s a little crowded). The color scheme was meant, I think, to mesh with the brick  of the new Enron Field, but it’s time to move back to something more worthy of space city. I’ll admit that it’s an improvement over the 90s heinousness, though if a team is ready for some retro goodness, it’s the Astros. And if it’s me wearing the hat, there’s no way I would appear in public in the all-brick alternate.

20. Chicago White Sox

This is the first hat that’s probably more a personal repulsion than one that is broadly accepted. I appreciate the nod to the past, but I don’t like the logo’s downward-falling lettering, or its jangly asymmetry. And though he likes it more than I, I’m with Brett: these look like bones hung on a wall. Or, as the typical White Sox fan would put it: perfect!

19. Washington Nationals

In a case of perhaps reaching too low, the Nationals decided to just use an old cap from the archives, and unfortunately it’s taken from a look that wasn’t all that hot to begin with. The logo’s got a bit of character in the jovial curls, but it threatens the confectionary faux pas noted below. And that alternate cap is just not very attractive.

18. Toronto Blue Jays

This cap is an easy target: it’s a bold design, with a really expressive graphic element. I really tried to dislike this hat even more than I do, but in reality there’s something likable about it that I can’t place. It looks like an arena football logo, but even that I could let pass, as I think the colors really pop. Then I looked more closely at the J. First of all, it’s a J, for “Jays.” That is a little too chummy for a major league baseball cap. Second, the J is made of metal, and third, it is wavy, with only half of a serif on top. It just gets too weird upon such closer inspection.

17. Atlanta Braves

I’m going to play the racist mascot card here again. While I’ll concede that the design of the two primary hats is nice in itself, and pretty iconic, the alternate hat, with the tomahawk, is as tasteless as the racist caricature it represents, and reminds me only of the terrible tomahawk chop chant.

16. New York Mets

I can’t get over the droopy arms on that Y, though I’ll cede that the typography is sort of charmingly anachronistic, like something you’d see on Knights of Columbus letterhead. The colors are equally challenging, urging me to dislike them. They are best served by the first cap, where the two main colors live together. As the black is introduced, and the logo darkens, it goes to hell. The alternate cap feels like staring at a photo negative.

15. Philadelphia Phillies

The blue button on top of the main Phillies cap is a quesy little M&M atop a cupcake of a cap. Try and tell me that P isn’t written in icing.

14. Seattle Mariners

The concept is strong, and the design is bold, incorporating a thematic graphic element into the typography. It could do with an update, however, I think, in agreement with Brett, who believes it’s “gone stale.” The teal is an issue (though living in Seattle I can attest it’s a big part of all of the sports teams here and is basically a fact of life), and the components are a bit jumbled.

I own a nice Mariners cap, and in person it’s shimmery in an outdated 90s way. But there’s a lot of potential, and a bit of simplification could go a ways towards rejuvenating what is a solid foundation. (On that note, it bears saying that a cap is much different up close and in real life, where the richness of the fabric and the thread makes it pop. I haven’t looked at each cap in real life, so that’s a kind of handicap in this process.)

13. Florida Marlins

I am truly conflicted over this hat. It’s fair to say that if I was a Marlins fan I would love it. I would be proud of it, for all of its hubris, for it’s improbability. Let’s look at it closely. First, the F is enormous. Second, this F is draped in the full figure of the marlin itself, like a society dame in her mink stole. Marlin can reach almost 20 feet in length. Simply put, there is a 20-foot marlin on this cap. To put that in perspective, the other MLB caps that include the full figure of the team’s mascot include two birds, a snake, and a pair of socks.

In the end, the Marlins cap leaves something to be desired with its continued use of teal, long after the rest of the world left that regrettable color choice behind, and by the black-on-black letter design and its odd scale. That said, this cap is one of the boldest entries, artistically.

Also, now is about the point where I like the hats. The vitriol is above, and below, the overall sentiment should read as positive.

12. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals red cap is an unapologetic testament to the color itself, a brilliant use of the word’s double-meaning as a color and a bird. This brash commitment renders the white logo all the more substantial. The blue cap, frankly, I can do without in either form, but the strength of the red carries the rest.

11. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates make the all-black cap look good, through the use of a simple, bold yellow logo. The high contrast and the vaguely industrial typography do well to embody the team’s general aesthetic.

10. San Francisco Giants

Color-pop and contrast, lettering intertwining like plumbing that isn’t worried about legibility, and orange and black define this cap, which is essentially the offspring of an Orioles-Pirates coupling. That’s why I’ve squeezed it between the two. More on these colors below.

9. Baltimore Orioles

Staring at the primary Orioles cap, I couldn’t quite figure out why it made me vaguely uncomfortable. Then I realized it was one of the few main caps that does not use initials or lettering. It’s just a drawing of a bird. It’s a very nice drawing, though, and the Baltimore orange continues, against the odds, to be one of the nicest colors in baseball. Again, using a great color can make the use of black in the palette an asset rather than a liability.

That said, a drawing of a bird does not make it into the upper echelon of hat designs. And the O’s alternate cap feels a bit too casual for me.

8. Kansas City Royals

Color rules in this cap, and the slim, sensible lettering doesn’t get in the way, a few clouds in a summer sky.

7. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox B lays against the navy blue clapboard of the cap like a painted sign resting against the pine wall of a neighborhood hardware store. The alternate cap design with the actual red socks on it is like a made-for-TV movie adaptation of a Salinger novel.

6. Chicago Cubs

This is a cap that will draw you in like a nice light coming from the doorway of a bar. It’s a cheerful cap, bright and inoffensive. The logo’s edges are soft, like a smile. If the Cubs won a World Series, the smile wouldn’t seem so tragic.

5. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers cap is a sharp-edged answer to the Cubs cap’s soft side. The blades of that white D come up like Cobb’s spikes, without apology, with the authority of time and tradition.

4. Minnesota Twins

This cap does what the Reds cap fails to, embracing tradition and resisting the urge to modernize an already solid design with cheesy contemporary flourishes. And think about it: the T and the C refer to the “Twin Cities.” This sounds obvious, but the initials on the cap refer to the city’s nickname. How bad-ass it is, that the cap manages to wrap its conceptual arms around a strange geographical feature! Imagine if the Rangers cap initials were “DFWMA” the Angels’ were “LAAA,” or the Marlins’ were “?”.

3. Oakland Athletics

The history of the A’s features, as much as any team, showmen and showboats, circus acts and self-aggrandizers. If there is a ball cap that contains like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp the spirits of Charlie Finley, orange baseballs, Rickey Henderson, an elephant standing on a baseball, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Herb Washington, white shoes, and the Bash Brothers, it is this glorious A’s primary cap.

The other two are compromises.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

The crooked union of the A and the L as the former dangles from the latter reminds me of the letters of the Hollywood sign and how they fluctuate with the contours of the hillside. Blue the deep color of the ocean.

1. New York Yankees

The N stretches wider than it should, to straddle the slingshot Y. Are these train lines meeting in the middle of the city? Are they skyscrapers jockeying for position on the skyline? What is the gravity that pulls the legs of the N inward, bowing them? Of all the caps, this one raises the most questions, and seems more than any to be the result of chance pressed against opportunity.

The images are from The Cardboard Connection, and again I encourage you to visit Brett’s fun list.

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.

Runs, Runes, Ruins

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. This was my birthday, dammit, and I was keeping score no matter the consequences. 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.

The Poetics of Scorekeeping, by Patrick Dubuque

Today’s Scorekeeping Week contributor, Patrick Dubuque, writes about baseball and the Seattle Mariners at his blog, The Playful Utopia.

