It is the presence of snipers and vultures among the players that gives the scorers their worst headaches. Players are all too aware of the game's celebrated reversals. In 1917 Ernie Koob of the St. Louis Browns was given a no-hitter when an early-inning hit call was reversed. In 1952 Virgil Trucks got a no-hitter in the same manner. The most famous of the reversals that should have been made—but wasn't—came on a bobbled grounder in 1959. By calling the misplayed ball a hit, Los Angeles scorer Charlie Park deprived the Giants' Sam Jones of a no-hitter. Most of the 60,000 Angelenos in attendance booed. Afterward, Park was subjected to innumerable phone calls, interviews and letters from fans who suggested that he drop dead.
Players often feel the same way about scorers. When the writer who has displeased them enters the locker room for his postgame interviews, the vultures and snipers are waiting. They have refused to talk to writers, yelled at them and even attacked them. Cincinnati writer Earl Lawson was punched by Johnny Temple. When Bob Considine of the
Washington Herald denied Senator First Baseman Joe Kuhel a hit, Kuhel invaded the press box and inexplicably took a swing at Shirley Povich of
The Washington Post
. Kuhel was fined $100. A fan sent him $50 with a note reading, "I'd have sent you the full $100, but you missed."
Incidents of that sort have decreased since National League President Chub Feeney warned against scorer-baiting in 1974, but restraint should not be mistaken for good feelings toward scorers. If anything, players watch their individual statistics—and, thus, the scorers—more closely than ever now that their contracts are filled with potentially lucrative incentive clauses. Al Oliver of the Rangers, Graig Nettles of the Yankees and Steve Yeager of the Dodgers have been involved in notable confrontations with scorers.
Even a seemingly favorable call can sometimes arouse players' wrath. Earlier this season a scorer gave Reggie Smith of the Dodgers a hit on a ground ball to second base. Were Smith and his teammates pleased? Hardly. They were livid because Joe Morgan of the rival Reds, who might have been given an error on the play, was in the process of setting a record for most consecutive errorless games for second basemen. Smith would have gladly dropped a point or two in average to make sure Morgan did not break the record.
These constant skirmishes erode a scorer's patience. Even Russo, who has enjoyed excellent rapport with players, came unglued during the ruckus over his Forsch call. Snapped Mike Schmidt of the Phils, "I think Bob Forsch deserves all the accolades that go with pitching a one-hitter." Now Russo wonders if scoring is worth the trouble. "I've been doing it all these years because I need the 50 bucks a game. But I've always thought of life as a never-ending Italian wedding reception. This doesn't fit in."
There are other, more technical reasons to change the present setup. "When I was on the disabled list last year," says Willie Stargell of the Pirates, "I saw a lot of games from the press box. What struck me was how every ball that was hit looked like an easy out. It doesn't look that way down on the field." The dugout, of course, is not a perfect vantage point, either. Some observers feel that a midpoint, perhaps behind home plate, would be an improvement over both the press box and dugout.
But taking the scorer out of the press box would take the press box out of the scorer. This question—whether the writers should be allowed to double as scorers—is at the heart of the debate over scoring.
Baseball is the only major sport in which writers score, and they have been on the job since before the turn of the century. Chosen by the local chapter chairman of the BBWAA, candidates for scoring are submitted to the league office. Those accepted are paid $50 a game. For this stipend they make scoring decisions—mostly wild pitch-passed ball and hit-error determinations—and submit a voluminous report on each game to the league office. Because they inevitably have hassles over scoring with the players they are covering for their newspapers, there would appear to be a conflict of interest. Furthermore, since they are paid by the league to score they may be reluctant to criticize the game itself. Beginning with
The Washington Post
20 years ago, many metropolitan dailies have been prohibiting their beat men from scoring. Among the other papers which ban their baseball writers from scoring are
The New York Times, News-day, the
Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Minneapolis Star and the
Minneapolis Tribune and all the major papers in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia.
"There's no conflict," says Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA and a writer for the New York Daily News, which allows its reporters to score. "The teams aren't paying us. the leagues are. But it's true there are problems with the players. In the old days writers didn't go into the locker rooms. They preferred to pontificate from the press box. Now everyone interviews players."
Another writer-scorer who defends the system is Dick Dozer of the
. "I doubt anyone could be as qualified as a baseball writer who sees 100 games a year," says Dozer. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer do. Generally, writers who score at home travel less than in the past. Some work for suburban or specialty papers that do not send them on the road at all; neither they nor writers in recent expansion cities qualify under the BBWAA regulation that a scorer must have seen 100 big league games three years running. The result, almost inevitably, is a dropoff in quality and performance.