Tough Week for Old Southpaws

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tough Week for Old Southpaws

I came from a time before "specialization" took over professional sports... gridiron athletes in both the pros and college were "two-way players" before that was a significant label.

(If your team had the football, you lined up on offense; if the other team had possession, you played defense. You knew the job you were expected to do whether you were an "X" or an "O" on the coach's blackboard!)

Baseball's strategic "double-switch" was still decades away, and there were no "starters," "middle relievers," "set-up men" "situational lefties" or "closers;" there were only "pitchers."

The better ones got to start games, usually every four days! And they were expected to finish those that they started! Nine innings, and if it was still tied, keep going.

It was once felt that no one would ever break Lou Gehrig's "iron man streak" of 2,130 con­secutive games played, but then Cal Ripkin Jr. came along and now the mark is 2,632 games!

Now the Major League record few think will fall, is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, but my own sense is that the one which will never be approached is the 26-inning game that Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore pitched against one another in 1920.

(Incomprehensible, isn't it?!? But as the Ol' Perfesser, Casey Stengel, used to say: "You can look it up!" )

The last time anyone came anywhere near close to that was in 1963 when Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants beat the Milwaukee Braves great left-hander Warren Spahn (42 years old at the time), 1-0, is a 16-inning mar­athon on a home run by Willie Mays.

None of the pitchers back then seemed to have been born with a rotator cuff, a glenoid labrum or an ulnar collateral ligament, the parts which are today so susceptible to injury.

Tendonitis? Pfui!

Torn rotator cuff? Whaaaaat?!?

Sore arm? Rub in some liniment, do some wind-sprints, work it out in the bullpen and be ready for your next start!

Nothing short of a catastrophic event kept those pitchers from their scheduled starts.

Herb Score's Rookie card

The first, and most sick­ening such event in my recollection happened in May of 1957 when the Yankees were visiting Cleveland and facing the Indians' third-year phenom­enon, Herb Score.

We listened to the game in a Sixth Former's room... only seniors were permitted radios... and after getting Hank Bauer on a groundout to start the game, Score was facing shortstop Gil McDougald.

I can't say that we heard the sound of the line drive hitting Score in the face, only broadcast­er Mel Allen's call that the ball had caromed to third baseman Al Smith who threw to Vic Wertz at first to retire McDougal.

Catcher Jim Hegan comes to the aid of pitcher Herb Score

In the agonized "Ohhhhhhhhh" of the 18,000+ crowd, we learned that the batted ball had felled Score and sent blood pouring from his right eye, nose and mouth.

Soon after, the Municipal Stadium public ad­dress announcer could be heard asking:

"If there is a doctor in the stands, will he please report to the playing field."

The blood was bad enough, but that extra­ordinary call for medical assistance quieted everyone in the room. I wondered if baseball was about to have a second fatality, following Ray Chapman's mortal beaning in 1920.

It was the first time I'd ever listened to the radio with my heart in my throat.

Score, a Queens (Rosedale) boy, was an ace in Cleveland's long tradition of aces: Bob Feller, Mel Harder, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia. Rookie of the Year in '55, he'd won 20 games the following season to beat the "soph­omore jinx" and solidify his credentials.

Gifted with a blazing fastball and a wicked curve, the two-time All-Star, still shy of his 24th birthday at the time of the injury, was deemed a certain Hall of Famer.

He was in Lakeside Hospital for three weeks with severe hemorrhaging in the eye, a swollen retina and a broken nose.

Score tried to comeback several times in suc­ceeding seasons but never regained his mound mastery and retired in early '62.

He had a successful 33-year career in broad­casting before retiring from that in 1997.

Herbert Jude Score passed yesterday, two days after Preacher Roe. He was 75 years old.


1. Hampton West said...

I recall that day in 1957 and the subsequent news coverage - a shame - the guy was a talent.

As for complete games, I understand one Robin Roberts, a menace to both New York National League teams once threw 28 complete games in a row!

Can you imagine that now?

The first relief "specialist I can recall was Dick Raditz of the Red Sox, but I'm sure there were earlier ones.

Yep - tough days for lefties of my youth. Johnny Antonelli, I hope you're still with us.

Robin Roberts was a monster a decade before Dick Raditz was "The Monster." Problem was he pitched in Philadelphia during the era when Brooklyn and New York ruled the National League. In 1953 he completed 33 of 41 starts, and won 23 of them in the middle of six straight 20-game winning seasons! You're going to see most of today's pitchers go their entire careers without 33 complete games!

In the early-to-mid '60s, Raditz and the Dodgers' Ron Perranoski were the prominent relief specialists, but earlier the Pirates had Elroy Face and the Yankees had in the '30s Johnny Murphy, the '40s Joe Page and the early '60s, little Luis Arroyo who specialized in finishing games Whitey Ford started. And don't forget fireman Hugh Casey of the '40s Dodgers!

Last I heard, Antonelli was in upstate Noo Yawk!
– Dean

2. Rob F. said...

Dean, I am really enjoying your "On the Bleachers Blog" entries! Great stuff, though the passings are sobering.

The inveterate punster, as always, Rob!

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