The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump

Overview

Any team can have an off-decade. But three in a row? Only in Cleveland. The Indians tempted fate when they traded away Rocky Colavito in 1960. Young, strong, popular, and coming off back-to-back 40 home run/100 RBI seasons, he was the type of player you just don't trade. Then, for the next thirty-three years, the Indians slumped miserably, finishing above .500 just six times, never higher than third in their division. Only pride and masochism brought fans back to drafty old Cleveland Stadium during those awful ...
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Overview

Any team can have an off-decade. But three in a row? Only in Cleveland. The Indians tempted fate when they traded away Rocky Colavito in 1960. Young, strong, popular, and coming off back-to-back 40 home run/100 RBI seasons, he was the type of player you just don't trade. Then, for the next thirty-three years, the Indians slumped miserably, finishing above .500 just six times, never higher than third in their division. Only pride and masochism brought fans back to drafty old Cleveland Stadium during those awful seasons, when even the most optimistic knew their hopes would be dashed by June.

Veteran sportswriter Terry Pluto takes a witty look at the endless parade of strange events that afflicted the Tribe. Other teams lose players to injuries; the Indians lost them to alcoholism (Sam McDowell), a nervous breakdown (Tony Horton), and the pro golf tour (Ken Harrelson). They even had to trade young Dennis Eckersley (a future Hall-of-Famer) because his wife fell in love with his best friend and teammate.

Pluto profiles the men who made the Indians what they were, for better or worse, including Gabe Paul, the underfunded and overmatched general manager; Herb Score, the much-loved master of malaprops in the broadcast booth; Andre Thornton, who weathered personal tragedies and stood as one of the few hitting stalwarts on some terrible teams; Super Joe Charboneau, who blazed across the American League as a rookie but flamed out the following season; and Hank Peters, John Hart, and Mike Hargrove, who eventually pointed the team in the right direction. Long-suffering Indians fans survived the curse and finally got an exciting, star-studded, winning team in the second half of the 1990s. ButThe Curse of Rocky Colavito still stands as a classic look back at those years of futility and frustration that made the rare taste of success so much sweeter.

With his unique combination of irony and affection, sportswriter Terry Pluto uncovers the odd events and unsusal personalities that have marked the Cleveland Indians' wanderings through the baseball wilderness over the past 30 years. 16 pages of photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Wes Lukowsky
Is there anyone in sports fandom who has suffered more than a fortysomething Cleveland Indians baseball fan? Pluto, who fits the profile, is also a columnist for the "Akron Beacon Journal" and the author of 11 sports books. He says no, no one has suffered more, and makes his case in this 30-year history of a woebegone franchise. Once, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Indians were very good: they won a couple of pennants and would have won more except for the damn Yankees. Then came, in no particular order: Trader Frank Lane, who traded away the team's nucleus; a tragic injury to young pitching phenom Herb Score; the trade of local hero and slugger Rocky Colavito (by Lane); a series of inept managers; and Lane's successor, Gabe Paul, who didn't make as many trades as Lane but specialized in bad ones. Pluto also profiles key players for the Indians during their 30-year slump, such as Sudden Sam McDowell, a great talent with a taste for booze; Tony Horton, a promising young hitter whose career ended with a severe case of clinical depression; and, of course, Colavito, who was to Indian fans what Michael Jordan was to Chicago hoop fans. As always, Pluto entertains with his eye for the absurd and an ear for the strange quote. This will have wide appeal beyond Cleveland as fans in other cities learn that times aren't as tough as they thought.
Booklist
Is there anyone in sports fandom who has suffered more than a fortysomething Cleveland Indians baseball fan? Pluto says no, no one has suffered more, and makes his case in this 30-year history of a woebegone franchise. As always, Pluto entertains with his eye for the absurd and an ear for the strange quote. This will have wide appeal beyond Cleveland as fans in other cities learn that times aren’t as tough as they thought.
— Wes Lukowsky
Chicago Tribune
The year’s funniest and most insightful baseball book.
— Jerry Klinkowitz
Booklist - Wes Lukowsky
Is there anyone in sports fandom who has suffered more than a fortysomething Cleveland Indians baseball fan? Pluto says no, no one has suffered more, and makes his case in this 30-year history of a woebegone franchise. As always, Pluto entertains with his eye for the absurd and an ear for the strange quote. This will have wide appeal beyond Cleveland as fans in other cities learn that times aren’t as tough as they thought.
Chicago Tribune - Jerry Klinkowitz
The year’s funniest and most insightful baseball book.
From Barnes & Noble
When the Cleveland Indians traded the home-run hitter Rocky Colavito in 1960, the blunder was expected to hurt their pennant chances, but not for three decades. An account of the team's struggles & mishaps. B&W photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765450210
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/13/1994
  • Pages: 300

