Table of Contents

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Book Review: Rich Burk's Baseball Scorebook Model BP16-30

Keeping score is something of a lost art, but I find it to be a wonderful way to enjoy a baseball game. It helps me stay on top of every pitch, keep an eye on the big picture, and keep track of everything that happened in a game. What's more, keeping score gives me a record of a game that I can pull out years later should need or curiosity strike me.

When I was growing up, I learned to keep score at Reds games using the scorecard that came with the game program my Dad always bought. But by the time I got to college, I decided it was time to upgrade to a bound scorebook. The only one available at College Book Store in Athens, OH, was C. S. Peterson's Scoremaster (Rawlings)--and I bought every one they had in stock. It had a lot going for it: room to keep track of balls and strikes, play by play space for up to 12 innings, stat totals for all players, scorer notes, nice hard backing... And I've used these books for a number of years and have been pleased with them. But over the past year or two, I've grown a bit frustrated by some of that book's flaws and limitations, and therefore have been looking for a new scorebook for some time. And I finally found one.

A few weeks ago, I happened across a google advertisement for Rich Burk's website. Burk is the play by play announcer for the Portland Beavers, and has recently released his own line of scorebooks. There are a variety of different options on his site, but I decided to buy the one he describes as the "cleanup hitter" of his scorebook line, the BP16-30, which I'm reviewing tonight.

The book opens with an excellent, graphical introduction to scoring and how to use the scorebook. It should serve as a good primer to anyone new to scoring, but is still worth a skim to folks who are more experienced, as Burk has a number of good "advanced tips" that I've already adopted. He also goes into detail on how to use some of the custom features in his book, including his excellent pitch count system. If you follow this link, you can read this introduction and see an example of the scorebook sheets themselves. Below, I'll showcase how I scored part of Sunday, April 15th's game vs. the Cubs. You'll note that I don't do things exactly as Burk does them (everyone has their own style), but that this book allows me to do some things that I wouldn't otherwise be able to do as easily.

We'll start at the top of the page:
Please note that I am only showing the top-of-the-inning page--the facing page has room for the bottom-of-the-inning defense, as well room to list the umpires.

Moving left to right, you can see pitching lines for the home pitchers (note that there is room for six pitchers--my old scorebook only had room for three), defensive charts for the home team, and a scoreboard for the game. I've never had either of the latter two features before, and I really like them. The defensive charts perhaps aren't necessary, but they might be nice to have, especially when I'm at a live game and don't have the benefit of an announcer to remind me who's who.

The heart of any scorebook, of course, is the play by play space:
We'll start at the left and work right. First, we see the list of players in the batting order. Note that there's plenty of space to write in substitutions or notes. Next is an interesting feature that allows you to write in relevant statistics prior to the start of the game. It's set up for AVG, HR, RBI, and SB/CS. I didn't write anything in here because I was watching the game on TiVO and didn't want to risk spoiling the game by logging onto a stats site. But I can definitely see doing this prior to driving out to the ballpark, though I'd probably substitute OBP and SLG for AVG and RBI...might also be nice to have PA instead of HR, just to keep track of sample size...but hey, I'm a geek.

Next we get to the inning columns. If we start in the first inning, we can see that Ryan Freel struck out swinging ("K") to start the game. Perhaps the best part of this scorebook, however, is also highlighted here--the pitch tracking system. To the left of Ryan's "K" are two columns: the left signifies balls, while the right signifies strikes. Each row represents a different pitch in the sequence. Here, we can see that Freel took the first pitch for a strike (the dot in the first row), and then fouled off two pitches (I'm using a diagonal slash to indicate fouls) before swinging and missing.

Phillips, the #2 hitter, had a more interesting at-bat. After swinging and missing at the first two pitches (I use a horizontal slash for a swing and miss), Phillips took a ball, fouled off a pitch, and then took another ball before flying out to center field. My old scorebook would let me show he had a 2-2 count when he hit the fly ball, but it wasn't easy to show that he battled back from being down 0-2. This sort of detail is fun to track (for me, at least), can quickly help you identify great at-bats, yet is usually not as easy to track in traditional scorebooks. I love this system: simple, easy to read and use, yet very powerful.

Let's move over to the fourth inning to highlight another novel feature, the RBI dots. Here's how they work: each dot represents an RBI at a different base, starting with home at the left and third at the right. A slash through a dot means a runner was left on base following an at-bat, while a circled dot represents an RBI. Here, we see that Hamilton struck out looking with Phillips on second base (Brandon stole second on the 6th pitch of the at-bat), leaving him on base with one out (note the slash through the "2B" dot). Fortunately, Jeff Conine came through with a "clutch" single on a 3-2 count (it was actually a run and hit play, though I haven't worked out a good way to note that), driving him home (circled "2B" dot). Junior and EdE subsequently struck out, stranding Conine at second (his SB bordered on defensive indifference, but I think that's a silly rule and gave him a SB--the official scorer did too). Note that the clean nature of this scorebook's cells allowed me to take some notes on Eddie's unfortunate K, as well as other interesting pitches and at-bats.

The other nice aspect of the pitch tracking system in this scorebook is that it makes it very easy to keep track of pitch counts for pitchers. This next section falls just below the inning columns:
Here you can see Ted Lilly's pitch counts, inning by inning. They went up remarkably fast considering that there were next to zero baserunners most of the night (10 strikeouts can push up your pitch count, of course), and he ultimately exited the game at 101 pitches (63 strikes, 38 balls) at the end of the 6th inning. I'm not showing it, but below this section is a fairly standard place to note runs, hits, errors, and men left on base.

There are a few additional features of this scorebook worth mentioning: it has a unique design in which there is a middle sheet that you flip back and forth between innings:
I find this to be a rather ingenious solution that allows all the detail that is jammed into the play by play section, as well as a full 16 innings worth of space for those extra inning games, and yet still manages to keep all the data for each game in one place. The only drawback is that you actually have to do the cutting yourself.

Following the game pages is a 5-page baseball glossary. There are a few minor omissions (e.g. infield fly rule, hit and run play, etc), but overall it's a good, concise, and readable dictionary of common baseball terms and plays--most of what you see on the field in a game can be explained by it. This would be a really nice resource to have available for someone who was learning the basics of the game.

I do have a few modest critiques. First, I have some questions about how durable this book will be. I'm not particularly kind to my scorebooks as I trek them to and from the ballpark. While the paper it is printed on is certainly not cheap or flimsy, and the spiral binding seems fine, my old scorebook seems a bit sturdier. This new book also doesn't have a hard back cover, which will make a clipboard a necessity when scoring at a ballpark--or even on the couch. I appreciate that this is a consequence of the limitations of publishing on Lulu, but it is still a factor worth considering.

Second, there are no stat lines for the batters. This isn't a big deal for me, as I honestly didn't bother to fill them out for most games with my old book. But some people enjoy doing this, and admittedly it is nice to be able to look back and immediately see who got hits, walks, etc in a game. Furthermore, some individuals who keep score little league or softball teams might be charged with keeping player stats, and even Burk's line of amateur league scorebooks meant for those types of games (more than 9 batters, for example) do not have stat lines for batters. This, of course, is a space issue. But I'm a bit surprised that none of his models offer this feature.

Finally, there is not a good place near the top of the page to give title information about the game. If one was a broadcaster and scored every game for one particular team, that wouldn't be a big deal, as there is a place to write in the date and game number near the bottom of the page. But if you're like me and score only ~10-20 games a year, you might find it necessary to write in your own title to make the game easier to find (see the first image above, "Cincinnati Reds @ Chicago Cubs"). Admittedly, of course, this particular model is geared towards broadcasters, which may be why the title line isn't there.

Despite these quibbles, I'm delighted with this new scorebook. Games I score come out much cleaner and less cramped than they did before thanks to the large & clean format, and I absolutely love the pitch tracking features. At $16.99 + shipping, it may seem a bit expensive for a scorebook (quote from my wife: "you paid $20 for book that doesn't even have anything in it??!?"). For me, though, it's worth it: this book not only provides me with all the features I was looking for, but it also provides a few new tools than let me score a baseball game more effectively than ever before. Highly recommended.

Click here to view Rich Burk's entire line of scorebooks, or here to preview and purchase the BP16-30 via Lulu.com.