R.I.P. 6-4-3

May 30, 2005
May 30, 2005

Table of Contents
May 30, 2005

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Inside The NFL

R.I.P. 6-4-3

Manny Gluck died last week after 50 years as a vendor at Yankee Stadium, where he sold scorecards and programs, words always twinned in the cries of souvenir hawkers. But with Gluck's passing we might also write--using a three-inch pencil--the obituary for the scorecard itself, as hardly anyone keeps score at baseball games anymore. "It ain't like it used to be," says vendor Dwayne Daniel, manning his lonely scorecard stand at Comerica Park in Detroit last Friday night. "Mostly it's old-timers still doing it."

This is an article from the May 30, 2005 issue Original Layout

Sure, there remain a few of us scorers who cannot look at the area code for Beanblossom, Indiana--812--without seeing a long throw from centerfield cut off by the pitcher leading to a putout at the plate. And you'll still find an aging group of less vigilant scorers, like Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop and former broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, whose cards are peppered with the notation "WW," for Wasn't Watching.

But for the most part, keeping score is a dying art. And it is an art. Our 34th president was a Cézanne of the 6-4-3. "Eisenhower's scorecards were a thing of beauty," says Paul Dickson, author of The Joy of Keeping Score. "Really. Posters have been made of his scorecards."

If you're scoring at home ... scratch that: You're not scoring at home, which is why announcers seldom use that phrase anymore. When they do, it's as an Eisenhower-era artifact or a retro-hip reference, like "Elvis has left the building."

So what? So the decline of scorekeeping merely suggests the decline of the American family. "My father taught me how to keep score when I was seven," says Matt Armelagos, 19, of Allen Park, Mich., from his windy perch in section 212 of Comerica Park. "And I'll teach my children." But Armelagos is, quite literally, alone. He is the only person in the upper grandstand at last Friday's Tigers-Diamondbacks game keeping score. "Everyone else is here to drink beer and party," he says. "I'm here to watch baseball, and keeping score helps me focus on the game."

Scoring does concentrate the mind. (As a manager, Connie Mack kept score in the dugout.) But it requires an intestinal fortitude--and a gastrointestinal fortitude--that few have today. At week's end Chaz Scoggins had scored 1,387 major league games since becoming the official scorer for the Boston Red Sox in 1978. That's roughly 3,800 hours, or 158 days, of holding it in. If Lou Gehrig was the Iron Horse, Scoggins is the Iron Bladder. "If you do run to the bathroom," Scoggins says of responsible scorekeeping, "you better hope there's not a line."

Scoggins last went to a baseball game without a purpose--which is to say, without a scorecard--in 1989, while visiting his wife's family in Winter Haven, Fla. "I wandered over to a Red Sox spring training game," he says. "And I left after two innings. I was bored out of my mind." Yet he realizes he's in the moral minority. "I guess," says Scoggins of scoring, "it's the official scorers and nerds of the world who are interested."

It isn't fair: Those of us who keep score have joined Trekkies and train fanatics--known as "foamers" in the railroad industry--in the pantheon of get-a-lifers. Says Dickson, "We're like those people who watch the planes land at National Airport."

There is hope for the future of scoring. When Dickson did a book signing at the Smithsonian Institution, 19 of the first 20 people in line were women. "They're the ones scoring their kids' Little League games," says Dickson. He noticed that he sold a lot of copies of The Joy of Keeping Score through the Bas Bleu catalog, which carries literary gifts catering to women. (Bas Bleu is French for bluestocking.)

Those of us who keep score--we geezers, nerds, Trekkies, foamers and bluestockings--can thank Henry Chadwick, who invented scorekeeping in the 1860s. He numbered the positions 1 through 9 and decided the letter K was more memorable than the letter S in the word "strike," which is why Roger Clemens's sons are not named Stew, Stan, Sven and Spud.

Ingenious though it is, Chadwick's system has its flaws: A simple 8, for example, cannot distinguish between a routine flyout to centerfield in April and Willie Mays's over-the-shoulder catch in the World Series. Which is why many scorers add a star to denote spectacular plays. Dickson knows one skinflint who awards four and only four stars per season. When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he'll mark not who won or lost but how you scored the game.

As Grantland Rice and Manny Gluck knew, a full life is like a filled-in scorecard. In March, after 44 distinguished years as the Minnesota Twins' public-address announcer, Bob Casey passed away. At the funeral one of Casey's sons, Mike, closed his eulogy with the same phrase his father used to close every Twins game.

He said, in summing up a life well-lived: "The totals on the board are correct." ■

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Keeping score is a dying art. Those of us who still do it have joined Trekkies and train fanatics in the pantheon of get-a-lifers.