Meet the Author

Terry Pluto is a sports columnist for The Plain Dealer. He has twice been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the nation’s top sports columnist for medium-sized newspapers. He is a nine-time winner of the Ohio Sports Writer of the Year award and has received more than 50 state and local writing awards. In 2005 he was inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. He is the author of 23 books, including The Curse of Rocky Colavito (selected by the New York Times as one of the five notable sports books of 1989), and Loose Balls, which was ranked number 13 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 sports books of all time. He was called “Perhaps the best American writer of sports books,” by the Chicago Tribune in 1997. He lives in Akron, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

Herb and Rocky

The news clippings are yellow and brittle. They belong to Nev Chandler, a longtime Cleveland broadcaster.

“I was never one to save much from when I was a kid, but I kept these,” said Chandler. “It’s hard for Cleveland fans to believe, but I remember going to games in the 1950s and the Indians rarely lost. I was eight years old when they won 111 games in 1954. Think about that—111 wins in one season. The Indians owned the town. I was like a lot of kids in the late 1940s and 1950s. First thing every morning I’d pick up the Plain Dealer and check out the little Chief Wahoo cartoon on the front page. If the Indians won the night before, Chief Wahoo would be holding a lantern in one hand, and he would have his other hand up with a raised index finger. It was a sign of victory. If they lost, the Chief would be battered—a black eye, a couple of front teeth knocked out, and his feathers crumpled.

“Back then, the Chief was in great shape most mornings. That was because the Indians kept throwing those great pitchers at you—Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia. The Big Four. The Yankees had the best team in the American League, but the Indians were always right behind them. And the Indians had better pitching.”

That’s why Chandler kept three newspapers dated May 2, 1955. Two of the papers no longer exist, but the lead story on all the sports pages was the same:

TRIBE’S TERRIFIC TWOSOME: MR. ROBERT, MASTER HERBIE

—Cleveland News.

FELLER AND SCORE JAR BOSOX TWICE

—Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“FELLER WAS BETTER THAN I WAS”—SCORE: ONE-HITTER BY BOB, 16 WHIFFS BY HERB

—Cleveland Press.

“Herb Score broke in with the Indians in 1955, and I vividly recall going to the Stadium to see a doubleheader against Boston,” said Chandler. “Feller was in the twilight of his career. He pitched the first game and shut out the Red Sox, 2-0. It was a one-hitter (a single by Sammy White). Then Herb started the second game. I had heard a lot about him but never saw him until that afternoon. It was dusk, and Herb was throwing that fastball out of the shadows. It was awesome to see him get the ball up to home plate. I was just a kid, but I couldn’t imagine anyone throwing harder. Herb struck out sixteen and won the second game, 2-1.

“I kept all the newspapers from the next day. Cleveland had three papers at the time. All that is left now is the Plain Dealer. But I thought I had seen something special, the passing of the torch from Feller to Score, from one great pitcher to another.”

And everyone close to the Indians felt the same way.

On this Sunday afternoon in 1955, the Indians were still the defending American League champions. They still had the Big Four. Feller was “a trim-tailored 36 . . . still sneering at Father Time,” according to Frank Gibbons in the Cleveland Press.

Now they had a fifth pitcher, a great pitcher, a twenty-one-year-old lefthander. This was his fourth big-league start, and all Score did was strike out the side in the first inning. He walked into the dugout and said to no one in particular, “Where did I get that curveball?”

Then he struck out the side again in the second inning, and in the third. By the fifth inning Score had 12 strikeouts. His 16 strikeouts put the Indians into first place and inspired veteran Boston outfielder Sam Mele to say, “Score is the fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

No one knew it at the time, but Cleveland baseball would never again be this good. The team would never be as confident, never be the defending champs, and never have a lefty quite like Score.

The Plain Dealer’s Harry Jones called him “the heir apparent to Feller’s throne. A fading meteor and a rising star gave the Indians pitching of a heavenly magnitude.”

