THE PRIVATE ORDEAL OF HERB SCORE

Confused and mystified by his own failures, baseball's onetime golden boy returns to the minors to seek the left-handers' traditional will-o'-the-wisp: the plate
August 06, 1961

The night beforehe was to pitch the opening game of a holiday double-header in Seattle a fewdays ago, Herbert Jude Score, a tall, blond all-American boy right out of aRalph Henry Barbour book, was a guest of honor at a baseball dinner. He nibbledpizza chips, polished off a steak, sipped politely at a drink and exchangedpleasantries with another guest, Seattle Rainiers' Manager Johnny Pesky."It's nice to see you here, Johnny," said Score. "You were one ofmy boyhood idols." Pesky, age 41, ran a hand across his crew cut andriposted that Score, age 28, had been one of his boyhood idols, too.Reminiscences flowed till nearly midnight. Punch lines of hoary baseballstories echoed around the room—"So Yogi said, 'Well, sister, you're not sohot yourself....' " "Yeh, Ump, but when I get up tomorrow I'll besober, and you'll still be blind...." Score confined himself to anunpolished but gracious little speech to the effect that if he were to be outof baseball tomorrow he would still owe the game more than he could ever repay.There was polite applause, and down at the other end of the table a baseballman whispered a hurried answer to his wife's question. "Nobody seems toknow what happened," he said. "He's wild, that's all."

Friends droveScore back to Seattle's unpretentious Mayflower Hotel, where the San Diegoteam, of which he had latterly become a member, was in residence. He turned inat midnight, read The Conscience of a Conservative till nearly 2 a.m., thendropped off to sleep. The forming-up of a holiday parade below his hotel windowawakened him after his customary seven hours' sleep, and he ordered a breakfastof orange juice, basted eggs, bacon, coffee and toast. He dressed leisurely andheaded out to Sicks' Seattle Stadium for another joust with survival.

There were stilltwo hours till game time when Score walked through the musty catacombs, pastthe pulpits where vendors were stacking programs, past the counters wherefrankfurters were hotting up in aromatic splendor and into theliniment-and-leather smell of the visitors' clubhouse. Three players weredressing desultorily. A plump coach, nattily attired in white T shirt andsocks, looked up from his copy of the Official Baseball Guide and grunted, inthe mock harshness with which athletes traditionally try to encourage theirtroubled colleagues, "C'mon, Score, put your blankin' uniform on. You'repitchin'." As if Score didn't know.

He undressedslowly, reflecting that manifest calmness which has characterized his careerand his life. Around him were the trappings of boondock baseball. DO NOTASSAULT UMPIRES, the bulletin board warned, FILTHY LANGUAGE IS DETRIMENTAL NOTONLY TO BASEBALL BUT TO THE PERSON USING IT. PAY YOUR DEBTS OR FACE SEVEREPENALTIES. From a wall radio came loud renditions of contemporary musicalculture ("I love you, I love you, I love you in oooooooh so many, manyways"). Players arrived in little clusters, and the room began to resoundwith the all-purpose four-letter words which form the very foundation of theEnglish language whenever soldiers and ballplayers get together in theirunderclothes.

A mixed bag

Score chattedamiably with the other players. There were former major leaguers like KentHadley and Jim Bolger, still full of promise, and fighting, like Score, to getback into the big time. There were veterans like Harry Simpson and HectorRodriguez, playing out their strings with elderly esprit. And there were younghotbloods like Mike Hershberger and Kenny Retzer, inexorably headed for themajors just as Score had been a handful of years before.

The niceties ofconversation observed, Score walked out through the tunnel and into the brightsunlight of the playing field, there to hit fungos, take a few cuts and throwerratically to a warmup catcher for 15 minutes. Just before game time he saidto the trainer, "How about a little hot stuff on the arm, Cookie?" Therubdown completed, he told catcher Retzer, "O.K., it's 1-2-3 today, eh,baby?" Retzer agreed that it would be 1-2-3, and the umpire shouted,"Play ball."

Six weeks before,Score, in the uniform of the Chicago White Sox, had started a night game inBaltimore. He had pitched to five batters, got none of them out and allowedfour runs before Manager Al Lopez, a man of infinite patience, had mercifullyremoved him from the game. Seated together later in the little office assignedto the visiting manager, the two figures played out another act in thecontinuing tragedy of Herb Score. "Well, Herbie," said Lopez, "whatdo you think?"

"Gee, I don'tknow what to think," Score said. Lopez was silent. "I feel good,"Score went on. "I can't figure out why I'm as wild as I am."

"Herbie,"said Lopez softly, "what do you think about going to San Diego for a fewweeks?"

This was themoment that every ballplayer dreads, but Score, typically, tried to soften thescene for Lopez. "AI," he said, "I want to thank you for howpatient you've been with me. If you wanted to send me down I wouldn't haveanything to say about it. If you send me, you send me."

"No,"said Lopez, "I'm not putting it to you that way. I'm putting it to you thatgoing down for a while might be the best thing for you."

"I don't knowif it's the answer, Al. Maybe I should just quit. If I can't pitch, I can'tpitch. I don't want to hang around and be a handicap to the ball club and toyou."

