On the night that Craig Biggio got his 3,000th hit, it can be argued that the most important person inside of Minute Maid Park was not Craig Biggio, or the Colorado Rockies pitcher on the mound. Instead, the most important person was the official scorer. Because it's the official scorer who makes the decision on what is a hit, and what is an error. Luckily for all involved, Biggo's 3,000th hit was rather obvious. But a determination still needed to be made, and it was the official scorer who made the determination.
During the day, Trey Wilkinson works as a portfolio manager. During the night, he is one of the official scorers who handle the scoring duties for the Houston Astros. Back in the old days, the official scorers were the beat writers who covered the team. And in some cities, this is still the case, but "Major League Baseball does not want that to happen," Wilkinson says. "They want you to have no other official duties except for scoring the game that evening."
Besides, as Wilkinson reminds me, it's not like there are a lot of writers covering baseball in Houston at the moment.
Wilkinson previously worked in media relations for the Houston Astros, but left the team in the late-1990s. And that's when he was first approached by Ivy McLemore, the former sports editor of the defunct Houston Post who was serving as one of the team's official scorers. But Wilkinson turned down the initial offer because he had just left the club and "I felt like it could be perceived as a conflict of interest," he said. "I didn't think the timing was right."
But McLemore was persistent, and Wilkinson joined the group of official scorers in 2000, the year the Astros moved into Minute Maid Park. "I'm not an employee of the Astros," Wilkinson said. Instead, he's a contract employee who is employed by Major League Baseball, though MLB did seek the opinion of the Astros PR staff when he was hired.
"Our job is to determine what happened on the field for the purposes of hits and errors," he says. "It is not to determine whether the umpire made the right call or not.'
As such, he has up to 24 hours following the game to make an official ruling on a play. The PR staff of either club can request that a ruling be changed. Players sometimes call from the dugout to request a change, and the people in the press box will sometimes question the ruling.
"Replay helps," he says. "Everybody expects you to use replay. And we do. More than the umpires ever do. We use it. You try to see something live. You try to see it again on the replay. You may have been writing something in your book, or you might have missed something. So replay helps quite a bit."
As to whether a ball in play is a hit or error, the rule, though sometimes difficult to apply, is simple: if it is an ordinary play that should be made by a player of average skill, then it's an error. If there's anything that's extraordinary about it, it should be considered a hit. "For instance, leaving your feet in any way shape or form, should be considered a hit," he says. "Barehanding a ball, to me, is an extraordinary effort, unless there are really extenuating circumstances."
The ordinary player rule can sometimes be a bit difficult when the player involved is someone of the caliber of Ozzie Smith, who was known as one of the greatest fielders of all time, and who made his reputation on getting to balls that no one else could dream of fielding.
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"That's where, hopefully, the experience comes in that all of the scorers have of seeing thousands of games before becoming an official scorer," Wilkinson says. "So that way you have some base amount of knowledge of what plays should be made, and what plays shouldn't be made....Over a period of years...you get a feel for if a play should have been made."
As to what differentiates a passed ball from wild pitch, the biggest factor is whether the ball is in the dirt or not. "If the ball's in the dirt, it's a wild pitch regardless of anything that happened," he says. "If it wasn't in the dirt, then a) Did the pitcher somehow cross-up the catcher? or b) Was the catcher sat up differently? Passed balls, even though they're not recorded as errors, are counted as errors for reconstructing the innings."
So the next time you're at an Astros game, and you see a scoring decision flashed on the scoreboard, the odds are good that Trey Wilkinson will be making that decision. And hopefully, now you'll be able to understand the reasoning that went into the decision.
But if ever you should have a question about some scoring decision, or some wacky play, let us know and we'll get in touch with Trey for an answer. Who knows, maybe if it's within the 24-hour window, the ruling will be changed. Though for that to happen, you should probably have some new video evidence to proffer up as support.