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Keeping score

Bob Rosenberg will score his 2,000th baseball game Tuesday night. Ron Vesely/Chicago White Sox

Bob Rosenberg collects things: Game programs, lineups, newspaper box scores, concert ticket stubs, new and interesting ways to weave the coarsest words in the American vernacular into everyday conversation, friends.

A Chicago institution like graft and wind chill, Rosenberg has had a front-row seat for just about every major sporting event in the city for the past 40-plus years. He's a living sports Hall of Fame ensconced in a Bulls giveaway jacket. He has all six Bulls championship rings, two All-Star rings, a White Sox World Series watch, a lifetime of memories and a basement full of junk.

Rosenberg, known to baseball writers and broadcasters across Chicago simply as "Rosie," is the official scorer for the Bulls, Cubs and White Sox. He has manned the scorebook on the sidelines for the Bulls since their inception in 1966. He even goes back to the old Chicago Packers in 1961, when he was hired while in college by public relations man Jack Burnett for his first job in sports.

Still chugging along at 68, he sits around the press box and the cafeteria trading stories and insults with everyone from broadcaster Steve Stone to the elevator operators.

Rosie started doing baseball stats work for The Associated Press and Elias Sports Bureau almost 30 years ago, but it wasn't until beat writers stopped serving as the official scorebook keepers in 1987 when he started serving as an official statistician of Chicago baseball.

"May 5, 1987," he remembers his first game, Yankees versus White Sox. He calls it a 4-0 loss to the Yankees, but I checked, and it really was a 2-0 Sox win. Gary Redus and Ron Hassey drove in runs for the Sox. Bill Long got the complete-game win, Joe Niekro the loss.

Give him some leeway for missing that one. It was 1,999 games ago. Tuesday marks an odd milestone for Chicago baseball's official codger, his 2,000th baseball game scored.

Understandably, Major League Baseball doesn't keep records for scorekeepers. Phyllis Merhige, MLB's senior vice president for club relations, said a couple of scorekeepers might be close to Rosie's number, but he's probably the industry leader. It's doubtful any other scorekeeper keeps track as Rosie does, scribbling the game number and total record of games watched at the top of each page.

A lifelong White Sox fan, Rosenberg kept score at his first game when he was 10.

"It was July 14, 1951, the Red Sox and White Sox at Comiskey," he said.

Did you keep score?

"At every ballgame or sporting event I've ever went to, I've always kept score," he said. It was something most kids did early on to learn the game, but now Rosenberg can't stop. He's addicted. Even after he spends three hours scoring a game, he goes home and rewrites it in one of his private books.

Since that first game, he has kept track of every Sox game he has attended, as a fan or for work. Counting Monday's 6-2 win, the Sox are 1,716-1,433-4 in his presence. The North Siders are 405-383-1.

Rosenberg has scored games for nearly every professional team in Chicago. If you would give him a nice chair, a hot dog and $50, he would score a fight with your wife or a game of "R.B.I. Baseball."

Rosenberg has been the (occasionally) R-rated Forrest Gump of Chicago sports for almost 50 years. He has been there for the Sting's soccer dynasty, the Bulls' dynasty, the 2005 World Series, the 2003 Cubs' collapse. He has scored games for short-lived teams such as the World Hockey Association Cougars, the World Football League's Fire and Winds teams, even the recently deceased Shamrox lacrosse team. He's trying to make inroads with the fledgling Lingerie Football franchise, the Bliss, if not just for his (possibly fictional) personal life.

"I've seen the Hawks win the Stanley Cup in 1961, the Bears win in 1963 and 1985, the White Sox in 2005, the Bulls all those years, the Sting from 1981 to '84," he said. "The only one I hope I don't see win is the Cubs. Not many people can say they've seen all those seasons."

He's joking about the Cubs. Well, kind of.

Rosenberg stopped doing Bears games a few years back when the team refurbished the stadium and shuttled the media to the far corner of the end zone.

