Even with the modern emphasis on statistics (“sabermetrics”), attempts to speed up the game, and scientific measurements, baseball is one of the most pastoral of sports.* It is also one of the most traditional.
“Keeping score” is a core baseball tradition — a way of taking notes during the game. Like taking notes in class, the main purpose is to help you slow down and concentrate on the event. It pushes you to process the event and condense it into a few marks of lead or ink. It may later serve as an aid to memory, but that is not the sole purpose.
Here’s a primer on keeping score, though I am going to give you an alternative blank scorecard that I designed and that I think works better than the traditional format:
Here’s a full size .pdf you can download: [Scorecard 2018 full]
The key difference here is that the columns are not innings-based, but represent each batter’s first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh at bats. Most batters will get only 4-5 at bats in a nine inning game, so 7 at bats will usually be enough for even a 12 inning game.
At far left are three boxes to record the date, park, and who is attending. At the bottom is the linescore, which shows the visitors and the home team. At the right are the totals, to be filled in after the last pitch of a memorable game.
The key elements, however, are the player column and the seven at bat columns.
The player column lists the player’s number, name and position, then shows the same information (plus the inning the substitution occurs) for each substituted player.
At right is the player block for Hideki Matsui in a October 17, 2009 playoff game in which the Yankees won in 13 innings. Matsui, no. 55, started as DH, but when he singled in the bottom of the ninth inning (“9.”) with the score tied 2-2, Joe Girardi brought in no. 47, Freddy Guzman as a pinch-runner (“PR”), because of Matsui’s notoriously bad knees. Guzman stayed in as the DH until the bottom of the 13th, when Girardi had no. 17, Jerry Hairston, Jr. pinch hit.
The meat of the game is in the at bat columns, each of which consists of nine at bat blocks, as shown at left.
The blue box is a miniature representation of the diamond, with home plate at the bottom, and is used in the traditional way. The defense is indicated by number (1 = pitcher, 2 = catcher, 3 = first baseman, 4 = second baseman, 5 = third baseman, 6 = shortstop, 7 = left fielder, 8 = center fielder, 9 = right fielder). There are a finite number of things that can happen in an at bat (e.g., 1B = single, 2B = double, 3B = triple, HR = home run, K = strikeout, HBP = hit-by-pitch, BB = base on balls, IBB = intentional base on balls, or a play in the field). The plays in the field combine the defensive numbers and an indicator of how the ball was hit (F = fly, L = line drive, P = pop, otherwise it is assumed to be a ground ball). If a defensive player throws the ball, the positional numbers are written, with a hyphen between: “6-3” means the shortstop threw the ball to the first baseman for the out.*** If a defensive player has a choice of which runner to get out, the indicator is “FC.” A double play is indicated by “DP.” A dropped third strike is “K” followed by what happens next, usually “2-3,” showing that the catcher throws the ball to the first baseman. A strikeout looking is a backwards “K.”
The small boxes at top left are balls (four boxes) and strikes (8 boxes, to account for fouls). The first pitch in an at bat is indicated with a back slash (“\”), all others are indicated by a forward slash (“/”).** The quarter circle at bottom left is the space for the outs. The four columns at right will give space for other notations.
Here’s an example from last year’s postseason:
Brett Gardner (no. 11, the left fielder) lead off against Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, and swung at the first pitch (“\”, a strike, thus in the second row), and grounded to the first baseman, who stepped on the bag for the out (“3u”). The “u” means unassisted. First out (“1”).
No. 99, Aaron Judge, the right fielder, took a first pitch ball, then struck out swinging on the sixth pitch. Second out (“2”).
No. 18, Didi Gregorius, hit the fourth pitch for a home run. Notice that HR is written in blank space and the diamond is filled in to indicate the run. The fat dot indicates that Didi is credited with an RBI (run batted in). If a runner had been on base when he hit the home run, then I would have put two fat dots to show two RBI.
The fourth batter, no. 24, catcher Gary Sanchez, struck out swinging on three pitches to end the inning. Third out (“3”).
The columns at the right show “Kluber” because he was pitching (later innings show the inning number in a small box, and “14/14” because Kluber threw 14 pitches in the inning, giving him 14 total (since it was the 1st inning).**** Finally “1 1 0 0” represents the traditional announcer’s summary: “1 run, on 1 hit, no errors, and no men left on base.” The rest of the space is useful for notes about interesting things that happen.
Here’s the entire scorecard (front and back) for the game:
I have been doing this in one form or another for the last fifty years, ever since my father taught me how. It is fun to look at the old scorecards for major league, minor league, high school and Little League games and remember who was there and what happened:
The season starts Tuesday (Tigers at Rays, 12:35 ET), so print out your scorecards and start scoring!
*Some dislike it for that very characteristic, just as some dislike futbol because it is hard to score goals, or MMA because it is violent, or basketball because they score on most possessions. I have a friend who says he will start watching televised golf as soon as they start playing defense.
**Whether a pitcher can get “first pitch strikes” is often very important, so I try to score them with the backslash. I simply can’t keep up when I try to put tiny numbers in the boxes to keep all the balls and strikes.
***If no out were recorded, the entry would be 1B for the single.
****I like to keep track of the number of pitches, since a pitcher who has thrown more than 80 pitches is not likely to be in the game much longer, unless he is named “Justin Verlander.”