Ryan, whose scorecards are transcribed in the title of each small chapter, keeps all of his scorecards in an official scorebook for the Baseball Writers’ League, or what has grown into a collection of them.
Bob Ryan retired for 10 years, but apparently never received the memo. His columns still appear most Sundays in the sports pages of The Boston Globe, appear on ESPN, and go on to release books, most recently “In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair.”
Ryan is best known for his years covering the Boston Celtics and the National Basketball Association. He got the nickname “Commissioner” because of his basketball experience, but baseball is his true love. He has his own season tickets at Fenway Park. Not only has he scored every game he’s been in since 1977, but he’s also saved every single one of the score sheets. That’s a total of more than 1,500 games that have been recorded, some as a sports writer, others as a cheerleader.
His collaborator on his last book was baseball historian and statistician Bill Chuck, who is also Joseph in scorekeeping. When I heard that keeping scores was the topic of their project, I felt an instant connection with the authors, because I also love to score during baseball games. But there the similarity ends. Ryan puts me to shame. Not only do I save my scorecards for posterity, but I also throw them in the trash once the game is over. Ryan, whose scorecards are transcribed in the title of each small chapter, keeps all of his scorecards in an official scorebook for the Baseball Writers’ League, or what has grown into a collection of them. All mine have been on individual cards. Also, there are a lot of times I don’t bother keeping score at all and some other times I just have it left in the middle of matches. When I feel the call of nature along the sixth or seventh inning and leave my seat to head to the men’s room, it may be a stroke or more before I return. When I come back and no one around me scores, I may get mixed opinions about what I missed while I was away. More often than not, I will put the scorecard away and simply watch and have short chats 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 speaking announcer during daily games at Fenway Park, and keeping score was part of the job description. You had to track down who would be next, what substitutions were in the game, and who were the mitigators. I loved it but I have never memorized one of these scorecards. When I got to my 80s, my eyesight, which wasn’t good at first, started to decline a bit, and I started having trouble reading some text ads (mostly pre-game stuff). I didn’t retire or retire, but I willingly stepped down when the time came.
But that didn’t stop me from scoring goals, even from home, from watching TV. It’s just something I’ve been doing for 70 years. Old habits do not die easily.
Tip O’Neill kept scoring whenever he went to the ball game. Usually a scandalous storyteller, he paid strict attention to what was happening on the field. In the days before ballpark calculations become the staple, he might look up at a scorecard and say, “This guy must be running out of gas; he’s already thrown 112.” An old card player, he was carefully keeping track of what cards were played and what was still on deck. He did the same with the ball fields. He liked “in the scoring centre”.
I’ve never met Bill Chuck, co-author of Bob Ryan, but I feel like I’ve known him for years. He used to bring great tales of information to his “Baseball Diary” when the late Nick Cavardo wrote that column for the Sunday Globe.
The way the book is set up is as follows: Each small chapter (there should be over 100 chapters) is led by a reprint of the scorecard from a game Ryan scored once, followed by Ryan’s brief report on that game and its surrounding circumstances. Then Chuck adds his opinion on interesting things that we may have forgotten or may have never known in the first place. For example, the winning bowler in the iconic game in which Dave Roberts stole second place to avoid sweeping the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS Series was Kurt Leskanek, who did not launch again in the major tournaments after that night.
Most of the recorded games involve the Red Sox, but not all do. Ryan covered several post-season games and scored them faithfully. In addition, he has attended many matches simply as a fan when on the road for other reasons, always with his record at the ready.
There are 24 games in the book from the 1977 season when Ryan was the reporter for the Red Sox. Only one of them was over three hours. That was a game on May 25 when the Minnesota Twins hit 24 strokes en route to a 13-5 victory over the Sox. It took 3:15 to play. Of the 23 other matches reported, 11 took play less than 2:30. My how times have changed.
What amazes me the most is copying scorecards. They tell who the players are and what they did in a particular game. I admit I’m having trouble deciphering how a player registers a run. This is because Ryan draws a small diamond and fills it in for each run that is scored, and the diamond tends to hide information about how it was scored. This may be due to the size of the copies, which are much smaller than the originals, which are approximately 8.5 x 6 inches. Besides, the only person who should be able to decipher it is the one who keeps the score. Scorecards are, by nature, very personal things.
I’m glad Bob Ryan chose to share so much of his personal history by writing it down at The Recording Center. I will use it as a reference book and just for the pleasure of reading for years to come.
Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author. Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and sports columnist for the recently released The Pilot.
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