Lopez launchedinto one of his exceedingly rare speeches. He told Score that the team had allthe faith in the world in him, that his arm was still good, that he was stillregarded as a valuable property. "But Herbie," Lopez said, "I hateto have you stay here, because you're wild, and you need to find the plateagain. You need to work every four or five days. You've got to pitch. You'vegot all the stuff in the world."

After a whileScore said, "Let me talk to my wife. This is a decision that involves heras much as me."

"Sure,"Lopez said, and added a humane non sequitur. "I want you to know one thing,Herbie. If my own kid was to get to the majors, you're the player I'd want himto model himself after."

Score traveledwith the Sox to New York the next day, called his wife and told her he would behome that night. She asked what was wrong, and he said it wasn't something thatcould be talked about on the phone. At 2 a.m. Nancy Score met her husband atthe airport in Chicago. Driving home, they agreed that it would be silly forhim to quit in the middle of the year. More than anything else, a touchingfaith in Al Lopez had influenced Score. He told his wife, "If Al had saidto me, 'Herb, I think you've lost it, you can't pitch any more,' that wouldhave been the end. But I don't think Al would lie to me. And I feel the best Ihave in two years. How can I feel so good and pitch so lousy?"

The next day hewent to Comiskey Park and picked up his gear. He called San Diego and foundthat the team was at home. Between planes in Los Angeles that night he phonedhis former roommate and closest friend, Rocky Colavito, and talked to him foran hour. The burden of Colavito's advice was the same as it has always been:"Don't throw so hard. Take it easy." Then Score boarded the plane forthe last leg of the trip to the minors, where he would find the plate, oroblivion.

The puzzle

The prospect ofHerb Score's fading out of baseball altogether is one that taxes theunderstanding of the sport's best minds. He came into the majors, not so longago, after record droves of American Association batters had fallen beneath thestrikeout power of his classically delivered full-overhand fast ball—slung in ajavelinlike style with the full whip of his six-foot-two frame—and the sweep ofhis murderously breaking curve. He went on to post records of 16-10 and 20-9with Cleveland, maintaining the remarkable average of one strikeout per inning.His famous teammate, Bob Feller, said, "Provided he doesn't have to spend acouple years in the Army and barring unforeseen misfortune, Score should winbetween 20 and 25 games a year for the next 13 or 14 years." The Boston RedSox management pondered the mathematics of Score's future and offered $1million for him. The Cleveland team, to nobody's surprise, turned the recordoffer down.

The event which,in most people's minds, brought the turnabout in Score's fortunes came on the12th pitch of a spring night in 1957 at Cleveland Stadium. Gil McDougald laceda 2-2 pitch straight into Score's right eye. Lying half-conscious on the mound,Score mumbled, "St. Jude, stay with me." His faith in St. Jude, thepatron saint of impossible cases, goes back to the age of 3, when a bakerytruck crushed both of his legs above the knee. Doctors said that the legs wouldnot knit. A parish priest brought a relic of St. Jude to Score's mother andtold her to pray. The legs healed, and Score never forgot. His eye healed, too,but it was a year before he returned to the mound. Immediately the fans beganto watch closely for signs that the fancy left-hander had gone"chicken," that McDougald's line shot had shell-shocked him right outof his form. Fortunately, this easy analysis didn't hold up (though it is stillas popular outside of baseball as it is unpopular inside the sport). In thefirst place, injury and sickness were almost a way of life with Score,beginning with the bakery truck and running through a long, sorrowful list thatincluded rheumatic fever, acute appendicitis, pneumonia, colitis, bursitis,three ankle sprains and two ankle breaks, a shoulder separation and numerouslesser aches and pains. If ever there was an athlete who was at home withtravail, it was Score. (It may or may not be a coincidence that his realchildhood hero was Pete Reiser, a Dodger outfielder who was generallyacknowledged to hold the accident-proneness record in the major leagues beforeScore came along.)

To the surpriseof no one who knew him well, Score neither flinched nor made any concessions tothe eye injury in his comeback year. When line shots were hit back at him, ahush would come over the fans. Score, often picking up both himself and ball,would go on pitching, unconcernedly, with no perceptible difference from hisearlier years. Late in April he beat the White Sox 2-0, allowed three hits,struck out 13. In his next start in Washington April 30, he pulled a tendon inhis elbow. One month later the arm was still in pain, and Herb Score, then 24,was put on the disabled list. He now dates his trouble from the pulled tendon.He made tiny changes in his motion, unconsciously favoring the injured arm. Hestopped "slinging" the ball. Wild-ness, a chronic condition amongleft-handers and one which he had corrected, returned. He began"aiming" the ball, a baseball expression that simply meansoveremphasizing the use of the arm alone in getting the ball over. He was therecipient, or the victim, of dozens of desperate suggestions, all of them madein the best of faith. On the mound his head would be throbbing with dicta; hisnaturalness gone, he could not get the ball over the plate, or he would aim itand it would come up fat and big. He became a chronic loser.

