Fans fear art of keeping score at baseball games is going, going gone

Detroit News

Detroit — It’ll happen to Ed Keelean nearly every game, as Keelean goes about watching his beloved Detroit Tigers on a beautiful summer day or evening at Comerica Park, jotting his baseball hieroglyphics onto his own unique scorecard.

A nearby fan, unsure of what Keelean is doing, nudges over and peeks over his shoulder.

“Invariably, one person every game will lean over and say, ‘Hey, I used to do that,’ or ‘I was kind of following what you are doing,’ or ‘I don’t understand what you did there,'” said Keelean, 74, of Grosse Pointe Park, a lifelong baseball fan who “religiously” keeps score at games.

That’s right. Keeps score at games.

You remember keeping score at games, right? A program in hand, pencil at the ready, and dutifully entering every play that game. Every grounder, strikeout, walk, hit, home run, flyout. Error. Every darn play.

And when the final out is recorded, gazing at that piece of art, and smiling as you recreate that entire game in your head.

Nearly everyone has their own way of keeping score. Rarely would you put two scorecards next to each other and they’d look alike. Some fans track a baserunner’s path around a small diamond. Others use horizontal slashes (one mark for a single, two for a double, three for triple and four for a home run).

If a player makes a great defensive play, often times fans will circle the play. For a home run, some scorekeepers will draw a line signifying where it was hit (left to right field) and the count when the ball was hit.

Some prefer F8 for a fly to center field, while others will simply jot 8, and others FW8 if it’s hit to the warning track.

And, of course, there’s WW, made popular by former Yankees broadcaster/player Phil Rizzuto: Wasn’t Watching.

To each his or her own. Everyone has their own system.

Used to be, so many people did it. Just look at the old, grainy black-and-white photos. You went to a baseball game; you kept score.

But not anymore. Keelean and the hearty bunch just like him are part of a small, dedicated breed these days. Fewer and farther between.

“It’s such a part of how I view baseball, and I’m a real baseball fan,” said George Kipper, a scorekeeping loyalist, who on this day was making sure to record everything Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani was doing during a memorable July doubleheader. “For me, I can’t imagine seeing a ballgame without keeping score. It’s like a hot dog at a game.”

It’s all changing, or likely, has changed.

With various apps, people can just as easily follow along on their phone, every pitch, swing, play provided for you. Not to mention the fancy scoreboards at any major league ballpark or, for that matter, many little league parks across the country.

The art, or skill, of keeping score is going away.

“The old paper copy is still used by some of the coaches we play, but not very often,” said Mark Cichon of Macomb, a youth league coach who learned to keep score in high school after getting hurt during the regular season. “(The) GameChanger (app) dominates scorekeeping these days.

“Truth be told, not many people know how to keep score with the old scorecards, anymore. I still do but haven’t in a very long time.”

‘It’s tradition for me’

In his book ‘The Joy of Keeping Score,’ the bible for scorekeepers, author Paul Dickson opens by writing: “The baseball world is divided into two kinds of baseball fans: those who keep score at the ballgame … and those who have never made the leap.”

Brothers Matthew and George Kipper, of Detroit and Plymouth, respectively, jumped in with both feet from an early age.

George, 76, learned from their mother, who would keep score every game on the radio. When George would come home from school, he would study that day’s game.

“I would just follow her scorecard to find out what happened,” he said. “She would take any blank sheet of paper, even a grocery bag, take a ruler out and draw some lines and make a scoresheet out of it.”

These days, both Kipper brothers have devised their own personal scoresheets from Excel spreadsheets and bring them to the 20-30 Tigers games they attend each season.

Matthew uses a pen, George a pencil.

“It forces me not to make any errors,” Matthew said.

Matthew has a collection of some of the more memorable games he’s attended and kept score. There’s the Justin Verlander no-hitter game against Milwaukee in 2007, Alan Trammell’s last game at Tiger Stadium in 1996, Jim Thome’s 600th career home run, hit against the Tigers in 2011, Ernie Harwell’s autograph on playoff and World Series games the Tigers have played in.

It’s a dazzling collection of baseball memories. And it all starts when Matthew jots down the first play of the game by the opposing team in the near left-hand corner of the scoresheet.

