Yet it was actually Ryan’s singular year on the Red Sox beat that launched a personal tradition that’s become his 15th book, the newly released “In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair.”
“I was put on the Red Sox beat in 1977. I was very excited about it,” Ryan said. “I had covered basketball for seven years and loved it, but my heart was always first in baseball and there was a great opportunity. And so I was very excited and I started keeping score religiously. ”
Baseball scorekeeping in a notebook is a practice that dates to the 19th century. Over the decades, it became a popular way for analysts or more serious fans to keep track of the game. For Ryan, it became an almost unbroken habit.
“I can truthfully say that maybe with one or two exceptions – one I know was a Cape Cod League game, which I regretted not scoring – that I have kept score at every baseball game I have attended at every level since the beginning of the ‘ 77 season, ”he said.
Ryan’s new book draws from more than 1,500 games spanning 44 years compiled in personal scorebooks. Written with fellow writer and baseball researcher Bill Chuck, it jumps through decades of the game’s history, seen through the prism of Ryan’s scorebook from that day.
As might be expected, most of the box scores are Red Sox-related. But the original scorebooks also include many other major league games, Olympic softball and baseball, and one college baseball game in 1984 that Ryan attended casually while taking a break from covering the NBA Western Conferences finals (it was played between North Carolina and Arizona State, and included a then-promising Sun Devils outfielder named Barry Bonds).
The process of writing, normally an intense and demanding experience for even a veteran of Ryan’s experience, was easier this time.
“This was pure fun,” Ryan said. “It was easy to write. The only hard part was deciding who makes the cut. ”
Only a select few of the box scores made it into the book, but each comes with fascinating personal anecdotes.
Ryan has had multiple players sign his scorebooks over the years, including Reggie Jackson (“Reggie and I had a good relationship for some odd reason”) and former White Sox pitcher Joe Cowley, who Ryan saw throw a no-hitter against the Angels in September 1986
“He threw the ugliest no-hitter you’ll ever see,” Ryan said, noting Cowley walked seven and threw the same number of strikes as balls, even allowing an unearned run on a sacrifice fly hit by Jackson. Still, Ryan had Cowley sign the scorebook. The surprising twist: Cowley, then 28, did not win again in 1986, and went 0-4 in 1987 before being released by the Phillies and never pitching again.
“So as it turns out,” Ryan said, “that was the last game he ever won in the major leagues.”
Ryan acknowledged that the book is perhaps “not for the casual fan.”
“This is a niche book if there ever was one, I’ll be honest about that,” he said. But with each section, readers with an eye for detail will find the pages of baseball history brought to life through the eyes and notations of Ryan’s scorekeeping.
“It keeps you in the game,” Ryan said. And, as he noted in the book’s introduction, “because it’s fun. That’s why. ”