Herb Score - A Career Too Short
September 22, 2009
by William Szczepanek
The Cleveland Indians won the pennant in 1954 with a pitching
staff consisting of three Hall of Famers and 4th and 5th
starters with a combined 34 and 15 record. They were
How does a promising rookie expect to break into a rotation like that? Now, Herb Score wasn't a total unknown before the 1955 season. He had toiled at Indianapolis in the American Association and compiled 22 wins and struck out 330 batters for almost 12 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. He was expected to be the next Bob Feller, while Bob Feller was still pitching for these same Indians. Many thought that the publicity would be too much for Score and the Indians did have the best starting rotation in the majors in 1954, even though they all were getting on in years.
In 1955 the 21 year-old rookie needed to prove himself big time. Prone to injury, Score's legs had been run over by a truck as a youngster. Prior to his big league debut he also fell down a flight of stairs and broke his ankle and had suffered an appendicitis attack. In 1952 he broke his collar bone pitching at Reading, PA. He made the team in 1955 coming off of spring training with a sprained ankle. Score pitched respectably in a few starts, finishing April with a 1-1 record.
On May 1, 1995 Municipal Stadium buzzed with 26,595 fans who came to see veteran Bob Feller pitch the opening game of a doubleheader and get a glimpse of this new rookie phenom, who was scheduled to pitch the second game.
In the first game Bob Feller delighted the crowd by pitching a 1-hitter defeating Boston 2-0. Feller, now a crafty pitcher, was in the twilight of his career, no longer the most powerful pitcher in baseball, but he knew how to win.
Score took the mound in the second game and the crowd looked forward to seeing the smoke that this guy could deliver. The wildness of his younger days was gone and his newfound control over his curve made him a force to contend with.
In the first inning Score struck out the side, putting down Goodman, Olson and Throneberry. The Indians rewarded him with 2 runs in the bottom of the first. In the second Sam Mele led off with a double to left field. Score's curve was wild and he walked Sammy White. He then struck out Zauchin. Ted Lepcio drove in a run with a double to left scoring Mele. Score then fanned Friend and Brewer, ending the inning by again striking out the side. In the third after a single by Goodman, Herb again struck out the side. That made it three innings and 9 strikeouts.
The fans now wanted Score to strike out everyone, but he could only manage 1 strikeout in the fourth. He managed 2 more in the fifth. So, after 5 innings Score had twelve strikeouts and people were beginning to wonder about the record. The record was 18 and was set in 1938 by the pitcher who was now resting after his win in the first game, Rapid Robert Feller.
Score managed 4 more strikeouts and won the game 2-1 on 4 hits. It established him as a major league pitcher. Houtteman moved to relief and Bob Feller was in the twilight of his career putting Score in the starting four for 1955. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award with a record of 16-10. In 1956 he would be the best pitcher in baseball with a record of 20-9. He would lead the league in strikeouts with 245 and 263, in 1955 and 1956, respectively.
Score would enter the 1957 season as the premier pitcher in baseball. On May 7, 1957, a few weeks after the picture for this 1957 baseball card was taken, Score would be hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Yankee, Gil McDougald. He suffered numerous fractures to his face and eye socket, and there was much concern that he would lose his vision in one eye. McDougald insisted he would retire if Score didn't recover well enough see. Herb Score would never have allowed that. Score never used that freak accident as an excuse. Score did recover well enough to pitch again, but tore a tendon in 1958 and never regained the effectiveness he had in 1955 and 1956.
Mickey Mantle would say that Score was the toughest pitcher he ever faced. Score was included in the book, The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time, by Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig. That he was included such a prestigious listing, I believe is fully justifiable. There are times when a player is simply the best, not for just a few good games in the World Series, but a timeframe that establishes him as the very best of all who can be compared to him at the time. This was Herb Score in the mid-fifties.
Score was an announcer for the Indians from 1964 to 1997 and was inducted into the Broadcaster's Hall of Fame.
Postscript: The Yankees overtook the Indians in September and won by 3 games. in 1956 the Yanks won by 9 games, but if Sal Maglie had pitched for Cleveland like he did for the Dodgers in 1956 after being traded from Cleveland to the Dodgers, the World Series might have had a totally different look.
You can check out Score's stats at Baseball-Reference.com.