Baseball fans, forever, have loved the flamethrower. There's just something about a guy that can throw so hard that he looks unhittable. When baseball started, there were no flame throwers. It was a 'Gentleman's Game'. Batters could even request a spot where they would like to hit the ball. As the game became more competitive, the 'Gentleman' concept was phased out.
'Try to hit this!' became the new mantra. Walter Johnson became acclaimed as the 'fastest pitcher alive' and boys could only hope they could throw as fast as the Big Train.
Since that time, many, many flamethrowers have come and gone in baseball.
Many of these flamethrowers burnt out by not controlling their pitches. Some developed sore arms.
Some would have short, but wonderful careers like Sandy Koufax, who battled control first, then injuries that curtailed his career. Some, like Nolan Ryan or even Justin Verlander today, could seemingly throw forever.
This story is about one of those flamethrowers. A guy who would have a short career of his own. His career was not shortened by an arm injury though.
If measuring Herb Score's luck with that of a man-made object, it would be the Titanic.
As a kid, Score was run over by a truck. Then battled Rheumatic Fever.
Neither of these incidents affected his arm though.
That golden arm.
When Herb Score started throwing baseballs, even on a practice field in high school, folks would stop and watch.
His arm was seemingly full grown, attached to the body of a high school kid.
Baseball games were almost unfair. As a senior in high school in 1952, he threw six no-hitters and led his team to the State Championship. Before that summer started, he signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians.
After being named Minor League Player of the Year, he was promoted to the Big Leagues. While in the minors, fans and writers hailed him as the 'left handed Bob Feller'. Now, he would be in the same rotation as Feller.
Score did the impossible, and overshadowed his acclaimed teammate. He set a rookie pitching record for strike outs with 245 whiffs. This record would stand till another young flamethrower, Dwight Gooden, topped it almost 30 years later.
Score won Rookie of the Year, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was truly the talk of baseball. Score would be ahead of his time for fantasy enthusiasts. He was the first pitcher in baseball to average over a strike out an inning. This coming at a time when many batters in baseball were considered 'contact hitters'.
No sophomore jinx for Score either. He followed up his rookie season by winning 20 games, with even more strike outs and a lesser ERA.
He again, struck out more than a batter an inning, and again for fantasy enthusiasts, he had a WHIP of 1.16
Score was again an All-Star and even got some MVP Award votes.
It was in 1957, his third season in the Majors, that Herb Score's childhood luck would bite him as an adult.
He was making his fifth start of the year. His first against the Yankees.
The Yankees had dominated baseball and Score had dominated the Yankees. Score was 3-1 vs. the Yankees. Two of those wins were shutouts.
Yogi Berra was so impressed by Herb Score, that he would later list him as one of the all-time greatest pitchers.
The Red Sox, hungry to beat the Yankees with Ted Williams rostered were so enamored by Score that they offered the Indians a million dollars and a couple of players of their choice for Score. The Indians turned them down.
The game against the Yankees had just started. Score retired leadoff man Hank Bauer on a ground ball and was facing Gil McDougald. McDougald had already hailed Score as the fastest pitcher he had ever seen. Like Score, McDougald too had been a 'Rookie of the Year', beating out Minnie Minoso in a close vote.
McDougald's career, 10 years, were solely with the Yankees. During this time, the Yankees won eight pennants and five World Series.
Against Score, McDougald would change his way of hitting. He 'flicked' his bat instead of taking a full swing. This enabled him to get to the ball faster in order to catch up to Score's fastball. It was what he did with the next pitch.
McDougald hit a line shot that blasted McDougald in the face. The sound was heard all over the ball park. Worse, was the sight of gushing blood from both Score's nose and eye. The ball ricocheted to third baseman Al Smith who threw McDougald out. McDougald though, didn't run towards first base. He ran to the mound. Trainers from both dugouts ran to assist Score.
The only sounds heard in the ball park were some whales from females and kids horrified.
After a few seconds, the Cleveland Municipal Public Address Announcer pleaded, "If there's a doctor in the house, please report to the playing field!"
Minutes later, six doctors were on the field assisting.
There were fears that Score would lose his eye. McDougald, devastated, told reporters after the game, "If Herb Score loses sight in that eye, I'm quitting the game". McDougald meant it when he said it. He knew Score to be a great guy and McDougald was just miserable.
Teammates and family tried to buck him up, but it wasn't till the next day when he got a call from Herb Score's Mother that things changed. She told him that he had no control over the situation and told him not to even think about quitting the game he so loved.
McDougald had Score's Mother set up calls from Score's doctor to get updated on his condition in each town of the coming road trip.
Score would miss the year. His sight recovered and even went back to 20/20, but Score was never the same. He changed his motion and that change lowered the velocity on his fast ball. Score would never even win 10 games in a season again.
Ironically, McDougald was hit by a line drive during Yankee batting practice and would eventually lose his hearing because of it. He would regain his hearing many years later with implants.
Score would turn to an announcing career. He broadcasts games for the Indians for over 30 years. Folks still talk about his style and remember him when speaking of the 'good ol' days of Indians baseball.
So good was he, he would be inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
And as Score's luck would have it, the day after his induction, he was in an automobile accident that nearly claimed his life.
That game was not televised and there's no video tape that exists from that day. But,for many years afterwards, any line drive up the middle would have fans thinking about what happened to Herb Score.
On my tombstone-
Wait! I never had the perfect draft!