In the first inning of a night game at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland 57 years ago this evening, Gil McDougald of the Yankees hit a line drive that struck pitcher Herb Score in the face, shattering bones and injuring his right eye. Score left the game and was out for the rest of the season. In a TV interview months later, he recounted the confusion on the field and said that as he lay on the ground he prayed, “Saint Jude, don’t leave me.” At Score’s funeral Mass at St. Christopher Church in Rocky River, Ohio, in 2009, his teammate and close friend Rocky Colavito corroborated that detail, saying that as he ran in from right field to the mound he heard Score say, “Saint Jude, don’t leave me.”
The legend is that his mother, when she heard, immediately went to work praying to Saint Jude for her son and for McDougald, who had run straight to the mound instead of first base. Afterward he said he would quit baseball if Score lost his sight in the eye that his line drive had hit. Score regained his vision in full and in 1958 showed his old form in spring training and through the first weeks of the regular season. On April 23, he tore a tendon in his left elbow, and that was that. It was the injury that derailed and soon ended his once-promising career, he always maintained. Later in his eulogy, Colavito took the congregation practically through an inning-by-inning account of Score’s recovery of his powerful pitching motion and then his inexorable slide into ineffectiveness after the tendon tear.
Score had been called “the left-handed Bob Feller,” and Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle rated him the toughest southpaw they ever faced. He had two phenomenal seasons, 1955 and 1956. In ’55, he struck out 245 batters, a rookie record (since broken by Dwight Gooden) and the first time a major-league pitcher had averaged more than one strikeout per inning pitched. In May of that year, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and in the off-season he was elected American League Rookie of the Year. In 1956, Feller’s last season, the baton was passed from the righty superstar ace to the lefty superstar phenom, as Score went 20–9 and averaged 0.65 hits per inning, which is not many. He was 23 when his career was interrupted, never to complete its trajectory.
Score’s middle name was Jude, and he learned his devotion to the saint from his mother. Saint Jude was invoked at several critical junctures in Score’s life. At age three, he was run over by a truck, and doctors said he would never walk again. I could probably multiply examples of Saint Jude’s intercession in his life, but that will be a story for another day.