In the major league press boxes, there are certain inmates engaged in one of the world's oldest professions. They earn $50 a day and take abuse that sometimes could tempt them to ask, "What is a nice person like me doing in a place like this?"
They are the wretches who have accepted hire as baseball's official scorers, baseball writers paid to call'em as they see'em for the official records. It is a practice rooted in the first years of the century. But aside from the $50 stipend, it is a no-win situation for the scorers. For their proper rulings, no applause; for the doubtful ones, much outrage.
The reaction of an athlete who believes himself unfairly charged with an error of desprived of a hit is generally to regard the whole press box as scum, a view often shared by indignant home fans.
In Cleveland one day, Ben Chapman saw the "E" sign posted on the scoreboard after beating out what he thought was a hit. From first base, he made an impolite gesture toward the press box and yelled, "This goes for all of you (deleted) $40-a-week sportswriters."
In Cleveland's cozy old League Park, where the stands were close to the diamond, Chapman's diatribe amounted to a public address.
The other day in St. Louis, when Bob Forschof the Cardinals was credited with a no-hitter against the Phils, even some of the fellow writers joined the outcry against the official scorer. Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post Dispatch was the suspected miscreant.
In the game stories, never was a no-hitter so harply questioned. Both wire services said flat out that it was a gift, that Russo had made a bad call when he ruled "error" on a ground ball hit to Ken Reitz in the eighth. Pitcher Forsch later made the astonishing comment that it was "a questionable call."
The truth is that the offical scoring rules are tilted against the pitcher and are lenient toward offending fielders. Rule 10:50, Sec. D says with great clarity, "In applying the rule always give the batter the benefit of the doubt." All of the scoring rules apparently are not studied by all of the official scorers or all of the players.
Ben Chapman was an obvious scofflaw because it is spelled out in rule 10:01, Sec. C: "The scorer is an official representative of the league and is entitled to the respect and dignity of his office." Chapman was unware of that dignity.
Neither do all players know who the official scorer is. Joe Kuhel once took a punch at me after a game in which he was charged with an error on a ground ball. The fact that Bob Considine was the official scorer that day was of no matter to Kuhel. You've seen one lousy sportswriter, you've seen them all.
For that episode. Kuhel was fined $100 by the late Clark Griffith. The next day, he found a $50 bill in his locker and a note from a fan saying, "Here's $50 to pay half the fine for taking a punch at Povich. I'd have sent the other $50 if you hadn't missed."
One of my heroes, and the most uncompromising baseball writer I knew, was the venerable Harry G. Salsinger, the sage of the Detroit News. Once, while he dictated the play-by-play of a game to his telegraph operate, I heard Sal say, "Goslin safe at first on Rogell's fumable." I mentioned to Sal that the official scorer had called it a hit for Goslin. "It's still an error in the Detroit News," he said. And it was They don't make baseball writers like Salsinger anymore.
The Washington Post, in the 1950s, was the first newspaper to forbid its baseball writers to act as official scorers and accept the stipend offered by the league, viewing it as a threat to objectivity. In later years, the New York Times and several other papers followed this policy, but a heavy majority of newspapers still permit their writers to do the scoring for pay from the leagues.
Alfred Friendly, then managing editor of The Post, expressed shock at the practice and told Bob Addie, The Post baseball writer, to resign the scorer's job. Quietly, Friendly put in a pay raie for Addie equal to what he was paid by the league.
Scoring standards differed widely in different cities and still do. Boston was regarded as a city where the home-team players were most notably favored. New York had the reputation for being toughest on both teams. Within one execption, to be detailed later, the Washington scoring was tough, if I do say so myself.
Ted Williams, who didn't need many breaks from scoring, got more than a few during his years in Boston. Red Sox fans expected Teddy Boy to get all the favors. They invaded the press box in force during one game when Williams didn't get a hit on a line drive that Gerry Priddy leaped for and dropped. When the "E" sign went up, they went to the press box and attacted the first writer inside, Bob Holbrook, despite his innocence. John Gilhooley was the official scorer that day.
It was in Boston, too, that the most notable of all scoring stories occured.This was in old Braves Field, not Fenway Park. It involved Paul Waner of the Pirates who it was advertised, was seeking the 3,000th hit of his brilliant career.
Waner slashed a hard ground ball off an infileder's glove his first time up and was safe at first. The "H" sign went up, but nothing doing Waner, on first base, was waving his hands furiously toward the press box and shaking his head and stepping off the bag to protest that he would not accept that kind of a hit, indicating it should have been an error. Not until they took down the "H" sign and put up "E" would Waner let the game continue. But, hurrah, he singled clerly next time up.
No ordinary baseball writer is selected as official scorer - no green peas, no novices. the requirements used to be that only writers who covered 100 or more games a year were accepted for the job. It's been dropped now to 81, because newspaper staffs change reports more often and writers do not cover games with the former regularity.
There is a plus to being an official scorer. Once in a great while, under very special circumstances, you just might do a deserving fellow a favor. This happened in 1938 on the last day of the season, when a certain writer who shall remain nameless was the designated official scorer at Griffith Stadium. Now let's switch to a conversation with Manager Bucky Harris in the Senator's clubhouse before the game.
Harris: I'll tell you something. (A1) Simmons just asked me to bench him. Says he doesn't want to play today.
"Simmons says he don't want to risk going hitless because he's batting about 300 on the nose and don't want to fall below that figure and not get as good a contract next year."
"What you doing about it?"
"Simmons said Sammy West could pay left field but I said I wouldn't ask him because I know Sammy is hitting 300 on the nose too."
"Who is going to play left field?"
"West will play. Simmons asked him and Sammy volunteered."
Armed with this information, the nameless official scorer ascended the press box with a mind ot be lenient to Nice Guy Sammy West if possible. But his first three times up, no chance. All flyouts. In his fourth atbat, West grounded to the first baseman, who fumbled "Hit," the official caller signaled quickly.There were some suprised looks from his colleagues.
The game went into extra innings and West needed another hit to preserve his 300. In the 10th, he reached base on a ground hall that some unfeeling people may have scored as an obvious error by the second baseman. "Hit," was the speedy judgment. Sammy wound up the season hitting .302 and you can look it up. Now, was the official scorer guilty of anything? Under the circumstances, we would prefer to call it executive privilege.