Editor’s Note: My uncle, Guy Lammers, is an official scorer for the Toledo Mud Hens. I was fortunate enough in high school to sit in the press box with him for a couple of games and see what it’s all about. What I took away was the intense amount of focus that these people require for three or four hours at a time. They have to be able to make a snap decision on any play in a given game. They keep score… of every pitch. For example, if one of the writers or the stat stringer takes a quick break, they will ask, “What did I miss?” when they return and the reply will be something like “ball, called strike, foul, ball, throw to first, swing and miss strikeout”. With official scoring being discussed frequently given some recent rulings, I thought I’d check in with a man who’s seen plenty in his time as an official scorer.
What made you want to give official scoring a shot?
Back in 1996 I was listening to a Mud Hens game on the radio. The Hens broadcaster said the Hens were looking for an official scorer. I contacted someone in the front office and he said they had someone already, but they’d put my name on file. The next season rolled around and one day around noon I got a call: “Can you come out and be the official scorer tonight?” No warning, no training. I’ve been an official scorer for the Mud Hens ever since, now working my 15th season.
I kept the scorebook in high school for the baseball team so I always had an interest in it. And, of course, I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life.
What’s the most difficult thing about being an official scorer that fans don’t know?
We have to pay attention on every single pitch because on every pitch something could happen where a call has to be made. Watching a television replay doesn’t always help because of a particular angle they might have. We are fortunate now in Toledo to have every game televised in HD, so that helps. But having replay was not always the case. We’d have to watch it live and if you were looking down and missed it, you had to rely on someone else telling you what happened.
And, I don’t think everyone understands when we make a tough call, one player’s statistics will benefit and another player’s will suffer, and each player will look at it from their biased view.
You’d be surprised how many professional players (and sometimes managers and coaches) do not know all the rules and nuances of scoring decisions.
Could you give a couple examples of nuances?
For instance, on a pickoff at first base, if the runner makes any sort of movement to second base, it is considered a caught stealing. Just a little move to second, but then a dive back to first should always be ruled a caught stealing.
A batted ball that take a bad hop is always considered a hit and not an error. Sometimes that is difficult to see live or to pick up on the replay. We sometimes look at the player’s reaction to the ball to judge if it is a bad hop or not. The Mud Hens’ Fifth Third Field has a terrific infield, but occasionally a bad hop occurs on the dirt part of the infield and that can make for a difficult call.
To most of us, the key thing is to just get the call right. Sometimes the home team thinks they deserve the benefit of doubt. It’s referred to as “home cookin'”. They claim they don’t get that benefit on the road, so they should get it at home. But, I try to call it right down the middle since, in my case, I work for the International League.
What’s the toughest call (hit vs. error, wild pitch vs. passed ball, ball caught in the sun, etc.)?
The toughest call with the most pressure is calling the first hit in a potential no-hitter situation. The unwritten rule states the first hit has to be legit. I’ve had times when I had to make a hit or error call in the early innings and my call is the only difference between the pitcher pitching a no-hitter or not. That’s when you start thinking you might be put in the spotlight. And, if a potential no-hitter starts getting into the fifth or sixth innings, my palms get sweaty.
Another difficult situation is when there are errors in an inning and runs score. We have to re-construct the inning as if no errors occured in order to decide on earned runs versus unearned runs. What makes it difficult is judging if players would have taken extra bases or not, if force plays might have occured, or if sacrifices might have been made if the number of outs had been different. That totally comes down to making judgement calls and having a good feel for the game.
Elaborate if you could a little about what the rule book says about fly balls lost in the sun, fog, etc.? Do you agree with the original error call on Torii Hunter in Cleveland a couple weeks ago?
When that play happened, I thought it should have been ruled a double. My understanding is any ball lost in the sun or lights, or even a wind blown ball, should be ruled a hit. After the play occured, I noticed on Twitter that all the Cleveland media members in the pressbox said there had been some sort of MLB directive to rule an error on plays like that. The directive supposedly stated if the fielder appeared to have a beat on the ball, but lost in in the last moment, he should be charged an error. But if the fielder never had a beat on it, it should be a hit. I had never heard of that directive. After the game, the Indians appealed that decision and Joe Torre in the commissioner office reversed the call making it a hit. I’m sure Asdrubal Cabrera was happy because he was awarded a two-run double. The Angels pitcher, Ervin Santana, was probably not happy because he got charged with two earned runs.
How often do you end up changing your original call after watching a replay? What pieces of information go into changing a call?
I very seldom change a call after the initial decision, but I’m not afraid to do it. I take my time when making the original call, often watching the replay before announcing my decision. Occasionally we’ll discuss the play with the managers to get their viewpoint. Most of the time they are forthright and tell you exactly how they saw the play. They realize we have a difficult job. The most important thing to consider is could the play have been made with “ordinary effort”. That terminology, “ordinary effort”, is in the baseball rule book. If you say it would have taken a great play to make the play, then you have to rule it a base hit. If you say it was a play that a fielder should have made, then you rule it a base hit. There are not different standards for different players. At third base, the standard for Jack Hannahan is the same as for someone that is more glove-challenged, such as Luis Valbuena.
What’s the most heated conversation you’ve had with a player, manager, coach, team rep? How often do they call up to at least discuss a play?
I’ve never had a heated conversation with a player, manager or coach. They may have disagreed with a call, and tried to be persuasive, but they were never upset to the point of being beligerent.
Does each game you score have its own unique story?
We always hope for a clean game. Occasionally we get a snappy 2:20 game where the pitchers have it all going. But, those four-hour nine-inning games are killers. Those are the games where pitchers have no control, the umpire is calling a tight strike zone, and fielders are booting the ball all over the place. Or it might be cold and pitchers are trying to stay warm. Those are the games where we earn our money.
So, the next time you think that a scoring call is incorrect, take a second to think if you truly know the rule behind the decision like these professionals. They don’t do it for money or notoriety. In fact, the best game for them is one in which they are completely invisible to the average fan.
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."