Archive for the 'Scorekeeping Week' Category

Vin Scully’s Scorebook

I spoke with Ken Levine, television writer and Mariners’ broadcaster, last week for an article I’m writing elsewhere. The conversation turned at one point to scorekeeping, and he shared this tidbit on Vin Scully:

Normally I can look over somebody’s shoulders, I can pick up their scorecard and I can kind of figure it out. With one exception – Vin Scully. He’s got lines and dots and stuff. I have no idea. You need Navajo code breakers to figure out Vin’s scorebook. I have no idea.

Scully, Levine said, also has the unfortunate habit of throwing his old scorebooks away. (Ernie Harwell, on the other hand, kept everything).

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

If Moleskine Made a Scorebook: The Bethany Heck Interview

Bethany Heck is the impetus for scorekeeping week. She is a graphic designer whose Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival project on Kickstarter, seeking funds to help produce a reimagined and better-designed baseball scorebook, has bounced around the baseball blogosphere for a couple weeks. It even captured the disconnected and rarely timely imaginations of Ted and myself. She is also behind the Eephus League, an online repository of stylish baseball artifacts. Bethany and I discussed scorekeeping in terms of baseball fandom, and her own unique project.

Eric: Tell us about your website, the Eephus League. It’s stunning full of great design, great images, great everything. But what exactly is it? I don’t even know where to start.

Bethany: Well, it is a hard thing to describe, isn’t it? It’s about everything and nothing. It’s a safe haven for all the random things that occur in and because of baseball. There were so many things about baseball that I loved, but no one site to house them all, and none of them allowed user participation either. So I made the Eephus League to fill that selfish desire!

Eric: So out of a clearing house full of marginalia, novelty items, and other disconnected treasures comes an ambitious, artistic, and clearly very popular mission to redesign and essentially restart the baseball scorebook?

I look at today’s scorecards, with 50 subdivisions per batter, per inning, and well… it’s not fun. It’s not inviting.Bethany: Yes. Scorekeeping has always been something that interested me from a record keeping and visual standpoint, and I love looking back at older scorebook designs. They were so much simpler, and you can see why more people kept score back then. Then I look at today’s scorecards, with 50 subdivisions per batter, per inning, and well… it’s not fun. It’s not inviting. And come on, those books are hideous. I wanted something that would make not only scorekeeping, but baseball cool again.

Eric: When and how did you learn how to keep score? Was it love at first filled-in diamond?

Bethany: I wish I had a romantic story about my first experience, but it was at Fulton County Stadium with my father, I was probably 7 years old, and after getting t shirts, pennants, and a duffle bag at the gate, we sat down and he pointed out the scorecard to me, explained a few things. I didn’t keep it up for long, but that was my first experience. I did it off and on until I started working on the Eephus League last summer.

Eric: Were there any particular scorebooks that influenced you? Or even non-baseball material, as you came up with the aesthetics for your own? Ted said they reminded him on the outside of moleskine notebooks.

Bethany: Well Ted is definitely correct about the influence of Moleskine sketchbooks. Once I decided that I was going to make scorebooks, I looked at the different sketchbooks on the market and Moleskines were my favorite. I used that as a size basis and for things like the flap in the back to hold extra materials. The question I asked myself was “if Moleskine made a scorebook, what would it look like?” There are some older scorecards that were pocket sized that were especially inspirational. Teeny tiny grids and limited columns, and you realize that scorekeeping only has to be as space-consuming as you want it to be.

Eric: Why scorekeeping in particular — why should the masses be taking it up? And what’s lost when we don’t keep score by hand?

Bethany: Why doesn’t everyone keep score?  Baseball is a relaxed game, it’s mostly downtime, and scorekeeping is a great way to fill the empty spaces. To start over, I focused on scorekeeping because I think it’s an incredible art that’s dying. It’s rare that you see someone keeping score at a game, and the ones you do see are mostly older folks. And the current scorebook designs are not something you can just plop in a  teenagers lap and say “hey, have at it!”

Eric: Speaking of the artistic aspect, I remember playing high school baseball, and one of our coaches had this palm pilot-y electronic thing we had to use to keep score. It was so embarrassing to sit in the dugout and punch numbers on it with the little stylus like some sort of lost field engineer. Then again, I had terrible hand-writing. So I guess it was fine in that respect.

Bethany: That’s rough. Scorekeeping needs to be done by hand, in my opinion, or with some sort of calligraphic input. It’s like a secret language that is passed along, and everyone adds their own little bits to the vernacular.

Eric: Are there any especially awesome or unique flourishes you’ve come across? Any odd bits of slang?

