As told to Chuck Luce
When we heard that Darin, who has been scoring games for Tacoma’s minor league team since he was a UPS sophomore, had been called up to The Bigs to join a rotation of scorers working Mariners home games, we couldn’t let the chance pass to learn a few things about the mysteries of baseball scorekeeping. We met at Cheney Stadium on a perfect evening for baseball in the Northwest: gentle wind out of the north and 70 degrees, the sky a Caribbean blue, and Mount Rainier levitating behind the right field bleachers like a nearby planet or a second moon. Darin was friendly, humble, and articulate. We talked for about an hour before following him to the press box and watching him work a few innings.
Right off the bat we’ve got to hit you with the question that every person who cares even a little about baseball has asked at some point: Where did the “K” notation for a strikeout come from?
The Joy of Scoring says that in 1861 Henry Chadwick invented a scoring system using letter symbols. He chose “K” for “struck out” because “K” was the prominent sound in the word “strike” and it would be easy to remember.
Now that we’ve got that one out of the way, let’s start with the basics. What does a scorer do?
My wife, Shannon, when she tells people what I do, says they think I put the numbers up on the board or count the runs. It’s not that kind of scoring. The official scorer keeps a written record of the game and makes decisions about how certain plays will be recorded, like whether a batted ball counts as a hit or an error. The information the scorer records is used to calculate batting averages, earned run averages, and other statistics.
Are you required to use certain notations?
There’s no official notation for anything. You just have to be able to recreate an inning—to say what happened and in what order. You have to get the right statistics so the players get credit for what happened on the field.
You get paid to do this?
At the minor league level it’s a pretty modest sum: $50 a game. Up in Seattle I get $130. Certainly not a living, but it’s a neat opportunity and we take it very seriously. We are, after all, making determinations that can affect the careers of players who are making millions of dollars.
But you have a day job?
I work for a performance measurement firm called Russell/Mellon, a joint venture between Russell Investment Group and Mellon Bank. I’m a client service manager.
You began working as a scorekeeper with what was then the Tacoma Tigers while you were still a student, yes?
I started my sophomore year, trying to make a positive out of a negative. I was cut from the UPS baseball team and wanted to stay involved with the game. I approached the Tigers about an internship. My mentor through the Business Leadership Program was able to get my resume in front of the Tigers’ general manager. It turned out they didn’t have an internship program, but they wanted to know if I’d ever scored a game. I actually had done some scoring at UPS, so instead of an internship I wound up with a job. I came in, and they ran me through some scenarios with the scorer from the previous year. I studied the rule book, but, still, going into that first night I didn’t know what would be required. I quickly found out. There was a wild play, an overthrow from right field to the first baseman, which the pitcher picked up and then overthrew to the catcher. People were running everywhere; the fans were going wild. It was nuts. And everybody stopped and looked at me and said, “OK, what happened?” I froze. I had no idea what they wanted from me. Fortunately the previous scorer had agreed to work my first few games, and he stepped in, read the play off flawlessly, and said, “That’s what you’ve got to be able to do.” And from that point forward I understood what to watch for and remember how a play goes.
And you’ve been working games in Tacoma regularly, some years more than others, ever since. How is it you were called up to Seattle?
Major league baseball is attempting to integrate more people into the profession in an attempt to remove any possibility of bias. I had a couple of friends who work up at Safeco tell me they’d heard Seattle was interested in adding a rotation of scorers. I got in touch with the baseball information director at the Mariners. After some discussions and reference checks back in Tacoma, they’re giving me a shot. I work about four or five games a month. It’s enough to keep me active and sharp but not so much to interfere with family or work. I feel really fortunate. Right now there is a rotation of three of us.
Would you say scoring is more of an art than a science?
A little of both. There’s a rule book, of course, so most of what takes place on the field, even some pretty weird scenarios, is spelled out. But there will always be plays that require interpretation. That’s where experience comes in, and where it helps that I played the game. I’ll watch a player’s body position when he makes a throw, for example, or look at where the sun is.
Do you go into training before the season begins? Do scorers have to practice to get better?
As with any job, practice makes perfect. I like to watch famous instances of scoring questions. And a lot of times, when I hear about a controversial call in major league baseball, I’ll track down the replay and see if I’d have called it the same way.
Do you think baseball scorekeepers will ever be replaced by a machine?
The short answer is not anytime soon. Some of the reason has to do with longtime scorekeepers’ reluctance to give up a time-honored tradition. But there’s also a lot of nuance in the work. Technology has certainly improved the amount and kind of information available, which is helping clubs make personnel decisions, but many of those statistics are still based on interpretation. So just as I don’t think umpires will ever be replaced, I don’t think official scorers will be replaced. Technology will be used to enhance what we do and the speed with which it gets out to the public and used.
Is there an unwritten rule in baseball, like not arguing balls and strikes, that the scorer’s decision can’t be questioned?
No. But the appeal process is different in the minors than in the majors. Here in Tacoma the phone will ring after the game and the manager will say, for example, “I have a question about the error charged in that play. I thought it was a hit.” So we’ll talk about how I saw the play. Sometimes we’ll consult players and how they approached the play, and sometimes we’ll consult umpires. We’ll also talk to the opposing managers, and sometimes both managers will agree that the call should be changed.
At the major league level you have the benefit of replay. And up there questions are handled through both clubs’ baseball information directors. The information director will come over and ask for a review, which we always grant. We then look at the play and may say, you know I think you’re right, I think I did see something wrong or, no, we’re going to stick with this particular call. At no time will I talk to a player or a manager at that level.
When you are up there working, do you have time to enjoy the game?
It’s a very professional environment, particularly at the major league level. Everyone is enjoying their time, but they take their work seriously.
When you go to a game for fun, do you score it?
I don’t. But I watch every game as a scorer would. I’ll make a decision in my head before I see it pop up on the board, but I don’t sit there with a scorecard.
What’s the hardest game to score?
Major league baseball is easiest because of the talent level. It gets a lot harder at the college and high school levels, and, say, in Little League it’s crazy because so many players can touch the ball during a play.
Recently there was a column in Sports Illustrated by Steve Rushin lamenting that fewer and fewer fans seem to be keeping score in the stands. Is scoring a dying art?
A little, I think, which saddens me. But as stats become more and more of a focus in sports, people will want to know how they are compiled. So there’s hope.
What do scorers have bad dreams about?
I’m always a little nervous in every game until each team gets a clean hit. Nobody wants to deny a pitcher a no-hitter.
Pen or pencil?
Pen, because that’s the rule. The majors require that the official score sheet be filed in ink. However, talk about technology having its impact, they’ve got Whiteout “pens” now that dry instantly. There have been nights when I’ve put them to good use. With the Rainiers I write in pencil, backed up by a computer—a clunky but effective old DOS program—that calculates stats on the fly.
Is it really true that 90 percent of the game is half mental?
Let’s just say that whenever I reach a fork in the road, I take it.