The Simple Joy of Keeping Score

I want to step away from the analysis for a moment. Recently, Sky Kalkman asked the question, "What do you love about baseball?" While enjoying a great game on a beautiful night at CitiField yesterday, I realized something else I love about baseball; keeping score. A quick look around the stands revealed that this simple tradition is now very rarely observed. Certainly in this time of Pitch f/x, iPhones, MLBAM and Fangraphs, nobody really needs to keep their own scorecard, but I think this time-honored tradition is one of baseball's great, simple pleasures and I would like to offer up this tribute.

Posting here at, I am sure that many people here already keep score regularly. This is a die-hard, statistic-obsessed crowd after all. However, if you have never done so, please, I implore you; keep score the next time you attend a game. Any game will do really- High school, college, Indy, minor or major League.

One thing you will notice immediately is the rise in your own status amongst those in your section. Fellow fans will peak over your shoulder (as the Tigers' fan next to me kept doing), they might ask how many strikeouts the pitcher has, or whose is up first next inning. You will know and you will let them know and they will be grateful. You will temporarily replace Google in their minds. Who doesn't want that power? I mean, don't expect everyone to buy you a beer or anything, but trust me, you will feel the love.

Another thing you will notice- your connection with the game you're watching will grow stronger. I am generally an attentive fan, but when I began keeping score, I realized that I was missing things here and there- a quick at bat, who fielded that last ground out and so on. These details are at the heart of the statistics we pore over on sites like this, but while watching a game, they are easy to gloss over. There is a punishment imposed on the score keeper for this neglect; it is the WW abbreviation, meaning "wasn't watching." It is shameful to write down those two letters, very shameful.

This self-imposed close reading of the game is perfect for the SABR-toothed fan. I notice things I would not otherwise notice when keeping score. For example, last night Armando Galarraga had not allowed the Mets a hit through the first three innings and only walked one batter, putting Jose Reyes on to start the first. Just looking at the stadium scoreboard, you might think that he was dominating. Armed with my scorecard, I could tell otherwise. Galaraga had struck out one batter (the wildly free swinging Francoeur) and had only induced one groundball (off the bat of his opposite number, Takahashi). He was getting infield flies and allowing some hard contact, which had found the outfield gloves. It seemed reasonable to assume that he was up in the zone quite often and yet he was not getting a lot of whiffs. I felt he was not as good as his line made him look. My insight was immediately validated when Jose Feliciano double of the left field wall and David Wright followed with a line single. Perhaps Galarraga changed strategies because he got groundballs on seven of the next ten balls in play, though his early luck did not quite hold and he allowed four runs after those first three innings. Maybe this was all just random variation, but I doubt I would have given the number fly balls and groundballs much thought had I not been notating each play. Such close observation is a joy in itself, even if it is not as meaning as it seems.

For those of us following the sabermetric line of baseball thinking, it is important to remember just how massive the role of the scorecard is in our understanding of the game. Without the scorecard compilation project that is Retrosheet, historical data would be even less useful than it currently is. While Retrosheet takes most of its game accounts from newspaper archives and other such official sources, scorecards kept by fans have been important discoveries for the project. Fan scorecards have often filled in missing information and sometimes even given us our only source of game play data. Your scorecard probably won't have the impact your grandfather or great grandfather's scorecards have had, but who knows? I mean, what if this whole internet thing really is just a fad? Where will we turn for game play data then?

One final score keeping story-

When I first began keeping score, I bought a program and used the scorecard inside it. Then I started scoring games at home (yes, I am a dork, I know). So I found a scorecard template and I have been using it ever since. I further descended into dork-dom when I decided to keep all scorecards in a binder, rather than leaving them on whatever flat surface looked the least cluttered. One night last year, with my binder in hand, I met some fellow Red Sox fans at New York's best Boston sports bar Professor Thom's (shout-out!) and kept score at the bar for the Yankees-Red Sox game. It was a great game, capped by a three run rally in the eighth to give the Sox the win and Professor Thom's was just about the perfect place to be watching it.

One thing that is strange about PT's though, is that while it is THE Boston sports bar during game time, around 11 PM or so it becomes an NYU student hangout. A steady stream of college-age girls started arriving around the time of the Sox rally and by the time Papelbon closed the door, they comprised about half of the crowd. Now, nothing appeals to young women like diligent scorekeeping, so naturally I was targeted. Probably, the young lady who came over to ask me about my scorecard was mocking me, and since I am married, I didn't really care to find out, but if you are single and significantly smoother than me (and trust me you are) you could turn that kind of thing into an opening. I'm just saying: give score keeping a try, it's sexy.