Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Was Herb Score The Best Pitcher MLB Could Have Seen?

When I was a seven or eight year-old kid growing up in West Virginia, I was always playing baseball, sometimes with others, and at times alone.

I would go through the motions of pitching, as though I were in a real game. I was actually throwing the baseball at a retaining wall, about four feet tall which was made from cross-ties from a railroad nearby.

Being a natural right-handed person, I taught myself how to throw left-handed. I had it down too, folk. I am telling you, my delivery was smooth. This was just before Koufax hit his stride in LA. I would emulate stars of the time period.

Media was very rudimentary then, almost prehistoric if you compare it with today. There was a game-of-the-week on television. I think I remember Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese doing the announcing.

At any rate, the players to mirror myself after (as a pitcher) were right-hander Early Wynn and southpaws Billy Pierce and Herb Score. I would go through the motions of pitching to every guy in the opposing lineup and scoring it on my unofficial score sheet.

At the time, there was no ESPN, or Fox Sports or any other way a young guy could enhance his baseball fix. Newspapers were about the only thing available, especially if you were financially disadvantaged (cool way to say poor).

News of Herb Score being struck by a line drive didn’t come down to my level until probably a year after the accident. All I knew was that he was one of the best pitchers in the game and I was modeling my young career after him.

Of course, looking back through history I realize one of the most promising major league pitching careers had been ruined by a line drive to they eyeball delivered by Gil McDougald. Not that it was Gil’s fault mind you; he felt so much guilt by it that he promised to retire if Herb lost his sight because of it.

How good was Score? Some have said that he was as good as Koufax ever was, maybe better. That is high praise, indeed.

Herbert Jude Score was 19 when he broke into professional baseball with the Cleveland Indian’s AAA arm team, the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.

Cleveland Indian’s great slugger Rocky Colavito saw Score for the first time in a 1952 Spring Training Camp in Florida. Herb pitched two innings in that game and nobody hit a fair ball against him.

He and Colavito would become best friends, and Rocky delivered the eulogy as Herb’s funeral in 2008.

Everyone in the civilized world was sure the line drive was what ended one of the most promising careers in history. That is, everyone with the exception of Score and Colavito, who both dismissed the idea that the residual effect of the eye injury caused the demise of Herb’s career. They both attributed it to an elbow injury he suffered through a few years later.

In his first year in the big leagues Herb was named Rookie of the Year and deservedly so. He went 16-10 with an ERA of 2.85 that freshman year. He also led the American League in strikeouts with 245 in only 227 innings pitched. He threw 11 complete games and two shutouts.

If anyone thought the sophomore jinx would rear its ugly head, they had another think coming. He became a 20-game winner, going 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA, 16 complete games and a league best five shutouts. He topped the league again in strikeouts with 263 in only 249 innings.

In 1957 about a month into the season Herb was facing the New York Yankees with a 2-1 record and an ERA of 2.04. At Cleveland Stadium, on May 7 in front of 18, 386 fans, one of the best pitchers in the game began to work against the Yankees.

Hank Bauer led off for the Yankees and Score enticed him to hit a ground ball which third baseman Al Smith fielded cleanly and threw him out at first.

This brought up SS, Gil McDougald. Herb threw a pitch and Gil sent a line drive, faster than it was pitched, into the eyeball socket of Herb Score. The ball bounced off Herb’s face and Smith picked it up and threw to first baseman Vic Wertz, easily throwing out McDougald who was distracted by the fallen pitcher.

Score never lost consciousness but had severe hemorrhaging in the eye and a swollen retina as well as a broken nose. He was carried off the field and spent three weeks in a hospital. His plight brought 10,000 letters with good wishes. People in his hometown, Lake Worth, Fla., sent him a 125-foot-long get-well telegram with 4,000 names, and a California man offered to donate an eye to him.

Bob Lemon would come in and pitch for Cleveland, finish the game ad pick up the victory.

Score was traded to the White Sox in 1960 and was never close to the same pitcher he was prior to the injury to the eye. In fact after 1957 Herb’s totals were 17-26 with an ERA of 4.43, 290 strikeouts in 345+ innings.

Herb retired after the 1962 season and from 1964 to 1997 he became the voice of the Cleveland Indians on the radio broadcasts.

Hall of Fame pitcher and teammate, Bob Feller said of Score, “He would have been probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, left-handed pitchers who ever lived. Herb Score had just as good a curveball as [Sandy] Koufax and a better fastball."

It is one of the more unfortunate blows that life delivers. Perhaps we could be talking about Herb Score as the best left-hander in history. Who knows?