He did Blackhawks games for a number of years. He was a longtime season-ticket holder at Chicago Stadium, sitting in $2.50 mezzanine seats, and he got to see the last Stanley Cup champion team. But he cut ties with the franchise in the mid-'90s thanks to a disagreement that was both indicative of the slapdash days of the Bill Wirtz regime and Rosenberg's famously obstinate spirit.

According to Rosenberg, the team borrowed several of his photographs of the old stadium for a book it was putting out, and he told the Hawks that if it lost one, it would cost $1,000. Well, the team lost four of them, and it kept putting him off about paying him back. Finally, a longtime Blackhawks front-office employee, since fired under the current regime, called him up and said he could pick up his check. When he got there, he was given his check and a pink slip for "internal problems."

"Then they sent me a 1099," he said. "My accountant took care of that."

Before the season, Rosenberg told his friends in the White Sox's media relations department that he probably would score his 2,000th game at Wrigley Field on May 31. Two rainouts pushed it back to Tuesday. On June 11, thanks in part to his friend, White Sox public relations director Lou Hernandez, Rosie will throw out a first pitch at The Cell, and Sox manager Ozzie Guillen will catch it. If there is any poetic justice in this world, it will dart to the right or left, away from Guillen's reach. The wild pitch is Rosenberg's legacy.

Rosenberg announces every borderline call and error on a microphone. At Wrigley, he sits in the cramped press box behind the Cubs' staff, his nasally, high-pitched voice reverberating off the windows and walls.

He used to sit in the middle of the first row at the old press box at U.S. Cellular Field, where he took all sorts of grief in the freewheeling, collegial environment, his main foils being Sox media relation gurus Bob Beghtol and Pat O'Connell, and beat writer Joe Cowley.

Ever since the Sox moved the press box up two floors and down the right-field line, Rosenberg has been cloistered between the TV and radio booths on the third level. It's like Dick Cheney's old "undisclosed location," except with more swearing and a pregame hamburger. His voice still comes through on a microphone in the press box: "Game-time temperature is 59 degrees, winds out of the southwest at 9 mph. … That's a double, two-base hit -- E-4, error-4."

In 1990, he scored Andy Hawkins' odd no-hitter for the Yankees, in which the White Sox won 4-0 thanks to three errors in the eighth inning. The one call he really regrets was ruling that a run that scored off a Paul Konerko hit in 2001 was due to an error. It wasn't the last game of the season, but Konerko finished with 99 RBIs.

Rosie is most famous for his wild-pitch call. He elongates the word "wild" with shrill precision, like "why-alld pitch." The call known throughout baseball, and no matter how many times you hear it, you always smile. Every so often, you catch yourself doing a copycat call.

Rosenberg first lived on West Division Street until his father moved the family to Skokie, Ill., where he grew up and went to Evanston High School. Rosenberg played baseball, basketball and hockey and attended a Sox tryout in 1958. The team asked him to go to Sarasota, Fla., to their camp, but he demurred. Come find me when I'm done with high school, he said. But the Sox moved on. He went to the University of Illinois and earned a physical education degree, and he continued to trek home for games.

Rosenberg went to Illinois at the same time as football legends Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski, but they never crossed paths in Chicago.

"I never met them," he said, "even working for the Bears. I'm not going to go from the press box to the locker room in the snow and cold. Who cares? I'm not a jock sniffer."

He doesn't linger in the locker rooms much anymore. He was friends with Frank Thomas and happily recounted the time he went with Big Hurt and Chicago's Nike representative, Dana Noel, to a Janet Jackson concert.

When he was going into open-heart surgery in the summer of 2004, he called Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo for advice.

"I was a little scared," he said. "So I called Santo and he said, 'Rosie, don't worry.' '[Forget you],' I said, 'you have an operation every other day.' He told me to check to see how many surgeries the doctor had done. I said 249, and he told me not to worry."

