The Julio Franco liner that broke the jaw of Detroit’s Willie Blair on Sunday brought back memories of one of the most devastating games in Indians history.
It occurred in the Stadium 40 years ago tomorrow, when Herb Score was hit in the right eye by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald of the New York Yankees.
It is often said that the Rocky Colavito trade began the Indians’ long descent into baseball futility, which lasted until the early 1990s. But the injury to Score might have been an even more seminal event.
Score was 23 and the most overpowering left-handed pitcher in baseball. In 1955, when he was the rookie of the year, he won 16 games. The next season he won 20. In both years, he led the American League in strikeouts.
He looked like a pitcher who would win 20 a year for the next 10 summers.
The 1959 Indians, who finished five games behind pennant-winning Chicago, probably would have won that flag with Score at full efficiency.
“He was as good as you can get,” said former Indians pitcher Bob Lemon, 76, a Hall of Famer. “If he hadn’t been hurt there’s no telling what he would have done.”
McDougald, 68, said: “He was faster than Sandy Koufax, no question about it. And his curve just dropped out of the clouds. Right from the start, everybody looked at him and said: ‘Hall of Fame.’” Two weeks before the injury, Hall of Famer Tris Speaker said: “If nothing happens to him, this kid has got to be the greatest.”
Although he had some glistening moments after the accident, Score never recaptured his old form. Now, he is better known as the Indians’ radio play-by-play man for the last 30 seasons. Most young players and fans have no idea of his old talent. “Every once in a while some player on another team will come over and ask me for an autograph,” said Score, who doesn’t take himself seriously. “Probably his father told him to do it.” Score, 63, said he will not be thinking back to the anniversary of the event.
“I’m getting so old I forgot I played,” he said. “I’ll be married 40 years in July. That’s the only anniversary I think about.”
McDougald, on the other hand, was driven out of baseball by the incident. “It was cemented in my mind,” he said. “It made me realize the game was not that important. Herb was one of the good guys. I told my wife that as soon as I could establish myself in business I’d walk away, and I did.” He retired in 1960 at age 32.
Score missed the rest of that 1957 season, but looked as though he was going to be all right early in 1958. “I struck out 13 or 14 in my second start,” he said. “But then we got rained out and I didn’t work for 10 days.”
Score pitched again on a cold, rainy day and felt a pain in his arm in the sixth inning. He kept pitching and finished the game, but soon after that he went on the disabled list for most of the year. Score has insisted that it was the arm injury, not the blow to the eye, that finished him. “I lost something on the ball,” he said.
He had his moments, however. In 1959 he won nine games by the All-Star break. “I was pretty good but fortunate,” recalled Score, who did not pitch with his former dominance. He did not win another game the rest of the year, finishing 9-11. In 1961, after he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, Score beat the Indians with a two-hitter, striking out 13. “I can’t explain that one,” he said. It was his last major-league victory.
McDougald, speaking from his home in Spring Lake, N.J., remembered the first time he saw Score pitch after the accident. “He was recoiling, short-arming the ball,” said the old infielder. “It looked like he was getting ready to get the glove up and get into fielding position. When you come back too quick you’re like shell-shocked. It’s natural. After what he went through, you’re like a boxer, defending yourself. No question he wasn’t following through the way he had been.”
Lemon recalled: “Herb got off to a good start the next year, but then a ball was hit back through the box and it brought back memories. He became mechanical, like doing it by numbers. He wasn’t the same Herb. He wasn’t bringing it like he used to, not holding anything back. He didn’t just throw the ball and let the hitter beware. Now, it was like he was thinking: ‘Let the pitcher beware first and then throw the ball.’”
Score dismisses such speculation. He pointed out that he had been hit by liners several times before the critical injury, on the chest, arm and leg. In high school he was hit on the head. “I did not have a Spalding Guide delivery,” he said of his all-out style. “I often thought I might get hit on the back by a liner because I followed through so hard I was looking at the center-field scoreboard when I finished.”
Score was going for his third straight shutout of the world champion Yankees, dating to the previous season, when he faced them in the fateful 1957 game. He retired leadoff man Hank Bauer. McDougald, the second batter, hit him with the liner on a 2-2 pitch. “He threw it low and away,” said McDougald. “And I just flicked it. The next thing I remember is watching Herb go down. All I recall is seeing blood. I don’t recall running to first. I was very upset.” The ball caromed to third baseman Al Smith, who threw out McDougald. “I never saw the ball,” said Score.