What we do know is that he was great prior to the accident, and not quite mediocre after.

Herb died in November of 2008. Rocky Colavito, his lifelong friend delivered the eulogy at his funeral.

© 2009 Clifton Eastham

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Roger Maris: The Record That Was Almost Prevented

Here is the partial transcript of a journal of Mr. Hiram Jeramiah Whitson, who lived about 10 miles from Brighton, MA. Only the entries which include information about Roger Maris are included. The journal was bought in an estate sale of Polly Whitson, his daughter in 2004.

July 10, 1961

It is the all star break and I am glad because I feel myself getting too attached to the game. I can't seem to quit following it, to a fault. It is cloudy and depressing today in Brighton. These kind of days do me no good whatsoever. I wish it would rain. Maris hit his 33rd yesterday and is on a helluva pace. Everytime you read the papers someone is comparing him to Babe. Ridiculous. Maris isn't half the player Babe was.

July 24, 1961

The sun is shining brightly today, everything is fine. I even cleaned out the gutters this evening. I have to remember to give Jim back his circular saw. Maris is still on a tare (sic). He can't beat Babe's record, he just can't.
August 8, 1961

Cloudy out again, but really hot. Another one of those depressing days, I wish they would go away. Sometimes I would just like to stay in my room and sleep the time away. Roger fu**ing Maris and Mantle both are threatening to break Babe's HR record. I'd sure rather see Mick do it if someone has to. Who the hell is Maris?

August 28, 1961

51 HR's. That sonofab**ch has hit 51 homers. He is going to break the record. I know he is. I don't know if I could stand for that. Babe was the best ever. Maris isn't worthy to tie Babe's shoes. It's raining outside and I hate my life and everybody in it. I saw that same guy at the store yesterday. He seems too friendly. Maybe something is up?

Sept. 20, 1961

I don't feel well at all today. My head aches, my eyes feel like they have a lot of pressure inside. Cloudy and just a little cool today. Too cool for this time in September in Brighton. The damn guy has 58 now and it looks like he's gonna do it. I am at my end with this whole thing. Mantle got hurt and can't break the record so now it's just up to Maris. If he breaks it I don't know what I'll do. He is coming to Boston on the 23rd. So will I. I'll see to it that he doesn't break it. By God, if he would get whacked he wouldn't break it. I'll take my 9mm and pop him right there in right field. I can get a seat just behind Pesky's Pole, put a silencer on it and pick him off like a grouse. He won't even know what hit him.

(According to records, Whitson was killed on Sept. 22 when he was struck by a bus in downtown Brighton at 3:00 in the afternoon.)

Dom: The Other DiMaggio

It is so hard being the runt of the litter. You know, the youngest sibling. You are always striving to outdo the others in at least one thing.

It happens all the time. There have been many brothers who have played in the major leagues, one usually excelling over the other, thus claiming more recognition.

For example, if I say Brett, you don't say Ken, right? Of course not, you say George. Oldtimers, if I say Shantz, you would'nt reply Billy, you would say Bobby. If I say Perry you say Gaylord, not Jim. I say Boyer, you would probably say Ken, not Clete or Cloyd. Dean usually gets the response Dizzy, not Daffy. Tony Conigliaro, not Billy. I could go on and on, but I digress.

When one of your brothers is the great Joe DiMaggio, the stakes go up a good deal. How can you compete with someone who grows up to be one of the best players in baseball history?

Thus, is the plight of being the brother of a superstar. It doesn’t matter that you end your own professional baseball career with a .298 batting average. It matters not that you were named to seven All-Star teams in the 10 full seasons you played.

Throw in all that the fact that you played your career alongside a player some regard as the best hitter ever in baseball, Ted Williams.

All those components together mean that the spotlight was not large enough for all three.

Born in 1917, Domenic Paul DiMaggio, went on to become a very good, maybe not great, centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1940 until 1953.

After missing three years serving in the Navy in World War II, he returned in 1946 with his best season yet, batting .316 to place fifth in the league.

There is always that particular part of the brain that makes one wonder, “what if?”

What if Dom hadn’t given up three years of his prime playing years to Uncle Sam, what more accomplishments he may have made?

You could hit .300 every year, hit 30 HR every year and drive in 100 runs and still not be the best DiMaggio, not to mention the best center-fielder in the American League.

It is very difficult to grow up in the shadow of a brother, especially a successful one. I would imagine all his life Dom was asked, “DiMaggio, are you Joe’s brother?”

