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Insight into the Game of Numbers
Baseball is often referred to as a “game of numbers,” with various figures that go beyond the average fan’s knowledge. From player uniforms to scoreboards, numbers are everywhere in baseball. The sport is known for its double and triple plays, batting averages, earned-run averages, and more advanced statistics like on-base-plus-slugging percentages.
This is one of the reasons why baseball is considered a “cerebral” game. It generates and keeps more statistics and data than any other major sport. Fans pore over box scores in newspapers or online sources, while kids collect baseball cards to see how many home runs their favorite players hit in the previous season.
However, some baseball numbers are unfamiliar to casual fans. For example, when an announcer exclaims, “Just your typical 6-4-3-2 play!” knowledgeable baseball aficionados will recognize the sarcasm. Such a play is far from typical.
The combination 6-4-3-2 refers to the numbers assigned to each of the nine fielding positions on a baseball field. This numbering system simplifies scorekeeping, starting with the pitcher as number 1 and ending with the right fielder as number 9.
Even the hyphens in between the numbers hold meaning. By adding mathematical symbols to this sequence, we can indicate different actions. The original sequence signifies a play where the ball is thrown from the shortstop to the second baseman, then to the first baseman, and finally home to the catcher.
If we apply math symbols for a 6+4+3=2 combination, we convey a typical double play from shortstop to second base to first base, resulting in two outs made on the play. The hyphenated version allows for easy explanation of the series of throws during a play, while the plus symbol represents a single play resulting in two outs made.
Baseball Position Numbers In-Depth
Each defensive position in baseball has a shorthand denotation consisting of one or two capital letters, represented below with their corresponding numbers:
- P (Pitcher)
- C (Catcher)
- 1B (First Baseman)
- 2B (Second Baseman)
- 3B (Third Baseman)
- SS (Shortstop)
- LF (Left-Fielder)
- CF (Center-Fielder)
- RF (Right-Fielder)
It is worth noting that the designated hitter (DH) is not considered a defensive position and therefore does not have a fielding number. However, lineup cards or scorebooks might indicate the DH’s involvement in the game by tagging them with “DH.”
This numbering system was introduced in the late 18th century by baseball pioneers Henry Chadwick and MJ Kelly to assist official scorers in recording all game actions accurately.
How Baseball Position Numbers are Used
These numbers and shorthand notations are necessary to record all possible at-bats in a game on scorecards. Typically, a scorecard contains two sheets of paper, one for each team, each with approximately 120 squares for a nine-inning game (more if there are extra innings). The player’s name is listed on the far left of each row, and a series of squares to the right are filled in as each batter takes their turn at the plate.
Each square is pre-filled with a diamond representing a baseball field, with bases at each corner. The scorekeeper makes notations along the baseline where the action occurs when a batter puts a ball in play, gets put out, reaches base, or advances a base.
For example, a ground-ball out from the shortstop thrown to the first baseman would be recorded as 6-3 along the first-base line, with the number of outs written above it to indicate a putout. If the batter fails to reach base, no segment of the diamond is filled in.
Fly-ball putouts are simpler, using notations such as F9 for a fly out to the right fielder or F6 for a pop-up to the shortstop.
Hyphens or plus symbols in between the numbers represent plays involving throws between players. Each defensive player who touches the ball during the play is noted. Putouts made without a throw, such as a tagged runner, are marked with “U” for “unassisted,” for example, 4U if a second baseman makes the tag.
If a player hits a single to left field, the scorekeeper draws a line from home plate to first base and writes 1B or H1 along the first-base line. A double is denoted as 2B or H2 between first and second base. A home run is represented as HR, and the entire diamond is filled in to indicate that the player touched all the bases and scored a run.
Recording strikeouts is also straightforward. A “K” signifies a strikeout where the batter swung the bat, while a backward “K” denotes a strikeout resulting from the batter looking at the ball.
The Importance of Scorekeeping Numbers in Baseball
This numbering system for scorekeeping serves several purposes. Firstly, it satisfies baseball experts’ love affair with statistics. Scorekeepers not only tally the score but also play a crucial role in post-game reviews, umpire protests, and determining whether a ball in play should be ruled a hit or an error by a fielder.
Scorekeepers’ records of at-bats and hits, including specific types of hits like home runs, triples, doubles, and singles, are relatively straightforward. However, fielding position numbers can also be used to evaluate a defender’s performance. Counting each putout by a shortstop (6) and errors made by that player allows for the calculation of fielding percentages, with 1.000 being perfect, and lower figures indicating subpar defensive play.
In the end, game scorecards provide a wealth of information, including the number of balls and strikes thrown by each pitcher and sometimes even the velocity of batted balls. Some scorekeepers differentiate line-drive outs from bloopers or pop-ups by drawing straight or looped lines over the corresponding putout notation, representing how the ball traveled through the air.
More Information about Baseball Scorekeeping Numbers
During games, players often use scorekeeping terms to razz opposing players. For example, they may shout, “Here comes F9!” to indicate their expectation of an easy out to the right fielder.
The letter “K” can often be seen all over stadiums, indicating a substantial number of strikeouts have occurred or are anticipated. Some players and announcers use defensive position numbers to note gaps between fielders. For instance, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was known for hitting the ball through the “5-6 hole,” meaning he frequently found openings between the third baseman and shortstop.
While the 6-4-3-2 play usually denotes a double play, it can also represent a triple play, albeit rarely. 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 playing close to the infield.
It’s worth mentioning that not every scorekeeper uses the same symbols. The use of hyphens or math symbols between fielding position numbers can vary depending on the region, league, or individual scorekeeper’s style. What matters most is that the scorebook is easily readable and understood post-game.
Q: Why doesn’t a designated hitter get a fielding number in the lineup?
A: A designated hitter’s role does not involve defensive play, so their actions are not logged in the scorebook. However, to indicate the DH’s position in the game, their name is often accompanied by “DH” in lineup cards or scorebooks.
Q: Who keeps score during baseball games?
A: Scorekeeping is typically done by amateurs or volunteers who have no vested interest in the game’s outcome. In professional or minor league games, members of the sports news media often serve as scorekeepers. In youth baseball, the responsibility of providing a scorekeeper usually falls on the “home” team, often a parent.
Q: What is a designated hitter?
A: A designated hitter is a player who bats in place of a defensive player in the lineup but does not play in the field. This rule is commonly used when a pitcher’s time at bat is due since pitchers typically focus their practice time on pitching rather than hitting. Some players may be designated as DH for certain games when they are not playing their fielding position but still batting.
Q: Why is the shortstop listed as No. 6, even though the infield numbers seem to flow from right to left, from first to third base?
A: This numbering scheme predates the introduction of the shortstop position. In the 18th century, infielders would stand right atop each base, unlike today where they are positioned in the spaces between the bases. However, as more base hits were hit between second and third base, the new position of the “shortstop” was established. Previously, four outfielders or a “rover” would patrol the area between the infielders and outfielders.