Connecting Ourselves to History

As we’ve mentioned a few times lately, we launched Knuckleballs just over a year ago. It has not only been fun, but every once in a while I start to think I’m getting pretty good at this “writing about baseball” thing. Then I go and read something that someone else has written and I think, “Wow… I still really suck compared to him/her.”

There are a few writers that I’ve come to accept will always be way, way… way… better than I am. Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer, are just a couple of examples of writers that I know I can rely on to give me a humility lesson on a regular basis. You might think I would stop reading them, but I can’t. They’re just too good not to read.

I’ve got Neyer to thank for my most recent humility lesson, but only in an indirect way. I was perusing the summaries of articles posted by Neyer over at’s MLB site and noticed a link Rob had posted to another site, Pitchers & Poets. Sure enough, that link led me to a post that, once again, reminds me just how not good I am at this whole writing thing.

Specifically, this lesson came at the hands of Paul Dubuque, who has his own Seattle Mariners blog, The Playful Utopia. Mr. Dubuque was invited by Pitchers & Poets to participate in their “Scorekeeping Week”. (Wow, a whole week devoted to articles about scorekeeping! What a great idea… going to have to file that one away and steal it here at Knuckleballs after enough time has passed that few are likely to remember it’s not really our idea.) The title of Dubuque’s entry is “The Poetics of Scorekeeping“.

Neyer’s own post was succinct. He quoted one paragraph from Dubuque’s post and simply opinied, “Not to get all literary or anything. But, yes.” After I read the Poetics of Scorekeeping for myself, I agreed with Neyer, but I didn’t think he even chose the best quote from the post to bring to his readers’ attention. Still… it’s pretty good:

By keeping score we have created our own language. Each person’s style varies, providing a unique dialect, but the narrative is one which other scorekeepers (and, it must be emphasized, only other scorekeepers) understand. The language of baseball creates its own citizenry. It has its own punctuation and pronunciation, its own trimeter rhythm. Scorekeeping converts baseball into poetry. Its minimalism represents Keats’ negative capacity, a freedom from resolving the unresolvable, and instead revel in the process itself, the telling.

If any of you have ever gone to a ballgame with any of the three of us who contribute to this blog, KL, CapitalBabs and myself, you know that there’s a very good chance each of us will be keeping a scorecard. I don’t do it at every game I go to and I don’t think Babs does either. KL is more religious about it, I believe. But the point is, scorekeeping is an integral part of enjoying the experience of attending a baseball game for all three of us and if you’ve ever glanced around your seating section at a baseball game, you know we are not alone.

You won’t see that at football games or basketball games. I probably haven’t attended a total of 10 hockey games, at any level, in my life, but I’d be willing to bet it’s not something you see there either. But scorekeeping is ingrained in the culture and history of baseball.

I literally learned the language of scorekeeping before I learned cursive writing. (Yes, that is no doubt a commentary on priorities learned growing up in a home as the son of a high school coach, though to be honest, I also learned to keep the scorebook for basketball before I learned cursive writing. I bet you can guess what sports my dad coached.)

I learned scorekeeping from my father. I taught it to my son. He taught it to his girlfriend long before she eventually became his wife (I’m not suggesting it would have been a deal killer if she had not learned… but you never know). What I do know is that every time I keep score at a ballgame, I feel my dad’s presence at the game with me, even two decades after he passed away.

So keeping score provides a very personal historic connection to me. But it also connects me to the games themselves. I kept score at some of the high school games my dad coached, just as I did at games he took me to at Met Stadium where we watched Harmon Killebrew. I’ve kept score at Twins games involving Joe Mauer… and Beloit Snappers games involving Aaron Hicks. And whether it was last month, last year or 1967, I’ll always feel connected to those games.

As Dubuque alluded to in his article, one interesting thing about scorekeeping is that, while we may not all do it exactly the same way, we can take one glance at someone else’s scorecard and decipher it. When we get asked by non-scorekeepers to explain what all the little lines, numbers, letters and squiggles mean, we have no trouble providing detailed explanations. But, it’s when people ask “Why do you do it?” that we struggle. At least I do. In my experience, it’s just something that you get or you don’t get.

Once again, here’s where someone who really knows something about writing, like Mr. Dubuque in this instance, comes through… putting in to words that which I’ve never been able to do.

Finally, scorekeeping isn’t merely transcription. A quick glance at a cell phone will confer a sheer quantity of information that no scorebook can replicate. It’s the writing itself that is the defining act; it is the commemoration that separates a given ballgame from any of the million before it. We write to connect ourselves to history, to name ourselves as part of it. Scorekeeping, like writing, allows us to describe for posterity our own fandom, our presence at that game and our understanding of it. It is how we take possession of our past.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


– JC



4 Replies to “Connecting Ourselves to History”

  1. I, too, like to keep score. I keep a very neat scorecard. And the drawback of that is that I usually get roped into being a “bench coach” of my sons’ youth baseball teams — which usually amounts to shouting out the batting order every inning and keeping the score book.

    My dad firmly believed there are two things every 12-year-old should learn how to do: play cribbage and keep a baseball score. These are good skills to have.

  2. One of the few good things about not being a great ballplayer growing up was that, as a benchwarmer, I learned to score games pretty quickly. Still do it on occasion.
    You are right – it is a written language – codes, really — that connects generations of fans.

  3. My dad firmly believed there are two things every 12-year-old should learn how to do: play cribbage and keep a baseball score.