“In Scoring Position:
40 Years of A Baseball Love Affair”
The publishing info:
Released May 10, 2022
The review in 90 feet or less
July 29, 2008, Angels vs. Red Sox, at Fenway Park. The one and only time we were ever inside the fabled ballyard to see a live, official Major League Baseball game. Among the 38,110 in attendance, with seats that actually allowed viewing of the field.
Keeping score? Nope, just soaking in what could have been history.
The Angels’ John Lackey somehow has a no-hitter going into the bottom of the ninth.
We got out of our seat down the left-field line and started to walk around, mingle behind home plate, for a better view of what was happening. We spotted Angels TV analyst Mark Gubicza down by the team’s dugout, preparing to catch Lackey when he came off the field, leaving Rory Markus in the booth to call it. That had to jinx it.
Because we today can access Retrosheet.org, there is not only the box score recorded in its full glory, but the stark description of how that ninth inning unfolded:
What’s perhaps more memorable about any of this: Two days later, the Red Sox gave Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers at the trading deadline.
Flip open this book by well-recognized Boston Globe writer and ESPN yacker Bob Ryan, and on page 364, there is it.
Ryan skims the details in three paragraphs — more about his inability to finally see a no-hitter at Fenway (which explains this page heading … we thought it was referring to Nolan Ryan for some reason).
His writing partner, Bill Chuck, gives it six more graphs of context – not from that game, but from Lackey’s future performances.
He ends it with: “Here’s an interesting litmus test: It’s July 29 of any season, you go to the ballpark, which would you rather see: Your team win or your team get no-hit? I say, the greater your love for baseball, the greater your desire to see the no-hitter. It’s a great in-between innings discussion.”
OK, we’ll play along. Here’s the (almost) perfect case in point: July 28, 1991. Had tickets behind home plate to the Dodgers’ home game against Montreal. Gave them away. Dennis Martinez threw a perfect game against the home team. Would have loved to have been present and accounted for among the 45,560 on a sweltering hot Sunday afternoon to see Martinez (who by the way went 1-for-3) mow down a lineup with Brett Butler, Juan Samuel, Eddie Murray and Darryl Strawberry as the top four contenders. (And Samuel tried to bunt his way on in the seventh but Martinez picked it up and threw him out).
But let’s not get distracted from the pileup on the other side of the road.
Trying to look at the one sheet of Ryan’s scorebook from that Angels-Red Sox game, we’d size it up pretty much unreadable – 3 ¼ inches wide, 2 ½ inches deep. We put our index finger and thumb on the printed reproduction, expecting we can expand it into a larger, more decipherable size. This isn’t interactive. Almost the opposite. A magnifying glass is needed, if we want to go through that trouble.
And again, there’s only one page here – the Red Sox’s batting order. We don’t see the Angels’ lineup that was providing Lackey with a 6-0 cushion heading into the final Boston at-bat.
Thanks for the memories?
In the span of more than 400 pages, Ryan’s hope is he could take up this idea from Chuck to go over five decades worth of his hand-scrawled baseball scorebooks (which even has one college game), recall what happened, and then share it. Ryan was doing that sort of thing on his Twitter account when Chuck pitched it as a book idea. Chuck it all out there, we like to imagine he said.
Chuck, we come to find, is one of those behind-the-scenes guys who loves to search for the notes and facts and historical references, and funnels them to writers and broadcasters. He’s currently the guy for Dodgers’ radio man Charley Steiner (who gives him a blurb endorsement on the back cover, commending Chuck for his “vision, perspective, historical understanding and an undeniable passion for the game which makes him a unique and indispensable tailor of the tapestry that is baseball.” But since this isn’t Chuck’s memorial service, maybe save the flowery verbiage).
But as Ryan does put it all out, we wish more and more for less and less. Kind like watching him on that television machine.
Maybe half as many games than the 140-some offered here from the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s and 2010s are worthy of including. Instead, perhaps, flesh out more on the Aug. 3, 1979 contest at Yankee Stadium played the day after Thurman Munson’s death – and run both scorecards so we can see the Yankees’ lineup that night, not just the Orioles. Expand on being at Anaheim Stadium on Sept. 19, 1986, to watch the White Sox’s Joe Cowley throw one of the sloppiest no hitters ever mastered – 69 strikes, 69 balls, seven walks, including three in a row.
“California being California, the fans were not particularly interested in seeing any milestone performance, and they left by the thousands after Wally Joyner ended the 8th by lining to short,” writes Ryan, at the game to do preview coverage of the playoffs – remembering now that memorable Angels-Red Sox ALCS, none of which happens to be included in this book.
