On May 7, 1957, Gil McDougald stepped to the plate, the second person to bat for the New York Yankees in a game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. When Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score threw a pitch low to McDougald, the infielder hit a sharp liner directly back at Score. Score, who claimed he never saw the ball until it was a foot or two from his face, was hit in the eye. As Score crumpled to the ground, blood poured from his right eye, nose, and mouth. It was a horrific scene for the players on the field and the fans in the stands – many reported an audible crack as the ball collided with Score’s face. McDougald, extremely shaken by the incident, even claimed he’d quit baseball if Score lost his sight. Score never lost consciousness, but suffered from hemorrhaging in his eye, a swollen retina, and a broken nose. He spent nearly three weeks in the hospital and received more than 10,000 letters of good will from concerned fans. Even though Score eventually recovered from his injuries, the incident all but ended what appeared to be an extremely promising career.
Herb Score was signed out of Lake Worth High School in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1952 by Cy Slapnicka (the same scout that signed Bob Feller) for $60,000. In 1954 he set an American Association record when he struck out 330 batters. Score was called up to the Indians the following season and responded by going 16-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 245 strikeouts on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award for 1955. Score’s 245 strikeouts was a Major League leading figure that season, and a rookie record that stood for 29 years until Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets struck out 276 in 1984. Score was stellar in 1956 as well when he went 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA and 263 strikeouts – again the most in the majors. Ted Williams once claimed that Score was the best left-handed pitcher he faced in his career. In March of 1957, the Boston Red Sox offered the Indians $1 million for Score; an astronomical sum for the time. Indians General Manager Hank Greenberg turned the offer down; he believed that Score may eventually be one of the best pitchers that ever lived.
Obviously, nobody could predict the tragic events of May 7. After the injury, Score suffered from fuzzy vision and depth perception impairment. His vision eventually returned and he planned to play with the Indians the next season. Score returned in 1958, but only pitched in 12 games after he injured his elbow. New Indians manager Joe Gordon, along with Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, thought that Score altered his pitching motion after the incident and that he was no longer completing his follow through – causing him to favor his left arm. Others disagreed with this assessment and believed he simply developed arm troubles. Score went 2-3 with a 3.73 ERA and 47 strikeouts during his abbreviated 1958 season. Score went 9-11 in 1959 and was traded to the Chicago White Sox following the season for pitcher Barry Latman. Plagued by wildness after the trade, he struggled for three more seasons and retired at the age of 30 with a 55-46 record over eight Major League seasons.
Score’s tragic incident is often cited as one piece of evidence to a “curse” in Cleveland sports, particularly in regards to a curse of the Indians. There is a bright side to Score’s early retirement from baseball – in 1964 he began to work as a broadcaster for Indians games, at first on television and later on the radio. Beloved by Indians fans, Score retired in 1997. He never blamed McDougald for his injury and did not like news stories that appeared to take pity on him and his situation. In 1977, former Indians infielder (and later coach) Buddy Bell said of Score, “Herb is such a nice guy, he probably makes his bed in the hotel room in the morning.”
Score experienced more hardship following his retirement, as he was in a serious car accident in 1998, and suffered from a stroke in 2002. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 75.