What’s the Score? 27 Jun 14

What’s the Score?

Story and photo by Gordy Jones

While listening to or watching a baseball game on radio or TV, you often hear an announcer referring to the official scorer and commenting on the decision he’s just made: whether a play was an error or a hit, a wild pitch or a passed ball.

The official scorer is appointed by and is employed by Major League Baseball. During a game, the scorer documents all of the events that take place on the field by marking symbols and abbreviations on a scorecard, and then submitting it to the league as an official record of the game. The scorer is also responsible for making judgment calls that don’t affect the outcome of the game, such as hits and errors.

Official scorers Gregg Wong (on the left) and Stew Thornley.

I know the three official scorers at Target Field. I have known Gregg Wong since the 1970s, when we both worked at the Pioneer Press. I loved Wong’s writing style when he was the St. Paul paper’s beat-writer covering the Twins. He made it interesting to read about the game because he was accurate, and because he added human elements to his story — explaining clearly how things happened, but also letting the players’ personalities come through. Wong, who loves tennis and golf, is known to be a good athlete in both sports.

I’ve gotten to know scorer Stew Thornley over the last 10 years while hanging around the ballpark. Stew and Gregg are a couple of the great characters you can meet while being around baseball. During a recent rain delay, I talked to them about their backgrounds and their job as official scorers. The third official scorer, Barry Fritz, had the night off.

As the rain continued to pour from the sky, Gregg Wong began telling me that he started as an official scorer and PA announcer for Gopher baseball, while attending the U of M. He continued: “Then I went to work at the Pioneer Press as a sportswriter from 1969 to 2002. I covered the Twins in 85, 86, and 87 full-time, then part-time after that — off-and-on. I covered the World Series in 1987 and 1991. I scored my first major league games in 1988, and didn’t do it again until 2007 when Tom Mee retired.” 

Mee was the Twins’ PR guy and official scorer. He worked nearly every game for many years. When he decided to retire in 2007, he offered his job to Wong, and Gregg has been on board ever since.

I asked Gregg if he remembered the toughest call he’s had to make. He thought for a moment, and then said, “The tough calls are the 50-50 calls; they can go either way. Generally, one guy’s happy and one guy’s not happy. There have been some complex calls, though. One of the most fun calls I’ve had was at the Metrodome several years ago; the Twins were playing the Yankees.” Then he went on to tell me about the play: Justin Morneau got a base hit to center. The centerfielder slid and fell on his tail-end, but fielded the ball. Morneau had cruised into second thinking it was a routine double, but when he saw the center fielder down, he took off for third. The center fielder, who happened to be Bobby Abreu, threw wildly over the head of the right fielder while still sitting on his rear. Morneau saw this, ran to third, and was eventually waved home and scored. Many people, including Twins then-general manager Bill Smith, thought it should have been scored a double with a two-base throwing error. But Gregg gave Justin a triple. The reason: You can’t penalize a player for falling down. But then he scored the run on a throwing error by Abreu.

After the game, wanting the play to be ruled a home run, manager Ron Gardenhire gave Wong some grief.  Gregg stood his ground and told Gardy the reason. Then Gardy explained to Gregg why he had to discuss the call: “I want my guys to know I’ve got their back…and besides, we only have 27 homers, so we need every homer we can get.”

Like most kids of the 1960s, Stew Thornley grew up watching and playing a lot of baseball. Soon he began scoring games, thinking it was just something to do, not thinking anything would ever come of it. Like Wong, Thornley was a PA announcer. Stew is also a data-caster (he keeps statistics) for MLB.com, and a well-established, award-winning writer. He too, was given an opportunity to be the official scorer when Tom Mee retired in 2007, and has been at it ever since. 

Stew has authored many historical, biographical, and local books. His first one was called “On to Nicollet: The Glory and Fame of the Minneapolis Millers.” He has also written a book about Dennis Rodman, and another about the Polo Grounds. He has written books about legendary Twins announcers Halsey Hall and Herb Carneal, Gopher announcer Ray Christensen, one about famous and interesting Minnesota graves. You can find out more about his books and where to order them at www.stewthornley.net . Stew has won numerous awards, and is involved with the Society of American Baseball Research.  In 2013, Stew was named to the MLB Official Scoring Advisory Committee. He has watched baseball in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and at major and minor league parks all over the USA. Beside baseball scoring, he is also the backup scorer for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I can be pretty talkative — but when I’m around these two guys, I am usually quiet and listening. That’s because I enjoy hearing their baseball stories…and some of Stew’s bad jokes, too.