(Be warned that this is long. I wanted something to do while acting as substitute tech for the remote broadcast of the Berkeley School Board Meeting).
When was the last time you used a pen or pencil?
That was a question posed by Mark Newman, MLB.com’s Enterprise Editor (and Blogger-in-Chief) in his article New Software Makes Scoring Fun Again, which touts new software for fans who like to keep score on their computers or PDA’s.
"My Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Reports are always done in pencil," I replied at MLBlogosphere, "So I’ve been using a pencil every day since the season started, even if it’s just to note that he’s not in the lineup again. GRRR!"
"My Friend, The Yankees Fan" has kept score on a Palm Pilot at the House that Ruth Built. In 1923, when Yankee Stadium opened, pilot was a title for guys who flew overgrown kites to deliver mail, dust crops, kill each other in wartime dogfights–why do they call them that? Dogs don’t fight in the sky–or kill themselves in stunts designed to show the people on the ground how much fun flying was. I’m not saying this because I’m afraid of flying. Airline ticket prices, now those are scary. And the guys in fatigues wielding M-16’s at the airport last time I was there, well, they didn’t exactly make me feel secure. I figured that if they opened fire, ordinary Jane’s and Joe’s in the area would be "collateral damage." But hurtling through the air in a metal tube doesn’t especially scare me. After all, the technology’s come a long way since 1923.
And the technology for recording information has come a long way since the graphite pencil became common. Still, I like keeping score at the park on paper. I like writing The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report in pencil. I’m not a Luddite and I am not a geek. I’m somewhere in between. I’m considered a power user at work and I’m a web head at home, spending much more time in front of the computer than the TV. I blog here and watch the baseball games on computer.
I have to side with Michael of Some Ballyard, at least partially, on the problems of watching baseball on the Internet. He’s right. The screen freezes. Mark Newman disagrees. He loves baseball via computer: "Always enjoy Some Ballyard, but have to beg to differ on the experience of watching live baseball over the Internet. Quality is constantly improving and it’s a way of life for millions — including this blogger right here. There’s a Nats-Phils game on MLB.TV on the computer right next to me as I type this, in fact."
I guess how good baseball on the computer really is depends on the kind of equipment you have. I suspect that Mark, who works at MLB.com in New York City, watches his baseball on state-of-the-art computers. I don’t know what Michael’s set up is, but I have a PII with a 333-clock. It’s the fastest computer I’ve ever owned and it’s a dinosaur by today’s standards. An early dinosaur, at that. And my dinosaur often can’t keep up with a good slider or even a hard hit ground ball.
Baseball on the computer is a great use of technology; I just have to get a faster computer. But I think bringing a Palm Pilot to the ballpark is a symptom of what is wrong with baseball today. Going to the ballpark is an occasion for me to get away from the computer, which between email and baseball games is an actual, not virtual, addiction for me. It’s not an addiction I am looking to break. Thanks to the computer, I can follow Eric Byrnes’ exploits, or lack thereof, anywhere in the country, without the excess baggage and expense of cable TV. But, as Red Sox Chick implied in her Spheroid, there are other things we can be doing with our lives besides sitting in front of a computer screen. Some ballparks, including "Whatever they’re calling it this year" Park in San Francisco, are installing Internet access, so that fans can bring their laptops to the game. I have a feeling it’s not so that fans can keep score by computer. With a variety of other non-baseball activities such as walking courses, swimming pools, B-B-Q pits, shops, etc being added to the ballpark experience, along with sausage, taco, dot, Bart-car and other races on the scoreboard and on the field, the experience of the game itself is being diminished. It’s as if we all have ADD and have to have a large variety of activities to keep us at the park without…what? Falling Asleep? Leaving early? Rioting? I go to the ballpark to watch a ballgame. Evidently, that’s as quaint as, well…keeping score with a pencil.
Doing a scorecard, or The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report, by pencil keeps me engaged in the game. I don’t have to worry about saving the file, or whether or not the system will crash or the battery will fail while I am recording the information. If I drop the scorecard or the Report, I haven’t broken anything. While at the Coliseum last season, I spilled a little mustard on one of my Reports. No big deal. As we know from Red Sox Chick’s experience, foodstuffs and electronics are not always a good combination.
