Baseball is an argumentative game, right? And the worst brouhahas are between outraged players and stern, immobile umpires, right? Well, not always. There was the time in 1957, for instance, when Johnny Temple of the Cincinnati Reds paid a $100 fine and was forced to apologize publicly after he socked a man in the eye. His victim—tormentor, Temple might have said—was Cincinnati Sportswriter Earl Lawson. Lawson was the official scorer for a game the Reds had just played. His crime: he had charged Temple with an error on a hard-hit ball.
Outside of an umpire's questionable call, there is nothing in all of baseball that will give a player the psychic hots faster than a debatable decision by a scorer. Scorers' judgments have made petulant boys, crybabies and alibi artists out of otherwise friendly, clean-cut American types. They have led to numerous bitter scenes that the fans seldom see and to nasty grudges that have lasted for years. The scorer, by baseball law and tradition, is a sportswriter. He sits behind his portable typewriter in the press box and has "sole authority to make all decisions involving judgment, such as whether a batter's advance to first base is the result of a hit or an error." After the game he fills out a detailed, time-consuming form that is later sent to league headquarters. For this he gets $30 a game, which is fair, and "the respect and dignity of his office," which is a joke.
"Baseball is a game of statistics and ballplayers make their money on the basis of how well they stack up statistically," says Bob Sudyk of the Cleveland Press. "Scoring decisions are important to them and it's almost impossible to make any tough scoring ruling without displeasing someone."
"I've always felt that the $30 recompense is $1 for scoring and filing the official form and $29 for the abuse," says Neal Eskridge of the Baltimore News-American.
May 12, 1968
For example, in the Oriole clubhouse after a game in 1962, Infielder Jerry Adair, who had been charged with an error, found out that Eskridge had been the scorer. He called the writer over, cursed him thoroughly and imaginatively, and told him, "'Never talk to me again." They did not speak to each other for almost four years.
Usually it is the journeyman .240 hitter who sulks and complains, but not always. The Red Sox' Jackie Jensen, 1958 American League MVP, once lined a ball through a Tiger outfielder's legs on the fly only to have Larry Claflin of the Boston Record American call it an error. Later in the game Jensen singled cleanly; from first base he looked toward the press box and made a gesture which could have been described as less than inspirational to kids in the stands.
A less public way to register disenchantment with the scorer is to telephone. In one game Dick Farrell, then with Houston, was knocked out of the box by the Dodgers and before the inning was over he was on the phone to the press box berating Scorer George Lederer of the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram because the runs were earned.
"There hadn't been anything close to an error in the inning, but Farrell insisted they shouldn't be earned runs," said Lederer. "Figure that one out."
Even owners feel compelled to give scorers a piece of their mind. Last season Clif Keane of the Boston Globe scored a hit and an error on a grounder to rookie Infielder Mike Andrews. Owner Tom Yawkey accosted Keane in the press box between games of the doubleheader and raised hell. He apologized the next day.
"All scorers are prejudiced, the whole bunch of them," says Jim Nash of the A's. "They favor the teams high up in the race and they favor players who are having good years. All Frank Robinson has to do is hit the ball and nine times out of 10, if there is a question, the scorers give him a hit. It doesn't do any good to complain to a scorer. He'll just rook you worse the next time."
The remark about Robinson is ironic since the Oriole star is sure his teammate, Brooks Robinson, gets favored treatment over him. In a game against the Twins last season Frank hit a two-run homer in the 10th to win for Baltimore, but all he could talk about in the clubhouse was how he had been gypped out of a single earlier in the game when an infield grounder was ruled an error.
Few players go as far as Frank Robinson, but even the writers admit there have been some grounds for malpractice suits. One of the worst scoring calls was in favor of a player. Vic Davalillo of Cleveland came up to bat for the last time in the next-to-last game of the season needing a hit to lift his average to .300. He hit a bouncer straight to Brooks Robinson, who dropped it. Davalillo was given a hit, his average rose to .301 and he did not play the next day.
"That was awful," said Robinson. "I remember that play well. I took my eye off the ball for a second. It was an error. They obviously gave him a hit so he could hit .300 for the season."
Most players think scoring would be improved if it were done from the field level rather than from an upper-deck press box. "You can't judge the speed of a ball from up there," says Russ Snyder of the White Sox, "and you can't tell whether a runner would have beaten out a slow-hit ball even if the fielder had handled it cleanly."
Many also think they should be consulted after the game on close plays. "Malarkey," says Watson Spoelstra of the Detroit Free Press. "I never interview players on scoring matters because ballplayers are the poorest judges of scoring. Most Of them don't know the scoring rules. In fact, a lot of them don't even know the playing rules."
Most scorers are willing to listen to rational arguments, however. In an August 1953 Senator-Yankee game, Bob Addie of The Washington Post gave Phil Rizzuto an error on a ground ball hit by Washington's Mickey Vernon. The next day Rizzuto told Addie the ball had taken a weird, last-second skip. Umpire Art Passarella agreed and Addie changed the play to a hit. On the final day of the season Vernon beat out Al Rosen of Cleveland for the batting title by one point—.337 to .336.
Phil Collier of the San Diego Union once called an error on a play in which the Angels' Jose Cardenal thought he should have had a hit. Bill Rigney asked point blank if the call could be changed to lift Cardenal's spirits. After some discussion, Collier changed the borderline call. He told Cardenal the next day and the spiritually uplifted player just turned his back and walked away. Collier vowed he would never change another call.
On rare occasions sportsmanship rears its pretty head. A few years ago, when Wayne Causey was playing shortstop for the Athletics and Jerry Lumpe was at second base, Paul O'Boynick of the Kansas City Star, his vision partially obscured by an umpire, gave an error to Causey when he appeared to drop a toss from Lumpe on a potential double play. The next day Lumpe approached O'Boynick and said, "The error should be on me. I made a bad throw." O'Boynick changed his ruling.
Many players believe ex-umpires or ex-players should score games. Most writers, they claim, have never played high-level baseball. To which Dick Young of the New York Daily News has replied, "I never laid an egg either, but I know a rotten one when I smell it."
The silliest and most frequent gripe from players is the one that goes, "Other teams get breaks from the scorers in their towns. Why don't we?" They are convinced that in nine cities the scorers favor the home players but in their own particular city the scorers are impartial. Of course, 60% of the players are convinced there is a scoring conspiracy in behalf of pitchers. The other 40%, who happen to be pitchers, think just the opposite.
"As if we don't have trouble enough," says Dick Miller of the Santa Monica Evening-Out look, "now the fans are in the act, too. One day I had a tough call at an Angel game. When they announced the decision, everybody booed. My wife, who was there, stood up and said, 'You can't boo him. He's my husband.' So everybody in the section booed her." Miller should have given his wife the $30. Or at least the $29.