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How to Keep Score in Baseball

If you’re new to the game of baseball and have never seen a scorecard before, it may appear to be little more than an extremely detailed grid. But in those dozens of tiny boxes is a place to record everything that transpires during a baseball game. For the beginning scorekeeper, this can seem like a daunting task. But whether you’re a player, coach, or spectator, keeping score is a skill that anyone can learn.

Scoring a baseball game really isn’t particularly difficult — it’s simply a matter of learning the correct terms and abbreviations, and how they apply to game situations. The biggest challenge for many people lies in the fact that you have to pay attention to every pitch in order to keep up with the scorebook. So if you think you’re up to the task, keep reading for a crash course in scorekeeping. And once you’re no longer confused or uneasy about the process, you might even find that scoring a game is a lot of fun!

The Scorecard

Before the first pitch, start by filling in the basic information at the top of the scorecard. Depending on the level of play and where you got your scorebook, each one is going to be a little different. However, you can expect to see blank spaces to enter each of the following pieces of information before the game starts:

  • Home team
  • Away team
  • Field
  • Date
  • Start time
  • Umpires

There may also be space to enter the final score and the length of the game, but for obvious reasons, you won’t be able to fill in those sections until after the game.

The Lineup

The next step before the game starts is to fill in the batting orders for both teams (one on each side of the scorecard). There will be three columns of spaces along the left side of the scorecard to fill in the lineup; in addition to the players’ names, write their uniform numbers and positions. In order to do this, you need to be familiar with the standard numerical abbreviations for each position on the field. Any time you refer to a position on the scorecard, use its corresponding number:

  • 1: Pitcher
  • 2: Catcher
  • 3: First base
  • 4: Second base
  • 5: Third base
  • 6: Shortstop
  • 7: Left field
  • 8: Center field
  • 9: Right field

There are also standard scorekeeping abbreviations for a designated hitter (DH), pinch hitter (PH), and pinch runner (PR). The pitcher should only be listed in the batting order if he is going to hit; otherwise, that spot will be occupied by a DH. Most scorecards have a set of rows near the bottom of the page to list the pitchers, so write the starting pitcher’s name at the top of that section.

Substitutions

Typically each batting order slot in the scorebook will have two or three rows; the extra rows are for substitutes. When a new player is substituted, write his name directly underneath the player for whom he replaced, and mark the inning when it occurred.

Similarly, once a relief pitcher enters the game, write his name and the inning he entered underneath the starting pitcher’s name.

Scoring the Game

To the right of the batting order, with rows next to each lineup slot, is a grid that contains at least nine columns. This space is used to record what happens in the game. The rows track each player in the batting order, while the numbered columns track the progression of events for each inning.

Therefore, each box contains the results of every individual plate appearance in the game. The intricacy of the boxes will vary from scorecard to scorecard, but they will nearly always have a diamond at the center. These diamonds are a representation of the field diamond, and are used to track each player’s movement.

For example, if the lead-off batter hits a single, you draw a thick line along the lower-right side of the diamond. If he then steals second base, draw a thick line along the upper-right side of the diamond. If he subsequently scores on a double, draw thick lines along the two remaining sides, and then color in the diamond completely to indicate a run scored.

Most scorecards also feature boxes to track balls and strikes. Using tally marks or something similar, keep track of the count for each batter.

There also might be a small circle in the lower corner (left or right); this is used to track outs. If a player makes an out at bat or on the base paths, write a number (1, 2, or 3) in that circle to indicate which out the player made that inning. If your scorecard does not have a pre-printed circle for outs, simply write the number in the bottom corner of the box, and circle it.

Finally, if a player drives in one or more runs, use tally marks to indicate the number of RBI (some scorebooks have a box for this, but many do not).

Scorekeeping Abbreviations

The most important information to include on the scorecard is the results of each individual plate appearance. Because space is so limited, scorekeepers use a standard set of abbreviations for every possible outcome of an at-bat.

  • IB: Single
  • 2B: Double
  • 3B: Triple
  • HR: Home run
  • BB: Base on balls (walk)
  • IBB: Intentional base on balls
  • E: Error
  • FC: Fielder’s choice
  • K: Strikeout swinging
  • Backwards “K”: Strikeout looking
  • HBP: Hit by pitch
  • CI: Catcher’s interference
  • F: Fly out
  • L: Line out
  • U: Unassisted
  • DP: Double play
  • SF: Sacrifice fly
  • SH: Sacrifice hit (bunt)
  • WP: Wild pitch
  • PB: Passed ball
  • SB: Stolen base
  • CS: Caught stealing

For most plays that result in outs, you need to combine your knowledge of scoring abbreviations with positional numbers, in order to clearly mark where the play was made. Here are some examples:

  • F-8: Fly out to center field.
  • E-6: Error on the shortstop.
  • 3-U: First baseman, unassisted.
  • L-5: Line out to third base.

You may notice that there is no abbreviation for a ground out. This is because a different style is used for ground outs, double plays, rundowns, and any other play in which multiple defenders touch the ball. Simply use a dash to track every player that touches the baseball during a play. Here are some examples of this type of scoring:

  • 5-3: Third baseman fields the ball and throws to first base for the out.
  • 4-6: Second baseman fields the ball and throws to the shortstop (at second base) for the force out.
  • 7-2: Left fielder fields the ball and throws all the way to the catcher for the out.
  • 6-4-3 DP: Shortstop fields the ball, throws to the second baseman for one out, who then throws to first base for the double play.
  • 1-5-2-6: This type of scoring usually indicates a rundown. In this case, the pitcher fields the ball, throws it to the third baseman, who throws it to the catcher, who throws back to the shortstop, who tags the runner for the out.

The biggest key to successful scorekeeping is to always pay attention. Make sure you’re writing in the correct box; the last thing you want is to accidentally record five batters in a row under the wrong inning. To see it all put together, check out the example below of an excerpt from a completed scorecard.

Total it Up

The game may be over after the last out is recorded, but you still have work to do. To the right of the column for the final inning (and also along the bottom of the page) will typically be another grid for entering final game stats.

Go through and add up the totals, and then fill in the stats as completely as possible. You should have batting lines for each offensive player, pitching lines for each pitcher, and both hitting and pitching totals for each team. When you’re all done, your scorecard should be almost totally filled with pencil marks.

Know the Score

Keeping the scorebook during a baseball game is a time-consuming task that requires sustained concentration. It can also be complex and overwhelming for anyone unfamiliar with the technique and abbreviations. But if you love baseball, keeping score is a great way to learn about the game. So sharpen your pencil and head out the field — the best way to learn is by doing!

Keeping the scorebook is a fun way to learn about baseball. This guide outlines the standard symbols, terms, and abbreviations so that you can be a master scorekeeper.
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