Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Scoring Self-Indulgence, pt. 1

When I have occasion to write something on paper, I usually use a pen. It’s easier that way--ball-point pens are ubiquitous and cheap; you can sign things with them; and now that the hideous scourge of blue ink has faded a bit, they no longer result in an assault on one’s sensibilities every time they are used (okay, that last one should say “my sensibilities”). In truth, I like pencil better, specifically a mechanical pencil with .5 lead. I use the real cheap Bic ones exclusively, and have for years--you know, the ones that are supposed to be disposable, but you can hold the clicker down and push the replacement lead in through the top. You can get ten of them at Wal-Mart for $2.

The pluses of the ball-point pen allow me to save that favorite writing utensil for only the most important tasks, ones that just can’t be entrusted to the terrifying permanence of ink. For most of the winter, it sits undisturbed on my bookshelf or in a pencil holder or wherever--but sometime in March, I have occasion to take it out and put it to use, and I don’t stop until mid-autumn.

You have probably surmised by now that the important task to which I refer is scorekeeping. Yes, the existence of internet gametrackers have made the collection of data for one’s own perusal something less than a necessity if one would like access to real-time information on a game, and to the extent that people do want to keep their own score, electronic applications are pushing pencil and paper aside. And admittedly, those of us who keep score not just at the ballpark but in the privacy of our own homes have always been a rare breed and prime targets for the nerd label.

Still, I have no intention of giving up scorekeeping in the foreseeable future. It is still true that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. GameDay may have all of the information I need, but it (cannot yet at least) be customized to display it in the exact manner I have become accustomed to. If you want to save it for posterity, a GameDay printout lacks any sort of sentimentality whatsoever. And I might be part of a dying breed, but if I want to give my full undivided attention to the ballgame, the last thing I need to be doing is puttering around on the computer between pitches.

If this reads as a half-hearted defense of scorekeeping, I have accomplished what I set out to do with this post. For one thing, I don’t really need to justify my hobby to you; I just feel compelled to put in a good word for the practice every once in a while. I’ve never understood why announcers sometimes feel compelled to give you basic information about the sequence of plays in a game--information that they are tasked with providing--by prefacing it with “If you are keeping score at home…” Of course, this is a hanging curveball set up for the announcing partner, who gets to jump in and make a snide comment about what kind of deviants would be doing that. Considering that those of us that keep score are the least likely subset of fans to turn the game off when it’s 14-2 in the bottom the eighth...

But the other reason that it can be difficult to espouse the virtues of scorekeeping is that scorekeeping is a very personal pursuit. Everyone has their own technique, their own special symbols built around the familiar position numbers that have united the vast majority of scorecards from the 1890s or so on. (Except for the early twentieth century occasional flip-flopping of 5 and 6 for third base and shortstop). This makes it difficult to generalize--I might say that I love keeping score because I could quickly get a precise count of how many balls the hapless Ranger pitches had thrown while Neftali Feliz waited in the bullpen…but your scoresheet might not tell you that. Instead, it might tell you who won the sausage race.

There are displays of the variety and innovation in individual scorekeeping out there online, but not to an extent that I consider sufficient, so last year I asked people to send me their scoresheets for posting on my scorekeeping blog, Weekly Scoresheet. Several people graciously accepted my invitation, but I was foolish enough to make the initial request during the offseason, when even compulsive scorekeepers weren’t particularly likely to have an example sitting around. (*) So if you’re interested in sharing now, please send me an email.

Weekly Scoresheet has a whopping total of six subscribers on Google Reader, which is completely understandable--a personal scorekeeping blog is a vanity blog, plain and simple. Unfortunately, I haven’t been updating it recently because I no longer have a scanner at home, and it just isn’t a big enough priority for me to buy one even though this is 2011 and they are cheap. Eventually, Weekly Scoresheet will be back in full swing to bore the five people who read it with my own chicken-scratched records of ballgames.

In the meantime, though, I’ll be using this space to occasionally run a tutorial on my scoring system and walking through a sample game from the 2010 season. Calling it “my scoring system” is a misnomer--there's certainly nothing groundbreaking about it and most of the symbols are drawn from other people’s systems--but the great thing about scorekeeping is that the precise combination of data you record, codes you use, and the like is fairly unique. I would not encourage anyone to learn to score a game in the way I do, not because I don’t think it’s a decent system but because I would encourage you to organically develop your own that fits your needs and interests as a baseball fan. As such, an explanation and tutorial is ultimately just a way to fill up space and pad the post count. I’ll enjoy writing it; if you enjoy reading it, then much the better.

(*) Sadly, I have to admit that I spend a not insignificant free time in February doodling scoring of imaginary games, using Excel to design some new scoresheets that I’ll never use because I continue to use the same basic sheet (and I do mean basic) that I have for over a decade, wondering why the calendar can’t turn to March so that spring training games can be scored, and other such pursuits.

I will begin simple, with a look at one of my blank scoresheets--it's just a bunch of empty blocks in a 9x9 grid. I originally made this in the DOS Brief text editor prior to the 1998 season, using a lot of “_” and “|” symbols. The lines weren’t solid, so I eventually traced them down for 1999 or so. Later I would scan it as a PDF and touch it up a little bit in Photoshop, but it still has non-perfect lines which to me grants it a little character that you don’t get from using a computer to draw the lines precisely. I have a couple facsimile versions created in Excel (which I use now for any new scoresheets I make--it might not be as capable graphically as some other programs but making grids is something that spreadsheet software does very well), but there’s nothing like the original article for me.

* Why a 9x9 grid? You do realize that the average team doesn’t even use half of those scoreboxes in a game, right?

One of the great things about the Project Scoresheet is that it pioneered the use of numbered boxes rather than a box for every batter to hit in every inning. This was a great way to conserve space, but it also makes it harder to view the inning as a standalone unit. I prefer to see each inning on its own. Yes, a team batting around is a mild inconvenience, and splits up an inning into two columns, but I’ve never understood why some people freak out about and start crossing off the inning headings and pushing each inning down a column.

* No room for statistical lines (AB-R-H-BI and the like)?

Nope. I don’t think that standard compiled statistics for a single game tell you much of anything, and the sort of boilerplate box score is something that is very easy to obtain online (although some of them aren’t so accurate). I’m already sacrificing space by using the 9x9 format; I don’t want to waste any more on stat lines. Plus, if you fill them in as the game goes on, it’s another distraction and you have a bunch of ugly tallies on your sheet. If you wait until the game is over to finish your scoresheet, then it’s just work.

* No diamonds?

Nope, I’ve never liked them. They’re great if you just want a quick snapshot of where the runners are, but if you’re trying to record a lot of detail on how runners advanced, they get in the way. I split the box up into four corners for each of the bases, but I don’t think a visual aid like a diamond is necessary to accomplish this.

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