Accountants of the Game
The beauty of baseball is that mistakes are built right into the scoring of the game: fielding errors, wild pitches and balks, missed calls by the umps. In the end, it comes down to the math of the scorekeeper. They are the accountants of the game. I spoke with Linda Steijger, official scorer for The Dutch Federation, CEB, ESF and international scorer.
How did you get started as a scorekeeper?
In 1984 I met the guy who’s now my husband. A couple of days after we were officially going steady, I went to my first baseball game. He was a player. After that first game, every weekend I was at the field. One of his teammates said, ‘Well if you’re going to come to our games every weekend then maybe it’s nice to score our games.’ So he started teaching me the principles of scoring.
I only score games where my husband is an umpire because we both have full time jobs so if we go to separate games we won’t see each other anymore. As a result, I’m more into baseball but I’ve worked softball also as a scoring director for ISF, 2014 World Cup and the ESF European Cup 2015.
I really like to score, to be really into the game. Even when I’m not on duty, I still want to score a game. If I’m in the stands watching a game and somebody comes sitting next to me then you start chatting and you start having a look at each other and then suddenly, oh, what’s happening in the game? When you keep score, you have to be concentrated and you have to have your attention on the game.
Give us your highlight reel as a scorekeeper.
I’ve been scoring 18 years now. For 13 years I was the commissioner for Dutch scorers. When I resigned the Royal Netherlands Baseball Association Federation honored me with their special gold pin.
2001 I did my first CEB tournament, which was a European cup in the Netherlands. I work as a scoring director and have been a member of their scoring commission since 2006. I was Scorekeeper of the Year a few years ago. Today I continue to regulate for CEB and train scorers.
In 2005 I was a national scorer at the World Cup. After that tournament I was picked as a new member of the IBAF scoring list. In 2006, I had my first IBAF tournament, which was the women’s baseball in Taipei. 2013 was my first tournament as a scoring director for IBAF, now WBSC.
In 2007 I was in Barcelona for the European Cup and it was, at that time, also the Olympic qualifier. In 2008, I was in Beijing.
Tell us a little about your Olympic experience.
The Olympic experience, whoa, that was completely different. We scored our games in the three-scorer system but, when you’re scoring Olympics, it’s not just the three scorers. It’s scoring with headphones on, talking into the mic that is connected to a broadcaster, a scoreboard operator, I still think there were many more people involved than I even knew at that time. We had to call every ball, every strike, every decision we made on a play. Then, suddenly, you saw it on the scoreboard so you knew somebody had heard it.
In the Olympics I had the honor of the first tie-breaker game which was, officially, the first tournament where they had the tie-breaker. The TC (technical commissioner) came up, ‘How can we reach you?’ To be sure that everything went okay, they were already beside me in the 7th inning, ‘Hey Linda, can we check the lineup?’ ‘What? Tie-break starts in the 11th inning.’ ‘Yeah but we have to be prepared.’
What I liked the most were our nightly chats with the scorers recapturing the day. Even if you didn’t work that evening game we waited up for each other and we discussed plays. It was so much fun.
The conversations between umpire and scorer must be interesting in your house.
I’m always asking him, as an umpire, why did you make a decision like that? He’s explaining the rule and asking me why did you score it a hit and not an error, or the other way around, and I explain to him my motivation. Sometimes, because my husband really knows about the game, he’s telling me, ‘okay, I understand why you scored it a hit or an error but, as a player, you have to keep in mind that…’ and then I get the explanation what the thoughts of a player would have been to make a play like that, so I learn from it.
Yes, people in the stands are waiting, booing for the umpire when he makes the wrong decision, but if the announcer says that it’s an error, then everybody is turning around, because the scorer is always upstairs in the back, ‘Hey what are you doing?’ You want to make the decision that’s according to the rules. I really feel like, you can boo me whenever you like but this is the rule and I have to score according to it.
Are you hindered at times by the umpire’s ruling?
There are situations that I don’t judge, the umpire does. You only write the umpire’s decision. If the umpire says the runner is safe, even if you think he’s out, you still have to write down something on your score sheet that makes him safe, and make it a logical explanation because you cannot score an error of the umpire. You don’t want to score the error of the umpire because we all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.
Is it hard to keep up with the plays while you consider how to score a previous situation?
A play that’s a clear play – it’s a clean hit, for sure it’s an error - you write it down and you forget about it. But when you have a play that you’re really in doubt about, that’s the play that I remember by the end of the game because that’s also the play where you can be sure that somebody is going to ask after the game ‘Why did you do that’. As long as I have a good motivation, there’s nothing wrong with it. If I cannot motivate my own decision, then I have a problem. There can be some plays where I say, ‘I’m really not sure’. Because the umpire is closer to the play than I am as a scorekeeper, it can be that, after the game, I go to the umpire and I ask him, ‘What did you see?’ Then, based on what the umpire is telling me, I make the scoring decision.
What does a typical day of scoring look like?
In the Dutch National League we have two scorers, one on paper, one on computer. I prepare for a game by pre-enter the game into the computer, putting in the place, venue, time, names of umpires, scorers and team. Then we close our computers and take them to the field. We will be there one hour before the game. We meet the umpires, drink a little, relax. Half an hour before the game, when the umpires go to the locker room, we receive the lineups and start putting them in the score sheet.
When the game is over I just start closing my score sheets, putting the figures in the offense boxes, getting the totals. We meet the umpires again, talk a little about the game and go home. If necessary, back home I can make the final check of my score sheet, before I send it to the federation.
What stats do you keep paper side and computer side?
On the paper side it’s just closing the score sheet so you’re closing the defense: putouts, assists, errors, participation in double plays. You have a lot of offensive boxes where you put all the batting results like plate appearances, at bats, hits and kind of hits like doubles and triples or homeruns. You tick the boxes for sacrifice hits, sacrifice flies, base-on-balls, strikeouts, stolen bases, caught stealing and RBIs.
