Courtesy of Dom Amore on X

Dooley Womack. Boots Poffenberger. Jim Ray Hart. Those names might not mean much to you, but to Dom Amore, they paint a compelling portrait of a bygone era, a rich tapestry of nostalgia and small-town charm. A longtime columnist for the Hartford Courant, Amore may cover the UConn Huskies for a living, but baseball has always been his comfort food, a treasured sanctuary evoking memories from a simpler time.

“When I was 17 and 18, the New Haven Library, which is right around the corner from Yale, had a tremendous collection, stacks and stacks of old magazines. I used to go and get out the old, dusty magazines from the 1910s and copy articles on them,” said Amore, a Hall-of-Fame voter and member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). “I became really interested in that so-called ‘dead-ball’ era.”

Inspired by Wordle, a crossword-style game played by millions of online users, Immaculate Grid quickly became an internet sensation, scratching every baseball fan’s itch with brain-busters challenging them to dig deep, summoning obscure names from the past and present to complete a daily puzzle. The game requires a very niche skillset, knowing not only specific players, but when and what teams they played for. Luckily, as a baseball historian who spent his childhood devouring books like The Glory of Their Times and Leo Durocher’s memoir Nice Guys Finish Last, that plays right into Amore’s wheelhouse.

“There were a handful of baseball books I read over and over again when I was a kid so I practically memorized them,” said Amore, who covered the Yankees as a beat reporter from 1999-2007, later authoring a book with a foreword written by John Sterling. “I probably read Ball Four, a paperback copy, until it fell apart. I love to use Seattle Pilots that Jim Bouton mentioned in there.”

Amore is remarkably good, maybe the best there is, at Immaculate Grid, routinely posting single-digit rarity scores including a two last weekend. I only recognized a handful of the players he used, most of them from the early 20th century. “Cecil Travis. Van Lingle Mungo. Rube Marquard. Gary Nolan. Wes Parker. Christy Mathewson pitched one game for the Reds in 1916,” said Amore, recounting his career-best grid from last Saturday. “A lot of people don’t realize Tris Speaker played for the Senators for a year in 1927.”

Amore insists he doesn’t have an eidetic memory, but it’s hard to believe him when he rattles off names of 1920s knuckleballers like Dutch Leonard, or casually recites the exact date (July 8, 2000) Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza with a fastball straight to the dome. He probably would have remembered the pitch speed (98 mph) if I had asked.

“For some reason, my memory of the last 20 years is not as good as things that I read or saw on a baseball card or remembered when I was a kid,” said Amore, a six-time recipient of Connecticut’s Sportswriter of the Year Award. “I could probably give you the scores of the first ten Super Bowls but not any of the ones that I actually covered.”

If you could see the inside of Amore’s head, there’d be dozens of open tabs, his internal hard drive stuffed to capacity with baseball facts spanning the better part of a century. He could tell you an anecdote about Willard Herschberger, whose number was retired until the Reds forgot about it, mistakenly re-issuing his No. 5 to eventual Hall-of-Famer Johnny Bench. If you have five minutes to spare, he’ll even give you the skinny on former Astros hurler J.R. Richard, a 6’8” right-hander who famously logged 15 strikeouts in his major-league debut.

“A lot of Hall-of-Famers moved around late in their careers,” said Amore, identifying what he considers a cheat code, helping him bank low scores on a consistent basis. “Jimmie Foxx played for the Phillies and the Cubs. Tony Lazzeri played for the Dodgers and Giants at the end of his career. Steve Carlton left the Phillies, right away went from the Giants to the White Sox to Cleveland. Or Warren Spahn, who pitched for a bunch of different teams after he left the Braves.”

To some, it’s a neat parlor trick. But to others, the kind of stat-obsessed diehards that spend their free time combing Baseball Reference for obscure nuggets, Amore’s encyclopedic mind is something to be protected at all costs, as if he’s harnessing a superpower of sorts.

“I cover UConn basketball now and one of their assistant coaches, Tom Moore, always sees what I post and he got on me when I posted a four,” said Amore, who, on the day that I interviewed him, was frustrated at only scoring a 33. “He was convinced that I was cheating.”

As a local reporter covering events throughout Connecticut, Amore isn’t confined to a normal 9-5 workday. In part because of his unconventional schedule, Immaculate Grid has become Amore’s home away from home, the perfect downtime activity to fit in while waiting for an interview or press conference to start.

“In sports writing, there’s a lot of hurry up and wait,” says Amore, who, on a typical day, will take 10-15 minutes to complete a grid. “[Tuesday] I was waiting for UConn women’s basketball [media] availability to start and I’m just sitting there, so I went ahead and did it.”

Amore is undoubtedly a baseball savant, but he’s also unflinchingly modest. In fact, he doesn’t even identify himself as the best Immaculate Grid player on his own Twitter feed. Instead, that honor belongs to Tyler Kepner, who served as the New York Times’ national baseball columnist until the paper folded its sports department into The Athletic earlier this year. “Tyler Kepner is a guy I have an enormous amount of respect for,” said Amore. “A couple of weeks ago, I think he posted a six and I got a five and it was the only time I think I’ve beaten him.”

Every so often, Amore will hit a brick wall, giving in and looking up an answer on Baseball Reference (don’t worry—he won’t post a score unless it’s 100 percent legitimate). He readily admits to his blind spots, earmarking Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards as two of his weaker categories. But if Amore isn’t the king of Immaculate Grid, he’s damn close, a modern marvel with a vast, bordering on infinite, well of baseball knowledge. Not that holding the heavyweight crown is any extra motivation. For Amore, it’s merely a refreshing trip down memory lane, a fun detour into what George Carlin once called the “pastoral game.”

“Immaculate Grid kind of rekindled for me that love and interest I had in dead-ball era baseball or 60s and 70s baseball,” said Amore. “It woke up that part of my brain in the last couple months.”

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.