The 2020 Major League Baseball season is, in a manner of speaking, underway. Fans who can overlook the cardboard cutouts that have replaced them in stadium seats, or tolerate the piped-in music and masked players will be fine. Those who can't abide by the 60-game season's new guidelines will have to fend for themselves.
COVID-19 baseball has claimed many sports-related victims. Perhaps none will be more missed than the traditional presidential Opening Day pitch, a custom that dates back to 1910 when William Howard Taft tossed out the first pitch at the old Griffith Stadium for the Washington Senators' home debut.
Chief executives and first ladies have come and gone from the White House in the 110 years since Taft initiated the first-pitch custom. Some presidents, like Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon, were die-hard fans. Others, like Calvin Coolidge and Teddy Roosevelt, not so much. Roosevelt considered baseball "a mollycoddle game."
The most passionate White House baseball bug was Grace Anna Coolidge, Silent Cal's spouse. Cal could care less about baseball, and in 1924 was spotted trying to make a ninth inning exit during the crucial seventh World Series game between the Senators and the New York Giants with the score tied. Grace grabbed the president's coattails and jerked him back into his seat.
During her White House years, 1923-1929, Grace was a regular at Griffith Stadium and, when Coolidge was Massachusetts' governor, a fixture at Red Sox games. In the 1950s, Grace wrote to a friend: "I venture to say that not one of you cares a hoot about baseball, but to me it's my very life."
Her friends often wondered how Grace became such an avid fan. Some think that Grace turned to baseball to assuage her grief after the untimely 1924 sepsis death of her 16-year-old son, Calvin Jr. Others who had known Grace longer said that her baseball enthusiasm could be traced back to her college days at the University of Vermont when she was the Catamounts' official score keeper.
Players and baseball writers acknowledged that Grace's scorecard was, in their word, "perfect" in every respect - a flawless technique, completeness in detail and legible handwriting. Grace took her scorecards back to the White House so she could treasure them during her advanced years.
Since the scorecard first appeared in 1845, the art of noting each play as the game unfolds has fallen out of vogue. That so few fans today keep score is curious because, while there are guidelines that official scorekeepers recommend, really, anything goes. The scorecard chicken scratch has only to be intelligible to the scribbler. Remember: New York Yankee Hall of Fame shortstop turned team announcer Phil Rizutto was famous for marking "WW" on his card, the "Scooter's" shorthand for "Wasn't Watching."
Fans who want to resume the scorekeeping skills they developed earlier in their lives need only two tools. First, reject the flimsy, generally useless scorecard handed out at the gate before each game. Instead, buy a scorekeeper that has multiple pages, extra-wide lines, ample space for substitutions, rolling pitch counts and extra innings. If possible, find one with a heavy cover that can be easily and safely stored. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin kept a detailed account of Brooklyn Dodgers' radio broadcast games so she could provide her father Michael with a pitch-by-pitch account when he returned home from work.
Second, buy a pencil that's worthy of the task. New York-based C.W. Pencil Enterprise has an affordable, pencil - about $1.50 - specifically designed for scoring. Among the pencil's most practical features are its soft eraser and dark smudge-proof core. For a total investment of less than $10, scorekeeper plus pencil, fans will be set for the season to, like Grace, keep a "perfect" scorecard.
But remember this cautionary note found inside the Baltimore Orioles program-scorecard: "Warning! Scoring a ballgame can be habit forming. Proceed at your own risk."
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for Baseball Research and an Internet Baseball Writers Association Member. Contact him at [email protected]