Even now every time someone meets me they say, “Eastham. Are you related to Ron?” It gets old, people, it gets real old.

His nickname, “The Little Professor” was very well deserved. Dom wasn’t your stereotypical looking baseball player, he looked more like he was taking Chemistry 101 or studying to become a nuclear physicist rather than being one of the best fielders of his era.

He did not just look like a mathematician, he was one. He utilized his mathematical skills to become successful in the business world after his retirement from baseball, and loved to play the stock market.

In most instances, someone with a 34-game hitting streak on his resume would look very good indeed. However, when you turn the lights on and look around and see ol’ Joe over there with a world-record 56-game hitting streak of his own, your streak quickly diminishes in grandeur.

Ironically, it was big bro Joe who caught a sinking liner to end his streak and keep his own record intact.

He was generally regarded as a better defensive player with a stronger arm, than Joe. The younger DiMaggio led the American League in assists three times, putouts twice and double plays twice.

Dom was also selfless and a very giving person. For years he donated all the money he made from signing autographs to the American Professional Baseball Players Association, an organization that helped support older players not covered by a retirement plan.

Dom passed away on May 8 in his home in Massachusetts after battling pneumonia. He was 92.

© Clifton Eastham 2009. All rights reserved.

Ode to the Umpire

An umpire’s life is not that fun,

Spending four hours in the dry hot sun,

Making calls that half dislike,

Telling rowdy managers to take a hike.

He spends his afternoons or nights

Calling balls and strikes and breaking up fights,

He calls him "out" and the crowd goes wild,

Then the manager tells him he’s nobody’s child.

He makes calls on plays that are lightning quick,

The player’s upset; he has a bone to pick.

"What kind of life is this?" the umpire thinks,

Nose to nose, this whole deal stinks.

The team at bat is a run behind,

Bottom of the ninth, he is in a bind.

Two outs, three on, three balls strike two,

The catcher calls time to tie his shoe.

The umpire hopes the batter swings,

So he doesn’t decide the team that wins.

The pitcher looks in to get his sign,

While the umpire tries to clear his mind.

The pitch comes in and time seems to freeze,

It’s headed for the corner right at the knees.

The batter just looks as the ball goes by,

"Strike three, you’re out!" was the umpire’s cry.

The game was lost by the home team then,

The umpire tried to remember when

He made the choice of this career,

And the clubhouse tunnel was nowhere near.

He ran like the wind to escape the mob,

He knew he should find a different job,

You can’t please them all, he knew that well,

But when the home team loses, it’s just pure hell.

© Clifton Eastham 2009. All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 15, 2009

Open Letter To Roger Clemens

This is a new world you have found yourself in, isn’t it Rog? You still have more money than you know what to do with, but it gnaws at you down deep in the wheelhouse, where nobody can see that things have changed.

It is difficult if not impossible to feel true compassion abut someone who threw their own self under the bus. Yes you did, you know you did.

Take a look out there now Roger. Take a good long look. You actually broke a whole bunch of hearts of the fans who revered you. Mine? No, of course not, I never really liked you anyway. No offense, you have just never done it for me.

I have always been a fan of players who don’t talk a lot but let their craft do their communicating for them. You know, people like Tommy John, Roger Maris, Jim Thome. People who played the game straight up, asking for no quarter and certainly giving none.

Now more about you and your uh, what shall we say, predicament?

You had the world by the onions. You were destined for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot maybe the first 100% ever. And if you had retired when you should have, I wouldn’t be penning this letter just now. You would still be America’s sweetheart, The Rocket! Oh how the mighty have fallen.

The thing that gets me is this. You brought this entire scenario upon yourself. Nobody compelled you to go in and lie to congress. You just couldn’t stand it that you were caught up in the cyclone which I now call Steroidmania. When I say caught up, I mean found out.

Brian McNamee let people know that you weren’t what you were perceived to be. You could have just said, “Hell with him, let people think what they will.” But not you, no, you had to be public, and worse, you had to be a spectacle. I remember when you said, “I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Hall of Fame…”. Remember that? Or did you forget that as well?

I wonder if you will be saying that five and ten years down the line. I bet Mark McGwire regrets telling Congress, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” At last count he has been on two HOF ballots, outvoted on both of them, and actually fell from bad to worse on them.

Does it matter not that you were a hero, a legend, a player kids looked up to for an example to follow? Or are you like Bob Gibson? “Why should I be an example for your kids? Be an example for your own kids.” I thought that was flippant but Gibson was Gibson, and he is a Hall of Famer now.

