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Hit or Error? : A Question of Judgment : Fans and Players Don't Really Notice Official Scorers -- Until Controversy Arises Over One of Their Decisions

July 11, 1993|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two seasons ago, the baseball world was infuriated with official scorer Mark Frederickson, but it wasn't because he had made a questionable call to give the Atlanta Braves their first no-hitter in 18 years.

And it wasn't because Frederickson made that call with two out in the ninth inning.

And it wasn't even because he gave Terry Pendleton an error on a high bouncer that Pendleton lost in the lights and never touched.

What still bothers people occurred after that game, around the lockers of the three pitchers who had combined on the no-hitter: Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena.

Frederickson was there with his scorecard and a pen.

He was asking for their autographs.

"I know, that was a no-no," Frederickson said.

Actually, it wasn't.

For the caretakers of baseball's sacred scoring rules, there are no rules.

--They can drink on the job. And some do.

--They can "own" players in rotisserie leagues. And many do.

--They can fraternize with players. And many do.

--They can even score a major league game without having seen one before.

While that last scenario is unrealistic, consider the case of Howard Sinker, a writer who formerly covered the Minnesota Twins.

His first game as an official scorer was Game 1 of the 1987 World Series.

*

The people who determine players' earned runs, hits and errors are unregulated, unsupervised, and, in some cases, unqualified.

"I find it ludicrous that there is so much riding on scoring calls . . . and the leagues pay so little attention to a scorer's job," said Wayne Monroe, longtime Dodger scorer who retired after last season.

Granted, since Henry Chadwick invented the box score in 1865, there have been certain scoring issues that the leagues will never be able to resolve.

Chiefly, was that ball a hit or an error?

Every season a scorer makes a controversial call that either makes history or makes somebody very angry.

"Because we are dealing with somebody's judgment, there will always be disputes over calls, and there isn't anything anybody can do about it," said Seymour Siwoff, general manager of Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's statisticians.

In 1952, the story was Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers, who was given his second no-hitter that season after a ground single in the third inning was changed to an error in the seventh inning.

And this was before the invention of instant replay.

In 1979, the story was Dick Miller, then the scorer for the Angels, after he called an error on a sinking line drive to center field in the eighth inning of a potential no-hitter by Nolan Ryan.

In the press box, Miller was subjected to a verbal assault by Buzzie Bavasi, Angels executive vice president.

Last season, one of the many stories was the Dodgers. Their fielding was so bad, pitchers were calling the press box during games complaining that teammates weren't being given enough errors.

There are a few things about this $75-per-game job, however, that are indisputable.

--Most scorers are hired strictly on the recommendations of local public-relations directors.

No experience necessary.

Only the National League administers a test, but it is an open-book exam.

"Only an idiot couldn't pass it," one scorer said.

Neither league requires even an eye exam, leaving baseball open to recent charges that a couple of aging scorers can no longer see.

And neither league has rules such as the one enforced by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America requiring a writer watch at least 100 games for three consecutive seasons before serving as a scorer.

Since the late 1970s, the rule has been mostly meaningless, because most sports editors have prohibited their writers from scoring because of the possibility that a scoring decision could become part of the story they were covering.

The league has been left to choose people who are, among other things, teachers, nursing home operators and librarians.

"If a P.R. guy tells me they have a guy who knows the rules, I trust him, because otherwise he would just be hurting his team," said Phyllis Merhige, American League vice president of administration and media affairs.

"We still go by that old baseball writers rule," said Rob Matwick, veteran public-relations director of the Houston Astros. "Maybe that's why it's always so hard to find people."

Merhige has fired scorers, but she admitted that she has never turned a candidate down.

--Because scorers are essentially hired by publicity directors, they often feel indebted to them. Too often, critics say, scorers rely on team public-relations types to make calls.

"You officially work for the league, but, in reality, you work for the public-relations director," said Steve Ellis, former Seattle Mariner scorer who resigned this season after eight years. "There is a pretty significant learning curve in this job, and you depend a lot on the public-relations director early on."

Matwick disagreed.

"In fact, as part of the selection process for most P.R. guys, we look for people who can be impartial," he said.

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