July 29, 2010

Frank Deford answered the question on
“Two things that people love to ask me are: Is such-and-such really a sport? And: Are people who do such-and-such
really athletes? Usually, I can tell, the people who ask me: say, are race car drivers really athletes? … don’t like
auto racing — and they are very piqued at me when I say, yeah, definitely I think race car drivers are athletes. Just
because you are sitting down doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. As there are different artists, so too different
However, there is a widespread prejudice that only people who do something proficient while being vigorously active for
long periods, can be real athletes. Basketball, soccer and tennis players are usually held up as the standard. But I
think there are many physical abilities that qualify you as an athlete. Let’s face it: you can be the fastest and
strongest athlete in the world, but if you don’t have hand-eye coordination, you can’t be any good at baseball.
The sports that most people have their doubts about are the ones where the athletes don’t directly beat each other, but
are judged. Especially in Olympic years, people like to snicker and ask me: Is synchronized swimming really a sport?
Snicker, snicker. And I think, well, isn’t it just like gymnastics or figure skating? They exercise, they get scores,
they’re sports. I think pretty much that if you’re employing physical attributes, you’re being an athlete. Then, if
you’re competing against someone else, it’s a sport. Mountain climbers, for example, may be incredibly athletic, but I
don’t think mountain climbing is a sport.
This brings us to cheerleading. Is it a sport? It can be a very vigorous activity, even dangerous when cheerleaders fall.
But, of course, there is a particular form of cheerleading performed by busty young things in halter tops, waggling pom
poms, which is simply titillation, and while I’m all for being titillated, that is not a sport. In schools, though,
there are cheerleading matches, with scores, not pom-poms. I judged a national collegiate cheerleading competition once.
It was an eclectic panel. Dr. Joyce Brothers was next to me. It seemed like a sport to us.
But now a federal judge has ruled that cheerleading is not yet a real sport even though 64,000 high school girls are
registered in “competitive spirit squads.” It was a complicated case that forced this decision, wherein one more
college –Quinnipiac, this time — was trying to get around Title IX stipulations. The more women who go to college,
forming a greater majority of students, the more women’s sports we must have, and that is hard for a lot of male
athletic officials to deal with. All the more reason, it seems to me, to certify cheerleading.
But here is one hard and fast rule I would make. Any college that is put on any athletic probation — like the
University of Southern California now — for violating NCAA rules should not be allowed to have cheerleaders at any of
its games. It would be a very visible sign that that school is being punished. No cheerleaders for cheaters.”

Chris Erskine said that scorekeeping is a dying art in the LA Times.

“Know what I like? When a home run lands in the stands, and the fans there quiver like winter wheat, just as wiggly
spectators did back in Babe Ruth’s day.

Know what else I like? The way the vendor yells, “Peanuts here! Salt peanuts!” a character from baseball’s creaky

I even like the way the West Coast puts baseball to bed each night, scores from earlier contests glowing like evening
stars on the little scoreboards along the outfield.

Baseball is a game of touchstones and tombstones and comforting repetition. Unfortunately, one of the game’s saintly
little traditions seems to have about run its course.

Each season, fewer and fewer fans keep a scorebook at ballgames. Scorekeeping — baseball’s Latin — appears to be a
dying language.

“It’s been fading out for a very long time,” says Barry Rubinowitz, a lifelong devotee to scorekeeping. “There’s a
certain lack of literacy involved.”

Last Friday, the former comedy writer was the only soul I could find keeping score on the third-base loge level at
Dodger Stadium. Ushers there confirmed that they rarely see anyone “keeping book” any more.

Rubinowitz is not exactly the last of a species. But he’s certainly on the endangered list.

“When I was a kid, it was different; you could talk to strangers,” says Louisa Jensen of Glendale, who still keeps
score at Dodgers games. “So when I was a kid at Wrigley Field I learned from a man sitting next to me.”

If you’ve never kept book, it involves a batter-by-batter shorthand account of the game. The only symbol that makes any
sense is the little diamond that represents the basepaths. When a runner reaches first, the scorekeeper draws a line
from home to first and makes a notation about how the runner reached. BB means “base on balls.” 1B means “single.” HBP
means “hit by pitch.”

When a runner scores, you fill in the diamond, like completing the answer on a standardized test.

On the defensive side, each player in the field has a number based on the position he plays. The pitcher is 1, the
catcher 2, first baseman is 3, and so on. For some reason, the shortstop is 6, not 5, in the rotation of positions.
When the shortstop fields a grounder and fires the ball to first, the scorekeeper records the out with a simple “6-3,”
noting shortstop to first base.

Everybody keeps score a little differently. For example, I customize my scorebook by adding CB (cold beer) and HBHDW
(hit by hot dog wrapper) to mine. When Alyssa Milano shows up at a Dodgers game, I write a little AM inside the shape
of a heart. When a drunk muffs an easy foul ball, I write DMEFB. If Milano muffs an easy foul ball, I write … OK, you
get the idea.

Sure, scorekeeping is an arcane set of chicken scratches that not everyone wants to learn. Besides, finished
scoresheets are available on the Web, and stats are flashed onto big screens and directly to your cellphone if you
like, making a scorebook less vital.

But to a few stubborn holdouts, it’s almost unthinkable to attend a game without a scorebook.

“I’ve scored virtually every Red Sox game I’ve been to since my first game ever at Fenway Park in 1967,” says Steve
Ferri, who grew up in Boston and lives in Pasadena. “For the Sox, George Scott hit a home run in the bottom of the
first to tie it up, and Rico Petrocelli hit a home run in the bottom of the second to tie it up again.”

At Angel Stadium, I found more scorekeepers than at Dodger Stadium, but still only a smattering. As with all things
baseball, the practice often harkens to the fan’s childhood.

“I started doing it with my father,” says Jack Rallo of Covina, a program scoresheet in his lap. “And I do it now
because it keeps me in the game. … It’s just kind of fun.”

“My mom taught me,” says Carl Johnson, visiting from Pittsburgh. “When the game’s over, you can go back and appreciate
it. The more pencil marks, the better.”

“You’re taking it to the next level,” says Bruce Jacobson of Upland. “Where did the player hit it last time? Why are
they moving the fielders?”

So baseball, a game built on stats and tradition, is losing a geeky little accounting procedure that no one will stay
awake worrying about — except maybe me.

Fortunately, a few diehards are managing to keep scorekeeping on life support, still scribbling their little love notes
to the game.

“I think keeping score helps me to strategically understand the game,” Ferri says. “Or at least that’s what I tell

“I guess that’s kind of like claiming that you read Playboy for the articles,” he says. “But maybe the real reason is
that I am just a nerd.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: