Here’s how Major League Baseball logged the first play in a Giants-Cubs game the other night: “Kyle Schwarber doubles on a pop up to pitcher Jake Peavy.” Whaa?
Those of us who love the Great American Pastime - at the park, in front of TV, or even via a smartphone app - know that such miscues are all too common. Not by the players, by the official scorers. Baseball scoring is an epic fail.
Schwarber’s “double” was actually a towering pop about 10 feet in front of home plate. Catcher Buster Posey went out, pitcher Jake Peavy came in, and as each stood and watched, the ball fell. Schwarber wound up on second, credited with a two-base hit that was charged to Peavy’s record.
Many fans assume the nub of this ridiculous decision is that neither fielder touched the ball. Not true. Baseball rules explicitly state that an error should be charged if the ball could have been caught with “ordinary effort,” regardless of whether it is touched. Yet, neither Posey nor Peavy was given an error because you can’t charge two players for a single mistake.
This sort of thing happens with annoying frequency. Just a few nights earlier, Posey was credited with a hit when his routine pop fell behind first base as three Pittsburgh Pirates stood watching.
What makes it all the more laughable - or, sad, depending on your baseball perspective - is today’s game is more stat-based than ever before. Coaches pore over data during games, while fans follow stat apps on their phones.
But as a wise man once said, “Bad scoring in, bad stats out.”
Official scorers will almost never penalize a fielder who appears to have lost a ball in the sun or the lights. And most won’t give an error on the second half of an attempted double play — even though the rules allow them to do so.
Foolish interpretation of the rules can make a botched effort look like a gem in the record book. Example, a few days ago: A routine grounder to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He boots it, but it rolls toward second baseman Tommy La Stella, who throws back to Rizzo in time for the out.
If the objective in scoring were to reward good play and penalize poor performance, then Rizzo clearly deserved an error. But the scorer gave Rizzo both an “assist” for first touching the ball and a “put out” for catching La Stella’s throw. Ridiculous.
Official scorers use discretion for certain plays, such as not crediting a runner with a stolen base if there is “defensive indifference.” So why not use similar discretion when it comes to fielding blunders or the dreaded “mental mistakes” - for which the rules say no error may be charged.
Many believe baseball needs a Team Error category. In the case of that botched pop that went down as a two-base hit on Kyle Schwarber’s record and a blemish on Jake Peavy’s stats, the Team Error would have been fairer.
The 240-page baseball rulebook is chockablock with scoring guidelines, some helpful, some bizarre, such as Rule 7.08i. It says a runner is out if he “runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game.”
Looking at some official scoring decisions this summer, it appears there are at least as many travesties in the press box as on the field.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker