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Archive for Sunday, September 7, 2008

Official scoring can be a lonely job

September 7, 2008

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For a couple of days, Bob Webb was the most important baseball figure in Pittsburgh. He became more unpopular in Milwaukee than the bartender who yells "Last call."

He became known, period. That's not the goal of the official scorer.

And no matter how many thousands of games Webb scores without incident, he'll be joined at CC Sabathia's enormous hip.

Meanwhile, Ed Munson walks into Anaheim's stadium, incognito, for the 29th consecutive year. He's the predominant official scorer for the Angels and often for the Dodgers, and does many things over the course of nine innings. But he risks blowing his cover when he decides what's a hit and what's an error.

The reason he is so blissfully invisible is that he hasn't lived Webb's nightmare. Yet. It was Sunday, the bottom of the fifth inning, and Sabathia hadn't allowed a Pittsburgh hit. Andy LaRoche hit a leadoff pillow mint to Sabathia's right.

The 295-pound Milwaukee left-hander reached around to take it with his bare hand and dropped it. LaRoche was safe. Webb, a scorer for 20 seasons, immediately called it a hit.

The Brewers seethed. At the end of the one-hitter they exploded. Manager Ned Yost called it "a joke" and a "stinking no-hitter we all got cheated from," and the Brewers went to Major League Baseball offices to appeal it.

"Anybody who wants to second-guess the official scorer has to get into that seat," Munson said the other day. "Bob Webb did what he thought was right, just like a manager or an umpire.

"I've done two no-hitters, and I've probably had 20 to 30 more that got into the eighth inning and even the ninth. But your job doesn't change. You have to make the call as you see fit."

This did not prevent some mild second-guessing among Webb's peers.

Tim O'Driscoll, a Brewers' scorer, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he disagreed because Sabathia didn't make the simple play and take the roller with his glove and because Webb judged it immediately.

Munson didn't offer an opinion because, as he said, he wasn't there.

But he also said that he normally watches the ball, not the runner, especially on outfield plays. Webb said he saw LaRoche "75 percent of the way down the baseline" and that Sabathia wouldn't have thrown him out anyway.

But the big misconception is that the '07 A.L. Cy Young Award winner would have finished the no-hitter if Webb had made a different call.

You just don't know that. You can't remove a link from a chain of events and expect the chain to stretch the same way.

Maybe Sabathia overthrows in the effort to get the no-no. Maybe the Pirates bear down a little harder in the late innings. It's all conjecture, especially when the hit happens midway through the game.

None of which removed the hammer from Webb's head.

But no one else in sports has the statistical largesse that belongs to the official scorer.

The Brewers' request for a no-hitter in retrospect was denied. But it has happened before. In 1917, Ernie Koob of the St. Louis Browns only gave up a single by Buck Weaver of the White Sox, but scorer J.B. Sheridan reversed the call the next day.

Those were quieter times. It didn't even make "SportsCenter."

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