He remembers whathe thought: "If I throw the ball and I haven't followed through right or Iland wrong or I'm not up on top, this would tell me that I'm not throwing rightand I would say to myself, 'Let's see what we can do, let me pivot a littleslower, let me get up on top more,' and those are things you don't normallyhave to think about. You should get the sign from the catcher; then the onlything you should think about is, I'm gonna throw this fast ball low andoutside, and you wind up and concentrate on that. But me, I would wind up and Iwould say to myself, 'Now make sure you pivot right, don't go back too far,hold your head steady, let me see now,' and you can't do all that. And then Iget 2 and 0 on a guy, and I say to myself, 'You don't want to get 3 and 0 onthe guy now, and I begin to aim. I'd be better off if I just slung the ball andit wound up in the grandstand, and I know this."

Through all theseagonies Score fought to keep control of his emotions. It is a steadfastprinciple of his life that one's own angers and frustrations must be concealedfrom the rest of the world. Joe Gordon once told him, "You should get madand blow off steam sometimes," but this was a bit of advice that Herb Scorewould not take. Years ago in the minors he had walked seven straight battersand torn up the clubhouse in a fit of pique. "That was the last time,"Score says shamefacedly. "I made up my mind I would never get mad again.Just because I've done badly, why should I make everybody else walk softlyaround me?" His only concessions to the mental torment of his slowregression would come occasionally when he was all alone in his car, and hewould let out a loud roar of anguish, or when he would fling his glove againstthe clubhouse wall, "but only when there was nobody there to see me."And so, with a smile on his face and a friendly word for everybody, he went hisself-controlled way into the minors.

Pitching man'sthinker

Now he wasstriding to the mound in Seattle, his mind, as always, full of advice tohimself. He had pitched superbly and horribly in his first month in the PacificCoast League; his record was 3-3. Now he was going to face the first-placeRainiers, loaded with journeymen ballplayers owned by the Boston Red Sox. ButScore was already thinking himself into the showers. He got the lead-off batteron a high fly. Marian Coughtry hit a humpback single to center. Tommy Umphlettlaced an overaimed fast ball off the center-field fence for a double. LouClinton hit a hanging curve over the fence in left. In the second inning Scorequickly gave up a single and two walks, then grooved one to Coughtry, who hitit over the fence. Score was yanked. He had faced 11 batters, walked three andgiven up two singles, a double and two home runs. He strode through the silentdugout, his face a reddened study in controlled frustration and fury, hisjacket dragging behind him. Minutes later, he was seated in front of his lockerreading a pocketbook, playing the man whose private agonies are his privateaffair.

The San Diegopitching staff had been decimated by the Seattle hitters, and Score was sent tothe bullpen for the second game of the afternoon. Three times during the earlyinnings he was signaled to warm up, and in the fourth inning he was called in."Hey, Score," shouted a fan. "Didn't you get enough in the firstgame?" Score says he never hears such remarks. He threw a few practicepitches on the mound, and it was plain that he was slinging the ball in thedevil-may-care manner of the glorious days of old. Hiding behind his book inthe clubhouse, he had analyzed his performance in the first game, decided thathe was using too much arm and not enough body and failing to "driveoff" the rubber with his push foot. He had resolved that he would "juststand up there and sling it" if he got a chance in the second game. Thefirst three men to face him at bat quickly became sorry-looking victims ofScore's new philosophy. One grounded out weakly to second, the other twofanned.

The San Diegoteam took its cuts, and it was too long between pitches for Score. Once again,he had too much time to think. He was thinking that he had better start gettingahead of the hitters; he had better get that first pitch in there; the onething he could not afford to do was walk anybody. With these thoughts, all thenaturalness went out of his motion. He began to aim and to throw "acrosshimself." "You've got to pitch a strike," he kept telling himselfon the mound. He used too much arm; the hop came off his fast ball; the breakvanished from his curve. In a nightmare inning straight out of the LittleLeague, he gave up two singles, two doubles, two triples, two walks and sixruns. In three charged innings on this awful holiday the great Herb Score, oncecompared favorably to Walter Johnson and Carl Hubbell and Lefty Grove, hadgiven up 13 runs.

"And I stillfeel great," he said after the games. "Isn't it amazing? All my lifeI've had injuries and ailments, and now I feel the best I ever did physically.And then I go out and pitch like that. But I'm not downcast. Everything happensfor some reason."

"Maybe,"said Al Lopez, in another conversation 100,000 miles away in the majors,"he's too nice a guy for his own good."

White Sox CoachRay Berres said: "Could it be a case of—how do they put it—mind overmatter?"

Said BillyPierce, another left-hander with his own problems: "It's not complicated.He's wild. But he'll be back." Herb Score hoped so, but if he didn't getback, it would be all right. Everything happens for a reason.

PHOTOMARSHALL LOCKMANSCORE TUGS nervously at his hat; Catcher Jim Napier stands silently, Manager Jimmy Reese breaks the news gently: a new pitcher is coming in. PHOTOMARSHALL LOCKMANHERB SCORE, knocked out again, controls his anger and dismay with the help of a book. PHOTOMARSHALL LOCKMANA MEDALLION of St. Jude hangs around Score's neck during his pregame arm rub.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)