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April 12, 2017

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The Art of Scorekeeping in Baseball

This Article was created as part of our Great Americans Series: Jackie Robinson | Shinola's Jackie Robinson Journal Set (pictured above)
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April 12, 2017

Click here for a tutorial on scorekeeping in baseball

Written by baseball historian, Detroit native, and friend of the brand, Dave Mesrey.

When Jackie Robinson made his historic major-league debut in 1947, becoming the first African-American baseball player in the 20th century, Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber was sitting in the radio booth that day high above Ebbets Field. The Ol’ Redhead, as he was known, was no doubt keeping score, as were countless Dodgers fans in the stands and listening in on WHN.

In the 1940s, scorekeeping was nothing new to baseball. The practice had been around for decades, ever since Henry Chadwick pioneered the art of keeping score in 1859.

But Robinson was something new to the major leagues. Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey’s gamble to break baseball’s color barrier with a 28-year-old infielder from California was not only groundbreaking, it was history in the making.

On April 10, 1947, Rickey issued a statement that read, "The Brooklyn Dodgers today purchased the contract of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson from the Montreal Royals. He will report immediately.”

Five days later, Barber not only wrote a black man’s name on a major-league scorecard for the first time, he changed his outlook on race completely.

Team captain Pee Wee Reese, a white shortstop from Kentucky, was one player who led the way in accepting Robinson as a teammate and as a major leaguer. “I was just trying to make the world a little bit better,” Reese said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do with your life, isn’t it?”

Inspired in part by Reese, Barber came to accept Robinson, as well.

“Being raised in the South, when the black ballplayers came, I had to begin thinking differently,” Barber said. “I had to understand with clear eyes that I should — and must — accept him equally as I did other players.”

And so on that fateful April afternoon in Brooklyn, Red Barber penciled in the name “Robinson” on his scorecard.

Shinola's Jackie Robinson Journal Set (pictured above)

Every Picture Tells A Story

Keeping score of baseball games has long been a uniquely American pastime. To do so effectively, you need to think like a good hitter and keep your eye on the ball.

Over the years, keeping score has evolved into one part standard operating procedure, one part art form. So while the guidelines in Shinola’s Jackie Robinson Scorecard Set are self-explanatory, they’re also open to interpretation.

“I doubt if there are any two people, fans, writers, or broadcasters, who keep score with identical symbols and systems,” Barber once said. “I do know that any fan who acquires the habit of scoring his own ballgames will find that it adds much to his enjoyment of the pastime.” 

While it’s commonly accepted that “W” stands for “walk” and “K” stands for strikeout, not all scorers observe these conventions religiously.

And not even the pros in the press box can always keep their heads in the game. Longtime New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto, when distracted from the action on the field, would often mark his scorecard “WW” for “Wasn’t Watching.”

Rizzuto’s colorful scoring habits eventually found their way into the stands. Baseball superfan Andorra Fields, who’s been attending and scoring games across the country for more than 20 years, always knows the score.

Baseball superfan Andorra Fields' scorecard from the Tigers-Red Sox game April 8, 2017.

“If you could capture three or four hours in a photograph,” she says, “it’s right there in the scorecard.”

To remind herself of what’s transpired during a game, Fields often resorts to scribbling pictures on her scorecard. That could be a hot dog, a broken bat or a pair of stirrups.

When a couple of rowdy fans interrupted a recent Tigers-Red Sox game at Detroit’s Comerica Park, Fields drew two stick figures running on her scorecard.

During the same game, when a foul ball off the bat of Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval shattered a glass partition behind home plate, Fields drew a sheet of glass on her scorecard with a hole in it.

“And if I drop any food on my scorecard,” she says, “it gets circled and labeled.”

Pat Hughes' Game 7 scorecard of the Cubs first World Series victory in 108 years.

Play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes is in his 23rd season as the radio voice of the Chicago Cubs. Last fall, when the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians for their first World Series title since 1908, Hughes was in the Progressive Field press box keeping score during the dramatic Game 7.

After the game, Chicago’s WSCR tweeted out Hughes’ scorecard. With nearly 6,000 games scored over his long career, Hughes says his style of scorekeeping has evolved to where it’s second nature to him. 

“There’s nothing scientific about it,” he says. “I use colored pens, and that’s about it.” 

Hughes typically writes the Cubs lineup in blue ink, their opponents in red, and the umpires in black. “I also put things like stolen bases, wild pitches, and errors in red,” he says. “Those things stand out.” 

Hughes, naturally, was very meticulous during the World Series. But he’s not always so diligent when it comes to keeping score.

“Sometimes for spring training games,” he says, “I’ll put ‘D.R.M.’ for ‘Doesn’t Really Matter’ or ‘I.F.’ for ‘I forgot!’”

The Final Frame

In all their years in Brooklyn (1884–1957), the Dodgers won just one World Series — in 1955. Robinson retired from baseball after the 1956 season, falling one game short of a second world championship.

In his penultimate game in Brooklyn, an aging Robinson, batting just .275 for the year, singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning to force a deciding Game 7 against the Yankees.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s “1B, RBI.”

(Single, run batted in.)

Shinola's Jackie Robinson Journal Set (pictured above)

How to Keep Score:

1. Fill in each team’s starting lineups, including player’s name, jersey number, and position number (1 for pitcher, 2 for catcher, 3 for first baseman, etc.).

2. Carefully document each at-bat using the numbers and symbols on our Shinola scorecard. For instance, if the leadoff batter in the first inning grounds out to shortstop, that’s scored 6-3 on your scorecard. (Ground ball to “6,” the shortstop, who throws the ball to “3,” the first baseman.)

3. If a batter reaches base (with a walk, single, double, or triple), you can chart his progress by marking a line along the basepaths. If space allows, you can even include “SB” for stolen base or “WP” for “wild pitch” to indicate how the runner advances to the next base.

4. You can add your own unique notes or symbols to each inning, perhaps including bullet points or X’s or some other mark to remind yourself how many outs there are.

5. Be sure to note where each inning ends so that you can accurately track which player bats in which inning.

6. Be sure to keep track of pitching changes, which can happen far more frequently than the insertion of pinch-hitters and pinch-runners.

7. A good transistor radio tuned in to the ballgame can help you keep track of official scoring decisions.

8. Be yourself. Mark your mark. And most of all, have fun! Because baseball is a uniquely American pastime. And scoring a ballgame is an art form uniquely yours.

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