You have to make sure that when you have the totals of the batters, they match the totals that you put with the pitchers and that there is a score sheet balance because otherwise you have to start redoing your work and find the mistake.
The score sheet is just addition and subtraction but it is also the official document of the game. If your score sheet is not correct then you have to redo it. Everything else is computerized nowadays so I don’t have to do batting average. I just put it in the computer and let it do the math.
What are some things about scorekeeping that you think would surprise the average fan?
The average fan who doesn’t know a thing about scorekeeping thinks that it’s an easy job. They forget about the focus that you have to give everything that’s going on in the game.
Are there things that aren’t common knowledge that you think people would find interesting?
I think the most important thing is that people think they know a lot of baseball, and baseball rules, but they forget about the scoring rules. There was even one game, in my first couple of years as a federation scorer, there was a ball that was hit into the center field and the centerfielder he ran towards the ball and he missed it. He would have had to make the catch below the middle and there is an unwritten rule that when the outfielder has to run for the ball, tries to catch it under the middle but he misses it, it’s not an error so, at that time, I scored it a hit. It was a fast runner so he ended up at 3rd base so that makes it a triple.
There was one technical commissioner who was assigned to the game to have a look at the umpires and he heard the announcer announce the triple and he turned around and he had a look upstairs where I was sitting and was saying, ‘Hey Linda, I’m sorry, this you have to correct’ and I said ‘No, sorry. This is the scoring rule.’ I sometimes have to put down things on my score sheets that I think, ‘This is not fair,’ sometimes to the batter sometimes to a fielder, but it’s according to the rules and that’s one of the things that people sometimes forget.
We had a tournament in The Netherlands and there was this scorer who made a scoring decision. A couple of us scorers in the stands heard the announcer so we knew what the scoring decision had been. For us it was like we don’t understand. After the game I said, okay, you know what? I’m going to ask him. So I asked him about his decision. He explained it to me and we took the rulebook to it. According to the rules there was a possibility to score it the way he did. Even with the rules in our hands that group that was together in the stands, we said ‘Yeah, according to the rules, there is a possibility to score it like that,’ but none of us would have done it that way. Even amongst a small group of official scorers there was this discussion and we still disagreed.
That’s also what makes scoring so nice. You learn from it every time that you have a game, especially with international tournaments. It’s nice to have the international view because when I score with my national colleague, I think most of the time we have the same view of a play, but sometimes it happens when I’m scoring an international tournament that my colleague from a completely different country has also a different view of that play, ‘No I would score it this way because…’, then you start the discussion and it’s nice.
Do you look at a game differently when you’re in the stands and when you’re behind the book?
I think I’m never really an ordinary fan. I’m always the scorekeeper, with or without my score sheet on my lap. It’s just who you are and you become part of the game but in that manner. Sometimes, when we are having our courses, students are former coaches or umpires. Coaches and umpires have a certain view of the game.
You have to teach them how to score. The example I gave earlier with that missed ball by the centerfielder? For a coach it could easily be an error but, as a scorer, it’s a hit. That’s also applying the rules. You have to be fair. When you’re used to the cap of coaching or the cap of umpiring, and now you start trying the pen of the scorekeeper, that can sometimes be difficult.
What percentage of an average game is decided by the scorekeeper?
That’s a difficult question. You’re an accountant of the game so when you influence the game with your scoring decisions then I think you’re not a good scorer.
Your job is strictly an accountant? You write down the calls that have come in by the umpire and the plays that have gone out by the players and those two things have to balance?
Yeah and the third thing that comes into it is the rules, the official baseball rules and the scoring rules. When you combine those, what the fielder is doing, what the umpiring is signaling, what the rules say then that makes your scoring decision. It cannot be that I can judge every ball that is hit like a hit because I like it to be a hit.
How often does it come down to a situation of choice, based on the rules?
Like ‘to the opinion of the scorer decision?’ I’ve never really looked into it. It happens every game because it’s already there when you judge a hit or an error.
Give an example?
When I teach my beginners course, and there are ten pupils, I always say when we all sit around the field and we score a game, we have ten different score sheets. There are lots of times, you can even read in the rule, it’s up to the judgment of the scorer. What you can judge a hit I can score an error so when we sit around with ten people we can have ten different score sheets. The nicest thing is to have discussions with other scorers that, after a while you don’t have ten different score sheets, but there are only three or four different kinds because you start learning how to judge a certain play and all do it in the same way.
What makes scorekeeping fun for you?
I tried to put a finger on it. It just got into me and it’s not getting out because I’m involved in a lot of scoring things. I like the game, I like the scoring, I like the discussions about the plays not only with scorers but also with players, with umpires, with fans. It has become part of me.
I really like working the international games. I like teaching people, telling them what I know and getting others on a higher level with my help and my knowledge. I don’t want to keep it to myself. I just want to teach as many people as I can. Leaving a tournament with the knowledge that in one week’s time the level of scoring has improved because of the things that I was able to teach them, that gives me a good feeling.
What are things that you want people to know about scorekeeping?
That it’s great to keep score during a baseball game and that you never stop learning. It’s applying rules. It’s watching a beautiful game. Being part of it, um, yeah. Yeah, like you said, it’s my passion. It’s gotten into me.
What do you want the world to know?
I just hope that baseball and softball will be back into the Olympics again and, although I already had my chance at the 2008 Bejing Olympics I hope that, if they are going to be Olympic Games, that maybe one day I can be part of it again. Although the World Cup in 2011, and the Premiere12 in 2015, were also great tournaments to be with, yeah, it’s like a reward to the things that I do in scoring and I’m honored to get the invitations to tournaments like that.