(I was getting some hot tea since this one is back in the freezing cold ballroom. So I missed the first few sentences of introduction and Stew’s intro. This panel has David Vincent, Stew Thornley, and Gregg Wong, all of whom do scoring for MLB teams.)
Stew Thornley: This year they (MLB) got all the official scorers together in New York, which was great, and it’s all well and good to try to have more consistency. We watched 56 plays together that had been sent to the league office, 18 of them were overturned, and it was great to watch them all together. There was a lot of disagreement among us, which isn’t a surprise. There are a lot of plays out there that even with the push for consistency, there is still subjectivity. That needs to be accepted. There are going to be calls that could go either way. We call them fifty-fifties. We have very qualified people making those decisions. Those are the ones we get paid to make. Sometimes we can go many games without anything comes up because the players are so good! You see that ground ball going to the shortstop and you think it’s going to be a tough call… and then they get the out! And we say thank you! It’s a lot different and the pressure is different than it is in the Independent Leagues. The first time I scored for the Twins I realized how much harder it is to do it for real than from the arm chair. It’s always easier from the arm chair, so I really give credit to people who do things for real and in the hot seat.
Gregg Wong: My introduction was I was told “We need someone to do Gopher public address announcing” and scoring was a part of it. Then I was a sportswriter for 30 years, and I started doing the scoring for the Twins, until (someone) thought it might be a conflict of interest even though I didn’t write about the team anymore. In those 56 examples we watched with MLB I disagreed with about 18 of them, but Stu and I disagreed between us on 15 of them. So it is highly subjective. We often get people saying to us “but you have to decide in favor of the Twins because you’re paid by the Twins!” In fact, we’re not. We’re paid by Major League Baseball.
David Vincent: This is my eighth year doing major league scoring. The first time I did this job though was in high school and I got paid two dollars a game. Honestly I don’t get paid much more now… (laughter). No matter how carefully a lawyer writes the rule book it can’t cover everything that happens on the field. In 2008 I was the scorer for the first game ever in Nationals Park. I was the scorer for Stephen Strasburg’s debut. In 2011 I was the scorer for Stephen Strasburg’s debut of his new arm. (laughter) I was the scorer who decided on what happened when Ryan Zimmerman hit ball into his own shirt. He swung the bat and the ball disappeared. The umpire put his hands up and awarded him first base. Well, then that’s got to be a hit. I also scored a play that was 2-4-2-5-3-6-5. Everyone in the infield touched that ball except the pitcher. My secret is when a play like that happens I say it out loud. Then I ask the guy next to me, “what did I say?” (laughter) In games I’ve done I’ve had every kind of delay, sprinklers, fog, my favorite is we once had a “helicopter delay.” Most people could make 80 percent of the calls. But we’re hired for that last 20 percent. Paul White from USA Today sat next to me two days last week. “You know I quote you all the time,” he said. “Why would you quote me?” “Well, you were talking about Alfonso Soriano, and you said ‘Alfonso Soriano turns more routine fly balls into tough scoring decisions than anyone else.’ And so whenever I see one of those, I say to whoever is next to me, well, David Vincent says…”
(some commentary about the Fred Merkle play and players not knowing the rules, and how a lot of players don’t know what a force out really is)
David Vincent: A lot of peope ask me how do you get this job. First you have to know the rule book. Then ou have to be in the right place at the right time. Most of us worked in a press box already and just moved into the position.
Gregg Wong: Most of the people who have done it were baseball writers. That was how you had to know somebody. MLB has no specific qualifications. Tom recommended me for it and I’m glad he did. It’s a very intense job, but I love it.
Moderator: Do you think that there are less errors being called today than 30 years ago.
Wong: They changed the wording in the rule book a few years ago, where now it says if there is any doubt on a call ,you should favor the hitter. Also now we have instant replay, so everyone an see it 5-6 times.
Thornley: For sure errors have gone down. Before the first game I did with the Twins, an acerbid reporter came up to me and said “my son did a study and says there are fewer errors called today and he doesn’t think it’s just better fielding.” Well better fielding can also increase range and that might mean more errors, but I don’t know. A lot of people think scorers are too soft today. I’m not defensive about that. They’re remembering plays from forty years ago, though, and saying “I remember anytime someone touched the ball it was an error.” Well, they are probably misremembering, because even 40 years ago if the shortstop dove for a ball and it went off the glove, it was NOT an error. Guys may be picking balls out of the dirt at first base better. Their gloves are better. If they save one error every four games that would account for the difference right there.
Vincent: In the past, in MLB, players and coaches were not allowed to talk to us. This year they PR people are also not allowed to talk to us… though they still do. (laughter) But in the minors, what I’d often hear from player and coaches was “We got screwed on the road, and now we’re getting screwed on the road.” To which I say, “So, you think someone does their job badly someone where, and so you think I should do my job badly to make up for it??” “Oh, no no no!” Well, then conversation over. Also, now in the minors I can tell them I’m a big league official scorer, and they’re whole attitude changes.
Wong: Oh I still here that in the major leagues. Another thing is that the fields are SO good now. You never see bad hops like used to be commonplace.
Moderator: How do you score it if they shift the players around on a play?
Thornley: Like when they play the infield in. They had one guy move from left field to second base and I was just dying for there to be a 5-7-3 double play. Because that’s what it would have been. That’s not a position switch. There are places to write notes in the official scorebook.
(various stories about teams getting their lineup cards wrong)
Vincent: did you se what happened in Miami? Cardinals manager wanted to put his pitcher into the lineup somewhere other than the nine spot and Mike Matheny said “I told him put him where the third baseman is, which was seventh on my sheet, but the umpire wrote him in the fifth spot. I should have watched him write it in.”
(audience question about defensive indifference)
At the scorer meeting in New York we had a breakout meeting all about that. In a one run game you can’t call it indifference. In a 3-2 game you can’t say it’s defensive indifference. The rule book does define it.
(audience question about pop ups that no one catches and why that isn’t an error)
Wong: You can’t give an error there. If clearly it’s the right fielder’s ball, and he stops and just doesn’t catch it, you can give him an error. But most often it’s not an error.
Thornley: This is where the “team error” concept might benefit us. We all decided at these meetings we want to call an error when there is a real screw up and they let the ball drop. We want to call it but it doesn’t seem like the league office ever communicated it to the teams that we were going to start calling it, not where they both run hard, but just he ones that they goof up and let it drop. How about Rule 6.09, can you call the ball that bounces of Canseco’s head and goes over the fence an error? Is that a four-base error? There are these places where the fence is low, if the ball clanks off a guy’s glove and instead of just falling to the warning track, which is clearly an error, it manages to fall out of the park? That’s got to be a four-base error. But you know the first guy who makes that call is going to be besieged so we’re going to buy him lunch. The batter will want it to be called a home run. But Elias has said no, that can be called a four base error.
Wong: You have to have REALLY big ones to call that one. (laughter)
(audience member then tries to argue against it…)
Thornley: Nah. I got big ones. (laughter)
(There were more questions from the audience, anecdotes, and laughs, as well as talking about whether if a pitcher dropped a foul pop would he then be called an error, would that keep it from being a perfect game? [no] but you know, I had to uncrick my neck and finally drink my tea…)
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