My dad taught me to keep score in a blue scorebook that joined us at every game we went to. His initial motivation for teaching me was so I could keep up his scorebook when he needed to run to the bathroom during games. I quickly became enamored with recording the events of each game in that book; each at-bat fitting neatly in the tiny square allotted, each pitch marked with a tiny dash. Scoring games was a connection to the rest of my baseball obsessed family. My dad learned to score from his father, and I hope that my own children will be interested in learning one day.
I cut my scoring teeth in the 1990s, before exhaustive video boards littered the stadium with every statistic you needed to know about the game. This was, of course, long before Gameday and the ability to follow the game online. Keeping score let me see the way the story of the game developed. It let me view the game through the prism I wanted. The game would unfold in my scorebook a little at a time, the major plot points would make themselves obvious and the minor plot pieces would slowly reveal themselves.
When I heard that you can tell how well a pitcher is throwing based on how many first-pitch strikes he throws, I started tracking the first pitch by making my normal pitch dash go the opposite direction. I made marks for each foul ball after strike two so I could keep an accurate pitch count.
Scoring is unique to each scorer. There are generalities in how to keep score, but each scorer develops their own techniques. It becomes an art. I adopted many of my dad’s techniques and developed many of my own. I love peeking at other scorecards, particularly when they use completely different methods. To the uninitiated, a scorebook can look like hieroglyphics; to the insider, it’s a code that can always be cracked.
It’s an old baseball tradition that feels like it’s slowly fading away. The information on the stadium scoreboards and video boards at Major League games have taken away some of the incentive to keep score. I’ve long found the most joy in scoring minor league or college games because they lack the fancy updates. It’s a treat to watch the secrets of the game unfold and to gain an insight that few people in the stadium have. It’s a fun form of nostalgia to look through the scorecards from those games a few years later and pick out the hot shot Major Leaguer you watched before anyone knew his name.
I’ve heard a number of people mention that they’d love to keep score if only they knew how. Here is a brief introduction to the wonderful world of scoring baseball games.
The one thing all methods of scoring have in common is the defensive numbering. Even without keeping score, you’re probably familiar with the number assigned to each position:
3: First Base
4: Second Base
5: Third Base
7: Left Field
8: Center Field
9: Right Field
Defensive outs use the following symbols:
Fly out: F
Line out: L
Ground out: G
Double play: DP
Force out: FO
Caught Stealing: CS
I lean toward the simplistic on my own scorebooks and typically only use F among these symbols. I use it to designate any ball hit in the air, and simply use the position numbers for anything hit on the ground.
Here are some examples:
F-8: Fly out to centerfield
6-3: Ground out to shortstop, throw to first
F-5: Fly out to third base (obviously this would be a pop up or a line out)
3: First baseman fields the ground ball and steps on first to get the out.
6-4-3: Double play, shortstop to second base to first base
There are several different ways people score offense. I’ll try to lay out the options without confusing you too much:
Single: 1B, S, or –
Double: 2B, D, or =
Triple: 3B, T, or ≡
Homerun: HR or four dashes
Walk: BB, W
Intentional Walk: IBB, IW
Stolen Base: SB
Sacrifice Fly: S, SF, Sac
Sacrifice Bunt: S, SB, Sac
Hit By Pitch: HBP, or HP
Scoring Runs: This can be dependent on the layout of your scorebook. When a runner scores, I will color in the diamond in his at-bat box and note the player that drove him in has an RBI (my current scorebook has a spot for recording RBIs). Another method is to record the play that scores the player and circling it. Personally, I enjoy coloring in the diamond. It’s satisfying when your team scores, and an outlet for frustration when your team gives up the run.
Hit Location: I like to draw a line symbolizing the hit. If a batter hits a single that drops into right center, I’ll draw a curved line representing that. If the batter hits a screaming line drive to left field, I’ll draw a straight line from home plate to left field. It’s the beginning of a low tech spray chart.
Called out on Strikes: Backward K
Tracking pitches: Many scorebooks will have designated spaces for tracking balls and strikes. I do a dash in the opposite direction for the first pitch. I’ll also make hash marks to track foul balls after the second strike. At the end of each inning I’ll total up the pitches thrown and write down the pitches thrown that inning, and add them to the running total.
Other Ways to Reach Base or Advance on the Base Paths
Wild Pitch: WP
Passed Ball: PB
Fielder’s Choice: FC
Okay Great, Lots of Symbols. How the Heck Do I Keep Score?!
The first rule of scoring a baseball game is the same as the first rule of playing baseball: Keep your eye on the ball. The ball determines how a game is scored, and every player who touches the ball will be credited with the out.
Before the game is underway, you’ll want to fill out the lineup on your scorebook. Scorebooks will typically have you fill in the player’s name, number, and position. In the days before electronic scoreboards, or when you’re at a college or minor league game with questionable boards, this alone would help you keep track of the game and which player is at which position.
Now, let’s look at a sample inning. I’ll show three different methods for scoring based on this same inning.
Jean Segura singles
Mitch Haniger doubles, Segura scores
Robinson Cano hits a home run
Nelson Cruz strikes out
Kyle Seager walks
Danny Valencia hits into double play to end the inning
The most basic method for scoring a game involves just recording the outcome of each at bat, and the most basic scorebooks will have only a blank square for each at bat:
Let’s look at this same inning using the scorecard you can buy at Safeco Field. It has a small diamond already printed in each box. The diamond is used to track the runners:
And, here’s another example using my current scorecard, which provides room for lots of information. I’m tracking the pitches, following the base runners around the diamond, and noting where the ball is hit:
Miscellaneous and Other Notes:
At the end of an inning, I do a slash across the bottom right corner of the last batter. It helps to cue me where to start the next inning. It should be obvious, yes, but I’ve been known to start recording the second inning right after the first inning. When a pitching change is made, I’ll draw a heavy line across the bottom of the last batter faced. Most scorebooks have space at the bottom to total up runs, hits, errors, and LOB after each inning, as well as space to the right of the game to total up each player’s offensive performance. This is how box scores are made.
If a player makes a great catch, I like to make a note of that. Usually by writing “Great Catch!” I’ve also been known to assign errors to plays that were officially scored as hits (I’m brutal on the errors, which is why I’ll never get to be an official scorer). When my scoring goes rogue, I’ll put an asterisks after the play so I’ll know it isn’t official. Recently I’ve been noting when the shift is on.
There is no right or wrong way to keep score. Any way you want to keep track of the game is correct. I’ve got my method down, but every so often I’ll see a scorecard that scores the game in an interesting way and I’ll try it on for size. Trial and error--and lots of baseball games--are what will help you determine your own method.
There are so many things that can happen in a baseball game that I haven’t covered here. If you’re learning to score and ever see me at a game I would love to help you out. I truly mean this. If you have questions, please ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them all.
My experience as a baseball fan wouldn’t be what it is without my scorebooks and scoring games I attend. I want the tradition to live on. There are apps you can download to keep score, but those just homogenize scoring and take the art and individualism out of it. Just as every reader of the same novel will take away different interpretations, so too are baseball games subject to individual interpretation.
Keeping a scorebook is the keeping of an invaluable souvenir of your time spent watching baseball. I kept my dad’s scorebook after he died. It’s my most precious memento of the days we spent at baseball games, and the time we had together. Sure, you can look the game up on Baseball Reference and get every piece of information you could ever want about the game you saw, but nothing beats flipping through a physical book full of the memories you recorded.
There is no substitute for sitting at the ballpark with a pencil and a scorebook and letting the game unfold in front of you.