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Insight Into the Game of Numbers
It is said that “baseball is a game of numbers” — including some figures the average fan may be unaware of. Baseball features numbers on the back of players’ uniforms, on outdoor scoreboards, in its nomenclature. There are double (and triple) plays, batting and earned-run averages requiring mathematical skills to compute, and more modern-day statistics like on-base-plus-slugging percentages.
For this, among many reasons, people call baseball a “cerebral” game. Baseball generates and keeps more statistics and data than any other major sport. Fans appreciate this and scour box scores in newspapers or online sources. Kids flip over baseball cards to see how many home runs a player hit the season before.
Yet, some baseball numbers seem reserved for baseball insiders. Say, for instance, you hear an announcer say, “Just your typical 6-4-3-2 play!” Savvy baseball aficionados will know it was said facetiously. Such a play is atypical
The 6-4-3-2 combination refers to numbers assigned to each of the nine fielding positions on a baseball field, to help ease scorekeeping. The numbers begin with the pitcher and end with the right-fielder, as in, 1 denotes the pitcher, 9 means the right-fielder.
Even the figures between the numbers carry meaning. Add some mathematical figures to the very same number sequence and the combination indicates something different. The former indicates a play where the ball was thrown from the shortstop to the second-baseman to the first-baseman then home to the catcher.
Add math symbols for a 6+4+3=2 combination, and the formula indicates a typical shortstop-to-second-to-first double play — equaling 2 outs made on the play. The hyphenated version makes it easy to explain a series of throws during a play. The formula with the math symbols conveys a single play resulting in two outs made.
Baseball Position Numbers In-Depth
Each defensive position also carries a shorthand denotation of 1 or 2 capital letters, shown here along with the position numbers:
1 = P (Pitcher)
2 = C (Catcher)
3 = 1B (1st Baseman)
4 = 2B (2nd Baseman)
5 = 3B (3rd Baseman)
6 = SS (Shortstop)
7 = LF (Left-Fielder)
8 = CF (Center-Fielder)
9 = RF (Right-Fielder)
(A designated hitter is not a defensive position and thus has no fielding number. In lineup cards or scorebooks this player might be tagged with a “DH” just to keep track of the player’s involvement in a game).
This numbering system was invented at the end of the 18th Century by baseball pioneers Henry Chadwick and MJ Kelly, to help each game’s official scorer log all game action onto paper pages.
How Baseball Position Numbers are Used
The numbers and shorthand were necessary to allow all the possible at-bats in a game to be logged on two sheets of paper (unless there are many extra innings), one for each team. For a nine-inning game, a scorecard could have 120 squares, or more depending on the scorebook style, ready for each player’s at-bat. Players’ names would be listed at the far left of rows, and to the right are a series of little squares ready to be filled as each batter takes a turn at the plate.
Each of these squares is pre-filled with a diamond — representing a baseball field diamond, with bases at each corner. As a batter puts a ball in play, is put out, reaches base, or advances a base, the scorekeeper takes note by making notations along the baseline where the action occurred.
Hence, a ground-ball out from the shortstop thrown to the first baseman would be logged as 6-3 along the first-base line, and the number of outs for the inning would be written atop it to indicate a putout, then sometimes circled. Since the batter failed to reach base, no segment of the diamond would be filled in.
Fly-ball putouts are easier — just write in F9 for a fly out to the right-fielder, or F6 for a pop-up to shortstop, etc.
The numbers connected by hyphens or the plus (+) symbol refer to plays where the ball was thrown between players. Each defensive player who touches the ball gets noted. Putouts made without a throw, such as a tagged runner, are marked by adding a U for “unassisted”: as in 4U if a second baseman made the tag.
If a player got a base-hit to left field, the scorekeeper would draw a line from home plate to first base indicating the player made it there safely, then write 1B or H1 along the first-base line. For a double, 2B or H2 could be denoted on the diamond line representing the space between first and second base. A home run would be HR, and the entire diamond would be filled in noting that the player touched all bases and scored a run.
Strikeouts are easy, too: either a K for a strikeout where the batter swung the bat; or a backward K for a strikeout just looking at the ball whizzing by.
The Need for Scorekeeping Numbers in Baseball
This numbers system for scorekeeping is important for a number of reasons, among them the love affair baseball experts have with statistics. Not only do scorekeepers tally the score of games, they also can be imperative for post-game review for protests of umpires’ calls, or determining whether a ball in play should be ruled a hit (which helps a batter’s averages), or an error by a fielder (which is recorded as a putout in regard to a batter’s averages).
Recording at-bats and hits, and specific types of hits such as home runs, triples, doubles and singles, is relatively easy. However, fielding-position numbers also can be used to gauge a defender’s performance. Each putout by a shortstop (6) over the course of the game can be counted — as well as errors by that player. Those numbers can be crunched into a fielding percentage, with 1.000 being perfect, and lower figures showing sloppy defensive play.
In the end, game scorecards provide an immense amount of information, including the number of balls and strikes thrown by each pitcher, and sometimes even how hard batters are striking balls. Some scorekeepers differentiate line-drive outs from blooper or pop-up outs by drawing a straight or rainbow-like loop over a F9 putout — to record how the ball flew through the air
More Information about Baseball Scorekeeping Numbers
Sometimes, players in a game can shout out a scorekeeping term to razz an opposing player. As in, “Here comes F9!” which means they expect a new batter to pop an easy out to the right fielder.
The letter K can be seen all over stadiums meaning many strikeouts are happening or are expected.
Some players and announcers note the location of gaps between fielders by using the defensive position numbers. For instance, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was known for knocking the ball through the “5-6 hole.” It meant he liked to squirt grounders or liners between the third baseman and shortstop.
The 6-4-3-2 play sometimes (though rarely) denotes a triple play. And there is no limit to how long the string of numbers can be, if the ball is thrown all over the infield or even to outfielders creeping into the infield area.
Not every scorekeeper uses the same symbols. The use of hyphens or math figures between fielding position numbers can vary by region, league, or the style of an individual scorekeeper. The important thing is for a scorebook to be easily read and understood post-game.
Q: A designated hitter gets a position in the batting lineup. How come this player does not get a fielding number?
Answer: A designated hitter is not a defensive position, and therefore cannot be involved with making plays that are logged into a scorebook. However, to identify where this player fits into a game, often a “DH” is logged next to his or her name in lineup cards or scorebooks.
Q: Who scorekeepers games?
A: Scorekeeping is done by amateurs or volunteers, without interest in the outcome of the game they record. In the major or minor leagues, often games are scored by members of the sports news media. In youth baseball, usually the squad designated as the “home” team is responsible for providing a scorekeeper, often a parent.
Q: What is a Designated Hitter?
Answer: A player who bats for a defensive player in the batting lineup; but does not play defense. Most often used for when a pitcher’s time at-bat is set, because pitchers typically are not good hitters because their practice time is focused on throwing, and teams often don’t want to “waste” batting cage time on pitchers. Players getting “DH’d” for play the field but do not bat.
Q: Why is the shortstop listed as No. 6, when the infield numbers seem to flow right to left, from first to third base?
A: Probably because the defensive numbers were invented before the introduction of the shortstop. Infielders in the 18th century stood right atop each base, unlike today where defenders are positioned in the space between the bases. Eventually, so many base-hits were peppered between second and third base that the new “shortstop” was position there. (Previously, there might have been four outfielders, or a “rover” who might patrol the area between the infielders and outfielders).