Kay finds data, and solace, in scorebook

Yanks voice relies on records kept in-game as part of increasingly rare practice

Kay finds data, and solace, in scorebook

While the Yankees and the Red Sox engaged in another memorable battle on the evening of April 10, spanning 19 innings in the longest game played at the current Yankee Stadium, there was a much lesser drama taking place outside the white lines.

In the YES Network booth, play-by-play announcer Michael Kay scrambled to make quick additions to the thick battle-scarred scorebook that serves as his constant companion during each broadcast, as Garrett Jones' flyout to end the 15th inning marked the last of his available white space.

"I could have turned it to another page, but I refused to do that," Kay said. "I said, 'What am I going to do? Who knows how long this game is going to go?' So I grabbed some index cards, used those to keep it going and we got through the game."

Kay scored the entirety of the Yankees' 19-inning game vs. Boston on April 10.

Once sold in every big league ballpark, scorecards have become something of a lost art -- or at least a niche hobby -- among fans, who now enjoy a multitude of high-tech avenues to keep track of a game's progress in real time. For many of those who make their living in the game, it remains a necessity.

Those backward Ks, L-8s and E-3s can reconstruct the details of any evening at the stadium, be it minutes or months later. On the YES Network set in Stamford, Conn., the night of April 10, analyst Jack Curry was also making hasty additions to his book, supplementing the allotted space with scraps of paper.

"It's almost like you're studying for a test, and keeping score is doing the studying," Curry said. "I've always been a big advocate of keeping score, since I was probably 8 years old. I've always loved to keep score; it's in my blood."

Curry said that scoring helps him follow patterns and trends in a given game. For example, CC Sabathia may have recorded seven ground-ball outs in his first three innings, a suggestion that his two-seam fastball or changeup is on point that day. Curry will typically add the final pitch -- i.e., "slider" -- of each at-bat in small print.

"I'm not saying it has to look impeccable; I just want to know every pitch. That has come in handy," Curry said. "There are times in the fourth inning where I'll be like, 'What's this guy doing so well?' And you'll go through it and every out a guy has gotten has been on one or two pitches. There's a theme there."

Scorecards used to be more prevalent in the seats, but there are still die-hards who swear by keeping an independent account. One is Michael Schwartz, who started scoring as a Friday plan ticket-holder during the Yankees' late-1990s dynasty and developed his own scorebook. He calls his book "an organized diary" of the games he attends.

"There are lots of intricacies in scoring methods, but if you can recall the events of the game, it has served its purpose," Schwartz said. "When Mariano Rivera retired last year, I started digging though my old scorebooks and was surprised at how detailed they were. I remember a guy fell down the stairs at in the upper deck and we had the notation 'human tumbleweed' in the margin. Great stuff!"

Kay said that he begins filling in his book the moment the batting orders appear on Twitter -- on one recent afternoon, he did so while multitasking on his radio show. The lineups are supplemented with batter-vs.-pitcher trends cribbed from the game notes; if Brett Gardner is 3-for-9 lifetime with a double and a homer vs. the Rangers' Colby Lewis, that could prove helpful during the broadcast.

Kay said that he seems to keep more details than he did as a beat reporter, including a chart of defensive positioning that is more essential than ever. The increasing number of shifts has created a new challenge for play-by-play announcers, with infielders sometimes changing spots pitch to pitch.

"Shifts are the most evil thing I've ever seen," Kay said. "You can't even score anymore, because a 5-3 could be a ball hit to the right side. I end up saying, 'Ground ball to the right side,' because this schematic doesn't mean anything to me. They should outlaw it; that's what they should do. It's terrible."

While scoring the game may be essential for a play-by-play announcer, it is not necessarily so for a color commentator, particularly one who sees the game at a deeper level than 6-4-3 and F-9. That's the case for Paul O'Neill, who said he prefers to react to the game as he did during his playing days.

"When I came up here and did my first game, I just didn't have a book," O'Neill said. "I didn't know that you did that, to tell you the truth. Now every once in a while, I have to peek over at Michael's, but it's more natural for me to watch the game and talk about it than to keep score. It's kind of like a fan's point of view."

John Flaherty agrees. The former catcher started his analyst career by scribbling in a notebook before transitioning into scoring, but he acknowledges that his personal record keeping won't win any awards, especially compared to those produced by Kay and former outfielder Ken Singleton.

"Kenny and Michael, you can't even compare; theirs are meticulous," Flaherty said. "When they say, 'I need Wite-Out to fix something,' I'm like, 'Are you kidding? My Wite-Out is to cross it out and write it in another box somewhere.'"

Flaherty said that he mostly tries to track walks, strikeouts and well-struck balls. He will circle strikeouts so he can add them quickly, and the rest operates on an independent language that may be difficult for anyone else to understand.

"I try to document each at-bat as far as the fly ball, hit a ball hard, base hit, just give me a little more information instead of 7, 8, 9," Flaherty said. "I want to look back and be able to say, 'He hit that ball well.'"

Others stick with what has worked with them for decades; in lieu of scoring, former pitchers David Cone and Al Leiter prefer to fill in the pitching charts that they used during their playing days, allowing quick analysis of pitch selection and workload.

None of the books is likely to wind up in the Hall of Fame or the Smithsonian, so they are often relegated to closets or garages by the end of the campaign, replaced each spring with a fresh spiral-bound stack. Kay and Curry say they could dig out their books from the 2009 World Series championship season if necessary, not that they've ever felt any need to refer back to them.

"It's somewhere in my garage," Kay said. "My 6-month-old son will probably look at it some day -- and then he'll throw it out."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.