The commissioner’s new book
Ryan, whose scorecards are reproduced at the heading of each mini-chapter, keeps all his scorecards in an official Baseball Writers Association scorebook, or what has grown into a collection of them.
Bob Ryan has been retired for 10 years, but apparently he never got the memo. His columns still appear on most Sundays in the sports pages of The Boston Globe, he makes appearances on ESPN, and he continues to churn out books, his latest being “In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair.”
Ryan is most renowned for his years of covering the Boston Celtics and the NBA. He earned the nickname “the commissioner” because of his basketball expertise, but it is baseball which is his true love. He has his own season tickets at Fenway Park. Not only has he scored every game he’s been to since 1977, but he also saved every one of the score sheets. That’s a total of more than 1500 games scored, some as a sportswriter, others as a fan.
His collaborator on his latest book was baseball historian and statistician Bill Chuck, also a score-keeping nut. When I heard that score-keeping was the subject of their project, I felt an immediate connection with the two authors, because I, too, like to keep score during baseball games. But there the similarity ends. Ryan puts me to shame. Not only do I not save my scorecards for posterity, but also I throw them in the trash as soon as the game is over. Ryan, whose scorecards are reproduced at the heading of each mini-chapter, keeps all his scorecards in an official Baseball Writers Association scorebook, or what has grown into a collection of them. Mine have all been on individual cards. Also, there are plenty of times I don’t bother to keep score at all and some others that I have just quit on in the middle of games. When I feel the call of nature along about the sixth or seventh inning and leave my seat to head for the men’s room, it might be an inning or more before I get back. When I do return and no one around me is keeping score, I might get varying opinions of what I missed during my absence. As often as not, I’ll just put the scorecard away and simply watch and small talk for the rest of the game. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what I do.
For several years, I was the public address announcer during day games at Fenway Park, and keeping score was part of the job description. You had to keep track of who was up next, what substitutes were in the game, and who the relievers were. I loved it but I never saved one of those scorecards. As I got into my 80s, my eyesight, never very good to begin with, started to go downhill a bit, I began having trouble reading some scripted announcements (mostly pregame stuff). I did not quit or retire, but willingly stepped aside when the time came.
But it didn’t stop me from keeping score, even from home, watching on television. It’s just something I’ve been doing for 70 years. Old habits die hard.
Tip O’Neill kept score whenever he went to a ballgame. Normally a voluble storyteller, he paid strict attention to what was happening on the field. In the days before pitch-counts became the in-thing, he might look up from his scorecard and say, “This guy must be running out of gas; he’s thrown 112 pitches already.” An old card player, he kept careful track of what cards had been played and what were still in the deck. He did the same thing with pitches at a ballgame. He’d have loved “In Scoring Position.”
I have never met Bill Chuck, Bob Ryan’s co-author, but feel like I’ve known him for years. He used to submit fascinating tidbits of information to “Baseball Notes” when the late Nick Cafardo wrote that column in The Sunday Globe.
The way the book is set up is this: Each mini-chapter (there must be well over 100 of them) is headed by a reprint of a scorecard from a game Ryan once scored, followed by Ryan’s brief report on that game and its surrounding circumstances. Then Chuck adds his take on interesting things we might have forgotten or perhaps never knew in the first place. For example, the winning pitcher in the iconic game in which Dave Roberts stole second to avert a Yankees sweep in the 2004 ALCS series was Curt Leskanic, who never pitched again in the big leagues after that night.
Most of the games recorded involve the Red Sox, but not all of them do. Ryan covered many postseason games and dutifully recorded them. In addition, he attended many games simply as a fan when he was on the road for other reasons, always with his scorebook at the ready.
There are 24 games in the book from the 1977 season when Ryan was the beat reporter for the Red Sox. Only one of them was more than three hours long. That was a game on May 25 when the Minnesota Twins cranked out 24 hits on their way to a 13 to five win over the Sox. It took 3:15 to play. Of the 23 other games reported, 11 took under 2:30 to play. My, how times have changed.
It is the reproductions of the scorecards which fascinate me most. They tell who the players were and just what they did in a particular game. I do confess to having trouble deciphering how a player scored a run, though. This is because Ryan draws a small diamond and fills it in for every run scored, and the diamonds tend to obscure the information of how he happened to score. That could be due to the size of the reproductions, which are much smaller than the originals, which are approximately 8.5 inches by six inches. Besides, the only person who has to be able to decipher them is the guy who is keeping score. Scorecards are, by their nature, very personal things.
I’m glad that Bob Ryan chose to share so much of his personal history by writing In “Scoring Position.” I’ll be using it as a reference book and for just plain fun reading for years to come.
– Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.
Recent articles in the Culture & Events section