The two pitchers allowed only three hits all afternoon. Feller needed only two hours four minutes to put away Boston, then Score did it in one hour fifty-five minutes. It was indeed another era.

In the Cleveland News, writer Hal Lebovitz enjoyed the fact that Score watched the first five innings of Feller’s game, then went into the clubhouse and tried to fall asleep on the trainer’s table but didn’t quite make it.

“Too nervous,” said Score.

The newspaper battled to find a nickname for the rookie. The Plain Dealer went with “Hasty Herb.” The News suggested “Hurricane Herb.”

That was Feller’s first victory of the 1955 season; he’d win only three more games during the rest of his career.

As for Score, he took Feller’s place among the Big Four. His record was 16-10, and he struck out a league-leading 245 in 227 innings. The Indians finished the 1955 season at 93-61, three games behind the first-place Yankees.

It seemed the next great milepost on a road that began with Bill Veeck and the 1948 season—an American League pennant, winning the World Series, and 2,620,627 fans, setting a major league attendance record.

The town was hooked on the Indians.

From 1948 to 1959 the Indians won two pennants and finished in second place six other times. That’s eight out of twelve years in first or second place. The only big-league team with a better record during that time was the New York Yankees.

With a young Herb Score and Rocky Colavito, Herb’s roommate in the Cleveland minor league system, not far behind, Indians fans thought that the 1960s would be just like the 1950s. Their team would be good every year, a contender.

“It’s hard for this generation of Indians fans to understand that feeling,” said Chandler. “I tell kids about the big crowds, the winning, and how the Indians were one of the most respected organizations in baseball. Kids look at me like I just got out of the Home. ‘What do you mean, the Indians a good team? Is this guy nuts or what?’ That’s how it was in the 1950s, and with Herb and Rocky, that is how it should have been in the 1960s.”

Today, most Indians fans know Score’s voice after thirty years of broadcasting, but only some know he pitched. Or if they are aware that he was a former player, few realize that he was Sandy Koufax before there was a Sandy Koufax.

“If you hung around with Herb, you’d never catch on,” said Chandler. “I was his radio partner for five years. He hardly said a word about playing. When he did, he talked about being a lousy hitter. That was it.”

Herb Score was born in Rosedale, New York, on June 7, 1933. When he was a freshman in high school, his parents separated, and Score moved with his mother to Lake Worth, Florida.

“Herb was an instant phenom in baseball,” said former Indians infielder Larry Brown. “We went to the same high school, but Herb was five years older. My brother, Dick Brown, was in Herb’s senior class, and he was Herb’s catcher. I remember seeing games where Herb pitched and people would make bets about what hitter could manage to foul one off. Not only was he the fastest pitcher anyone had seen, he had a great curve. He also was pretty wild, and that scared everyone to death. Herb pitched his team to the Florida High School state title. We all thought he’d be a star.”

That included scouts, who romanced Score and his mother.

“There were sixteen teams, and all but Washington made me an offer,” said Score of those free-for-all days before the amateur draft. “Washington told me they wanted to sign me, but they knew the price was too high for them. I usually struck out seventeen or eighteen in the games, which were seven innings. It was not uncommon for me to throw a no-hitter, but I also walked a ton, too. I signed for $60,000, which was a lot of money [in 1952], but it wasn’t the highest offer. A couple of teams told me that they would give me $100,000. But I liked the Indians because of their scout.”

Their scout was Cy Slapnicka, the same man who signed Bob Feller. Actually, Slapnicka had resigned from the Indians in 1941, planning to retire, but Bill Veeck brought him back in the late 1940s.

“Cy was at every game I pitched in high school for three years,” said Score. “He was there before the games, watching me warm up. He took me to dinner. He had friends in town take me to dinner and tell me how great it would be if I signed with the Indians. He’d tell me stories about Feller and the other great Indians pitchers. He literally camped on my doorstep. When it came time to sign, it was inevitable that I’d sign with the Indians.”

Score would be Slapnicka’s last great find for the Tribe. The scout was sixty-six when he signed Score.

“Herb Score is also the reason my brother Dick signed with the Indians,” said Larry Brown. “Dick was dating Herb’s sister Helen, and planned to go to dental school. Helen told the Indians that they not only should sign Herb, they should sign his catcher. At the last minute they decided to do it because they needed catchers in the minor league system. Had Helen not put in a good word for Dick, I don’t think he’d have gotten a contract.”