It’s the question many of us dread at the ballpark, usually accompanied by a smirk and perhaps a mesh-backed cap, as a man with a salt-flecked mustache twists around in his seat. Why do you keep score? It’s a question that is rarely worth trying to answer, except with a shrug: “I just like to.” Then the conversation ends; the chasm between can never be bridged.

It’s not a bad question, though.

On Sunday, June 4, 2000, I went to a baseball game at Safeco Field in Seattle. Trailing 5-1 in the seventh inning, Padres third baseman Phil Nevin lifted a fly off Arthur Rhodes, deep to right field. Jim Caple wrote the following passage about what happened next:

[Stan] Javier raced back to the warning track, leaped and reached his glove over the fence. The ball appeared to strike the glove’s pocket about an arm-length beyond the fence but Javier couldn’t hold onto it. Yet when he pulled the glove back, he also flipped the ball back onto the field side of the fence. As Javier fell to the ground, he looked up, saw the ball dropping toward him, reached out his glove and became the leading candidate for Catch of the Year.

From my seat, I wrote my own version of what occurred:

9!

The average comment about scorekeeping will inevitably mention that it is fading from the national consciousness, a dying language. In the story above, both accounts are translations of a moment, the encapsulation of a million simultaneous details into a single, communicable event. When you read Caple’s account, you get a good feel for what happened, but all writing is in some way summarization, an altered translation. The single 9!, in a only a few strokes of a pencil, hacks away at the adjectives and the hyperbole. What remains are the man, Stan Javier, and the quality of his performance.

By keeping score we have created our own language. Each person’s style varies, providing a unique dialect, but the narrative is one which other scorekeepers (and, it must be emphasized, only other scorekeepers) understand. The language of baseball creates its own citizenry. It has its own punctuation and pronunciation, its own trimeter rhythm. Scorekeeping converts baseball into poetry. Its minimalism represents Keats’ negative capacity, a freedom from resolving the unresolvable, and instead revel in the process itself, the telling.

The relative simplicity of scorekeeping demonstrates the powerful human need to categorize, to make sense out of what we observe. In reality, even amidst the repetition of baseball, no two pop flies are ever the same; there is always some factor, some element, that is unique. Scorekeeping allows us to condense these infinities into a single subset, like a 9, so that we can process them and, more importantly, discern patterns. It’s not enough to sit passively, and let the game (or life) unfurl before us; we want mastery over it, a knowledge of why things happen the way they do.

In a game of chess, the number of possible permutations exceeds the capacity of the human brain after the first few moves. In baseball, many of the variables reset between batters, supplying the mind with only a few contingencies to consider. Because of this, we can use the data we’ve collected to make predictions about what will happen. This, more than anything, is why baseball fans are drawn to numbers, to the game’s unique capacity for analysis. For a sport and its chronicling method, scorekeeping, that are so heavily rooted in the past, they are also obsessed with the future. The scorecard allows this process to happen in the middle of the action, using those inevitable pauses to reflect and reassess.

Finally, scorekeeping isn’t merely transcription. A quick glance at a cell phone will confer a sheer quantity of information that no scorebook can replicate. It’s the writing itself that is the defining act; it is the commemoration that separates a given ballgame from any of the million before it. We write to connect ourselves to history, to name ourselves as part of it. Scorekeeping, like writing, allows us to describe for posterity our own fandom, our presence at that game and our understanding of it. It is how we take possession of our past.

Because I was there to witness it, I own a small piece of that Stan Javier catch. As long as I have that scorecard, I always will.

Alex Belth: Late Bloomer

Alex Belth is a friend of P&P and one of baseball’s longest-tenured bloggers. Check out his cultural and baseball musings — and work from his stable of talented writers — over at Bronx Banter.

I didn’t start keeping score until I was in my Thirties. As a kid, I never had the patience. It’s true that I didn’t have anyone teach me how to score but my attention was also too scattered for that kind of thing. Occasionally, I would give it a try, because I was envious of my friends who did score games. But it never lasted more than a few innings.

