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11/11/08 4:28 PM EST

Indians legend Score passes away

Lefty, longtime broadcaster succumbs to lengthy illness

CLEVELAND -- Herb Score called Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, a game that brought the Indians and their faithful yet another disappointment.

The loss to the Florida Marlins disappointed Score as well. He went into self-imposed retirement and settled into a life absent the adulation he'd known as the homespun voice of the Indians. His silence left a generation of Tribe fans pleading for "Herbie" to return.

Score died Tuesday morning at his home in Rocky River, Ohio, after a lengthy illness. He was 75.

"Today is a sad day for the Cleveland Indians family and for Cleveland Indians fans everywhere," team president Paul Dolan said in a written statement. "We have lost one of the greatest men in the history of our franchise. Generations of Indians fans owe their love of the Tribe to Herb Score, who was a powerful pitcher and legendary broadcaster. Our thoughts and prayers are with Nancy and the family."

Score had been in poor health since his car pulled in front of a tractor-trailer on Oct. 8, 1998, in New Philadelphia, Ohio, a town about 80 miles south of Cleveland. Score teetered between life and death at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio, with injuries to his hip, head and pelvis.

Even after he left Aultman Hospital for home, Score wasn't the Herb Score that friends and baseball fans had come to know.

And they had all gotten to know Score intimately over the years. They welcomed him into their home each time the Indians played.

From 1964 to Game 7 of the '97 Series, he had broadcast their games. His partners in the booth --- Jack Corrigan, Joe Tait, Paul Olden, Nev Chandler, Steve Lamar, Reggie Rucker, Bruce Drennan, Bob Feller and others -- came and went, but Score remained a fixture, calling season after season of mostly lousy baseball.

"No one in the history of the game has seen more bad baseball than Herb Score," Tait once said.

Funeral arrangements for Herb Score
Visitation will take place Friday, Nov. 14 from 1-3 p.m. ET and 6-9 p.m. at Busch Funeral Home, 21369 Center Ridge Road in Fairview Park, Ohio.

Funeral Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Christopher's Church, 20141 Detroit Road, Rocky River Road, Ohio on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 10:30 a.m. Interment will be in Lakewood Park Cemetery located at 22025 Detroit Road, Rocky River, Ohio.

Memorial contributions may be made to Cornerstone of Hope, 5905 Brecksville Road, Independence, Ohio, 44131; or Cleveland Indians Charities, c/o Cleveland Indians Community Outreach Department, 2401 Ontario Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44115.

And then in '97, when Score was close to seeing baseball from the top of the mountain, he was denied that grand sight one last time in Game 7.

He'd seen enough, apparently. He decided to move on without baseball, which had been so much a part of his life.

Before he stepped into the broadcast booth, Score had a baseball career with the Indians that, at one point early on, had him on the precipice of greatness.

"He would have been probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, left-handed pitchers that ever lived," said Feller, whose Hall of Fame career was winding down as Score arrived in Cleveland in 1955. "He'd probably have been better than [Sandy] Koufax."

Others shared Feller's view.

"To me," said Rocky Colavito, an Indians icon from Score's era, "Herbie was the best left-hander I ever saw."

The way his career was headed in the summer of '55, Score, a 22-year-old rookie from Rosedale, N.Y., surely showed he was marked for greatness. He won 16 games his first season in the big leagues, a prelude to what he seemed destined to achieve.

In '56, he bettered his rookie season. Score went 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA, the kind of numbers that put him in a league with left-handers like Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn, two men who had built their Hall of Fame reputations a few seasons before Koufax reached stardom.

By '57, Score himself was a full-fledged star. No young left-hander in the game had achieved as much as he had. He used a blazing fastball and a sharp curveball that dropped like a waterfall to dominate anybody he faced.

He was Koufax before there was a Koufax.

"Herb Score had just as good a curveball as Koufax and a better fastball," Feller said. "And he had pretty good control."

Score, big, strong and handsome, seemed destined for a plaque in Cooperstown, said Tris Speaker, a Hall of Fame center fielder who worked in the Indians front office in 1940 and '50s.

"If nothing happens to Score, he has got to be the greatest," Speaker was quoted as saying in April 1957.

The same month, The Sporting News ran a story with a headline that read: "Will Herb Score Be Greatest Left-hander?" A secondary headline on the story read: "Good Luck and Health Big Hopes."

Good luck didn't serve as Score's companion in life, though. Just two weeks after Speaker had all but called Score a surefire Hall of Famer, his train ride into Cooperstown derailed.

On May 7, 1957, Score was pitching against Yankees shortstop Gil McDougald, who lined a 2-2 pitch back up the middle. The ball caught Score flush in the face, shattering bones around his eyes and threatening Score's eyesight.

Blood gushed everywhere, people at the game said.

"As soon as I hit the ground, I prayed to St. Jude," he was quoted as saying a week after the incident. "I was afraid to open my eye. I was afraid I wouldn't see."

They carted Score off the field and took him to Lakeside Hospital.

McDougald looked on in shock.

"It took a few hitches out of me as a ballplayer, even though I know you can't control where the ball is going after you hit it," he once said. "Everybody, including Herb's mother, tried to tell me it wasn't my fault."

Score spent months trying to recover from the physical hurt. He used the rest of his baseball career trying to resolve the mental hurt. He never did.

The rest of his baseball career had no hint of greatness. By 1962, Score, then 29, hung up his cleats. After his 20-win season in 1957, he totaled 19 more wins in winding down his career.

While he never recaptured that early glory, Score found glory elsewhere. Two years after his retirement, he joined Bob Neal as the TV voice for the Indians. In 1968, Score moved to radio to replace the deep-voiced Jimmy Dudley, a broadcast legend.

Score remained there for almost two decades. He was there through Frank Robinson, Joe Carter and Albert Belle. Score was there for first place, last place and finishes in between. He was there for playoff success and playoff disappointment; he was there for the closing of Municipal Stadium and for the opening of the ballpark now known as Progressive Field.

On Oct. 26, 1997, Score called Game 7 of the World Series. He was in the radio booth with Tom Hamilton when shortstop Edgar Renteria singled home the winning run for the Marlins in the bottom of the 11th inning to touch off a celebration that Score could only watch.

It was yet another disappointment. It was his last disappointment in baseball.

For Score, who never bemoaned his misfortunes, had seen enough -- the good, the bad, the frustrating. He walked away from baseball after that night in Miami; Score stayed away from baseball.

"You'd think the man would be allowed to call a World Series win in his last game," sportswriter Terry Pluto wrote in his book "Our Tribe." "You'd think there would be some justice for Herb Score, if no one else."

Score is survived by his wife.

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.