Dick Brown made it to Cleveland as a backup catcher from 1957 to 1959, and he had a chance to catch for Herb Score in the big leagues. Score’s career soared.

“When I came to the majors, I had it easy,” said Score. “The pitchers were Wynn, Garcia, Feller, and Lemon. All I had to do was watch what they did and do the same thing. The pitching coach was Mel Harder, who was an excellent teacher. The manager was Al Lopez, a former catcher and a great handler of pitchers. I was with a very good team. Everything fell into place.”

From 1948 to 1956 the Indians had twenty-game winners every year, sixteen in nine years. Three of the Big Four are Hall of Famers: Feller, Wynn, and Lemon. Garcia won twenty games twice and had a career record of 142-97 before retiring from baseball to operate the Big Bear Cleaners on the west side of Cleveland.

Then there was Score, who won twenty along with Lemon and Wynn in 1956. That’s three twenty-game winners in one season. Since then the Indians have had only five—total. In the spring of 1957, the Boston Red Sox made an unprecedented offer of $1 million for Score. They also were willing to throw in some respectable players. It was as if the Red Sox wanted to redeem themselves for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees thirty-seven years before. The Indians turned it down. They had to turn it down. Score was twenty-three and had already won thirty-six games in two big-league seasons. He was baseball’s strikeout king. “Everyone thought Herb was destined to win twenty games forever,” said Chandler.

Hank Peters agreed: “Herb threw as hard as anyone I had ever seen. But on top of it, he had a great mental makeup. He was a clean-living guy, a devout Catholic, and a hard worker. Sam McDowell may have thrown as hard as Herb, but Sam had none of Herb’s maturity or good habits. Herb was the kind of guy you’d say, ‘Give him fifteen years, see what kind of numbers he piles up, then elect him to the Hall of Fame.’ ”

But two healthy years was all there would be for Herb Score.

If you want to know When It All Went Wrong for the Indians, look no further than what happened to Herb Score and Rocky Colavito.

Colavito signed with the Indians in 1951, Score in 1952. By 1953 they were friends and roommates with the Indians’ Class AA Reading team. Score was going to be a twenty-game winner; Colavito was going to hit 40 homers. You hear that kind of talk all the time about prospects, but these guys actually did it. They were legitimate. Then add that they were best friends, clean-cut athletes, perfect images for the fans.

Rocky and Herb. When the Indians were winning 111 games in 1954, they also knew that they had Score and Colavito in the farm system, two young lions waiting for someone to open the cage door and let them loose in the majors. At this point the Indians were the envy of every team in the big leagues, even the Yankees. They had great players in the big leagues and a terrific farm system.

“I first saw Herb in the spring of 1953,” said Colavito. “He was tall and thin and threw so hard. His motion was fluid. I was playing the outfield in a spring game at the minor league camp. Herb was pitching, and no one hit a fair ball to the outfield off him.”

Score and Colavito both turned twenty in that summer of 1953. Both were Roman Catholic. Both were born in New York, and both knew they would one day be together in Cleveland.

“In 1953 we started the year with different roommates,” said Colavito. “But my roommate liked to stay up all night playing cards, and so did Herb’s. We talked about how our roommates were getting to us with all this card playing. Since neither one of us played cards, we just traded roommates. Then we found out that we had a lot in common in terms of our background. But the big thing was that we knew we would never B.S. each other. We also told each other the absolute truth even if it hurt.”

Which brings up the car incident.

“In 1954 we both played in [Class AAA] Indianapolis,” said Score. “By then we not only roomed on the road, but we shared an apartment in town. We needed a car and we pooled our money, coming up with $125. For that we bought a used two-seat coupe with a stick shift. Rocky knew how to use a stick, but I had no idea. He took me out to teach me a couple of times, but those lessons nearly ruined our friendship.”

“Herb just couldn’t get the hang of it,” said Colavito. “Finally, I gave up and said I’d drive him anywhere he wanted to go.”

“If I had a date, Rocky would drive me to the girl’s house,” said Score. “Then he’d drive us to the movie or wherever, then he’d come back and pick us up later and drive us home.”

Sounds like the definition of true friendship.

Meanwhile, Score was 22-5 with 330 strikeouts in 261 innings at Indianapolis in 1954. Colavito hit 38 homers and drove in 116 runs.

“I made the Cleveland roster out of spring training in 1955,” said Score. “Rocky didn’t come to the big leagues to stay until 1956.”

While Score was a legitimate, honest-to-Cy-Slapnicka phenom, Colavito did not have the endorsement of a legendary scout or even a pack of scouts staking out his Bronx doorstep.

“The three teams most interested in me were the Phillies, Yankees, and Indians,” said Colavito. “I went to a Yankee tryout camp; then one of their scouts came to my house. The guy had a big, long cigar, and his attitude was ‘Hey, everyone wants to play for the Yankees, so why would I even think about signing with anyone else? Just sign here.’ He figured I was a New York kid and wouldn’t sign with anyone else. All they were offering me was a chance to play. I’d get a bonus for each level I advanced in the minors but no money up front. The guy was really arrogant. I ended up letting my brother talk to him. The Phillies made what would have been the most lucrative offer to me, but then they started giving me a runaround about how they had to get the bonus approved first. Then there was the Indians.”

The Tribe’s offer was a $3,000 bonus, a first-year salary of $1,500, and more bonus money as he advanced in the minors. Colavito signed in 1951 and went to Daytona Beach, where he hit 23 homers and had 111 RBI as an eighteen-year-old outfielder.

“Rocky loved Joe DiMaggio,” said Score. “I’m not sure if it was intentional, but growing up in New York, it was natural for Rocky to copy DiMaggio’s stance. Rocky spread out at the plate. He sort of looked like DiMaggio, especially early in Rocky’s career. He also had the same no-nonsense, hardworking approach to the game as DiMaggio. As a kid, Rocky had trouble hitting the breaking ball, but he also understood his weakness. He knew that he had to learn to hit curves, so he spent hours in batting practice learning how to do it. By the end of his career, he hit the breaking ball nearly as well as the fastball. But it took time. He also had no speed. He had inverted ankles. No matter how hard he ran—and he always ran hard—he just never got anywhere very fast.”

But then there was Colavito’s arm.

“Rocky had the strongest arm of anyone in the Cleveland farm system, and that included the pitchers,” said Score. “In the minors, the players would make bets before the game. Then we’d make sure the manager was in the clubhouse so he couldn’t watch. Rocky would stand at home plate and try to throw a ball over the center field wall on a fly. He could do it—four hundred feet. I saw it myself several times.”

Former major league third baseman Rich Rollins was raised in Parma, a suburb on the west side of Cleveland. His father took him to Indians games, “and one of my most vivid memories is seeing someone hit a double down the right-field line. Rocky chased the ball into the corner, picked it up, and threw it to third base. Only he threw it from the right-field corner about fifty feet over the third baseman’s head, and it landed halfway up the stands, right near where I was sitting.”

“Everyone knew Herb would pitch in the majors,” said Colavito. “There were some people who doubted I’d make it. They thought my lack of speed would hold me back. But I knew I had good power, a good arm, and I got a good jump on fly balls. I had excellent numbers in the minors, but it still took me a couple of tries before Cleveland finally made up its mind to stick with me.”

Score was a regular member of the starting rotation in 1956. Colavito opened the season on the Cleveland roster but saw only spot duty in the outfield. “I started really slow; I was hitting about .150,” he said. “Then we went on a road trip. By the end of it, I had my average up to .215. When we got home, Earl Averill, Jr., was at my house, and he had just been told he was going back to the minors. I was feeling really bad for him and his wife. But when we got to the Stadium that night, they had changed their mind and sent me out instead.”

The Indians were bringing veteran outfielder Gene Woodling off the disabled list. Averill was batting only .156, but he was a backup catcher and all managers love to have an extra catcher. The Indians had just lost their fifth game in a row, and they had only 5 hits their last twenty innings. Akron Beacon Journal writer Jim Schlemmer could not understand why the Tribe decided to send Colavito to the minors. He pointed out that the Indians claimed to be on a “youth movement.” He mentioned that Colavito averaged over 30 homers and 110 RBI in his last three minor league seasons, so what was left for him to learn in the bushes? He said that Colavito “possessed possibly the strongest throwing arm to come into the majors in the last quarter century on a squad known for its weak throwing arms. . . . Here is a player, if given an opportunity, who might provide both offensive and defensive power, and add much needed color to the squad along with giving reporters a new theme for their typewriters and microphones.”

When told of the decision, Colavito wept openly in the clubhouse. “I can’t understand it,” he told reporters. “No one else could, either,” according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

Colavito’s next emotion was that of betrayal, and he stormed up to General Manager Hank Greenberg.

