They called Herb Score the “Howitzer.” The lefty mowed down hitters while pitching in the minor leagues in Indianapolis in 1954, leading people to consider him the heir to Bob Feller, who was then closing in on retirement. In Indianapolis, Score went 22–5 and struck out 330 batters.
Score’s rookie year of 1955 was one for the books. He won 16 games and struck out 245 batters, a rookie record that stood until Dwight Gooden broke it in 1984. Score was the first rookie to whiff 200 batters since Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander had done it 44 years earlier. The next year, at 23, Score won 20 games.
No less a feared hitter than Mickey Mantle called Score the toughest pitcher he ever faced. Ted Williams said Herb Score had the best fastball he’d ever seen, while Bob Feller stood in awe of Score’s curveball. Teammate and roommate Rocky Colavito said Herb Score threw more than 100 mph.
Before the 1957 season started, the Red Sox offered to buy Score for $1 million. General manager Hank Greenberg said he wouldn’t sell Score at twice the price. Tris Speaker, the manager of the 1920 Indians, said that if nothing happened to Score, he’d be the best ever.
But something did happen. On May 7, 1957, Score was throwing against the Yankees at Municipal Stadium. He got leadoff batter Hank Bauer to ground out to third base. The second batter Score faced was Gil McDougald, who worked the count to 2-and-2. Score fired a fastball, low and away, and McDougald connected to send it back up the middle—and into Score’s face.
The ball hit Score in the right eye, and at least one writer said he heard bones breaking from the press box. Score was bleeding but conscious, and he was taken to the clubhouse and then to Lakeside Hospital. He had a broken nose, a cut eyelid and his eye was swollen and bleeding. He was done for the season.
Score came back in 1958 and showed flashes of brilliance in spring training. He was the losing pitcher for the Tribe’s opener against the Kansas City Athletics. He picked up his first win of the season in his next start, beating the Tigers in Detroit. He then beat the White Sox, and some people thought he might be all right. He lost two starts to rain, and then pitched against the Senators, with tremendous pain in his throwing elbow. As it turned out, he had ripped a tendon.
Many people believe McDougald’s comebacker ended Score’s baseball career. But Score himself said it was the elbow injury that finished him. Both sides might be right. Some Indians coaches thought that Score’s pitching motion changed after his eye injury, that he was unconsciously recoiling in anticipation of another shot to the head, and that his new mechanics led to his elbow injury.
Score did come back to pitch for the Indians in 1959, and then he was traded to the White Sox in 1960. His last career win came in 1961, when he threw a two-hitter against the Indians, whose fortunes had fallen as badly as Score’s had. He finished his major league playing career with a record of 55–46 and an ERA of 3.36.
Late in the 1963 season, Herb Score became one of the television broadcasters for the Indians. For the following four seasons, he was a TV broadcaster. He then went to the radio broadcast booth, where he stayed for nearly 30 years.
Score became a Cleveland institution. When Nick Mileti bought the Indians, he considered changing the broadcast team before being swamped with letters demanding he keep Herb; his broadcasts were likened to listening to an old friend.
Score had his own entertainment value. He once announced that a batter hit a two-hopper that was picked up by Duane Kuiper on the first bounce. Some other Herb Score-isms include the following:
• On a fly ball down the line: “Is it fair? Is it foul? It is!”
• Signing off: “This is Steve Lamarr, signing off for Herb Score. Good night, Tribe fans!”
• Play-by-play: “The pitcher checks the runner on first…I beg your pardon, there is no runner on first.”
• More play-by-play: “Two runs, three hits, one error, and after three, we’re still scoreless.”
Most of Score’s years in the broadcast booth were full of futility for the Indians. Joe Tait, another Cleveland broadcasting legend who shared time in the booth with Score, said that nobody in history had seen more bad baseball than Herb Score. But Score got to see the Indians rebuild, and then got to call two Tribe trips to the World Series, in 1995 and 1997.
During the 1997 season, Score announced that he would retire at the end of the season, and it looked like the Indians would send him out with a whimper and not a bang. But the Tribe rallied to take the American League Central, in no small part due to the White Sox, who were challenging for the division title, packing it in before the trade deadline.
The Indians dispatched the Yankees in the American League Division Series in five games and faced the Orioles in the American League Championship Series. The O’s had knocked the Tribe out of the playoffs the previous year, and Cleveland fans hated Baltimore on principle for having taken away the Browns.
The Tribe split the first two games at Camden Yards. Back in Cleveland, they won two of three games. The Orioles faced elimination when the series returned to Baltimore. Charlie Nagy faced off for the Tribe against Mike Mussina for the Orioles. Neither starter gave up a run, and the game was scoreless into the top of the 11th, when Tony Fernandez hit a home run to give the Indians a 1–0 lead.
Score’s emotions got the better of him while calling Fernandez’s shot. “And the Indians are going to the World Series!” he said, before composing himself. “Maybe!”
It turned out to be true. The Indians won the game to take the series 4–2 and advance to the World Series. Each of the Indians’ wins in the ALCS was a one-run game, a record.
Score called the Indians in the World Series, which ended in heartbreak for Tribe fans, and called it a career. A year later, he was involved in a serious car accident, but he recovered to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, 1999. Herb Score died in 2008 at his home in Rocky River. But for generations of Indians fans, he remains the voice of summer.
From “Ohio Sports Trivia” by Vince Guerrieri and J. Alexander Poulton.
Photo: Associated Press