This is not to say that there is no room for modern technology in keeping track of baseball events. (Overdue thanks to Carl at Inside Pitch and Matt at DiamondHacks for pointing me to a web site where I could find the batter-vs-pitcher histories that are becoming part of my research into why the Diamondbacks are not employing Byrnes as the everyday center fielder he thought he would be when he signed with them). The Gameday screen at MLB.com has been a huge help to me, when it is complete, because sometimes I can’t watch the whole game, usually due to work or the time it takes me to go to and from my job. This happened the other day when I missed Eric Byrnes’ first time up because of how long it takes me to get home from work by public transportation. (If I could afford a car, I would have made it home in time). The Pitch-by-Pitch feature of the Gameday screen allowed me to record what happened on each pitch Eric faced when I was not looking.
When the 2005 "Bloggies" were awarded, Mark stated that he hoped that we computer jocks got away from our screens long enough to get to some actual ballgames. Some of us do. Unfortunately, ticket prices are getting so high that, as the commercials suggest, a family trip to the ballpark is now an occasion of debt. We miss the fresh-air, out-with-the-crowd experience of the live game when we watch at home. At the ballpark, a good pitch freezes the batter, not our view of the play. But we can get a better view for a lower price by watching from our screens. And when something happens like the Oakland A’s shrinking the capacity of the Coliseum by refusing to sell tickets to the third deck seats that made the live game watchable AND affordable for me, I feel that baseball wants lower-income people like me to stay home.
What I miss, good and bad, of the live experience, I gain in the form of camera angles and replays that help me observe Byrnesie’s batting mechanics. So the technology is an indispensable aid to my greater understanding of how Eric Byrnes performs and how he can improve. (We may be past the point of dealing with Global Warming, but Byrnes’ consistency problems are solvable!)
Still, the pencil plays a major role in my observations (or obsession, if you would believe Diane of Diamonds are for Humor, and Bobby of Deep Fried Fish). When "My Friend, the Yankees Fan" found out that I was keeping detailed notes on Eric Byrnes’ plate appearances, her first reaction was to wonder why I was fussing over a mediocre player who wasn’t even good looking. She then told me that I could find all those stats online, and she even provided a URL. But, by doing the Report by hand, I have gone beyond the mere aggregation of stats to thinking about the many facets of the game, and how I can arrange those facets on one page, for one player, in a way that is meaningful to me. A web site can’t do that. It can provide the raw information, but it can’t assemble it in the way that best suits my purposes.
The very first Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report, which I did on July 3, 2005 while I was at the Coliseum, was merely a series of tick marks in Byrnes’ boxes on a standard scorecard. The Report is now much more sophisticated than the title implies. Having records on the Internet allowed me to go back to June 1, 2005. Actually, I could have gone back farther–the archives are there–but it is not as much fun to copy stats from a computer screen as it is to keep track of what’s happening in real time. The former is academic research, the latter is baseball. And dammit, Jim, I’m a journalist, not a paleontologist.
Here’s how The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report now works. On a single entry along the long side of an 8.5 x 11 inch page—I’d show you if I had a digital camera and legible handwriting–I record an inning, the outs, where the baserunners, if any, are, whether Byrnesie takes, misses, fouls or hits a pitch, and whether the taken pitches are balls or strikes. I also record the result of a plate appearance, often using the same shorthand one would find on a scorecard, whether or not he has advanced any baserunners without RBI’s (and to where), how many, if any, RBI’s there were, and whether or not Byrnes scored after he reached base. I’ve also added a "Notes" section, recording things such as whether or not he has taken a level swing, has swung at what looked like a ball (something I can more easily discern on the computer than at the park) or whether he was robbed by a great play. There is always something either to be added to the Report or gleaned from it. Keeping true to the original intent of the Report, I calculate and record Byrnes’ P/PA for the game. But nowadays, I’m also counting how many PA’s he has with empty bases and how many he has with runners in scoring position. This way, if anyone criticizes Byrnesie’s RBI total to me, I can point out how relatively few RBI opportunities he has.
A "Miscellaneous" section at the bottom of the Report records his great grabs, stolen bases and other information about the game. Since I am keeping this season’s Reports in a looseleaf binder, I have taken to using the previous blank page, i.e. the reverse page of the previous Report, to record other things, e.g. remarks by broadcasters, achievements by other players, or literary quotes I might want to use in a future blog entry. There’s more, but that’s the "guts" of the Report. The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report is the place from which I glean the information for the EB Statshot-2006 that is now on a sidebar of my blog.
All of this comes from my doing the Report in pencil, in real time whenever possible, rather than periodically grabbing stats from a web site. BTW, Byrnesie didn’t play yesterday. GRRR!
Technology can be a great tool. But you’ll miss out on something if you let the computer do it all for you.
Kéllia "Eric Byrnes’ No. 1 Blogger" Ramares