|My first memory of listening to Herb Score was in my basement. Herb was on the radio telling me about an Indians spring training game from Tucson or Mesa or somewhere. [S]pring training games were tough on Herb. He can -- how can this be said kindly? -- become easily confused. In the spring there are different players going in and out of the game every inning ... but Herb doesn't notice because he likes to sit with his back to the field between innings, working on his tan. But I forgive Herb. He has made a million mistakes, and so have the Indians. The only difference is that Herb is good-natured about it. On the air he sounds like the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Then you meet Herb, and guess what? He just may be the nicest guy you've ever met.
Herb Score has seen more Indians games than anyone, so it's no wonder he has trouble keeping things straight. Herb pitched for the Indians from 1955 to 1959. He returned to the team as a TV broadcaster in 1964, and he moved into the radio booth in 1968. That's five years playing for the Tribe and thirty more as a broadcaster.
"Herb Score has probably watched more bad baseball than anyone in the history of the game," said Joe Tait, one of his partners on radio. Maybe that's why Score's descriptions are like no others. Try some of these:
"There's a two-hopper to Kuiper who fields it on the first bounce."
"Swing and miss, called strike three."
"There's a fly ball deep to right field. Is it fair? Is it foul? It is!"
He called pitcher Efrain Valdez, "Efrem Zimbalist, Jr."
Growing up listening to Herb, then working for him for five years, Nev Chandler is a Herb Score catalog.
"One game we were playing Boston at the Stadium, and the Tribe was losing 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth," said Chandler. "The Indians had the bases loaded, two outs. Andre Thornton hit a fly ball down the left field line. It appeared to have the distance for a homer. The only question was whether it would stay in fair territory. But Boston's Jim Rice went deep into the corner, timed his leap perfectly -- I saw him catch the ball and bring it back into the park. Suddenly Herb yelled, 'And that ball is gone. A grand slam home run for Andre Thornton. That is Thornton's twenty-second home run of the year and the Indians lead, 8-7.'
"As Herb was saying this, he wasn't looking at the field. He was marking his scorebook. I saw Rice running in with the baseball. Herb was still talking about the home run. I snapped my fingers, and Herb looked up to see the Red Sox leaving the field.
"Herb said, 'I beg your pardon. Nev, what happened? Did Rice catch the ball?'
"Trying to bail Herb out, I said, 'Rice made a spectacular catch. He went up and over the wall and took the home run away. It was highway robbery.'
"Herb said, 'I thought the ball had disappeared into the seats. Well, I beg your pardon. The Indians do not take the lead. After eight innings, it is Boston 7, Cleveland 4.'
"Then we went to commercial, and Herb acted as if nothing had happened. I would have been completely flustered. But Herb just corrects himself and keeps going."
That is why Indians fans love Herb Score. He is unpretentious, making his way through games as best he can. He's just Herb being Herb, and being Herb Score sometimes means taking strange verbal sidetrips. When Albert Belle hit a home run into the upper deck in left field that supposedly went 430 feet, Score asked, "How do they know it went 430 feet? Do they measure where the ball landed? Or do they estimate where the ball would have landed if the upper deck hadn't been there? And if there had been no upper deck, then how do they know how far the ball would have gone?"
Score answered none of those age-old questions of the baseball universe. He was just wondering about it one moment, and then it was forgotten by him the next.
But not by Indians fans. One of their favorite pastimes is to tell one another what Herb said the night before. One of my favorites:
CHANDLER: "That base hit makes Cecil Cooper 19-for-42 against the Tribe this year."
SCORE: "I'm not good at math, but even I know that is over .500."
Well, it's not quite. But I'll give Herb the benefit of the doubt.
-- Terry Pluto
The Curse of Rocky Colavito
The Curse of Rocky Colavito, Terry Pluto
Copyright 1994 by Terry Pluto
Published by Fireside (New York), 1995
available at AMAZON