Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
About four years ago, I sat down with Tim O’Driscoll, the recently retired coach of the Arrowhead baseball team, and quizzed him on his work with the Milwaukee Brewers. For 22 seasons, O’Driscoll has been the official scorer for the club, getting a press box view of the game and determining whether plays constitute a hit or error, among other responsibilities.
O’Driscoll cited health reasons for his retirement last week, just three days before practice began for the new summer season. Allow me to take a look back at his answers:
How did you get involved with the official scoring job?
Tom Skibosh was head of media relations 20 years ago, and Tom and I had known each other from UWM. I had played varsity baseball for UWM, and Tom knew me there and also, he was involved at Brookfield Land O’Lakes and I pitched for Monches in the Land O’Lakes for 14 years.
A guy named Pancho Palesse was a big-time basketball referee – he had done Marquette games, Big Ten games – he became the official scorer (with the Brewers) for a couple years and didn’t want to do all the games, so they were looking for a backup scorer. Tom got ahold of me. They wanted someone with a baseball background, and I’m also a basketball official, so I’m a guy that people can yell at and don’t take it personally.
Tell me about the first few days in the job.
The year was 1987 and (Paul) Molitor’s hitting streak was going on. I had done four games when Pancho says to me, ‘I’m done, I don’t want to be the official scorer anymore.’ Here I am during Molitor’s hitting streak, and I was made a diamond out of coal for a short amount of time.
It’s different than Robin Yount getting his 3,000 hit because you know eventually he’s going to get it. But with a hitting streak, if it ends, it ends.
I taught full time and was coaching football and basketball as well, student council advisor and head of the social studies department. I remember one day, I had taught all day, coached and I got here and all of a sudden they put a microphone in my face. I said, ‘What is going on?’ and they said, ‘Did you hear what Paul Molitor said about you today?’ They had said something to him about not having to worry about hitting streaks at home and he had said, ‘Well, you don’t know our home scorer.’
I took that as a compliment. He was saying I’m not a homer and a hit’s a hit and an error’s an error.
So that sets up the end of Molitor’s 39-game streak…
They were playing the Cleveland Indians. Pat Tabler was playing first base for the Indians, and in the seventh inning, Molitor hits a ground ball to the third baseman and he throws the ball to Tabler, and he drops it. I called it an E3, and there was no question about it. A lot of people don’t understand the rules of the game – (they think) if he’s on first base, then it must be a hit. Steve Wexler, in charge of WTMJ radio, he had me on the radio right after the game and he ends it by saying, ‘And that’s Tim O’Driscoll, who ended Paul Molitor’s hitting streak today.’
Well, I didn’t end Paul Molitor’s hitting streak. What happened, if I remember, Paul Molitor is in the on-deck circle, ‘Tiny’ (Mike) Felder’s on second and Rick Manning – who had been traded for Gorman Thomas and people disliked him for that first of all – gets a single (to win the game). People were booing. They wanted Tiny to fall and not score so Molitor got another chance to hit.
I got a lot of phone calls, people leaving messages at home, questioning all kinds of things about me because they didn’t know (the rules of the game). That was one of the biggest events I was involved with in my 20 years.
Any other memorable moments?
Nolan Ryan’s 300th win, I scored that. That was a tremendous event for me. Robin Yount’s 3,000th base hit. Yount wanted it to be clean, too, he didn’t want it to be in question. And then the All-Star game (in 2002) was outstanding.
I love baseball so much and I’m so passionate about it that I actually get a little nervous coming in for every game, because decisions I make do have an impact. I know the Brewers players want me to be somewhat of a homer, and I can’t be, I just can’t. I have integrity and pride in the job I do, and I know they say on the road, they get cheated. I can’t control the road. I just know if a ball is hit, whether a Cincinnati Red hits it or a Cardinal hits it or even a Cub, a hit’s a hit and an error’s an error. It just doesn’t matter to me who hits it. I just can’t be unfair. You set a standard and try to follow it.
I don’t play God up here. I ask other people what they think and I look at things again. I just want to get it right. It’s not always going to be black and white and a lot of people don’t know the rules. You know with some calls, no matter what you do, people are going to be mad. I think it’s becoming easier for other scorers to call base hits, because if the runner doesn’t score, it really doesn’t hurt the pitcher that much (on his ERA statistic) and it helps the batter right away and you don’t have to give an error to somebody.
How has the job changed?