Eventually, I kept a scorecard when I went to Yankee games, using a hybrid of official notations and my own system, which varied from game to game. I’ve always envied those scorebooks with neat, clear handwriting; I’m way too emotional for that.I like the graphic quality of it and look at it like I’m making a collage (I’ve always envied those scorebooks with neat, clear handwriting; I’m way too emotional for that.) I’m generally a nervous, uptight fan and I discovered that scoring gives me a way to channel my energy and keep me focused on the game. It’s almost like knitting. I sit there, clicking on my pen, rolling the corners of the pages, rocking like Leo Mazzone, scribbling little notes, entertaining myself.

These days, you don’t need to score to know what’s going on, the scoreboards and your cellphones can give you all that information and more, but still, I find it a soothing practice. But I only score at Yankee games. If I’m watching the Mets, and the game doesn’t matter to me emotionally, I’ll revert back to being a kid, keeping score for a few innings before I get distracted.

I like to think that keeping a scorebook will give me something to enjoy looking back on when I’m old. I rarely revisit them but I don’t throw them out either.

Alex uses the books from ILovetoScore.com, which were designed by a frustrated fan looking for a better way. Kind of a precurser to Bethany Heck’s work and definitely worth checking out, if you’re into thoughtfully designed scorebooks.

You Gotta Keep Score: Mariners Broadcaster Dave Sims Talks Scorekeeping

“You gotta keep score,” broadcaster Dave Sims told me over the phone. “I don’t know anyone in this business who doesn’t keep score.”

Even early in my conversation with the Seattle Mariners play-by-play veteran, I understand the depth to which this professional broadcaster associates calling a big league baseball game with scoring it. Sims can barely conceive of succeeding at the former without doing the latter.

It isn’t long, either, before a discussion of the broader practice of scorekeeping gives way to the concrete, and I can hear the rustle of looseleaf paper as Sims shuffles through his scorecard from the Mariners-Dbacks game he called earlier in the day. Highly touted Seattle prospect Dustin Ackley‘s day at the plate catches his eye.

“Let’s see,” says Sims, “Ackley walked on four pitches and he hit a double. In my mind’s eye I can see it, and I have it marked down right here. Keeping score helps you tell the story of the ballgame.”

Sims paused, as his scorecard revealed another storyline. “The Mariners were set down ten in a row to start the game,” he said with the same emotion he probably infused the live broadcast with. “Heck, they didn’t have a base hit until the fifth, a seeing eye single by Michael Saunders past the right side.”

He can’t seem to help but to recount the afternoon. It’s as if, scanning his scorecard, the game is replaying itself before his eyes. Give him enough time and one starts to feel that he could extract a week’s worth of stories from the ticks, digits, and colors on his scorecard.

A broadcaster’s job is to describe the game with the accuracy of a reporter and the narrative fluidity of a novelist. Like a reporter, Dave Sims takes very good notes, and, like a novelist, he knows how to interpret and translate these notes into a cohesive narrative. Through the relentless use of his scorecard, Sims turns a plot into a story, and he does it in real time.

Through the relentless use of his scorecard, Sims turns a plot into a story, and he does it in real time.

Sims learned to score from his father at a young age, around six or seven years old, and he found keeping the book a match for his personality. “I’ve kept score all my life,” he tells me. “If you’re a baseball fan, you tend to be anal retentive anyway. Scorekeeping just reinforces it to the nth degree.”

“For example,” he continues, “I’m very anal about keeping pitch counts. Today, I was watching the Mariners and the Diamondbacks, and it’s interesting to see what guys are swinging at. Keeping a good pitch count, I can look down at my book and see that Langerhans swung at the first pitch the first time up and the second time up he took it deep in the count.

“I keep balls and strikes. I keep a pitch count up in the upper right hand corner of the box because it can give you an insight into how a hitter’s doing.”

