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Sport: Spring Promise

3 minute read

The speaker rustled his notes, clinked a pocketful of keys and stared at the ceiling while he fumbled for words. Then his wife’s voice cut through the jangle: “Put your keys down, honey.” Meekly, irascible Columnist Westbrook Pegler obeyed. For once the foaming temper was in check. Mellow with memory, onetime Sportswriter Pegler had turned out for the Tucson, Ariz. Press Club dinner, greeting the new baseball season.

Peg recalled his days as a ghostwriter for an effervescent outfielder named George Herman Ruth. The Babe never supplied any information at all. Eventually, said Peg. “my hypocritical principles revolted.” Tired of turning out sheer fiction, he told the Babe to come through with day-to-day dope or forget about his pay. Next day, Ruth wired his ghostwriter from Detroit: “Poled two out of the park today. High, fast pitches. Send check immediately.”

Winter Kinks. Peg’s memory seemed peculiarly appropriate. Along with dozens of other newsmen, he had come to honor Herbert Jude Score, a phenomenal youngster who, like the Babe, was beginning his big-league career as a pitcher. And chances are he will some day be needing a ghostwriter of his own. After a month of watching the American-League-leading Cleveland Indians work out their winter kinks in Tucson sunshine, sportswriters had named Score the Tribe’s Most Promising Rookie of the Year.

A $60,000 bonus baby from the campus of Florida’s Lake Worth High School, Herb Score was an eminently sensible selection. Unless he suddenly loses his equilibrium and starts throwing his best stuff to first or third, he is sure to be just the sort of left-handed insurance the Indians need to hang on to their pennant.

Even as a skinny school kid, Herb could throw bullets. In 1951, the day he turned 19 and lost his eligibility to play high-school ball, he was swamped with big-league offers. He chose the Indians, not because they offered him the most money, but simply because he liked Cy Slapnicka, the Cleveland scout. Slapnicka, the man who found Bob Feller, is willing to admit that Score is just as spectacular.

Blond Bean Pole. Herb spent two seasons in the minor leagues sighting in with his sizzling fireball. For two seasons he sprayed it everywhere but over the plate. Last year with the Indianapolis Indians, he learned how to nick the corners. He won 22 games, set a league record of 330 strikeouts and was voted Most Valuable Player in the American Association.

This spring in Tucson. Southpaw Score got off to a clumsy start by tripping over first base and spraining his ankle. His gimpy leg kept the blond bean pole from pitching as often as he and Manager Al Lopez would have liked, but he pitched often enough to show that he still has his speed and control. In three, three-inning appearances, Herb allowed no runs, only three hits, walked six and struck out ten men. At week’s end, he went four innings against the Giants and gave up only one hit. No Indian pitcher looks better.

“I hope I’m here next year watching another Cleveland rookie receive the 1956 Press Club award,” he said. “In this business, though, I might be in Keokuk.”

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