Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reason #97 to Love Cleveland Sports: Herb Score

When Herb Score took the mound against the New York Yankees on May 7th, 1957, he was, at age 24, the best left-handed pitcher in baseball. Two years earlier he had run away with the American League Rookie of the Year Award after posting 16 wins, a 2.85 ERA and 245 strikeouts--a rookie record that would stand for almost thirty years. The 1956 campaign saw Score ascend even higher. Armed with a blazing fastball and curve that was nigh unhittable, the lefty notched 20 wins, saw his ERA fall to 2.53 while his strikeouts rose to league-leading 263. When Hall of Famer Bob Feller retired his right arm in 1955 Herb Score had already taken his place as the game's most dominating power pitcher.

The 1957 season began according to plan. By May 7th, when Yankees infielder Gil McDougald stepped to the plate, Score had another spectacular month of baseball on his resume. Moreover, he was the anchor of a strong pitching staff, and with a young all-star named Rocky Colavito in right field, the future of the ballclub looked secure. Then, McDougald, the second batter of the game, lined a pitch directly into Herb Score's right eye. The young lefty's nose was broken. The bones around the eye were shattered.

Score missed most of the next two seasons, and he would win only 17 more games in a career that ended before he was 30 years old. When Rocky Colavito was inexplicably traded after the 1959 season, the Tribe found themselves without their two cornerstones. The club would not be competitive again for another 35 years. Quite naturally, the protracted era of futility was precipitated by the New York Yankees.

For the first two decades of my life the name Herb Score and Cleveland Indians were inextricably bound. His voice was so familiar over the airwaves that for a long time, I didn't even know he had been a pitcher. Every summer Herb Score on the radio was as dependable as the rising and setting of the sun. Any broadcast of an Indians game featured his understated calling of balls and strikes, his knowledge of the game past and present, and always, always an on-air gaffe. He was never flashy and he eschewed cornball expressions that so often make announcers obnoxious. No gimmicks. Nothing cute. Just baseball. So what if he sometimes mixed up a player's name? Or what city he was in? He was unpolished, unassuming and 100% ours.

More than 10 years later I realize that Herb Score was more like a steady hand whose value you don't realize until it's gone. Who knew that when he first took to the booth in 1963 that he would remain there, calling Indians games, for thirty-five years? Who knew how hard it would be for the Indians to replace him once he was gone? A decade has passed by and still I miss hearing his voice, particularly in the 8 or so seasons he paired perfectly with the more emotive Tom Hamilton, himself a beloved broadcaster who calls Herb Score his mentor.

Score retired in 1997 after game 7 of the World Series, when Jose Mesa ripped out and feasted on the still warm and beating hearts of Indians fans everywhere. He never did see his team win it all, not as a player, not as a broadcaster, but at least he got to call two pennant winners in his final three seasons. And did he deserve it. No one ever watched more bad baseball than Herb Score. And no one more deserved those great Indians teams of the 1990s.

Life after baseball took a calamitous turn 1n 1998 when he pulled out in front of a semi-truck and was nearly killed. He did manage a recovery that allowed him to throw out the first pitch of the 1999 season at Jacob's Field, but health problems would follow him throughout his retirement.

Herb Score died yesterday after a lengthy illness. He was never bitter about what happened to his career, and he was always grateful that he was able to earn a living in the game he loved so much. That, I believe, is what endeared him to fans, and that is why, when Herb Score died, Cleveland lost one of its true icons.

We love you Herb!

Below is a tribute to the great lefty, featuring The Ballad of Herb Score, by Terry Cashman.


1 comment:

Darin said...

I am a proud owner of a Herb Score autographed baseball. he was great. Although at the end of his tenure as a radio announcer, it sometimes seemed that he wasn't actually watching the game being played. It was still the best commentary for the game.