A Glimpse Into the Life of an Official Scorer
“How is that a hit?” Most baseball fans have said this after the scoreboard flashes the result on a sharp grounder or botched fly ball. The person in charge of making these hit/error determinations is the official scorer, often an anonymous recorder of stats until their judgment puts them in the spotlight. Recently I had a chance to shadow Stew Thornley, one of the Twins official scorers, to get firsthand insight into this sometimes misunderstood part of the game.
At Target Field, the official scorer sits in the first seat in the front row of the press box on the left as you’re looking at the field. When I picked up my media pass I noticed the person who signed in before me was from MBC Korea, one of the country’s three major broadcasting systems. Most of the time the press box was quiet, punctuated mainly by the sound of typing. For the official scorer, the tools of the trade include a laptop, binoculars, a scoresheet plus extra notepads to keep pertinent information close at hand and a TV monitor showing the FSN feed. I realized quickly how useful it was to have the monitor on a ten second delay, not just for the official scorer but also for the datacaster who sits next to the official scorer and is responsible for recording every game action for those following online.
There is no specific time the official scorer needs to get there before the game, Thornley said, but it’s his preference to arrive early and get into a routine (they’re not just for the men on the field). When I arrived at 5 p.m. for a 7:10 start he was already there, double checking information for that night’s game.
As many do, he began his lifelong relationship with the statistical side of the game by keeping score when attending games at Metropolitan Stadium as a kid. When he said that he had a knack for it, he paused and chuckled as he said, “Yeah, I know - why couldn’t I have gotten a knack for something useful, right?” He has previously worked as an official scorer for the Minneapolis Loons and St. Paul Saints and started with the Twins in 2007. He splits the duties with Gregg Wong, a former Pioneer Press sports reporter, and they also have a backup official scorer. (He also has a “day job” as Health Educator with the Minnesota Department of Health.)
Official scorers are paid $170 per game and are employees of Major League Baseball, not any specific team. Last year, Marie-Claude Marcotte-Pelland joined the few female official scorers in Major League Baseball history when she worked a Blue Jays-Marlins game in Toronto. In mentioning this, Thornley, a member of the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), also shared the story of Eliza Green Williams, who secretly served as the official scorer in the 1880’s for the Chicago White Stockings or Colts, the team that would be renamed the Cubs in the next century. She would submit her reports as “E.G. Green” so as to not identify herself as a woman.
There is a distinct element of “hurry up and wait” in the job as an official scorer, as we casually chatted about the baseball topic of the day until a sharp grounder caused all eyes to turn to the video monitor while the official scorer grabbed the microphone to announce his ruling on that specific play. As the game went along, there were also periodic announcements from Dustin Morse, the Twins Senior Director of Communications, for such things as pitching changes and home run distance announcements.
“I was nervous when I first started with the Twins,” Thornley admitted, while he explained the juxtaposition between wanting to get the call right and wanting to sound confident and announce the call right away. If players or teams strongly disagree with a call, they can submit it to Major League Baseball for review by the league office. He said he has gotten more complaints from the batting team if they don’t get a hit.
Being an umpire would be good practice for becoming an official scorer, he said, because you get really good at being decisive and “taking a lot of crap.” (I’ve also seen the job of an official scorer described as getting paid $5 for scoring the game and $165 for taking the grief that goes with it, but I guess you could say that about any job.) If you don’t like being questioned and having to defend yourself, he said, being an official scorer is not for you. But in comparison to the umpires, he noted that “They are the ones who make the calls that can determine who wins or loses…we do stats.”
The evolution of official scoring is an interesting aspect of the history of the game itself, and Thornley chairs a SABR committee that studies and interprets the changes throughout the years. As we looked upon a beautifully manicured grass infield, he reminisced about how everyone was told that the advent of artificial turf meant that you would never have to worry about a bad hop.
When the third baseman switched places with the shortstop, I asked him if the sometimes dramatic shifts employed by teams in recent years can get confusing for those recording stats. He professed his love for the teams who put player numbers on both the front and back of the jerseys and said you can often look for other distinguishing features – for example, in the game I attended, two of the Tigers infielders were sporting high socks.
“I know it’s easy to sit at home and think you could do it better,” he said. “I have friends who constantly pepper me with questions on why I called what I did who have never been an official scorer…and there’s also people who just don’t understand the rules of the game. It does give you respect for everyone in this game who gets second guessed.” In an effort to standardize scoring, Thornley has attended meetings in New York with other official scorers around the league, where they will review plays and discuss controversies. “It’s always a judgment call with a human element and the line will continue to be fuzzy not fine. It’s our hope to continue to reduce the level of fuzziness.”
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