Fans learn the art of pencil-and-paper baseball scorekeeping

Lara Hall's husband, Jay Hood, recently bought her diamonds for her birthday — baseball diamonds, printed on the pages of a vintage scorebook from the 1960s.

The book, an unused Houston Colt .45s scorekeeping manual, cost Hood about $5 on eBay. For a scorekeeping fanatic like Hall, it was the perfect present, and she's been using its empty pages to keep track of the Orioles this season.

"It's super fancy," said Hall of the book, noting that it has a detailed diagram of the field on the upper-left corner of each page and a row especially for the number of players left on base, an oddity for scorebooks. Many of the book's pages are now marked with a jumble of lines, letters and numbers that might be indecipherable to the average fan. To some, buying a program and tracking the game has become a less essential part of the ballpark experience in this age of smartphones and scrolling scoreboard statistics.

At the Sports Legends Museum Saturday, before the Orioles' evening game against the Cincinnati Reds, two expert scorekeepers offered an hour-long lesson on the forgotten joys of pencil-and-pad scorekeeping. Jim Henneman, Major League Baseball's official scorekeeper for the Orioles, and Bill Stetka, director of outreach and development for the Orioles and a former scorekeeper, taught a group of about 40 adults and a few children the basics of an official scorekeeper's job.

Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museums, said that when he would go to baseball games as a kid in the '50s and '60s it was common for spectators to score the game. Nowadays, when he goes to Orioles games, he said, he rarely sees people taking advantage of the score sheets published in their programs.

"In my estimation, it's becoming a lost art," said Gibbons. "We've become a distracted society and to keep score requires you to stay focused for three hours or more."

Learning the basics of scorekeeping "opens the horizons" of baseball, he said, and increases fans' enjoyment of live baseball by keeping them engaged.

The method of scorekeeping hasn't changed much since baseball's beginnings, he said, and the statistics that scorekeeping produces are the reason "why we can compare Lou Gehrig to Cal Ripken."

The job of an official scorekeeper, Henneman and Stetka agreed, is not glamorous. News reporters acted as the official scorekeepers until about 1980, said Henneman, but scoring decisions sometimes caused conflicts between players and reporters, so teams brought in dedicated scorekeepers. It's a part-time job; scorekeepers don't travel with the team and much of the time it's more trouble than it's worth, Stetka said.

"When I started keeping score in the late 1980s, we used to say 'You make $5 to mark the calls in the box and $30 for the grief you get over the calls you make.'" By the mid-1990s, he said, scorekeepers were paid $75 per game.

Orioles scorekeepers, said Henneman, have used the same scorekeeping method since 1954, although each official scorekeeper may have his own minor quirks. The keys to the job, he joked, are to show up before the first pitch and don't keep score on a empty stomach.

Although many of the attendees, like Otterbein residents Hood and Hall, were seasoned scorekeepers, the audience did have a few people who were being introduced to the art.

Joe Athey and his son Colin, 7, came from Laurel for the lesson. Joe said the instruction would help him "be a better baseball dad" by becoming a scorekeeper for his son's youth league team. Although Athey grew up in a big baseball family, he said, he never learned the intricacies of keeping score.

"I kept thinking, 'Am I missing something?'" Athey said. The lesson, he said, helped him get a better grasp on scorekeeping basics and encouraged to him to start with keeping a simple score record and build up the complexity of his scorecard over time.

Hood and Hall, along with experienced scorer and Federal Hill resident Paul Crowley, took the opportunity to spread their passion for scorekeeping. They used Saturday's lesson as a "scoring intervention" for their mutual friend Susan Roll, also of Federal Hill.

"I was lost most of the time," said Roll, a scoring novice, after the lesson. "I was leaning over and saying to Lara, 'You're going to have to show me that again.'"