May 7, 1957 – Herb Score Injured by Line Drive
By the beginning of 1957, many baseball writers considered Herb Score to be the left-handed second coming of Bob Feller. Identified and signed by Cy Slapnicka, the same scout who signed Feller, Score was a flamethrowing young pitcher with endless potential. Prior to the 1957 season the Red Sox offered the Indians a million dollars for Score–an astronomical amount at the time–but were rebuffed by Indians GM Hank Greenburg.
Building off his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1955 and All Star 20 win season in 1956, Score had started 1957 strong.
In his fifth appearance of the year, Score took the mound against the Yankees for a Tuesday night game in Cleveland. After Yankees right fielder Hank Bauer grounded out to lead off the game, Gil McDougald stepped to the plate.
McDougald drove a low pitch straight up the middle and struck Score directly in the eye. Blood streamed from his eye, mouth and nose. Third baseman Al Smith played the ball off Score and threw to Vic Wertz at first for the out while catcher Jim Hegan rushed to the mound.
Score never lost consciousness, but suffered severe hemorrhaging of his eye. He spent several weeks in the hospital, and his vision did not recover enough to let him pitch for the rest of the season.
Bob Lemon came in to pitch in Score’s stead. Over the remaining 8 ⅓ he allowed only one run on six hits.
In the bottom of the 8th, Gene Woodling singled to center field and advanced to third when Hank Bauer misplayed an Al Smith fly ball to right. Yankees pitcher Tom Sturdivant intentionally walked Vic Wertz to load the bases. After striking out rookie Roger Maris, Score’s best friend and road-trip roommate Rocky Colavito stepped to the plate.
Rocky drew a walk which forced in Wertz. This 2 – 1 score would hold up as Lemon retired the Yankee side in order in the 9th.
After the game, McDougald was distraught. “If Herb loses the sight in his eye, I’m going to quit this game,” he said in the locker room.
McDougald knew the pain of a line-drive injury first hand. Two years prior, he was hit in the head during batting practice. After a few days out with a concussion, he returned to baseball, but would eventually lose his hearing as a result.
Score attempted a return to baseball in 1958, but was only ever marginally successful. He recorded only 17 more wins from 1958 to 1962. Bob Lemon later said, “He became mechanical. He wasn’t bringing it like he used to, not holding anything back.”
Most Indians fans of my generation remember Herb Score only as the humorous sometimes contradictory radio announcer. Herb called Tribe games from 1968 to 1997.
Legendary Cavs announcer Joe Tait once quipped “Herb Score has probably watched more bad baseball than anyone in the history of the game.
Some announcers are known for the vivid picture that they paint with their words or for famous catch phrases. Listening to Herb was more like watching baseball with an older uncle. It was pleasant and comfortable, if not always accurate.
He could go innings–sometimes it seemed like days–without giving an update on the score. In his defense, for most of his tenure the Indians were usually losing. Repeated phrases turned into a kind of shorthand. A pitch in the dirt was mumbled “downtoolow” in a certain cadence that confused my mother. Once she asked me how long Don Cheelow played for the Indians, since she heard his name so much.
The most famous Score-ism captures the almost meditative quality of listening to a Herb Score broadcast:
“It’s a long drive. Is it fair? Is it foul? It is!”