Stories of a Scorer
Like many fans and amateur scorekeepers, Jacobson first learned to keep score as a child at the ballpark.
“I was a Washington Senators fan as a kid ... and as every team did they had a ‘how to score’ page in their souvenir program and I modeled my system off of that, loosely,” Jacobson said. “What I remember mostly was being pretty slow about the clerical aspect. I’d listen to a game on the radio or be at a game there in the park and the game would go too fast for me to record everything.”
By the fifth inning, he would lose interest and often stop keeping score. But as he got older, it helped him to stay better in tune with what was happening during a game.
Later, as a graduate student at Stanford, he covered ballgames in the Bay Area as a radio reporter. It was a chance to get paid for going to games instead of the other way around, and he continued to do so at Baltimore Orioles games after returning to the D.C. area in the early 1980s. His commitment to the sport paid off about 10 years later when the Orioles, in need of a backup scorer, asked Jacobson to fill in.
Although Major League Baseball shies away from having official scorers doing double duty as reporters, this independence has not altered the perception that scorers are not impartial observers. In fact, Jacobson said, one of the biggest misconceptions about the profession is that scorers are in the pocket of the home team.
“Scorers tend to be assigned to cities so it’s easy for that perception to arise,” Jacobson said. “There is a presumption that you’re making calls that would favor the home team. We’re not. Let me be unequivocal. I don’t want to do anything other than get the call right.”
Fortunately, an evolving review system is helping to take some of the pressure off.
“In the olden days scorers were kind of imperial … no one could overrule you really. People could ask you why you scored a play the way you did, you were always encouraged to review the videotape … and you have until the day after a game to change a call if you decide you want to but apart from that, other than protesting or making a case nobody could change your call,” Jacobson said.
Around 1998, a review system was instituted where teams, players or scorers could ask a panel of people in the MLB offices to look at a call. This review system is now part of the collective bargaining agreement, creating the ability to appeal a scoring call to the MLB chief baseball officer, a position currently held by Joe Torre.
“It is not a perfect system but … it takes it out of the having to deal with the endless ‘did not, did so’ arguments in the press box because now you send it in, let Joe [Torre] sort it out … and I can go home and not have to worry about whether I’m going to look at that play tomorrow,” Jacobson said.
People are always surprised by this rule because no one knows it. Stat geeks were calling me a hero.
He said he could see the whole thing unfolding and could do nothing to stop it, so he collared a team official on his way downstairs and gave him a heads up about what was about to happen. Mariano Rivera went on to do what he did best, shutting down the Orioles in order. As a result of Robertson’s ineffectiveness, Jacobson would cite Rule 10.17(c), awarding Rivera a win rather than a save, drawing an outcry from Yankees fans and media analysts.
“People are always surprised by this rule because no one knows it,” Jacobson said. “Stat geeks were calling me a hero,” he said.
It took about 10 days for the situation to get squared away, and Jacobson has since shared his reasoning and details about instances of the use of Rule 10.17(c) in seminars with other scorers.
Adam Lathrop and Gretyl Macalaster were the 2015 Library-Research interns in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum