How Herb Score changed my life
Math is not my thing, of course, but I once spent an afternoon trying to figure out how many hours I spent through the years listening to Cleveland Indians announcer
Herb Score died on Tuesday. He was 75 years old. It had been more than 10 years since he had called an Indians ballgame, but his death still hit me hard. He was very much on my mind Tuesday night when, for reasons that I cannot begin to explain, I found myself as the featured speaker at a singles club at a church. Someone asked what it was like growing up in Cleveland in the 1970s when, let's face it, things weren't all that great. Cleveland was a punchline. The sports teams were all lousy. The Cavaliers' off-court entertainment was called "Fat guy eating beer cans," which pretty succinctly described the act. The Indians were such a farce that sometimes the team bus had to drive around on the road to find a hotel that management had not stiffed on the bill. The city went bankrupt. It was said that you could walk across Lake Erie. The Cuyahoga River had only just stopped burning. The sky was smog. The snow was slush. The Winter of '77 was like Siberia with potholes. That was home.
And, I said, here's what I believe: When you are growing up, you are raised by your parents, but also by your friends, your teachers, your faith, your neighbors, your city. At the end of the day you are really raised by your hometown baseball announcer.
Herb Score was the Cleveland Indians radio announcer from 1968, the year after I was born, to 1997, which was the year the Indians lost to Florida in the World Series. His last game was Game 7, which was fitting because the Indians lost in heartbreaking style, a scene that Herb relived many times, for most of his life.
He called games on the radio for a nice even 30 years, and, speaking personally, those are the 30 years that defined me. Those 30 years more or less take me from infancy to my wedding day. Herb was always there, in the years before I was fully aware and in the years when I would thumb-tack baseball cards to my bedroom wall. He was there in the years when I felt sure I would play second base for the Indians and the years after I realized that, no, I would not. He was in my ear at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, when my feet stuck to the ground and a metal beam blocked third base and I discovered that childhood thrill of watching a game
He was calling Cleveland Indians games in that heady spring of '87, when I felt sure that
Man, it just hurts me to even look at that
I remember sitting in my car in front of my apartment in Cincinnati and listening when Herb Score called the final out in '95 and the Indians clinched their first playoff spot in more than 40 years. I will not say if I cried. That's between me and Herb.
Yes, I do romanticize baseball radio announcers. I cannot help it. I think all the time about all those farmers who harvested the fields across the Midwest while listening to
Herb Score was my summer. I've always said that I have no idea if Herb was a "good" announcer, as far as quality goes, but that's probably a bit disingenuous. I recall people around town would call him Herb "No" Score because he would sometimes go, you know, months between giving us the score of the game. Then again, I always thought Herb was trying to spare us; most of the time in those days we didn't
And, of course, I've long been aware of Herb's bloopers. He made them so often that they seemed a part of the broadcast, like the pre- and postgame shows. There would be a mispronunciation here, a gaffe there. The
Anyway, quality is beside the point when it comes to your hometown announcer. For me, Herb is the standard, will always be the standard, and by that I mean that every other baseball announcer will always be compared to him. This guy is louder than Herb. This guy talks more than Herb. The guys tells more stories than Herb. This guy doesn't mispronounce as many names as Herb. This guy isn't as fun to listen to as Herb. And so on.
The best way to describe Herb Score's style are "low-key." He spoke low, and he had a low voice, and he didn't spend a lot of time trying to paint word pictures. He didn't question moves. He didn't criticize players much (the most you would get out of Herb was a "He probably should have caught that ball," or "Those walks will come back to haunt you").
He didn't let his inflection waver much, even when things went horribly wrong. And yet, while it might sound contradictory, he also gave you the impression that he was exactly where he wanted to be, in the radio booth, telling us what was going on. It's hard to explain, but Herb always gave off this quiet enthusiasm. I don't know if it was really that way, and I don't really want to know. Because it doesn't matter. He
Herb, though, always sounded like he had stopped by the stadium before the game, and someone noticed him and said, "Hey, Herb Score! Fancy seeing you here. Hey, as long as you're here, you wanna call a few innings on the radio?" And Herb said: "Hey, sure, I'll give it a try."
He rarely -- almost never, in my memory -- told stories of his playing days. I can remember being quite shocked when I first heard that he had been a brilliant young pitcher, a left-handed
He did come back and pitch, and he had one more brilliant moment in '58 when he shut out the White Sox and struck out 13. Then he had arm trouble. He plugged along for a while longer, but he was never the same.
Much has been written about what might have been for Herb Score -- authors
I imagine that was the way Herb wanted it. He was an astonishingly modest announcer. He was so nice,
And he seemed happiest in the background, unnoticed, a part of the game. He never wanted to say more than had to be said. Sportswriter
Funny thing is, I always felt like Herb was a lot like my father. I feel certain that a part of who I am as a writer and as a person comes from those many, many hours I spent listening to Herb Score call Cleveland Indians baseball games. I met him many years later, when I was an adult and he was almost retired, and I talked to him for a long while. Mostly I just wanted to thank him. But he did not want thanks, of course. He just wanted to talk a little baseball. That's what we did for a good while. And when the conversation ended, he thanked me for listening. I wish I could listen again. Yes, it's a long drive. Is it fair? Is it foul? It is.