Well, here’s what you’re up against when you set out to explain baseball scorekeeping to someone who’s never done it before: “K” stands for “struck.”
How’s that for the first lesson?
Strikeouts are called Ks because k is the last letter in the word struck. And this is why baseball scorekeeping is the most free hand kind of scoring of any sport.
Seriously, if K stands for struck, then anything should go, shouldn’t it?
It almost does.
The only thing uniform about the scorecards of the baseball fans of America is that they all have columns and rows that form grids, inside of which contain hieroglyphics that would make the ancient Greeks blush.
Bowling has its own odd way of scoring, which essentially gives the kegler bonus points for things like strikes and spares. Apparently just keeping track of how many pins get knocked down was considered too boring or lacking in profundity.
Bowling out-thinks itself in its scoring. If you get a strike or spare, you don’t just score “10” for the total number of pins that hit the floor. The score for that frame gets put on hold, until the ball is rolled in the next frame. Then that roll’s result gets added back to the previous frame to create a total that is synthetic, which is then added to the next frame, which we already used for the previous frame, which is the frame we’re now in, as we look ahead to the next frame and add that frame’s score to the current frame, which has already been used once, as I mentioned two lines above.
That’s not scoring, that’s pig math.
Tennis is lovely—literally.
Another sport that gets too fancy-shmancy with its score-keeping.
Tennis goes: love, 15, 30, 40, deuce—instead of 0, 1, 2, 3, tie.
Baseball seems bottom line enough; each run is worth one, and whichever team scores more runs, wins the game.
That’s the sausage. Now let’s look at how that sausage is made.
Before the game even begins, two baseball fans sitting next to each other with scorecards could very well be at odds.
One fan might denote each player’s defensive position in the batting order with the logical abbreviations of 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, etc. The other might use the numerical coding of 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.
Baseball has a “to each his own” way of documenting a game’s occurrences. There are no rules, really. How a person fills up his or her scorecard grids is like religious or political preference—no trying to convert anybody!
You ever try to read the scorecard of someone who does it differently than you? It’s like looking through the eyeglasses of someone who’s near-sighted—and you’re far-sighted.
Some things, you might be able to make out, but others require squinting, closing one eye or nudging the person and saying, “What’s THAT?”
In innings where no one reached base, you’ll have a pretty good shot at translating someone else’s scorecard. Because a fly out to the left fielder can really only be “7” or “F7” or “FO7” or “FO-LF.” Pretty cut and dry.
A ground out to the shortstop, with the bases empty, also has its limitations: “6-3” or “GO6” or “GB6” or “SS-1B.”
It’s when runners hit the base paths that scorecards become the scorer’s fingerprint.
The way base runners’ point-by-point destinations are denoted in the grids is truly how scorecards take on their own style.
I’ve always preferred the “diamond” method: the manner by which a batter got on base occupies the middle of the grid, i.e. “W” (or “BB”) for walk, along with a diagonal line from the bottom center of the grid to halfway up the right side—one-quarter of a diamond.
As the batter progresses from base to base, a simple diagonal line tells the story. So if our runner moves from first base to second, a line from the original line (the one drawn thanks to the walk) is brought to the middle of the top of the grid—so we now have one-half of a diamond drawn in our grid.
And so on.
But since this is my scorecard and I have my own style, I add some wrinkles.
I utilize the space in the grid that lies between the diagonal lines and the walls of the grid. I use that space to tell me—and only me, because how dare anyone even look at my scorecard—which subsequent batter was responsible for the base runner’s advancement.
Example: the shortstop walks; diagonal line drawn, as explained above. The next batter is the right fielder. He singles, sending the runner to third base. So we draw two diagonal lines, to move the runner from first to third: one to the top middle of the grid, and the other from there to the middle of the left wall, placing him at third base.
In the space between the third diagonal line and the grid’s walls, I place a “9”, signifying that the right fielder was the one who moved the runner to third base.
But that’s just me. Others eschew the diamond altogether and simply denote a runner’s location by placing their shorthand of choice in the approximate areas of the grid marking each base’s location; no diagonal lines whatsoever.
On my scorecard, I can see runs scored at a glance because every time a runner is plated, I shade in the space in the lower right corner of that runner’s grid.
RBI are noted with dots in the batter’s grid—anywhere you can fit them, with one dot per RBI. And I also place dots next to the batter’s name, so the run producers are conspicuous.
A single is a “1”, a double a “2”, a triple a “3” and a home run is a “4”. But some may use “1B,” “2B,” “3B” and “HR.”
My dad had his own way of marking hits. He used short horizontal lines that corresponded with the hit type. So a single had one line, a double had two lines—one on top of the other—and so on. His wrinkle was that, emanating from the horizontal line(s), was a perpendicular line that was angled from left to right, depending on where the ball was hit. Pretty nifty, if you wanted to preserve forever that a player’s double in the fourth inning was driven into left field.
All hell can break loose once runners are on base: they can steal or be caught stealing; be forced out; advance on wild pitches; come around to score on a hit, walk, error or sacrifice fly; be picked off; or—God forbid—get caught in a rundown.
And every one of the above can be marked on a scorecard in a myriad of ways.
The basic language of the baseball scorekeepers of America might be one spoken by all, but the dialects are distinctly different.