When his wife, Linda, died after a bout with cancer in 1993, former Bulls Michael Jordan and B.J. Armstrong offered their support.

Rosenberg doesn't get rich from baseball. As an official scorer (he's one of four rotating ones between the Cubs and Sox), he makes only $135 per game. When he started, he earned $55. He officially works for Major League Baseball, which is why he didn't get a World Series ring when the White Sox won in 2005. The Sox were nice enough to give him a diamond-encrusted championship watch, but he doesn't wear it to the park, so as not to create a conflict of interest.

He said he earns considerably more when working for the Bulls, for whom he's only missed two games in 43 years to go to the Cubs-Mets season opener in Japan in 2000.

"I do a lot more there," he said. "I do the game notes."

"Wait," I said, interrupting. "You do the game notes?"

"Well, I pass them out in the locker room," he said.

Rosenberg takes his job seriously, despite the jokes. During Monday's game, he ruled a Jack Cust grounder past Alexei Ramirez as a hit and immediately got calls from the press box. He called around to get more opinions and ran to the video booth between innings to judge it again. Still a hit, he decided.

When I asked who his favorite athlete has been during his professional career, he pauses only briefly.

"It would have to be Michael," he said.

He has loved watching Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier play, Derrick Rose, too. He sadly went to Van Lier's and Johnny "Red" Kerr's funerals this past winter after they passed away on the same day.

"I remember when Johnny went to coach Phoenix, and we were playing a game in southern Illinois, and he said he was going to report me to the league if I don't give Gail Goodrich assists like I have with Clem Haskins," Rosenberg said.

In recent years, he tried to get Van Lier speaking engagements in places such as Batavia and Geneva, near Rosenberg's Aurora home.

There are jokes that he used to pad assists and rebounds stats for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Rosenberg said he was forever explaining to guys how the NBA records steals. (It's the guy who causes the steal, not the one who comes up with it.) His job did make him popular at times.

"The All-Star Game in 1988," he said. "Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Michael and a couple of other guys were there. I was getting this program autographed, the only time I get autographs are during All-Star Games, and I ask Barkley to sign the program. He said, 'I don't sign it for bald men.' So Michael goes up to him and says, 'My man, do you know who this guy is? This is the guy who does rebounds and assists. So Charles says, 'Oh, my man, I'll sign it for you.' Every time I'd see him after that, it was 'Oh, my man, how are you?' Charles is funny."

Aside from his sports gigs, Rosenberg has had only two adult jobs, working as the head of inventory control for a photo and copy company, from 1973 to 1981, and he worked for his brother Shelly's deli in Northbrook for three years in the early 1980s. He spent the majority of his life going to games. (After a 20-year marriage to Linda, he married a much-younger woman in 2001, but it didn't last long.

Not only does Rosenberg keep score, he also holds on to programs and ticket stubs. He doesn't read the sports section anymore, but he gets the paper to cut out the game recaps and box scores. When I asked whether he thinks his position will be obsolete soon, he scoffed. Some guys log each pitch and each play electronically, but they can't fill the scorekeeper's job.

"They're always looking up to see what happens," he said. "And they get things wrong, like putouts and assists, and have to ask me."

I brought him a present to celebrate his feat: a stapled, seven-page statistics package from an April 11 arena football game between the Chicago Slaughter and the Marion Mayhem.

Rosie was over the moon. He had been asking me for it for a month because he needed Marion's lineup. It will go in a box in his basement, along with a treasure trove of memorabilia, both valuable and worthless. He goes through the detritus regularly, but he will probably sell most of it soon.

He has sold a slew of goodies in the past, old scorebooks, ticket stubs, autographed memorabilia. The Bulls' title rings probably could fetch him a half-million dollars, he said. Those alone could send him to retirement. But for now, he's happy where he is, taking angry phone calls from Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, rushing to video booths to review errors, shooting the breeze with his friends.

He has scored 1,864 Bulls games and has a few more years to go.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com