This entry covers the more basic—but fundamentally important—subject of pitch description.
Pitch description itself is self-explanatory. Assuming the ball is not put in play by the batter, the listener needs to know what type of pitch was thrown, the location, the velocity, and the outcome (ball/strike/foul).
Pitch “description” can also be referred to as pitch “calling.” However, the latter implies that simply identifying the type of pitch is sufficient, whereas incorporating the breadth of details mentioned above paints a much clearer picture for the listener.
An average baseball game might involve close to 300 pitches thrown between the two teams, the large majority of which are never put in play. The batter/pitcher matchup is baseball’s most basic form, and the way each subsequent pitch changes the odds of an at bat’s eventual outcome is one of the game’s greatest intricacies.
Providing as much detail as possible on every pitch can help the listener visualize the drama of the batter/pitcher battle as it unfolds in real time.
A spotting board can be a tremendous resource for broadcasters of any sport. One of the core concepts we drove home in our discussion about broadcast structure was organizing and consolidating as much information into as few sheets of paper as possible. The more you consolidate in advance, the less time you’ll spend looking for the information during the actual broadcast. Spotting boards might be the poster child for structure and consolidation in sports broadcasting.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “spotting board” is essentially a hyper-detailed version of a team’s roster. A spotting board includes relevant statistical and biographical information for each player in addition to the “names and numbers” found on a traditional roster. By consolidating information for every player on a single sheet, spotting boards assist the broadcaster in delivering high-quality information to the listener in a timely manner. They are especially useful in sports like football, hockey, and basketball where the players on the field/ice/court are often in motion at the same time and moving in different directions. Football spotting boards usually resemble a traditional “formation,” and organize the players by position. This helps the broadcaster visualize the location of a player on the field, and really comes in handy when trying to identify who executed a key block or tackle. Hockey spotting boards are generally organized by line or defensive pairing, and as a result, are commonly referred to as “line charts.” Below is an example of a football spotting board.
Interestingly, there are very few spotting boards designed for baseball. I’m not sure if this has to do with the natural pace of the game versus other sports (baseball lends more time in between plays to consult non-spotting board resources), the fact that the players generally stay in the same area versus other sports, or the mere presence of a scorebook (baseball is the only sport where the broadcaster can sequentially document every play while still calling the game, so a scorebook serves as something of a “real time” spotting board). I’ve seen plenty of baseball broadcasters utilize portions of the game notes pertaining to the starting pitchers, the hitters, or the bullpens. They serve the same purpose, but aren’t necessarily true spotting boards, because they span multiple pages.
The “six-four-three” double play (recorded as “6-4-3” in a scorebook) is one of baseball’s most recognizable events. The shortstop fields a groundball who flips it to the second baseman, forcing out the runner on first. The second baseman then throws to the first baseman, retiring the batter and completing the double play.
Whether it helps a pitcher escape a late-inning jam, the second baseman valiantly heaves the ball to first despite being taken out by the runner, or the first baseman saves the entire sequence with a nifty scoop, a well-executed double play can deliver some of the best drama and excitement baseball has to offer.
The “6-4-3” might be the most common version of a double play, but there are quite a few variations of the “twin killing.” Among them are the 4-6-3, 3-6-3, 3-6-1, home-to-first, and even line drives or flyballs that result in double plays. And of course, there are double plays such as this.
Due to the wide range of double play combinations, it’s very common for baseball broadcasters to verbally incorporate the defensive numerals into their calls (either in the “live” portion of calling the play, or as a means of informing the listener of the official scoring after the play is over).
Because this mechanism is frequently used by broadcasters, I want to bring up a specific type of double play that is often erroneously cited on the air.