Bethany: There are so many! I heard recently from an Eephus League member who draws a line past first to indicate a single, and the line stop at the base for a walk. Things like using an exclamation point to note an exceptional play on the field are great. Some people use dots to indicate balls thrown, slashes for swinging strikes, and so on. I love that stuff.

Scorekeeping is storytelling, at its heart.Eric: What is it about visual design that can elicit that kind of expression? What I mean is, why does your  version of the scorebook allow for people to keep score artistically, while another version makes for a dull coding experience. Is it simply space?

Bethany: I think it has to do with the overall presentation of the page. I was careful to keep generous margins and to have minimal extra content in the grid. When you add that stuff, you’re almost telling someone how to score. “Put this here.” I hope my design encourages more freedom of expression.

Eric: How can scorekeeping be a social act, an act of sharing and community?

Bethany: I think any time you’ve got a group of people together keeping score, you’re going to have an exchange of technique. “How did you score that? Hey, what do the dashes mean?” I also want to add a section to the Eephus League site that chronicles different notation techniques. You might come across something that makes perfect sense to you and decide to use it or adapt it for your own use. I also love seeing completed scorecards that other people have kept, so that is a very social thing for me. Scorekeeping is storytelling, at its heart.

Eric: How has the reception been so far for the scorebook project? As of now, you’re well past your Kickstarter goal.

Bethany: The reception has been far better than I could have hoped for. When I started the project, a friend saw the amount I was aiming for and was extremely doubtful that I’d make it. I sold over 530 scorebooks through pre-orders in a week, and it’s not even baseball season yet. I’m so overwhelmed. People say they are going to use it for their first scorebook, which is so exciting for me.

Eric: What are you doing about production? I imagine you aren’t handcrafting all 530 before Opening Day…or are you?

Bethany: Hah, thankfully I don’t have to. I have a local printer who is going to print all of the books. The only sacrifice I had to make was the stitching down the side. It’s going to be stapled 3 times instead. It won’t hurt the function of the book, thankfully, it will still be plenty sturdy. I do have to make the bands for the outside and the reference cards all myself, so that’s going to be fun.

Eric: Why Kickstarter? In retrospect, it was obviously a great decision, but did you know that this was the kind of project that could kick up grassroots support? Or was it more of a “what the hell, let’s see what happens” kind of thing?

Bethany: Definitely more of the latter. I knew I had a large amount of money that was going to be required to  get the books made, and I really didn’t have a good feel for how many I should be producing. Kickstarter was a chance to solve both problems. When I submitted the project, I didn’t expect them to accept me.

Eric: I didn’t realize it was a competitive thing — I thought anybody could get on there within reason, and then the people spoke for themselves. So you had to sell Kickstarter on this idea?

Bethany: In a way, yes. You tell them about the project, how much you want to raise, etc. They have certain restrictions about what you can and can’t raise money for.

Eric: So what’s next? I imagine you will be taking this project beyond Kickstarter, and maybe even perhaps the initial scorebook offering?

Bethany: Well, the end goal is to get MLB licensing and to offer books with the correct colors for every team, team logos on the book, and seating charts in the pages where you can draw in where you sat. But for now, I’ve got to sell a lot more scorebooks!

As of this writing, Bethany has just about doubled her fundraising goal of $10,000, but if you want, you can still donate — and lay claim to your very own Eephus League merchandise, over at Kickstarter.

Welcome to Scorekeeping Week

Sometimes people ask us why baseball is our favorite sport. There’s no one good answer but it’s easy to come up with reasons it appeals to the obsessives, the nostalgics, the fastidious among us. Scorekeeping is just one of the symptoms, in that it is more than just keeping score, it is an institution. The language of scorekeeping, the history and the symbolism, speak to our collective desire to log the proceedings, to set the course of events down on paper.

Buried in the subconscious of the every amateur scorekeeper is the fantasy that someday, years into the future, a researcher will stumble across that mustard-stained scorecard from a Sunday afternoon in Arlington, and use it to construct the final, Rosebud-like paragraph of said scorekeeper’s biography.

The point is, this Scorekeeping Week at Pitchers & Poets. We felt like the act of scorekeeping was both personal enough and broad enough to justify an entire week of posts, from a range of perspectives, from the graphic designer to the professional broadcaster, and all of the fans in between.

This is also the first time we have ever laid claim to a week, labeled it, and singled it out for any official purpose. Seeing as scorekeeping is a universal activity, we hope that you ponder it along with us on your own blog, or better yet in our comments section.

In the next few days you can look forward to interviews with scorebook visionary Bethany Heck and with Seattle Mariners TV broadcaster Dave Sims, as well as reflections from friends of the site, all on the topic of scorekeeping.