“It’s tradition for me,” he said. “It keeps me in the game. You anticipate what may be coming up in the next inning or two, looking ahead to see what batter might be coming up, whether he’s lefthanded or righthanded, and prepare for bullpen moves.

“I can’t imagine not doing it at the ballpark. I don’t do it when I’m watching a game on television. Your mind tends to drift away, you’re doing four or five different things at a time. At a game, it’s a different matter.”

Matthew Kipper has gotten similar questions as Keelean at games — quizzical looks, wondering what it is he’s exactly doing in his binder full of game sheets.

“I’ve had people ask me whether I’m a scout,” Kipper said. “I’ll say no, but there have been a few times I’ll just say quietly, ‘yes, we’re looking at a particular guy, but don’t say anything’.”

Scorecards are still out there at Comerica Park. They are available for purchase in The D Shop for $1, or they also come complimentary with the purchase of a game program.

But it’s a difficult sell for younger, or frankly, many other fans.

In this digital age, there are so many other distractions. Connecting to friends while you’re at the game, but also, from a baseball perspective, possibly watching or keeping track of other games on phones.

And, simply put, apps that’ll keep score for you, keep track of all the action, while you’re chatting away.

“In general, most fans aren’t following the game as super closely,” said Matthew Kipper, who has passed on the love of scorekeeping to his four adult children, ages 23 to 33. “Occasionally, you see a younger person keep a (scorecard) and get into it, but it’s kind of rare.”

Said his brother, George: “One of the reasons is the elaborate scoreboards. They’ll tell you everything, what a batter had done previously in the at-bats. They do the pitch counts, what the pitch was, everything. People don’t need to keep score because it’s all there for them.

“Maybe even in more detail.

“I don’t think people pay attention to the details in the game. You ask someone who is sitting in the stands what the score is … a good amount wouldn’t even know. They’re having fun, talking with friends, and that’s fine. But that’s just me making an observation.

“If the Tigers were more competitive, I suppose people would pay more attention.”

Hope for future

Henry Chadwick is considered the father, or creator, of scorekeeping in the 1860s.

With the avalanche of rule changes, the system has evolved and transformed itself, although the basis remains the same.

And even in this digital age, with all the previously mentioned apps, especially in the youth leagues of baseball, people need focus and concentration to score the game accurately, especially in terms of pitches thrown.

There’s also the young fan that could be bit by the scorekeeping bug. There’s still hope.

Mark Cichon, the little league coach, will be teaching the fine parts of keeping score to his son Nicholas, 10, who loves baseball from every angle — playing, watching, the statistics, a pure baseball junkie.

But Nicholas doesn’t entirely know to keep score.

“He’ll pore over the stuff on the GameChanger app, the video, the spray charts, where to pitch balls,” Mark Cichon said. “Recently, he said he wants to learn how to keep score. So we’re going to go to a (United Shore Professional Baseball League) game at Jimmy John’s Field and I’ll teach him.

“It’s one of those things you hope doesn’t go away. It’s part of the game.”

▶ 1B: single

▶ 2B: double

▶ 3B: triple

▶ HR: home run

▶ E: reached base on error

▶ FC: fielder’s choice

▶ HP: hit by pitch

▶ WP: wild pitch

▶ SB: stolen base

▶ SH: sacrifice hit

▶ PB: passed ball

▶ BK: balk

▶ K: struck out

▶ BB: base on balls

▶ FO: force out

▶ SF: sacrifice fly

▶ DP: double play

▶ F: foul fly

▶ IW: intentional walk

▶ L: line drive

▶ B: bunt

▶ 1: pitcher

▶ 2: catcher

▶ 3: first baseman

▶ 4: second baseman

▶ 5: third baseman

▶ 6: shortstop

▶ 7: left fielder

▶ 8: center fielder

▶ 9: right fielder

▶ DH: designated hitter

Every time a batter goes to the plate, use the numbers to indicate how he was retired or reached base.

Fielding plays that retire batters or runners also call for use of the numbers. A batter who grounds out to the shortstop is retired 6-3 in your scoring. A fly to the right fielder, simply the number 9, or 9F if it’s foul.

The lower left-hand corner of the scoring block should be considered as home plate. Progress is counterclockwise, with progress to first base indicated in the lower right-hand corner, to second base in the upper right-hand corner, third base in the upper left-hand corner, and to home in the lower left.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

X: @tkulfan

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