It’s impossible to say who is the best at what they do. We all have opinions on who is the best player in baseball, the best manager, the best GM or which is the best ballpark.
But the best official scorer in baseball was unquestionably Bill Shannon, who died in a fire at his home in New Jersey early this morning. He was the chief scorer at Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Citi Field and for countless postseason games over the years after starting in 1979. He was 69.
The official scorer has an impossible job these days. Ruling a ball a hit or an error could theoretically cost a player hundreds of thousands in performance bonus money. Meanwhile only a million or so people watching at home are judging the same play on their televisions.
But Bill always had it right. If you disagreed, he had a way of explaining it to you so you came away believing he made the right call. He did not get defensive or angry.
Baseball press boxes are full of memorable characters. Bill was tops among them. He had a booming voice and would announce the lines of each pitcher (“6 innings … 7 hits … 4 runs … Earned … 3 walks …. 7 strikeouts … and one hit batter!) in an authoritative fashion then repeat the line rapid-fire like an auctioneer.
He thought the sacrifice fly was a foolish stat and would announce it with scorn in his voice, so distinctively that we all would imitate it.
He always wore a dark suit jacket, even on the hottest summer days, and carried around a bunch of newspapers. At the old Yankee Stadium, the scorer sat in the middle of the third row in a special seat that was a little higher than everybody else and had its own monitor. It looked like a throne, which always struck me as fitting.
Bill also worked for the Associated Press, writing stories and collecting postgame quotes. He was a regular at Madison Square Garden, Columbia football games and other events in New York. Much to my surprise, he had literally an encyclopedic knowledge of tennis.
On a personal note, I arrived in New York in 1999 after spending my career at a small newspaper in eastern Connecticut. The idea of driving to the Bronx or Queens to cover a baseball game was somewhat terrifying after years of attending UConn basketball games in bucolic Storrs.
Bill came over on my first or second day, introduced himself and said he once lived in Yonkers and read my paper. Over the years, he helped me out many times and made me feel welcome in a setting where I felt lost. I suspect that was the case for many people.
He always had a story to tell about covering baseball 30 or 40 years ago that left you feeling somehow connected to that era, if only because you were talking to him about it. Players come and go in baseball as do beat writers. But people like Bill Shannon are constants. That it takes them passing away for us to pay tribute is a shame.
For people whose work took them to the press boxes in New York, today was a sad one.