The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

R.I.P. David Vincent, the Nationals scorekeeper who brought out the joy in baseball

Nationals scorekeeper David Vincent, here in 2007 at RFK Stadium, died of stomach cancer, but not before making an impression on a young Washington beat writer. (H. Darr Beiser/USA Today)

I didn’t know much about David Vincent when I met him, a few hours before I was supposed to watch some National or another play a rehabilitation assignment with the Potomac Nationals in Woodbridge. To be honest, most of the details of that day escape me now. The more important parts of that memory probably never will. David Vincent, a legend of baseball research and official scorekeeper at Nationals home games, passed away Sunday after a long battle with stomach cancer. He was 67 years old, and I will miss him.

Vincent introduced himself to me in the P-Nats press box, where he was sitting a few hours before the P-Nats game that night. He said he’d seen me around Nationals Park, where he often served as the official scorekeeper. I’d probably heard his voice a dozen times by then, saying things like “error, shortstop,” or “that’s a hit” over the speaker in the press box. I guess I never took much notice. The daily details like that never seem to sink in, somehow.

I wondered why a pro like him, a guy who scored big league games whenever he wanted, would come all the way to Woodbridge to do the same on spare nights. I’d recently been introduced to that old clubhouse saying, “a bad day in the big leagues is better than a good day anywhere else,” and figured making it to the big leagues meant never looking back. About 10 minutes into speaking to Vincent, I realized he was just happy for a day at a baseball field, wherever it was, because every single one of them was a treasure to him.

That’s where we started — talking baseball — sitting on the dirty old desk chairs in the cramped press box so narrow that my backpack, leaning against a wall, was enough of a roadblock to stall traffic. Fortunately that day, there was no traffic, so I got to speak to Vincent at length. He told me how he had been involved in SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) for years and served on its board of directors. He explained how when the Expos moved to Washington, he suddenly had an opportunity to score big league games, and that he scored the first game at RFK Stadium, the first game at Nationals Park, Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter, and several others. Somehow, in the course of our wide-ranging conversation, he undersold his story.

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Vincent was something of a research legend among baseball people interested in those things. He had a digital home run record on his computer, one he had meticulously maintained for years, and he would volunteer his research to writers who asked. He helped write books, and served as an unparalleled source of home run data and information to anyone who needed it. He also knew more about umpiring history than anyone in the game. Often, in the Nationals Park press box, he could be seen wearing an MLB umpire’s cap, given to him by one of his many umpiring friends. Scorers work closely with the umpires, registering substitutions and calls and the like, and Vincent knew many of them personally.

I don’t know if I asked him how he started scoring games, or if he had a day job, or if he simply brought it up, but somehow our conversation that day turned to his battle with stomach cancer. Then, as in the many times I chatted with him over the past few years, Vincent was forthcoming about his struggle. He talked about his treatment sessions, about the chemotherapy and the harder days.

He told me about the moment years ago when doctors told him he had months to live, and how he respectfully disagreed. That day, in that press box in Woodbridge, Vincent told me his goal was to live long enough to score the 2018 All-Star Game at Nationals Park. He sure came close.

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I didn’t fully understand what the disease had taken from him until I noticed the old picture on his MLB identification card a few months ago. He was hardly recognizable to the man in that photo, hair gone, face gaunt. But the life never seemed to wane, not even as he weakened in recent months.

Every conversation left me so grateful for all I had, but also left me more determined to find what I didn’t — that ability to be positive, to appreciate, and to find perspective. One day this season, for example, Mr. Vincent wore one of those hats that looks like a visor and has fake hair popping up in the middle, an American Flag edition. He cracked up when I noticed it, and said “How’s my hair?” Press boxes are full of complaining, a playful prerequisite for life as a sportswriter. In that way, but no others, Vincent was terribly out of place there.

One evening in June, he pulled me aside. He told me things had taken a turn for the worse, that his cancer was spreading. Doctors had told him it would be the cancer or treatment that killed him, he said. He had fought them both off for some time now. But the cancer was nearing victory.

Still, nothing seemed dire. He was there, scoring the game, something he did less this season than he had in the past because of his worsening condition. I asked him if he would ever consider telling his story. I thought baseball people — both the kind that have swung a bat in a big league game and those who never came close — would appreciate his devotion, how the game meant so much to him. He said he would rather not, not yet at least.

“Someday, when I decide to score my last game,” Vincent said with a smile, “I’ll give you the exclusive.”

As it turned out, David Vincent scored his last game at Nationals Park that day.

I know I won’t be alone in thinking of him often as I pass through the cafeteria tables where he used to grab dinner before the game, and pull me aside to chat about something or another, always with a smile, never without a corny joke.

I know I’ll never fully know the extent of his contributions to SABR and the game the way some of my older colleagues do, as evidenced by the outpouring of support from the baseball media community as word of his death spread Monday.

And I know that now, when I hear a scorer say “E6,” or “hit,” I’ll notice every time, and think of a man who loved the game so much it loved him back until the end. He will be missed.