Most of the 9,772 spectators at Huntington Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon Aug. 11 probably didn’t take special notice of the play when Buffalo Bisons right fielder Jonathan Davis rapped a ground-ball missile at Columbus Clippers third baseman Yu Chang in the seventh inning.
Even fewer likely knew Chang was playing away from his regular position of shortstop.
But Ty Debevoise is paid to observe such things – $55 a game by the International League of Minor League Baseball – as one of the Clippers’ four official scorers this season.
His full-time job is director of marketing and communications for Whitehall City Schools, but Debevoise has served as an official scorer for the league since 2011.
He is employed by the league, not the Columbus Clippers, one of 14 Triple-A clubs in the International League. Triple-A is the highest level of Major League Baseball’s minor-league system.
There are 16 clubs in the Pacific Coast League, and the two leagues combine for 30 Triple-A clubs, each one the affiliate of a Major League Baseball club.
Immediately after the sharp grounder to Chang, which required to him to range toward the third baseline, corral the ball after it bounced high off his chest and make a late throw to first base, Debevoise called Huntington Park’s scoreboard operator with his ruling:
“It’s a hit.”
Although, fans might have debated whether Chang should have been charged with an error, Debevoise explained his reasoning.
Chang was out of position; ground balls to third base typically are hit at a higher velocity than those to the shortstop position; he ranged to his right to make the play; and it appeared the ball took an unusual hop just before it caromed off his chest, Debevoise said.
“Some plays are 50/50 (as to whether it’s a hit or an error) ... but my goal is to make a call right away. I can go back and look at the replay later if I think I need to,” he said.
Let’s go to the replay
Replays of such close calls aren’t shown on Huntington Park’s high-definition scoreboard for fans to parse, but Debevoise may look at replays time and again – and sometimes does.
“I’ve been known to change my ruling once in a while,” he said – but not often, and usually only after being asked by a manager.
Debevoise, who scores games from the park’s enclosed press box just to the third-base side of home plate, remains there for 30 minutes after each game to take such calls.
“I’ve received some heated calls,” said Debevoise, adding that in most instances he chalks it up to managers who are frustrated with a team’s off-night, a losing streak or a series of mishaps that piled up. “They just need someone to take it out on sometimes.”
But sometimes a call is changed after a game.
Once, Debevoise changed what had been a stolen base to a fielding error by the second baseman.
In watching the replay, Debevoise determined the runner, while sliding, kicked off the glove of the fielder.
It is still incumbent on the second baseman to complete the play, Debevoise said.
In that instance, the runner did not score, and thus the ruling had no significant bearing on the game. But in other instances, whether a run is earned affects the pitcher’s earned-run average, or ERA – a key statistic for hurlers.
It’s also a factor in infielders’ fielding percentage, a statistic that measures how many assists are made relative to chances.
Back to baseball
Debevoise was offered the opportunity to become a scorer after leaving the full-time employment of the Columbus Clippers as the club’s assistant director of group sales and later marketing from 2001-10.
He made the transition from Cooper Stadium, the former home of the Clippers on Mound Street in Franklinton, to the team’s new home in Columbus’ Arena District.
Debevoise was a part of the Clippers’ final game Sept. 1, 2008, at Cooper Stadium, which opened in 1932 as Red Bird Stadium. (It was rebranded Cooper Stadium in 1984, after Harold Cooper, then president of the International League, whose statute greets visitors at the center-field gate of Huntington Park.)
“What I most remember was the tuxedos all employees wore at that game,” Debevoise said.
After two seasons at the new park, Debevoise moved on, but it wasn’t long before he was back.
“I already knew (Debevoise) knew the game,” said Joe Santry, the Clippers’ director of communications and media relations and the team historian.
“It really just takes someone who knows the game,” he said, adding in most instances, a would-be official scorer is asked to score plays from a video as a basic qualification.
“For me, it was a way to stay connected to all the people I worked with here,” Debevoise said.
A 1997 graduate of Gahanna-Lincoln High School and a 2001 graduate of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, where he was an academic and athletics scholar, Debevoise said scoring also keeps him close to baseball.
Debevoise pitched for the Lions in high school and for Flagler’s baseball club while the school was a member of the NAIA. Today, it is a Division II school.
After graduating from Flagler, Debevoise worked in the front office for the Clippers, departing there for a two-year stint in the marketing department at Mount Carmel Health, and since 2013 has been director of marketing and communications for the Whitehall district.
‘Strictly old school’
Debevoise’s workspace at Huntington Park includes a pencil sharpener – the kind rarely seen at schools these days – and binoculars.
“I score with paper and pencil, strictly old school,” said Debevoise, who at age 41 is the youngest of the Clippers’ four scorers.
Pens are a no-no for obvious reasons – was that a 6-3 putout or a 5-3 putout with a shift on?
“I almost always catch the shift,” Debevoise said, “but still, sometimes infielders will move as the pitch is being made.”
Employed ever increasingly, the shift entails infielders “shifting” to one side of the infield for batters who are prone to pulling batted balls.
A typical shift to the left (from the fielders’ perspective and for a left-handed batter) would entail a third baseman playing in the normal shortstop position, with the shortstop and second baseman both on the left side of second base.
Debevoise uses the binoculars to determine which pitchers are up in the bullpen and relays that information to the scoreboard operator to share with fans.
He also must keep a sharp eye out for pinch hitters and pinch runners.
“The only obligation of a manager is to present a lineup card at the start of the game,” Debevoise said.
No one calls Debevoise to report substitutions.
“But we look out for each other,” said Debevoise, who is joined in the press box with a data-caster for Game Day – a scoreboard for Minor League Baseball – and sometimes other sports media.
“One of us will ask the other if he saw that,” he said.
Debevoise has 2 1/2 minutes between each half-inning to go to the restroom or refill his coffee cup.
Even in his ninth season, Debevoise said, “I’ll still see something I haven’t seen before” and have to go to the rulebook for some guidance.
“Every game is a little different ... (but) I have fun every game,” Debevoise said.