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A Pair of Lefthanders

Matt Schudel

Two lefthanded baseball pitchers died this week, Preacher Roe and Herb Score. (Our obituary of Score isn't in the paper as of Nov. 12 because we didn't have enough space.)

Roe was a crafty pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their "Boys of Summer" glory days of the late 1940s and 1950s and helped pitch the Dodgers into three World Series. In 1951, he had a sensational record of 22-3, which is still the Dodgers' record for best winning percentage for a pitcher with 20 wins or more. Preacher was a colorful character from Arkansas who liked to pass himself off as a hayseed when, in fact, he was one of the few college-educated players of his era.

He was a promising pitcher who led the National Leauge in strikeouts in 1945 when he suffered a grievous injury -- a broken skull sustained during a fight at a girls' high school basketball game, of all places. He was terrible for a few years and was traded from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, where his career blossomed. Throughout his career, Roe was suspected of being a spitballer, and he had an assortment of twitches, head swipes and deceptive motions that Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry would borrow in a later generation. Only after he retired did the old Preacher reveal that, yes, he did occasionally throw a wet one, which he called his "Beech-Nut slider." (Updated: In the obituary, I mentioned that the "Beech Nut" came from the gum Roe chewed. A reader has pointed out that it was also the name of a chewing tobacco, which makes more sense and would have produced more liquid for a spitball.)

Roe knew, of course, that it was the threat of the spitball more than the pitch itself that gave him his greatest over hitters. His best pitch was actually the humble chanegup.

Typically, Roe -- a raceonteur par excellence -- said that he had "a changeup, a changeup on my changeup and a changeup on the changeup of my changeup."

He pitched in three World Series but never on the winning side. He retired in 1954, one year before the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series.

Herb Score may be the greatest "what-might-have-been" story in baseball history. He was the American League rookie of the year in 1956, when he won 16 games for the Cleveland Indians, then won 20 games in the 1957 and led the league in strikeouts (as he had in his rookie season.) People who saw him pitch said he was bound for the Hall of Fame, unless something happened to derail his career.

Well, it did.

In May 1957, while pitching against the Yankees, the 23-year Score threw a low pitch to infielder Gil McDouglad, who lined it back toward the pitcher's mound. Score, who had an awkward pitching motion that left him vulnerable to batted balls, didn't see the ball off McDougald's bat until it was upon him.

It hit him flush in the right eye, tearing his eyelid, smashing his nose and breaking other bones in his face. (The best account of Score's career and that fateful night in 1957 appears in thhe Cleveland Plain Dealer.) Score missed the rest of the year and part of the 1958 season.

He tried to make a comeback but was never the same. He altered his pitching motion but couldn't recapture his earlier effectiveness and was a shadow of his former self. He retired from baseball at 28.

Score went on to a long career as a broadcaster for the Indians, but to this day his name makes baseball fans shake their heads in sad wonderment at the great career that never was.

By Matt Schudel  |  November 12, 2008; 6:19 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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