Dave Sims’ scorebook is a living text. He uses it constantly while broadcasting, moving from the live game situation to the evolving text and back again like an air traffic controller with a radar screen. The scorebook is an irreplaceable key to the practice of broadcasting, and crucial for tracking the through-lines of the game as they play out from the first pitch to the last. Sims’ scorebook, in other words, is not a document composed for historical posterity, but a tool of the immediate world, as crucial to his work as a computer screen to a programmer.

(Speaking of technology, I ask him if he ever uses the Internet during a game. “When I’m broadcasting, I don’t have time to be fumbling around checking the Internet,” he assures me, “but I can go right to my book. You’re seeing more iPads used for some stuff, but I’m not there yet.”)

Sims’ scoring system, which I’ll readily admit was a bit hard for me to grasp in its finer details over the phone, places a premium on the most important narrative fact in a given inning: outs. “The great Bob Wolff told me never to forget the number of outs in the inning,” says Sims. Next up is the need to identify how a hit was made, and Sims logs where the ball was batted to alongside the traditional numbers. What that likely means, I’d guess, is a few more strokes of the pen than the average fan invests, to show a long fly ball or a weak grounder. And a home run, for example, gets an ‘X’ to mark the spot over the fence where it left the yard.

Sims also uses four color-coded highlighters to mark important turns of event. A play marked with a pink highlighter signals that a run was driven in, green means a strikeout, blue a walk, and yellow means that it was an unusual play of some kind (one can imagine a yellow streak highlighting yet another gravity defying catch from Franklin “Death to Flying Things” Gutierrez, or yet another 200th hit of the year from Ichiro). “When I look down at my book,” Sims says, “my eye jumps right to the color. It’s all very visual.”

During Spring Training, when a scorebook can take on the convoluted air of an Enron accounting ledger, Sims marks the starters in black or blue pen (the foundational color is arbitrary based on whatever pen is at hand that day), and the reserves go down in red. He maintains the scorecard just as he would any other broadcast, from each Single-A at bat on down to every last dizzying high-numbered roster manipulation.

“If I’m on the air, I can’t just say, ‘here is some guy.’”

During the regular season, Sims’ scorebook is an oversized ledger with space for a hundred or so games. His book is not as cumbersome as the one used by the late Mariners icon Dave Niehaus, the heft of which, Sims noted, “was enough to give you a hernia.” Sims’ saves his big scorebooks, and his archives go back years. He can look to his own library to find the results of a game from years gone by.

His book is not as cumbersome as the one used by the late Mariners icon Dave Niehaus, the heft of which, Sims noted, “was enough to give you a hernia.”

Whereas, in basketball and football broadcasting, of which Sims has done a ton, there is more reliance on producers for up-to-the-second game information, in baseball, Sims does much of his own tracking, creating his primary reference materials as the events themselves occur. It’s a triangle of action: he watches it, he marks it down, and he talks about it. See, write, talk, see, write, talk. One corner of the triangle informs the other as the space between them gains texture. The past informs the present.

The broadcaster, in completing this three-pronged action, does what the fan himself or herself does, seeing and marking, reacting and learning. When I score a game myself, I feel more confident in discussing the finer points, having at my disposal a reference document that corresponds directly to the facts of the matter. I can argue for a player’s performance because I have equipped myself with information. The insight that a scorecard proffers is distinctly democratic, and the broadcaster who keeps his own score is only trumpeting the fact that what he is doing every fan can also do, albeit without the salary. Every fan owns his or her own story.

“It’s a multitasking job, particularly in TV,” says Sims of scoring and calling a game while throwing cues to fellow broadcasters and sideline reporters and coming in and out of breaks. “But it’s what I’ve trained all my life to do, and I love it.”

Images courtesy of Dave Sims.

6-4-3: A Scorekeeping Week Link Roundup

If there is a more comprehensive baseball scorekeeping site than The Baseball Scorecard, it would be an impressively comprehensive baseball scorekeeping site.