“So they missed a game-ending 6-4-3 double play, which is an intriguing way to seal a no-hitter.”
And the last game Cowley would ever win in the big leagues.
And as good a place as any to stop reading. A supercilious Californian, just being Californian.
How it goes in the scorebook
Funny we should ask this every time, eh?
IBB for the Impressive, Bigly Brainstorm.
E for Execution.
And a backward K, because you’re killing us here. We have SAC’d enough.
Such a splendid idea, especially in COVID lockdown, to start looking through your closets and find a project to work on that could resonate with baseball fans.
Ideally, it sells. It speaks to how a baseball scorebook can also become like a personal diary. It reveals tangents to other interesting side paths, connecting pieces of your life and memory worthy of a revisit.
Especially in this day in age when teams don’t even bother to sell scorecards (or programs) at pop-up stands in front of every entrance. Imagine back in the day when the lineups were pre-printed because they were so predictable and reliable.
There is a joy involved in keeping score. Prolific baseball writer Paul Dickson used that as a launching point to his 2007 book on the subject.
We love to see a completed, marked-up scorecard. But it doesn’t happen here, with reproductions as easy to read as the fine print on a drug medication label. And at a time when few if any know how to keep score, or do so on phone apps, these become like cave paintings and other relics worth saving for future generations to at least try to translate into something.
(It wasn’t even 10 years ago when Harvey Araton wrote a story for the New York Times headlined: “Who Scores Games by Hand Anymore?” Same with Henry Fetter’s piece for The Atlantic titled “By-Hand Baseball Scorekeeping: A ‘Dying Art’ That May Never Actually Die — Sportswriters have been noting the ever-waning popularity of pencil-and-paper scoring at the ballpark for decades, but the hobby lives on for some dedicated fans“)
Scorekeeping really can be thought of as a zen art — just paying attention. It is worth preserving, like any endangered species that helps record history. Such as a sportwriter.
If you’re a fanatical Red Sox follower, or a fan of old-timey Ryan and can tolerate a lot of rambling (see “Horn, Around The”), you’ve got a chance to jog the memory and likely head to a Goggle search for more details. Judging this book by its classy, cluttered cover, you likely get both wishes fulfilled — the idea of a cool idea, and the messiness of what it really entails.
This also reminds us that what may be remarkable and memorable to one can be somewhat trivial to another – but that is likely what some say about reading any of the book reviews posted on this platform.
You can look it up: More to ponder
== If you ever wondered how to create your own scorecard with an Excel software in 34 (not-real) easy steps … try this link.
== Ryan pitches his book in an interview with, let’s see here … ah, The Boston Globe.
== Credit where it’s due: The title alluded to in this – “If You’re Scoring at Home … Or Even if You’re Alone,” was something Keith Olbermann loved to throw out there during an ESPN “SportsCenter” MLB recap, and it seems to have been planned for the title of a 2005 book he was going to do — but it either is so far out of print no one wants to admit it, or it never got printed in the first place? It still has one five-star review on Amazon, based only on the title.
Olbermann was paying homage to Vin Scully, who would often drop it into a Dodgers broadcaster after a somewhat confusing play and update, “If you’re scoring at home …” so he could clarify. Because he, too, was keeping his scorebook.
Less-than-six-degrees of separation: Olbermann worked with Charley Steiner at ESPN, Scully overlapped with Steiner for many years on the Dodgers broadcasts. Steiner used to listen to Scully do Brooklyn Dodgers games in the 1950s. And, as noted, Steiner uses Chuck as his info man these days.
Take this even further, you can find the line: “That’s an E-3 if you’re keeping score at home … and if you are, your loneliness saddens me.” It’s Harry Shearer in his Scully-type voice during a 2006, 17th-season-ending episode of “The Simpsons.”
== For a story we did in October, 2009 about how TBS telecasts added a scorebook graphic to its playoff games as a way to show viewers that a player had done in previous at bats, we talked a bit to Vin Scully in the Dodger Stadium press box about the way he keeps his own scorebooks. He allowed us to take a photo of him with his book that ran with the story (no photo credit necessary.)
Fast forward to April, 2014. Walk into the Dodgers broadcast booth to check in on Scully. I quietly just watch Scully working on his notes and getting his scorecard ready for that season’s home opener against the Giants. Just he and I are the only ones in that space. It made for another unique photo opportunity we think so much about we’ve kept it as our desktop screen photo.