The rocketing fast balls of two young American League pitchers—Bob Turley of the New York Yankees and Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians—have aroused an eager sense of anticipation in those baseball fans who are ever hungry for new variations of baseball's limitless dramatic possibilities. What they anticipate, perhaps over-optimistically, is a latter-day revival of The Duel—a whole series of Turley-Score pitching battles that would be renewed each time the Yankees and the Indians meet over the next who-knows-how-many years. Memory, or a warm knowledge of baseball history, helps to excite that anticipation.
For instance: ask any real oldtime baseball fan about Christy Mathewson and Mordecai Brown. His eyes will light up. "Those were the days," he'll say. "Matty and Three-Fingered Brown! Whenever the Cubs and the Giants played you'd have Matty against Brown. What games they pitched!"
Or ask any baseball fan over 30 about Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean.
"Hubbell and Dean!" he'll say, savoring the memory. "Hubbell and Dean. Whenever the Cardinals and the Giants played, there'd be King Carl and Ol' Diz. What games!..."
May 29, 1955
What games, indeed, with two great pitchers going against each other, the two best pitchers in the league pitching for two of the best teams in the league, time after time, and each time with the eventual pennant race at stake.
Mathewson-and-Brown, Hubbell-and-Dean—they are the prototypes of The Duel in baseball. In each instance and over a number of years one of the pair was the Big Pitcher on one of the dominant teams in the league at the same time that his rival was the Big Pitcher on another dominant team.
It's all in the books. The Chicago Cubs—Brown's team—and the New York Giants—Mathewson's—between them won every National League pennant but one from 1904 through 1913. In six of those years, from 1906 through 1911, Mathewson won 22, 24, 37, 25, 27 and 26 games, while Brown won 26, 20, 29, 27, 25 and 21. Imagine seeing a 37-game winner and a 29-game winner pitching against each other! Yet that is what the baseball fan saw in 1908. Mathewson had great seasons before and after those years, but it was during that period that Brown reached the peak of his form, pacing the greatest of all Cub teams to four pennants in five years and pitching against Mathewson in some of the most memorable games in the annals of baseball. Cub fans still claim that Brown could consistently outpitch Matty in the clutch. In the famous play-off game for the National League pennant in 1908, for instance, Brown beat Mathewson 4-2 before an estimated 35,000 people, the largest baseball crowd ever up to that time. When Matty and Three-fingered Brown were scheduled to pitch against each other, baseball fans went into the Polo Grounds or West Side Park in Chicago tingling with anticipation.
A generation later, fans experienced much the same feeling in the 1930s when they went into the Polo Grounds or Sportsman's Park in St. Louis to see Hubbell and Dean. Like Mathewson, Hubbell had fine years both before and after his rival's comparatively short stay in the sun, but Dean's big years—1933 through 1936 and the first half of 1937 (until he broke his toe in the All-Star Game in July)—were years when the Giants, with three pennants and a second, and the Cardinals, with one pennant and two seconds, fought tooth and nail every time they met. (Once, early in 1937, they fought in the literal sense of the word, with players from both teams wrestling each other to the ground and trading punches all over the infield in a melee that came to be known as "The Battle of St. Louis.") Hubbell won 23, 21, 23, 26 and 22 games in those five years while Dean took 20, 30, 28, 24 and, in 1937, 12 before getting hurt in mid-season.
You can find other pitchers in baseball history—Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Grover Alexander and Lefty Grove, to name some of them—who were equal or superior to Mathewson and Brown and Hubbell and Dean as pitchers. But nowhere else will you find two great pitchers meeting repeatedly over the years in games that meant so much to so many pennant races.
All this may make more understandable today's anticipation of Turley-and-Score. The Yankees and the Indians are undeniably the dominant teams in the American League, and they seem likely to remain so. And Turley and Score, if you respect the enthusiasm of sound baseball men, are likely to become the Big Pitchers on those big teams surprisingly soon.
HIGH WALL HAZARD
For instance, last week Score was slated to pitch against the Red Sox in Boston's Fenway Park. Fenway Park has a high wall jutting across left field, only a long fly ball's distance from home plate. Right-handed hitters flourish here because simple fly balls to left field (which is where right-handers hit most frequently) that would be outs elsewhere rebound off the wall for base hits or clear it for home runs. Because right-handed hitters usually hit southpaw pitchers more easily than they do their right-handed counterparts, managers try to avoid using left-handed pitchers in Fenway Park. Herb Score is a left-hander.
