Monday, April 13, 2009


As I write this in February, I look out my window and see snow covering the ground. I cannot off the top of my head recall the last time I looked outside and did not see a blanket of snow on the ground. Snow is characteristic of winter, which is the one season in which baseball has no place, at least not too far north of the Tropic of Cancer. And snow is a form of precipitation, and precipitation, regardless of the season or which form it takes, is the natural enemy of baseball.

So why on earth am I writing a piece entitled “snowflakes” on a baseball blog? Good question, lame answer forthcoming. It’s a metaphor (or is it a simile?(*)), and it’s not even my own.

Let me quote Stew Thornley from his article “In the Braves’ Clubhouse”, part of SABR’s The Fenway Project:

"To me, a completed scoresheet is a work of art. It’s not the person entering the hieroglyphics who is the artist; rather it is the players on the field, creating the events that are then recorded. At the end of the game, the scorer has a unique piece of art, as individual as a snowflake or a fingerprint, no two games ever being the same."

Thornley is of course correct that no two games are the same, and is also correct that it is the players on the field and not the scorekeeper that truly matter. However, it is also true that each individual scorer's system is unique. There are no two people who keep score EXACTLY the same way (with one potential exception which I’ll discuss below). Even if two individuals use the exact same scoring codes and symbols, there will be some individuality in the scoresheet. Perhaps you record the attendance, or who performed the national anthem, or jot down a note in the margin that a given pitch was a curveball.

The snowflake metaphor also works in the sense that most scoresheets are easily recognizable as such from afar, but truly reveal their uniqueness up close. Most scoring systems have a lot in common; most people use the standard 1-9 numbers to identify fielders, for instance. More esoteric systems can generally be cracked without much trouble assuming you know what events the symbols and codes must be representing.

The potential exception to the rule of uniqueness I alluded to above is that of formulaic systems like Project Scoresheet that have a code for just about everything. A distinction must be drawn between the Project Scoresheet style of scoring and the complete system itself. There is very little room for individuality in a system in which just about every event imaginable has been accounted for. On the other hand, one can use the PS-style of three lines to describe the action of each PA while retaining their own personal approach.

I don’t mean this as a criticism of the Project Scoresheet system. For the efficient entry of game accounts into computer systems, standardization is a wonderful thing. Certainly a lot of thought (from a lot of very smart people, including Craig Wright) went into the development of that system, and to the extent that you could objectively measure the efficiency of a scoring method, it would likely score very well. On the other hand, if you want to read back a game without the aid of a computer, it would score poorly, as I’ve discussed before.

Of course, Project Scoresheet was designed by people with eyes on detailed data collection, and thus is sensible even if a little excessive. What if you had a system developed by bureaucrats from an international sports governing body, obsessed not only with standardization but also with mind-numbing uniformity, a dash of political correctness, and more concern with just being able to produce a box score from the finished product than its usefulness in developing a play-by-play log? Well, you’d probably end up with the monstrosity that is the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) scoring manual (available for download from the website of the Great Britain Baseball Scorers Association here).

125 pages of details on minutiae, reminders that "Any reference in this IBAF Scoring Rules to 'he', 'him' or 'his' shall be deemed to be a reference to 'she',
'her' or 'hers' as the case may be when the person is a female", instructions for perforating and attaching a new scoresheet in the case of insufficient space (no joke--see page 21), repetitive notations of substitutions, and a very run-of-the-mill "trace the diamond" approach are the highlights of this earth-shattering treatise on scorekeeping. This is a case where you really have to see it to believe it.

Strict adherence to someone else’s system of scoring may be a necessity in some cases, but it can suck the life out of the activity. With the easy access to data through scoreboards and internet game trackers and the like, the only good reason for anyone to keep score in a non-official capacity today is because the individual finds it enjoyable. And as is the case with so many things in life, it is much more likely that what you find enjoyable will be what comes naturally to you or what you develop yourself over time, rather than a bunch of rules, regulations, and procedures handed to you by an "expert".

If you don’t keep score and would like to try, don’t feel compelled to adopt any particular approach. Learn a little bit about a number of different approaches and figure out which elements of each appeal to you. Figure out through trial and error what works for you and what doesn’t, and always try to record the details that you really feel are important.

Don’t make your scoresheet another flake in the big pile I’m looking at right now. Make it a unique snowflake that your five year-old self might have caught on his glove and admired.

(*) I really should look up the distinction between the two, but I'm lazy about things like that. I seem to recall being told that metaphors were of the form "A is B" and similes were "A is like B". And then there is the category of analogies, which just muddies things up a bit more. All of this serves to illustrate why I always liked math class better than English. As does the first and last paragraphs of the body of the post.

1 comment:

  1. You're too modest (about the first and last paragraphs): in writing, as with scoresheets, it's better to have a Voice than a (n approved)Style.


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