Lying to Uncle Sugar is serious business son. Ask Barry Bonds. Remember now, they didn’t come after you, you sought them.

Bringing legal action against McNamee was a very bad thing to do. I always use to hear that the more you stirred shit, the more it smelled. I believe that is true, so does anyone else who has fallen down a flight of stairs with a “thunder mug” in his or her hand. But I digress.

The real sad thing is you took part in ruining a whole generation of players who have played clean and above board. We can’t trust anyone anymore. A-Rod fessed up after he got caught, so did Manny, sort of. And you still, still, STILL deny it. What’s up with that? They’ve got DNA on needles with blood that said it belongs to you. Blood doesn’t lie Roger, people do.

Deny on Roger, deny on. I guess you will be like Pete Rose. Do your time, watch your life played on TV, then come out with a best-seller, “I didn’t use ‘roids, bit if I would have….”.

Kids loved you man. They idolized you. What are their parents supposed to tell them? Should they drop a dime on you? I mean what’s next for them? “Here Kids, Daddy needs to tell you something. You know the stuff they said Roger Clemens did? Well, he did it. Oh, by the way, you know what we told you about Santa, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy……..”

Nothing is sacred anymore. Damnit, you need to confront the issue. There is no healing when pain or disease is not confronted. And between you and me, now it doesn’t even matter if you did it or not. People will always think you did. Just like a person being charged with being a pedophile. Even though they are innocent, the condemnation rages on so far that the truth doesn’t matter anymore.

Tell us the truth Roger. Yes, we can handle the truth. The truth will set you free.

© 2009 Clifton Eastham. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can You Remember?

When Ahmad Rashad was Bobby Moore

When he was a running back and receiver for the Oregon Ducks he used his birth name of Robert Moore. He was an All-American running back where he played alongside quarterback Dan Fouts. He was a first round (4th overall) pick of the (then) St. Louis Cardinals in 1972 about the same time he changed his name to Ahmad Rashad (Rashad means ‘Admirable One Led To Truth’) after his mentor in St. Louis.

He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He later became a TV football announcer and analyst.

When NBA referees called palming (walking, traveling, etc) on players

When pro basketball was really fun to watch (and some people on the court actually couldn’t dunk it) the referees called palming when a player (usually a guard) turned his wrist over while dribbling the ball. Now, not only do they palm, sometimes they get away with taking a couple steps after terminating their dribble.

When there was no shot clock in NCAA Basketball

In 1985 the NCAA began using a 45 second clock (which was changed to 35 in 1993) in which a team had to shoot the ball. The timer starts when the team inbounds the ball. If they don’t shoot in the appropriate time limit, the other team gains possession of the basketball.

A big reason for the rule was the North Carolina Tar Heels. Coach Dean Smith employed an offense known as the “four corners”. Four of the players would stand at each corner of the offensive end of the court while the fifth man would dribble the ball until someone challenged him. They could get a lead and just “milk” the clock with the four corner offense, usually until someone was fouled. Phil Ford was an absolute expert at running this offense for Dean Smith.

When there were no baseball playoffs in the Major Leagues?

Prior to 1969 the only major league baseball teams to play for a championship was the regular season pennant winners from the American and National Leagues respectively.

They played the best 4 out of 7 in the World Series and the winner was the world champs of baseball for that year. This is why you see such bloated ‘post season’ records today. Back then, there was no post season, it was just the World Series.

When MLB had two all-star games a year.

From 1959 until 1962 the National League All-stars and the American League All-stars met twice each year. The idea for the extra game was for the extra revenue to help with the player’s pension fund. However, many felt that the second game watered down the significance of the mid-summer classic, so it was abandoned.

When Cornerbacks were Called Defensive halfbacks and Wide Receivers were Split Ends and Flankers

Back in the day (don’t you hate that axiom?) positions on a football field were different than they are today. Cornerbacks and Safeties were called Defensive Halfbacks. Wide Receivers were called Split Ends and Flankers, or just Ends.

There was no such thing as a nose guard. You had Defensive Ends and Tackles, period.

Tight Ends were merely called Left or Right Ends. There was a Fullback and a Left and Right Halfback, now you have ‘H’ backs, Scatbacks, Running Backs, Tailbacks, etc.

Of course Quarterbacks have always been called Quarterbacks.

When You Didn’t Go to the Big Dance, if you didn’t win your Conference Title or Tournament

Prior to 1975 only one team per conference was allowed to participate in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. If you didn’t win your tournament (or regular season title in the Big 10) you were at home watching on television. It didn’t matter if you were the #1 rated team in the nation, if you didn’t win, you didn’t go.