With all this in mind a Boston sports-writer put a question to Al Lopez, manager of the Cleveland Indians, before the game Score was to start.
"Al, aren't you a little afraid to pitch Score here?" the writer asked.
Lopez grinned at him, almost smugly.
"I'm not afraid to pitch Score any place," said Lopez flatly. "Any place, or against anybody."
Score pitched a three-hit shutout.
In Yankee Stadium a few days later Bob Turley gained credit for beating the Baltimore Orioles, even though he was terribly wild and uncertain. He walked nine men, including four in a row at the start of the sixth inning, before Manager Casey Stengel of the Yankees took him out. Casey, who usually goes to his bullpen fast when a relief pitcher seems indicated, was asked why he stayed with Turley so long, in view of his obvious wildness.
"With a pitcher like him you can gamble," Casey rasped. "Maybe all of a sudden he finds himself and you're set. And even when he's wild you don't hurt yourself too much because nobody's going to hit him. Not a pitcher like that."
The figures backed Casey up. The Orioles were able to hit only three singles off a sub-par Turley. Next day Billy Cox, who had never batted against Turley before but who had hit against such fastballers as Ewell Black-well, Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, John Antonelli and Warren Spahn, was still talking about the young pitcher.
"Whew, is he fast!" Cox murmured at one point. Someone then told him that Turley, disgusted with his performance, had said, "I didn't have anything. I wasn't near as fast as I was against the Indians last week."
Cox looked at his informant in momentary disbelief and then turned slowly away, whistling thoughtfully.
Both Turley and Score depend primarily on the fast ball which, for both of them, is a pitch that not only approaches the batter with blinding velocity but which also "moves" a little as it does, lifting up or falling away in a slight deviation from a true straight line. It is their big pitch, their meat-and-potatoes pitch, the one you can expect them to throw in times of duress when success or failure depends on one pitch. It gets each of them a lot of strikeouts.
Which of the two is faster is a subject of casual debate around the American League, but there is little question that either one of them is much faster than anyone else in the league. Dave Ferriss, pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox, was talking about Billy Hoeft of the Detroit Tigers, a highly promising young left-hander. "His best pitch is his fast ball," Ferriss said. "Is it as fast as Turley's or Score's?" he was asked. "Oh, no!" Ferriss exclaimed. Pie seemed startled by the question. "Right now nobody in the league is near either of them in speed."
Turley gets his speed from his bulk. He's big and burly, with a broad, meaty back, huge shoulders and strong arms. Although he and Score are the same height, 6 feet 2 inches, Turley, at 215, is 30 pounds heavier. He throws the ball in a three-quarter overhand delivery. Most of the effort seems to come from his upper arm and shoulder and from the muscles around the shoulder blade.
Score, on the other hand, is comparatively lean. He throws the ball with a long, whiplike overhand motion that seems to lack the violence of Turley's delivery. His curve ball is considered generally to be a little more effective than Turley's, but Turley's fast ball moves a little more. Both of them throw a great many bad pitches and frequently fall behind the batter at three balls and no strikes or three and one. Score seems better able to recover in such instances. He doesn't walk as many batters as Turley. He seems more confident, less inclined to worry and fret. Turley, who will be 25 on September 19, came up to the majors originally at the tail end of the 1951 campaign but this is only his second full season in the majors. He seems very serious and intense. Score, 22 on June 7 and in his first major-league year, is easygoing, casual, unexcited, though he is unable to sleep the night after he pitches.
Of course, Turley is under greater pressure than Score. He is one of Stengel's Big Three and he has to come through if the Yankees are to be a vital factor in the pennant race. Score is a sort of bonus for Al Lopez, whose pitching staff without Score was considered one of the finest in major league history. Lopez has been able to work Score into starting assignments slowly.
When either of the two is hot, on his game, throwing his fast ball the way he wants to throw it and occasionally getting in a fast, sharp-breaking curve, he is tremendously exciting to watch. Baseball becomes in the purest sense a contest between pitcher and batter. With strikeout after strikeout the excitement mounts. And front offices become increasingly aware that attendance figures show significant increases whenever Score or Turley pitches.
Some day this season, perhaps on Sunday, June 12, in Cleveland's huge Municipal Stadium, or Tuesday night, August 2, in Yankee Stadium; perhaps later, perhaps not until next year, but sometime, the pregame announcement will say: Probable Pitchers—for Cleveland, Score; for New York, Turley.
Then joy will be unconfined. And The Duel will begin.