Years ago when I started doing this, the unwritten rule was once a homestead, you went down to the clubhouse, walked around and let the players see you and say, ‘I’m here, if you have a problem, come on over.’ Now they don’t want you to go into the clubhouse unless you’re with someone from the PR department.
Sometimes the players would call you directly (to protest a call, after the game), and now must of the calls come from the pitching coach or hitting coach. I’ve been really lucky. I don’t get that many at all; I get a couple a year. I think part of that is I try really hard to get it right and I think I’m really fair, and I think the players know that.
Summarize the past baseball season for Arrowhead (in 2006, a loss in the state finals)
It’s been the most enjoyable year I think I’ve ever had. Even though we won the state championship in 1979 – we were 27-4 that year and this team broke the record for number of wins in a season – but we also had six mores losses than that team did. I had the greatest group of kids, tremendous attitudes. I had no egos. In high school coaching today, you don’t see that very often. I saw teams that we played that had problems with egos.
We play smallball. We do things right defensively. The kids give up their own egos for the good of the team, and we worked really hard on that. We had a lot of juniors starting this year. In fact, most of the season, my third baseman, second baseman, first baseman, catcher, two of the starting pitchers and the whole outfield were all juniors. So we have a lot of kids coming back.
I know a lot of folks refer to you as “Mr. Arrowhead.”
It’s humbling and it makes me feel really good. Up at the state tournament, a lot of kids had banners with my name on it, and it made me feel really good. The Arrowhead community has been unbelievable to me; they’ve supported me in everything I’ve done. I’ve had over 10,000 students now and I’ve had baseball players now whose dads have played for me. When I get grandsons, maybe it’s time to quit.
How much longer do you plan on scoring?
I’ll do the scoring until I can’t see the field anymore. I’m employed by Major League Baseball, not by the Brewers, and I score at the pleasure of MLB. They pay me, and I hope I keep doing this for a long time.
What’s the allure of baseball to you?
There are so many minute little things that happen in the game that I think the average fan just ignores. In basketball, you can steal. In football, you can take a knee. In hockey, you can go into the corner with a puck. In this game, there’s no hiding. You have to get 21 (high school) or 27 outs. I’ve seen so much change with one pitch. One little event can happen that turns momentum around and changes the game; that’s why I love it so much.
I’m a little guy and I was able to play through college. I don’t think I could play college basketball or football (because of my size). I could play baseball. I think some of the most gifted athletes are here, to hit a ball being thrown at you with a little piece of wood in your hand. You ask a guy to run, field … there are so many parts to the game.
I realized I should probably add something to this interview -- after all, it took place two seasons before the Brewers made a thrilling run to the playoffs. How was that experience? I gave O'Driscoll a call to get another answer or two.
When the Brewers finally reached the postseason, I know you have to be professional, so how difficult was keeping your cool in that last game of the 2008 season?
When they finally made the playoffs and that game on Sunday was so dramatic and so exciting ... I was like a little kid again. There wasn’t any way that it’s humanly possible to put your emotions away for a minute. I’ve scored probably 1,700 games, so I’ve been there for a lot of disappointments. The Mets had to lose (for the Brewers to officially clinch the Wild Card); I didn’t even finish until later filling out the form I had to send in. I went downstairs where the players were watching the game, and there was tremendous happiness when the Mets lost and running out on the field.
It was extremely emotional. I am a Brewers fan. If you ask the players, when I make decisions, they don't always think I’m a Brewers fan. It is one of those days that I will always remember and cherish and it’s one of the big rewards of being an official scorer in baseball that you get to be part of that.
One of the big rules in baseball -- it's an unofficial one -- there’s no cheering in the press box. I’d have liked to have screamed and hollered, and I didn’t. I just watched part of it. I wanted to say I’m not part of this as a working person, I want to be a fan.
You've had a couple more interesting moments since 2006.
I had the chance to score a no-hitter, only it wasn't the Brewers. (In 2007), Houston had that hurricane and a game with the Cubs got moved to Miller Park (and Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter). The next day, Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the seventh. There was a hard shot that hit off Aramis Ramirez at third and I called it an E5. I've never gotten a standing ovation from Cubs fans before. There was actually a chance of it happening back-to-back.
A year ago, I almost got the chance to score a second 300th win. Tom Glavine (of the Mets) got beat, and it's the only time I've ever hoped the Brewers would lose a game.