Keeping Score Fans: It's an art practiced by only a few these days -- tracking the progress of a baseball game with marks in small boxes.

July 22, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

With his mechanical pencil and clipboard, his tortoise-shell glasses and his earnest expression, Joe Buccheri might be a chemist completing a lab report. How carefully he observes his subject and makes cryptic marks on sheets of paper. How dutifully he files the sheets, culling them later for the sake of personal memory and historic preservation.

Look for Buccheri not in a university or corporate laboratory but in the upper deck of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Eighty-one games a season he commands a view from on high behind the plate, a solitary figure with a clipboard in his lap practicing the ancient rite of baseball score keeping.

"It keeps me more focused on the game, much more into why managers are making certain moves," says Buccheri, 49, a former college administrator who lives in Glen Burnie. "I'm much more aware of what's going on."

There are baseball fans and there are baseball fans. Some always come to the ballpark in time to watch batting practice, others don't; some stay until the last out when the score is 15-3, others consistently leave in the seventh inning to beat traffic. Some keep score, others don't.

Those who keep score seem to be a dwindling species. More than a century after the first scoring system was officially adopted, the practice of keeping score appears to be going the way of the ballpark organ and the drag bunt. Camden Yards was packed for the Toronto series last week, but during the last two games an eyeball survey of the crowd found only a few dozen spectators keeping score.

Among them was Bob Parrish of Charlotte, N.C., who watched the second game of the series from a field-level seat on the first-base side. When Orioles left-fielder Luis Polonia's fly out to left ended the third inning, Parrish marked a box on his score card "FO-7," and turned to the card for the visiting team. He was the only fan in sight keeping a book.

"I was a bat boy for the Washington Senators visiting teams in 1949," says Parrish, 63, who is in the computer software business. "Back in those days most everybody kept score."

Of course, in those days a Griffith Stadium program cost a dime. Today, unless you're among the fans who take their own score book, an official Orioles program including a score card costs $3. The fan magazine Outside Pitch is available outside the park for $2 and includes a score card.

Buccheri says he notices more fans around him ask what he's up to with his homemade score cards and clipboard. Keeping score, he says.

"They just nod their head, 'Oh, OK, you're keeping score.' They're aware of the concept they just haven't seen it in action."

It's anybody's guess why fewer people appear to be keeping score these days. Some say younger people are just not interested enough in the game or don't have anyone to teach them. Some see it as another symptom of Camden Yards' deteriorating effect on Baltimore's baseball culture. "They come out here to be entertained. It's a party," says John Eads, who has been an Orioles usher since 1988, when the team played at Memorial Stadium. "The die-hard fan is not here anymore."

The medium of baseball score keeping is part of the message. Its very existence suggests a leisurely pace, enough time between events to record one play and still have time to see the next. No other American sport allows the spectator to keep such a complete account of every play and every player's part in the action.

Baseball scoring systems have been around since the mid-19th century. The earliest-known score card is stored at the New York Public Library, a record of a game played on Oct. 6, 1845, according to "The Joy of Keeping Score," published this year by Paul Dickson of Garrett Park.

In 1863, the first score card and box-scoring system to be adopted officially by organized baseball was published by Henry Chadwick, who the following year became the first baseball editor of the New York Herald. Chadwick is credited with creating the system of numbering each position on the field and with giving us the "K" strikeout symbol. According to Dickson's book, Chadwick said "K" was chosen because it's the dominant sound of the word "strike."

Add another category of baseball fans: those who mark a backward "K" for a called strike three as opposed to a standard "K" for a batter struck out swinging.

The baseball score card accommodates a range of approaches, from the casual hits, runs, outs to the downright compulsive: pitch counts, hit locations, pop-up vs. line drive vs. majestic fly out, notes on how runners advanced and observations about exceptional plays.

"There's an evolution to score keeping," says Buccheri. "As you get more experienced you begin to add more things to your score card."

Buccheri says he learned the basics as a boy from his uncle, who took him to games at Memorial Stadium. Later, he befriended Chuck Thompson's broadcasting partner, Bill O'Donnell, and spent some time in the press box learning the nuances of scoring used by writers and broadcasters.

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