Monday, April 05, 1999

These guys know the score

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Glenn Sample was a 48-year-old rookie when he got the call to work in the big leagues. On the same day, his friend Ron Roth made it to the majors even though he never even played an inning of Knothole ball.

        They're fortunate and they know it.

        “Every game I say, "Thank you, Lord, for letting me be up here,'” Glenn told me.

        “I swear I'm the luckiest guy on Earth,” Ron added.

        Glenn and Ron are the official scorers for the Reds' home games. Today, on Opening Day 1999, they begin their 20th season.

        Every year, over the span of 81 games, they work out of their Cinergy Field booth behind home plate. Their next-door neighbors are another duo of long-standing, Reds broadcasters Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall.

        While Marty and Joe call the game's play-by-play on radio, Glenn and Ron perform their official duties.

        Writing in code on scorecards of their own design, they immediately announce their rulings to the press box, Marty and Joe and the scoreboard operator. Glenn and Ron decide whether the end result of a batter's mighty swing is scored as a hit or a fielder's bobbled play is ruled an error. They keep track of balls and strikes and note the trajectory of every fly ball. From time to time, they glance at their stopwatch to see how long the game takes to play.

        Twenty seasons ago, Glenn was UC's baseball coach. Ron

        worked as his assistant and sold real estate. Then came the job offer from the National League.

        The league was hiring new official scorers for Cincinnati. Sportswriters used to do the job. But they were being relieved of the double duty and conflicting interests of writing about baseball while deciding who's on first and will he steal second cleanly or will an error be charged to the second baseman.

        Glenn and Ron took the job without hesitation.

        “Every boy has dreams,” Ron said. “You dream of playing in the major leagues. I dreamed of playing for the Reds. I knew this was as close as I was ever going to get to the majors.”

        “We both grew up in Cincinnati,” Glenn said. “We're big fans of the Reds. But when we're official scorers, we don't give them a break.”

        Ron never saw his big-league dreams come true. “I was cut from my Knothole team when I was 8.” But he kept his hand in the game by coaching. Since 1991, he's been Moeller High School's baseball coach.

        Glenn has been in baseball since he was 8. For 60 years, he has played or coached the game in addition to working as an official scorer.

        After graduating from the University of Cincinnati and serving two years in the Army during the Korean War, he received offers from three major-league teams — the Reds, the Phillies and the Indians. Glenn turned them down. He went for the more lucrative job of coaching at his alma mater. Those were the days before young prospects signed contracts worth millions.

        Glenn and Ron are not getting rich as official scorers. Both men are often in the booth; one fills out the scorecard while the other acts as a backup. But the league pays for only one scorer per game. Their starting salary was $50 a game. After 10 years, it went up to $75. This year, it's $100 a game.

        “We don't have a union or an agent,” Glenn said.

        “And we've never been on strike,” Ron noted.

        They have no endorsements. They don't use brand-name pens.

        And, their contracts have no incentive clauses. They don't make more money if they never miss a play.

        “You just can't miss a play,” Glenn said. “That's why we can't sit back, have a beer, eat a hot dog and enjoy the game.

        “We're on the edge of our seats the entire time,” Ron said. “We go to the restroom before the game. Never during.”

        “You can't take your eye off the ball or off the field,” Glenn added.

        “Miss a play, miss a pitching change, forget to put it on the scorecard and you're lost,” Ron added.

        That doesn't mean Glenn and Ron are perfect.

        “We make mistakes, just like anybody else,” Glenn said. “Fortunately, our mistakes will never cost anyone the game.”

        But they could cost a player a bonus if he doesn't hit .300, fails to steal a certain number of bases or doesn't play errorless baseball.

        Glenn and Ron do hear from players, especially when a big-leaguer with a big bat thinks an error should have been a hit.

        The scorers have the option of telling Babe Ruth Jr. to take a hike or review the play on videotape. After a game, Glenn and Ron have 24 hours to review their decisions before sending their game reports to the league. The players know this. But they don't take advantage of the loophole.

        “I've had my mailbox knocked down twice outside my house,” Glenn said laughing. “But I don't think that was done by any of the players. They never threaten us or give us a hard time.”

        On the average, Glenn and Ron have their calls challenged once a year. Every other year, the scorers reverse one decision.

Home runs
        Talking with two men who've spent 20 years watching every detail of Reds home games, I wanted to know which ones they would put in their hall of fame.

        Glenn picked the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's career hits record. Ron went with Tom Browning's perfect game. And both reserve special feelings for Opening Day.

        Ron was the official scorer on the rainy night of Sept. 16, 1988. Reds pitcher Tom Browning was on the mound. And he was perfect. He did not allow a hit or a run or walk to a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

        “You don't really start thinking about a no-hitter or a perfect game until the fifth or sixth inning,” Ron said. “Then you pray that if they're going to get a hit, make it a clean hit. Don't make it something that's going to depend on the official scorer. But if we see it as a hit, we'll call it, even if it ends the no-hitter.”

        There were no close calls that night. Tom Browning earned his perfect game. Ron never had to use his blue pen when he marked the visiting team's scorecard. Glenn and Ron color-code their scorecards. Blue is used for hits.

        Glenn's blue pen recorded Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit with a “1B” on the night of Sept. 11, 1985. That single sent Pete Rose past Ty Cobb as baseball's all-time hits king.

        “It seemed as if the whole world was watching that night,” Glenn said. “The press box was filled with people from Japan and Australia and Europe.” He kept the original scorecard and had it autographed by Rose and the game's four umpires.

        “Now that,” he said, “is a real piece of baseball memorabilia.”

        On Opening Day, Glenn arrives extra early at the stadium. He parks his car and walks uptown to watch the parade.

        “As a kid, I never went to Opening Day or saw the parade,” he said. “My folks had a grocery store in the West End, three blocks from Crosley Field. We lived in the back of the store. My folks were always working. They never could afford to take time off and go to the game.”

        For Ron, Opening Day “is filled with anticipation. It signals the end of winter, no more sleet and snow, no more shoveling, no more boots. It's the beginning of spring and summer.”

        Opening Day is ripe with the promise of better things to come. Glenn and Ron may be starting their 20th season. But, to them, the game's just begun.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

Baseball pitches to kids
Opening Day drivers will leave early to avoid gridlock