Sportswriter Peter Gammons of The Boston Globe typically "draws" the play right around the diamond printed on the scorecards he uses. He's thankful for his extremely small handwriting—"I could write a novel on the back of a postcard," he says—because within each box he pinpoints the location of the batted ball, although even he must monitor the count to the batter on a separate sheet of paper. His Fenway Park scorecards are frequently spotted with 7Ws and 7-8Ws, denoting hits off the green monster, as the wall in left (7) and left-center (7-8) is known. Balls caught on the warning track are indicated by a WT. "One game I noticed that the Red Sox outfielders caught nine balls on the warning track," Gammons recalls of a game played at the Texas Rangers' Arlington Stadium. "So I asked the Red Sox pitcher, Dennis Eckersley, about it after the game. 'Luckiest shutout I ever pitched,' he said."
Like many scorecard keepers, Gammons highlights outstanding plays with a star. "Once in a while, if I'm emotionally carried away, I'll put in two stars," he says, admitting to just such an excess after Dwight Evans hauled in Joe Morgan's deep fly (9WT) in Game 6 of the '75 World Series. Three years later his symbols froze another pivotal play: Beside his mark for a home run Gammons wrote 7S. The S might also have stood for silence. Fenway Park was eerily quiet as that play unfolded—Bucky Dent of the Yankees had just hit his fateful playoff home run into the screen.
Bill James, the statistics fanatic who annually cranks out his analytical Baseball Abstracts, uses so many intricate notations that his score sheets are about as easy to read as a bowl of alphabet soup. James admits that some of what he does "has gotten cumbersome" but says he continues using his complex system because "detailed scoring sharpens your focus on the game, so that you start seeing things that you weren't seeing before." How detailed? "One thing I almost always do is to score hits according to where they land on the field," James says. "An s4 is a single hit up the middle, between the second baseman and the shortstop. [His system assigns a 1 to an infield hit, a 2 to a hit between the first baseman and the line, a 3 to a hit between the first and second baseman, and so on around the field, to 16.] A 2b 16 is a double hit between the rightfielder and the rightfield line."
On a James scorecard an infield hit, as you might imagine, is rarely left as an unadorned s1. James squeezes in s1.1b to record a bunt single fielded by the pitcher. He writes s1.5c for a chopper fielded by the third baseman. And he pencils in s1.4t to note a tap gathered up too late by the second baseman. He has, of course, a system for recording the game pitch by pitch to indicate if the pitcher is getting ahead of or falling behind the hitters and to show which batters consistently swing at the first offering. A typical notation of defensive positioning is BAD44(GL)—13G. Taking a deep breath, James explains, "That means the infield is back, the outfield deep, the centerfielder a little around to right with a gap in left, and the first and third basemen are guarding the lines." The 44 refers to degrees, as in one less than 45, which to James means straightaway center. It's obvious that he pays strict attention to the game. "My head is never down when the ball is in play," says James.
The scorekeeper's dilemma—write or watch—rarely troubles diehard Red Sox fan Scott Russell. Russell, a 38-year-old tax accountant for a liquor wholesaler, scores every Boston at bat throughout the season—much of the time he works from tapes he has made of radio broadcasts of away games and home games he cannot attend. On Sunday mornings, when most of Boston is sleeping or brunching, Russell may score as many as three games "stacked up" like planes over Logan Airport. "I love baseball, and I like to create strange types of statistics to try to prove a point," he says. "Last season I tried to ascertain just how important it was for certain pitchers to get ahead of the hitters. I found that for Mike Torrez it really didn't seem to matter, but for Dennis Eckersley, the statistic was very meaningful. He's a much better pitcher when he's ahead of the hitters. He really punches them out then."
Russell employs a few tricks, such as circling outstanding plays, adding exclamation points if the play was better than outstanding and writing a backwards "K" to distinguish called third strikes. Even so, he's probably as pure a scorecard lover as you're likely to find. "Scorecards help reinforce the beauty of baseball," he says. "No two games are ever alike, and with each card I start I realize that something may happen that has never happened before in baseball. If it does," he says, "I'll have it written down."