The Art of Manliness offers its own tutorial on scorekeeping. I enjoyed the emphasis on creating your own style, but I would’ve included more about how to score the way Hemingway did.

Keeping score makes Rob Neyer happy, and that makes us happy.

At the bottom of this Keith Olbermann post about Bryce Harper and Spring Training, there’s a lovely picture of a pin-neat scorecard.

The Joy of Keeping Score by Paul Dickson.

Roger Angell with a sentence on scoring Roy Halladay’s historic playoff no-hitter:

“Even from a distance, at home again in your squalid living-room loge, you felt something special this time about the flow of pitches, balls and (mostly) strikes, the inexorably approaching twenty-seventh man retired, and, if you happened to be keeping score, the pleasingly staggered, vertically accumulating triads of outs.”

Bethany Heck, who we interviewed, wrote a post about her project over at NotGraphs.

MLB has a little Baseball Basics page on keeping score, and I have to say that the method is a little bizarre.

image via Flickr user Tom Lee

Diamonds and Doodles

Our first guest contributor for scorebook week is Patrick Truby, of There’s No I in Blog. Welcome aboard, Pat.

I’ve always admired neatly kept scorebooks because I’ve never understood them. The act of neatly scoring a complete baseball game seems like an impossible task for someone like me, who is equal parts obsessive-compulsive disorder and messy doodler. That doesn’t make a ton of sense, I know, but no matter how hard I try to be neat and ordered, it’s impossible for me to hold a pencil and paper without turning even the neatest, most organized piece of paper into a splatter of Jolly Rogers and manturtles. This created a ridiculous amount of anxiety when, back in my ball playing days, the task of keeping my team scorebook became my responsibility.

On a few of my teams, bench players rotated scoring the games. Something about using the scorekeeping codes—the lines, colored squares, and backward “K”s—to create a readable account of the game on that grid pattern of boxes and baseball diamonds carried more pressure than a late-inning at-bat with runners in scoring position. I knew eventually I’d make a mess of it all. I doubt even now that I could accurately score a baseball game; basic things, like how to signify that an inning has ended or a player has been substituted, were never important to me. Instead, I got bogged down in the more artistic details.

By far the most important aspect of keeping score for me was creating the most accurate description of how hard and where a ball was hit. Anyone could write “1B” to signify a single. I was more obsessed with depicting how exactly a batter achieved that single. There’s the saying that a swinging-bunt single is a line drive in a score book, but not in my scorebook. I attempted to draw the line to the exact point on the field where a batted ball was fielded. For that swinging-bunt single, I’d have drawn a very light line extending barely past home plate. A fly out near the outfield fence was just as easy. I needed to get the arc of the ball perfect, but that line would no doubt go just to the edge of the scorebook’s outfield line. A line drive hit to left-center might be more difficult. I’d have to find the exact spot where the ball landed on the field and the corresponding spot in the book’s scaled down field. Try as I might, I could never get it down to an exact science. If that line drive to left-center landed behind the shortstop, found a gap, and rolled to the outfield wall, I would be bothered for the rest of the game that I my little baseball pictogram gave the impression that a batter got a triple off a hit that landed in short-left.

In retrospect, my attention to that specific detail may have caused my scorebook doodling. I thought it kept me focused on both the game and the paper before me when really, my inability to draw the perfect lines caused hours of frustration. As games went on, my inner perfectionist would give way to my inner doodler. Lines wavered. Boxes got sloppy. To look at my scorebook, you’d imagine some kind of baseball catastrophe broke out in the sixth inning. I can’t think of words to accurately describe how my doodles ruined a perfectly good scorebook except that, if any of my teammates went back and looked at one of the pages I scored, they’d probably think they were looking at a documentation of the rain and lightning delay that sent both teams to the equipment room for a few hours.

*Photo courtesy of Jenny Ryan