Now look at how it has changed, with some conferences sending as many as 7 or 8 and smaller conferences just sending one. I would personally like to see it go back to that.

When the Marquette Golden Eagles were the Marquette Warriors.

The team was called the Warriors from 1954 until 1994. They changed their name to the Golden Eagles because it was felt by many that it was disrespectful to Native Americans. What about prayer warriors?

Also, the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks use to be called the Miami Redskins, but changed because of the same reason.

When the “Top of the Key” looked like the top of a key.

Long, long ago in a basketball arena demolished long ago, the key of the basketball court was a good deal skinnier than it is today.

The reason for the change is that some players had a distinct advantage with the lanes being so close to the basket. This reason also resulted in a ‘3 second’ violation to be implemented.

In the old days offensive players could just plant themselves under the basket and get great position for an offensive rebound.

When Sen. Bill Bradley played Professional Basketball

He was an All-American high school basketball player and chose the Princeton Tigers as the team he wanted to play college ball for. Bill was a 3 time All-American and National Player of the Year in 1965.

He was a Rhodes Scholar so he went to Oxford after getting his degree at Princeton. IN 1966 he joined the New York Knicks as a 6’5” guard and was later moved to forward. He retired from basketball in1977 and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. His number 24 was retired by the Knicks.

© 2009 Clifton Eastham. All Rights Reserved.

Open Letter To Ford Frick

(I know he is dead)

Dear Mr. Frick,

You sir, have tainted one of the most revered records in all of baseball.

Why did you do it? Did you fold under pressure or just have a personal vendetta against Roger Maris? Maybe Mantle too as I believe you made your ‘decree’ prior to being certain which one of them had the better chance of taking the crown off the ‘beloved’ Babe’s head.

This record was broken legitimately and within the course of a season. Just because the season was eight games longer than the prior years, Maris should not be denied a bona fide record, broken without the aid of any performance enhancing techniques. Unless, of course, you think three packs of camels a day enhanced him in any way.

Anyone who looks at the record book in the future will view it as a record that has a problem attached to it. That is what people do when they see an asterisk you know. They begin to let their eyes drift to the bottom of the page, in order to see what explanation needs to be said about a particular item.

You, as part of the elders of the game, took it upon yourself to proclaim that Maris’ record was not legit. That is the only such hallowed record that has such a disgraceful companion with it.

It is my opinion, sir, and maybe only mine, but I believe you ruined the remaining portion of his baseball career. His health began to decline; he was losing his hair due to the stress of the fiasco.

When a man has within his grasp, the chance to dethrone one of the all time greats that should be what he has to deal with; not a baseball commissioner who had no backbone.

You are aware that he won two consecutive Most Valuable Player Awards. Did you also know that he is one of only two players in the course of major league history to win two MVP awards and not be invited into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

In great part, I point the finger of blame right at you. For the longest time Maris was the only player with a ‘major’ record who was not a Hall of Famer.

Your total disrespect for Maris and his outstanding achievement diminished his chances of being one of baseball’s immortals.

I have gone so far as to send a letter to Stan Musial (who was on the Veterans’ Committee at the time) to take a close look at Maris’ contributions to the game as well as his statistics.

I am not saying that Roger’s statistics alone made him worthy of the Hall of Fame. I am saying, that what he did and how he did it, along with his two MVP awards made him a desirable candidate.

I know you are gone now and this letter will never reach you. But it sure takes a load off my chest to write it.

If you and Roger are in the same place, and perhaps have mended the fences, please tell him I am still doing anything I can to help him gain entrance into the Shrine.


Cliff Eastham

Roger Maris’ No. 1 Fan

© Clifton Eastham 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Through The Knothole In The Fence

Through the knothole in the fence I saw

The boys of summer playing ball,

On the field of green I watched them play

In scorching sun or skies of gray.

Life went on while I was there

Content I was to sit and stare,

Frozen in time the game went on

This was my world ‘til I went home.

Through the knothole in the fence I saw

A world not meant for all to see,

I knew them all, those players there

They ran, they hit, they swung, “strike three”.

Three hours a day I’d view my world

Through the knothole in the fence,

Weeks turned to months, they’d soon be gone

The leaves turned gold, the field of green was brown.

My childhood was spent behind that fence

It’s been twenty years my last game since,

I went by to see my friend, the fence

But it was gone five years hence.

Where I use to spend my afternoons

There in its place I’m sad to say,

A parking lot now sets serene

And gone forever, the field of green.

© 2009 Clifton Eastham