Indians manager Kerby Farrell and Yankees manager Casey Stengel rushed to the mound, along with several players. Score lay prostrate on the mound, with blood pouring out. Indians first baseman Vic Wertz ran toward Score, took one look and stopped 10 feet away, then turned back.
“As soon as I hit the ground I prayed to St. Jude,” Score was quoted as saying. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see.” The Plain Dealer bannered the story across the top of Page One: “SCORE HIT IN EYE BY LINE DRIVE.”
Score was taken off the Stadium mound on a stretcher and driven to Lakeside Hospital, his head wrapped as though he had a war wound. “I’ve been in pain before but this is the worst,” the Cleveland News’ Hal Lebovitz quoted him as saying. “I feel like screaming.” Score was given sedation.
Score suffered a broken nose, cut right eyelid and considerable swelling and hemorrhaging of the right cheekbone and eyebrow. When his mother, Anne, heard about the accident at her home in Lake Worth, Fla., she exclaimed: “Oh, those beautiful blue eyes.”
“I had my eyes covered for two weeks, wondering if I’d ever see again,” recalled Score. “When something like that happens, you find out your priorities.”
Lemon was called in to pitch and was given all the time he needed to warm up. “I went to the mound after they cleaned up the blood,” he said. He held the Yankees to six hits the rest of the way, winning, 2-1.
McDougald was in tears after the game. “The main thing I wanted to know was if he was going to lose his eye,” said McDougald. The next day he and teammates Bauer and Yogi Berra tried to visit Score at the hospital, but no visitors were allowed.
Dr. Charles Thomas, the eye specialist who was treating Score, called McDougald every day to update him on Score’s injury. The young pitcher received thousands of cards and letters from all over the nation.
The previous week, McDougald had hit Detroit pitcher Frank Lary on the hip with a liner. After the Score incident, he almost hit Baltimore hurler Skinny Brown, who went down with his legs and arms flying in all directions.
McDougald would never have hit Score with his original batting stance. When he first came up in 1951, McDougald batted with a wide-open stance. He hit .306 as a rookie, but by 1954 his average had gone down to .259. In 1955, Stengel told him: “If you want to stick around you better change your stance.” So, McDougald closed up the stance and practiced hitting the ball up the middle. “I never would have reached that low, outside pitch with my old stance,” McDougald said.
In a strange coincidence, McDougald also was hurt when teammate Bob Cerv hit him with a ball during batting practice. That led to a progressive hearing loss after his retirement. “I was deaf for 15 years,” said McDougald. He had to sell his thriving building maintenance business because he could not talk to anyone on the phone.
In 1994, McDougald’s hearing was restored when an electronic device was implanted in his head. Now, he makes speeches urging the hearing-impaired to undergo the same operation. “It’s a simple operation,” he said. “It’s much better than a hearing aid.” Score, meanwhile, has lived the pleasant existence of a baseball sportscaster for all these years. He is respected in the community and he and his wife, Nancy, have three grown children and eight grandchildren.
“Maybe it’s better the way things worked out for Herb,” said McDougald. “Sometimes when adversity strikes it’s for the best.” When asked to list his top baseball thrills, Score recalls the doubleheader he pitched against Boston with teammate Bob Feller on May1, 1955, his rookie year. Feller threw a one-hitter to win the opener, 2-0. When Score came out of the Stadium dugout for the second game, a fan yelled at him: “That’s a tough act to follow.” So Score struck out 16, yielding four hits, in a 3-1 victory. Another highlight is his 20th victory in Kansas City in 1956. Lemon and Early Wynn had each won No .20 the previous two days.
Too bad we will never know what might have been.^ top
Excerpted from the book Heroes, Scamps, and Good Guys, copyright © Bob Dolgan. All rights reserved.
This excerpt may not be used in any form for commercial purposes without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.
by Bob Dolgan
A veteran sportswriter profiles the most interesting Cleveland athletes ever.
It takes all kinds to fill out the sports pages. Heroes, like Jim Brown and Rocky Colavito. Scamps, from “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to Albert Belle. Good guys, like Bernie Kosar . . . [ Read More ]
Bob Dolgan wrote thousands of columns, articles, and feature stories about sports for The Plain Dealer over six decades. His writing has also appeared in the Sporting News, Baseball Digest, and Golf D . . . [ Read More ]