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Herb Score, R.I.P.

By admin Published: November 11, 2008


A few notes from a decade of listening to Herb, after the jump. ...

I heard Herb long before I ever saw him; while he was famous for some of his spoken errors, I just liked the sound of his voice. It was a voice for baseball. About a year after coming to Northeast Ohio, I wrote:

Every baseball booth should have a Herb Score.
That's no disrespect to Tom Hamilton, Score's boothmate for radio broadcasts of Cleveland Indians games. Nor is it an endorsement of the athlete-broadcaster, which Score is, courtesy of his eight years as a pitcher for the Indians and Chicago White Sox.
More important than his past, is Score's voice. At 62, he sounds as old as baseball itself. To hear him through the pop and crackle of a radio on a hot July night is to make a link to the community and history of baseball. ...
The radio game, its technology fixed, is a time machine that allows us to revisit the way our parents and even grandparents experienced a major-league game.
It even ceases to matter that Score is talking from a stadium an hour's drive up the road, and that I could be at the game if I'd had more ticket-buying insight.
The radio game is one from a faraway place, heard by a kid under the covers with a Leatherette-covered transistor glued to his ear.
Or a voice coming through a screened window onto a porch on a long-ago summer night, the crack of a bat sharper than the static before and after it.

It was easy to root for Herb, and I did in 1997, when it looked as if he would end his broadcasting career with a world championship for the Indians. But life is not as tidy as that, and I ended up saying this:

There's a sound I'll remember: The hint of disappointment in Herb Score's voice in the ninth inning of Game 7. Score, doing his last radio broadcast for the Indians, was poised to go out with a winner -- and then it slipped away. Furthermore, he was calling the game in the 11th when it ended. Tough luck for Score, but handled with his customary good cheer.

I got to talk to him once, before the 1996 season. Here's that piece.

It usually happens around the middle of the season, Herb Score says. The radio broadcaster for the Indians will be talking to players, and one will say, "Oh, you used to play?"
Score laughed when he told the story to a telephone caller on a rainy and cold afternoon in Winter Haven, Fla. He is free of any bitterness that his accomplishments are unknown to players not yet born when he threw his last major league pitch.
After all, with his 63rd birthday coming in June, Score has been a broadcaster more than half his life. Beginning as an Indians TV commentator in 1964, Score has spent four times as many years sitting in TV and radio booths as he did standing on big-league mounds.
Baseball fans still remember him as a promising pitcher (Rookie of the Year in 1955, American League strikeout leader in '55 and '56) who lost his dazzle after being hit in the face with a line drive on May 7, 1957.
That may not be an accurate picture -- Score for years reminded people that he was coming back in 1958 when he tore a tendon in his pitching elbow -- and it has lingered far longer than Score would like. More than 25 years ago, a sportswriter noted that Score wanted off the "pity list."
Score continues to take the might-have-beens lightly. Reminded that his first year with the Indians came just as they began a 40-year absence from the World Series, Score laughed and added, "And I went to the White Sox in 1960," the year after Chicago made its most recent Series appearance.
Instead, with the words tumbling out far faster than they do on radio, Score talked happily about the 1996 Indians. He called them "a better team than last year."
"There's the addition of Jack McDowell and Julio Franco. Last year at around this time, we were looking at replacement players. And there was no bullpen, they were looking for a closer and nobody knew who it would be. ...
"It used to be, when we'd go to different cities, you'd hear teams saying, 'The Indians are in town and now we're going to make hay,' " said Score, witness to all too many seasons of 90 or more losses. "Now they've gained a lot of respect."
But does that affect how Score will broadcast games? "No," he said. It's more fun, at least in spring training, to watch a happy team, but he's quick to caution "you don't play the games on paper. ... The Indians are a better ballclub, but nobody knows what will happen."
While to some ears Score and fellow announcer Tom Hamilton sound like Tribe rooters, Score tries to underplay it: "I try never to say 'us' or 'we,' " he said. "It's 'the Indians.' "
He also shrugs off the years of criticism of his on-air mistakes, his lapses into silence, his matter-of-fact delivery of moments of high excitement. "Bob Prince (the late Pirates announcer), who's a little flamboyant, told me, 'Half (the listeners) like you, half don't.'
"Obviously, we can't do everything. And when the game is over, you should not remember the announcers. We're not the show. The game is the show."
In any case, what justice there is in the world had Score being part of the Indians' broadcast team for the World Series. Better still would be calling a world championship before he retires in a couple of years.
It's not only that he's a famously nice man, someone who can say Albert Belle "has always been very pleasant with me," even as a new baseball guide includes an essay, "Rating Albert Belle Among the All-Time Surliest."
Nor is it that he gave the Indians some shining moments on the field, although that influences his kindness as announcer.
"I've been there," he said. "I know how they feel. Hitting a baseball is very difficult, and it's so hard for someone who hasn't done it to know that. The further you get from the game, the easier the game becomes."
Most important is that, like so many fans who gave their hearts to the Tribe in the worst of years, Score gave his best in relaying the bad news about those games.
In his 1992 baseball broadcasting history Voices of the Game, author Curt Smith quoted an unnamed Indians fan: "Wouldn't the city of Cleveland have turned somersaults over the last 20 years just to have ballclubs as decent as their announcer?"

Can't add anything to that. Rest in peace, Herb.

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