“This isn’t right,” he said. “I’m starting to hit the ball. My wife is pregnant. You want to send me to [Class AAA] San Diego. I’m not going across the country. I’m going home.”

Greenberg asked Colavito to reconsider.

“Just go for three weeks,” he said. “Rocky, I promise you. After three weeks, I’ll bring you back.”

According to Colavito, the general manager of San Diego was a good friend of Greenberg’s. By sending him Colavito, he was doing the man a favor and helping his team.

“After three weeks in San Diego, I was hitting .420,” said Colavito. “I called Greenberg and told him that it was time to bring me back, that he had to keep his word. He asked me to wait a few more days so he could make a move. The way I understood it, Hank was having lunch with [Manager] Al Lopez at the time. When I hung up, Greenberg explained the situation, and Lopez said, ‘If you made the kid a promise, bring him back.’ A week later I was back in Cleveland. Back then, those were the high-caliber people running the team. If Al Lopez or Hank Greenberg told you something, you could believe it. Later on it wasn’t like that with the Indians.”

Colavito had 12 homers and 32 RBI in thirty-five games with a .368 average at San Diego.

Lopez installed Colavito in right field, and he was in Cleveland to stay, finishing the 1956 season with 21 homers and 65 RBI in 101 games. Score was 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA and led the majors with 263 strikeouts.

Only Whitey Ford had a lower ERA, and only Frank Lary won more games.

The 1956 Indians had an 88-66 record and finished in second place, nine games behind New York. But they thought 1957 would be even better because they would have Colavito and Score in place for the entire season.

For Indians fans in the late 1950s, the question was “What were you doing the night Herb got hit in the eye?”

“I was going to the game,” said Nev Chandler. “But we got a late start. We were driving to the Stadium along Lake Erie on the Shoreway, listening to Jimmy Dudley doing the game on the radio.”

The date was May 7, 1957, and Chandler would be one of the 18,386 fans at Cleveland Stadium that night. The Indians were playing the Yankees, an early-season fight for first place between the two best teams in the American League.

For the Yankees, the leadoff hitter was Hank Bauer, who popped out. The next batter was Gil McDougald, who worked the count to 2 balls, 2 strikes.

“We heard the crack of the bat on the radio, and the next thing Jimmy Dudley was saying that Herb was down,” said Chandler. “Herb had been hit in the face with a line drive.”

McDougald later told reporters that he had been looking for a low fastball, and that was what Score threw. “I got all of it,” he said. “When I hit it, it felt like a feather.”

Dudley said, “When Herb pitched, he came right over the top, and he had a big follow-through. His fingers nearly scraped the ground after he let go of the ball. McDougald hit the ball, but Herb just couldn’t get his glove up. It was as if Herb was stunned for a moment, like he couldn’t believe that anyone would hit the ball that hard at him.”

Score said, “I threw it straight, and he hit it just as straight. I didn’t see the ball until it was right on me. All I know is the ball got big really fast.”

The ball bounced off Score’s head on one hop to third baseman Al Smith, who threw to Vic Wertz at first to retire McDougald. The stadium public address announcer asked if there was a doctor in the crowd and would he come down on the field. Meanwhile, McDougald never took a step toward first base. Instead, he went to the mound to check on Score. The players discovered that Score was bleeding. Towels were brought to the mound, but there was too much blood. Everything was red.

“I’ve never seen a man look so dead,” said Indians catcher Russ Nixon. “He didn’t even flutter, and his face swelled up like a beehive.”

Score never lost consciousness. He wondered if he’d go blind, if he’d swallow his tongue, and even if he’d ever hear again because blood was coming out of his ears. He asked if he still had an eye or if it had been knocked out. He said, “Saint Jude, stay with me,” as he was lying in the dirt on the mound.

Saint Jude was a vivid part of Score’s spiritual life. According to a Sporting News story by Hal Lebovitz, Score had his legs crushed by a bakery truck when he was three years old. He was scheduled for surgery, and doctors feared he would never walk without a limp. The night before the surgery, Anne Score talked to a priest about her son. The priest brought a relic of Saint Jude to Score’s bedside. The next day the bones had somehow slipped back into place, and there was no need for an operation. Doctors called it a miracle. Score would later credit Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

“When I walked into the Stadium in the second inning, Herb was already gone,” said Chandler. “It was quiet, eerie. No one could quite comprehend what had happened. Everyone wondered about Herb, but everyone also knew they had just witnessed a tragedy.”

