Ron Morris

Scorecards keep fans in the game

rmorris@thestate.comApril 21, 2013 

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    INSIDE: USC sweeps doubleheader from Kentucky, C6

A PROUD fraternity exists among scorekeeping baseball fans. If you do not believe it, then stand among the group that religiously gathers at the grease board behind home plate for games at Carolina Stadium. They do not say it, but the implied message is that there exists a higher degree of sophistication about baseball within the alliance of scorekeepers.

Chances are good South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal will be there, penciling the starting lineups in her scorebook. Ever-prepared, she keeps a couple of scorebooks in her car at all times, just in case she happens upon a baseball game while traveling. Sixty-six year old Marsha Cole is likely to be there as well, entering the night’s starters into her iPad, the surest sign of room for new technology in the love of scorekeeping.

“What do you want to go to the game for if you don’t keep score?” asks 85-year-old Stan Kyzer, who has been recording each play of USC games off and on since 1975. “You know what’s going on in the game with a scorecard.”

It helps that Carolina Stadium is scorekeeping friendly. Scorecards are available free to all paying customers. Starting lineups are posted 30 minutes or so before the first pitch. While that might seem like basic stuff at a ballpark, it is not these days. A scorecard — and even a roster — was nowhere to be found on my recent visit to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., to see the Tampa Bay Rays play.

That was OK. Like Toal and Cole, I long have carried a scorebook to games, whether working or just enjoying. I’ve been keeping score at baseball games since I was 10. My father, a radio play-by-play announcer, taught me the finer points of 6-4-3 double-plays as we shivered in the press box at University of Wyoming games.

I learned at a young age that, like no other sport, baseball affords every fan an opportunity to be part of every game. All you need is a scorecard, a pencil or pen and a rudimentary understanding of baseball to paint your own picture of the game by using any manner of shorthand.

To some, the etchings on the scorecard might appear to be hieroglyphics. I prefer to call my style, which sometimes includes multiple colors of ink, “Morris Code.” Kyzer calls his scoring manner “simple,” because as an old person “you don’t want to make it complicated.”

What matters most is that the person keeping a scorecard can keep up with the game. Kyzer knows that on his card “Go” stands for groundout and “Fo” for fly out. Others might simply pencil in the word “out,” for a retired batter.

A colleague in the New York Yankees radio booth once glanced at the scorecard of former Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto to discover “WWG” in a couple of blocks. When asked what the acronym stood for, Rizzuto responded, “Wasn’t Watching Game.”

Of course, the traditional method of keeping score is based on a long-ago numbering system whereby every fielder is given a number. The pitcher is number 1, catcher number 2, first baseman number 3, all the way around the field to the right fielder, number 9. So, if a batter grounds out to the shortstop, most scorebooks record the out as 6-3 (shortstop to first baseman). Should a batter reach first safely on an error by the second baseman, the play would be recorded as E-4.

Scorekeeping gets a little more complicated with a fielder’s choice, passed balls, wild pitches and multiple assists recorded on run-down plays. No matter the complexity, the basic idea is for the scorekeeper to quickly ascertain how the game has gone to that point.

Cole, who sits in Section 13, Row 10, takes great pride in recording every play in her iPad. For those sitting nearby who do not keep score, Cole is more than happy to inform them that the batter grounded out and singled in his two previous at-bats.

“I make myself indispensible for my section,” she says. At game’s end, Cole returns home to print out the scorecard and file it in a notebook. She has every scorecard filed from every home game she has attended since 1998.

She recently informed her son that when she passes on, “if you dump the notebooks, really bad luck will befall you.”

Margie Barrett, 79, was late coming to the scorekeeping game. She really had little interest in sports until three seasons ago when she began following USC’s march to the national championship. Soon, she was keeping score, much to the surprise of her sister, Betty Cordell, in Nashville.

“She tells me, ‘I never thought you’d get into it like that,’ ” says Barrett, who loves the idea that men approach her with questions about the game.

Toal got her start in scorekeeping as a young girl in the 1950s. She kept score off the radio broadcasts of Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds games, which could be heard in Columbia. She continued the practice when she attended Columbia Reds’ minor-league games at Capital City Stadium.

Toal wishes she had saved the scorebooks of her youth, but like her baseball cards of the 1955 World Champion Dodgers, her mother probably tossed them out with the trash. Now, as she fills a scorebook, she files it away at home.

“That would drive me nuts,” she says of the prospect of not scoring a game. “I have got to have some reference point, other than the video scoreboard. Of course, they’ve got a lot of information on scoreboards now. But I’ve got to be able to look at my notes and follow the game that way.”

Scorecards also can serve as souvenir items. Toal says she forever will treasure the scorecard she kept from USC’s 2010 title-clinching game against UCLA at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium.

I framed my scorecard from the first major-league game attended by my son, Luke, who was 5 at the time. He has the ultimate keepsake from the 1999 game at Turner Field that featured a matchup of future Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Glavine for Atlanta and Randy Johnson for Arizona. The scorecard even notes three of Johnson’s pitches that touched 100 mph on the stadium’s radar gun.

Luke, of course, learned early how to keep score. I trust that others are passing the art along to their children. We have become a scorekeeping family over the years. Even when dining in a restaurant, should a waiter drop a fork or plate, one of us invariably will chime in with “That’s an E-5.”

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