In 2003, the Washington Times described this event as follows:
The count was 2-and-2 on the New York Yankees’ second batter in the first inning, and the Cleveland Indians’ 23-year-old left-hander didn’t want to throw a curve or slider because he felt he lacked command of his breaking stuff. So on his 12th pitch of the evening, he went to the whistling fastball that had helped him claim 508 strikeouts over his first two seasons.
The pitch was low and inside, and Gil McDougald lined it up the middle. Let Herb Score tell what happened.
“I heard the crack of the bat while my head was down in my follow-through. All I ever saw as my head came up was this white blur. I snapped up my glove, but the white blur blasted through the fingertips and into my right eye. … I clutched at my face, staggered and fell. … Then [I thought], ‘My God, the eye has popped right out of my head!’ “
Not quite, but close enough. The date was May 7, 1957, at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, and the career of baseball’s best young pitcher 36-19 for his first two seasons and a sure Hall of Famer according to many was finished for all practical purposes.
Two future generations of Indians fans would know Score as a friendly, familiar broadcaster whose imminent retirement in September 1997 after 34 years behind the mike prompted a two-minute standing ovation from a sellout crowd at Jacobs Field. But older fans will recall him, too, as a pitcher who appeared certain to follow Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia as superb hurlers for the Indians in the ’50s, when good Cleveland teams frequently finished second to the Yankees.
Score always claimed that a sore arm the following season not the eye injury ruined his career. Regardless, the ball that McDougald rocketed back at him caused one of the goriest and most lasting images of that era.
It also showed the world how brave a baseball player could be in the face of physical calamity. As Herbert Jude Score lay near the mound so bloody and battered that the sight made some players want to vomit, he called on his patron saint for help. And unbelievably on that terrible night, the stricken pitcher cracked one joke after another.
“They can’t say I didn’t keep my eye on that one,” he told teammate Garcia on the field. Later, when a sympathetic reporter said he would see Score at the hospital, Herb replied, “I hope I can see you.” And referring to a recent championship fight, he said, “I must look like [Gene] Fullmer did when [Sugar Ray] Robinson hit him.”
In the Yankees’ clubhouse after the game, McDougald was disconsolate. A seven-season veteran who had preceded Score by four years as American League rookie of the year, the hard-hitting infielder told teammate Hank Bauer, “If he loses his sight, I’ll quit baseball. The game’s not that important when it comes to this.”
Talking to Jimmy Cannon in March 1958, Score said,
“I feel good. The eye is real, real strong.”
“Did you ever feel like giving up?”
“Give up? I never gave up. When I was first hit, they bandaged both eyes. I could hear people walking. I thought we never appreciate what God does for us. We never think what it is to see. I can see very well. My ankle has been a little sore. But the eye – the only problem I have now is to get the fellows out.”
And back in 1987, Score said, “The McDougald line drive had nothing to do with my career ending prematurely.
“I came back in ’58 throwing as hard as ever. I had a good spring and I was 2-1 early in the regular season. In one of those games, I struck out 13 or 14. I had 48 strikeouts in 41 innings. Physically, I was never better. Then we had about a week of rainouts, and I was pitching in Washington on a cold, rainy night.
“Late in the game, I felt a pain in my elbow and forearm that I didn’t pay much attention to. Then one of my pitches didn’t make it to home plate. The next pitch didn’t make it to the plate, either.
“The club sent me to Baltimore to see a specialist. I was diagnosed as having a tendon injury. I laid off about three weeks and came back in Washington again.
“I went in as a reliever, struck out five or six and ended the game on a popup to the outfield. But I hurt my arm again on that pitch. After that pitch, I was never the same again. My pitches never had the same movement on them. I had no snap.
“I know people think it was the McDougald line drive, but I really don’t think so. Oh, it’s possible the long layoff, the medication-I was on cortisone for 10 months to reduce swelling on the right side of my head-might have altered my muscle tone, and that may have affected my windup somehow . . . but I’ve really never been able to make a connection.
“I do remember this-when I came back, I’d wear out a toe plate in one game. Before McDougald hit me, a toe plate would last me all season.
“Everything I have in life I owe to baseball. I’ve been in professional baseball 35 years. Maybe if it wasn’t for the fact my playing career was short, I wouldn’t have this job. I was still pitching (for the Chicago White Sox) when it was offered to me, and I took it.
“I love broadcasting. Is there a better baseball job than this?”