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Ron Kleinfelter has one of the toughest jobs in baseball. The Perrysburg native serves as an official scorer for both the Detroit Tigers and Toledo Mud Hens. That job is both simple and difficult: Kleinfelter is asked to determine if plays are hits or errors, runs are earned or unearned, as well as a variety of other responsibilities. Kleinfelter was the official scorer in Detroit on April 23, when Tigers pitcher Brad Penny lost his bid for a no-hitter when Brent Morel of the Chicago White Sox beat out a grounder down the third-base line in the fifth.
What were the reasons you determined the Morel grounder was a hit?
I applied the standard of ordinary effort as defined in the Official Baseball Rules, which states that it is the effort that a fielder of average skill at that position in the league should exhibit on the play. In my opinion, it would take extraordinary effort by Brandon Inge — or any third baseman in the league for that matter — to execute that play and get the out. Because he did not, I ruled it a hit.
Many people want the first hit of a game to be a “clean” hit. Do you agree with that?
I understand that perspective, and as an official scorer, I certainly prefer the first hit to be “clean,” but there is nothing in the rule book that says the first hit has to be a “clean” hit. There are guidelines for hits and guidelines for errors and an explanation of ordinary effort. It is the job of the official scorer to apply those guidelines in making a determination of whether it is a hit or an error, regardless of the game situation. Do you talk to the players or coaches about scoring decisions?
Sometimes, if there is not a good replay, or there may be a question regarding the situation, such as a bad hop or a ball lost in the lights, I may consult with a player, coach, or umpire. It does not happen frequently, though. Do you think players and coaches understand the job of an official scorer?
For the most part, yes. Everyone has their opinions, and as long as they are presented in a respectful and professional manner, everything is fine. I think they do understand that one of the toughest aspects of the scorer’s job is to apply their judgment and understanding of the rules, and make a decision. There are many plays that happen, where if you polled 10 baseball people, half would think one way and the other half would think the other. Do you think fans understand the job?
I like to think so, but when you are a fan of a particular team, it sometimes is hard to separate your emotional connection to the team from the understanding of what went into the decision process that the official scorer made. It is a responsibility of the official scorer to be impartial when making scoring decisions.
What type of play is the toughest for an official scorer?
There are a couple types that can be difficult. Of course the plays that could go ‘either way’ are difficult, but it is the scorer’s job to apply the rules and standards and make a determination. Also, it is sometimes very hard to detect bad hops even when looking at the replay. There are even plays where you would like to give an error but can’t, such as when the two fielders both stop short and the pop fly drops between them. On the tough plays, I will often seek out the opinions of others who are there in the press box working the game.
How did you become the official scorer for the Tigers?
I actually started in the minor leagues with the Mud Hens in 1999. I still am on the roster of scorers for the Hens. In 2005, the Tigers were in need of another scorer (they like to keep a rotation of three), and I was approached about the position. There are currently three scorers in Detroit approved by Major League Baseball: me, Chuck Klonke, and Dan Marowski. In Toledo, the scorers approved by the International League are me, Guy Lammers, Jeff Businger, and John Malkowski.
How are you trained for the job?
I had great training for the Major Leagues working as a scorer for the Hens. When I started with the Hens, I shadowed with the established scorer [Guy Lammers] for a period before I was allowed to go it on my own. We still follow the same process when we bring on new scorers today. When I started with the Tigers, I did the same thing in that I shadowed an established scorer before going solo. As far as qualifications to be a scorer, you need to have an understanding of the rules and the intricacies of the game, and be able to keep score of the game on paper in a detailed manner. You also have to have a high level of concentration during the game. Many people are shocked by how closely we have to watch the game and keep track of virtually everything going on.
What are the best and worst parts about the job?
Getting paid to watch baseball is pretty nice. Rain delays are not.
Do you watch games differently now that you are an official scorer?
I do in the sense that I watch with a high level of concentration whether it is at home on TV, or at the park just as a fan. I still keep score of pretty much every game I go to in person, which is something I am going to teach my eight-year-old son when he’s ready. Keeping score is the best way to stay ‘in’ the game, and something I wish I saw more fans doing at Major and Minor League Games.
— John Wagner