As Jimmy Dudley recalled, “The crowd was in total silence, like a funeral parlor when the priest shows up.”

McDougald was an emotional mess from the incident. He said he would retire from baseball if Score lost his eye. He continually called Lakeside Hospital for reports. When he wasn’t satisfied with what he heard, he went to the hospital to speak personally with Score’s doctor, persuading the doctor to give McDougald the doctor’s home phone number so the Yankee shortstop could call from the road to keep track of Score.

Til Ferdenzi covered the game for the New York Journal, and this was his account:

Blood flowed from Score’s right eye. His mouth was ajar. . . . One quick look through my field glasses was enough to make me wonder, was he alive or dead? If alive, would he ever see out of that right eye again? . . . After seconds that seemed like minutes, players on both sides swarmed the mound. Then a stretcher materialized, and the stricken Score was carried off the field. . . . A hard-nosed professional of enormous talent—McDougald played three different infield positions on three consecutive pennant winners. He was a soft-spoken man of great compassion and sensitivity. . . . So when McDougald’s line drive hit Score in the right eye, it was like Sir Lancelot felling Sir Lancelot.”

His teammates told McDougald that it could have happened to anyone, but he didn’t buy it. “It doesn’t help to say it was just one of those things,” he told Ferdenzi. “I know it was an accident. It looked like the poor guy just couldn’t get his glove up in time. . . . The nicest thing was that Herb’s mother spent a long time on the phone with me. I’ll never forget that. But I never felt the same about baseball after that.”

Meanwhile, Score was in the hospital with a broken nose, a lacerated right eyelid, damage to the right cheekbone, and swelling in the right eyeball. That night Lakeside Hospital received a call a minute from fans wanting news of Score’s condition. Amazingly, Score listened to the game on the radio, the same game he had started. He asked the doctors to call his mother and say he would be all right. Then he cheered when Rocky Colavito walked in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, forcing in a run to break a 1-1 tie. When the Indians won the game, 2-1, Score had some ice cream to celebrate. But he ate little, and the pain felt like a fist squeezing his head. He never had surgery; the treatment given was stabilizing his eye and not allowing his head to move much for two weeks.

As Score recovered, McDougald was haunted by the incident. Fans screamed “Killer McDougald” at him. A week after hitting Score, he lined a Frank Lary fastball up the middle that hit the Detroit pitcher on the hip, knocking him down. McDougald rushed to the mound, thinking, “Not again.” Lary was not injured, but McDougald changed his stance so that he would pull the ball more often, decreasing his chances of hitting another pitcher. McDougald said that the injury to Score lessened his desire for the game. He retired after the 1960 season at the age of thirty, even though there was plenty of life left in his career. He batted .289 in the seven years through 1957, and .253 in his final three seasons after Score’s injury.

“I talked to Gil and told him that it was something that could happen to anyone,” said Score. “It’s just like a pitcher beaning a hitter. He didn’t mean it. I was in the hospital for three weeks, and I didn’t pitch the rest of 1957. I had a tear in the retina of the right eye, but I could see out of my left eye. Today, my vision is twenty-twenty.”

On the night of May 7, 1957, Score was still twenty-three years old. His big-league record was 38-20 with a 2.63 ERA and 547 strikeouts in 512 innings.

For the rest of Score’s career, his record was 17-26 with a 4.48 ERA.

Herb Score was perhaps the greatest left-hander in the history of the Indians, but one pitch changed all that. Or so many would have you believe—but not Score. He disdains pi...

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Table of Contents


Introduction     11
Herb and Rocky     17
Trader to the Cause     33
A Slump of a Thousand Years Begins with One Loss     54
My Indians     64
Here Comes Sudden Sam     81
Rocky Comes Back     100
Great Arms in 1968     109
Tragic Tribe     114
Gaylord the Great     132
Breaking the Color Line     138
Manning and Eckersley     156
Calling the Action     176
Gabe Paul and the Money Men     189
Whatever Happened to Super Joe?     208
Watch What You Wish For     222
The Conscience of the Indians     241
The Ballpark     253
The Great Tease     261
Putting the Pieces Together     269
The Past Meets the Future     282
Postscript     289
Acknowledgments     292
Index     293
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