Despite there never being any sure thing, baseball teams are increasingly willing to go to the ends of the earth and to the bottom of their bank accounts to address deficiencies on their rosters. In particular, pitching is a commodity that has been as hotly contested as any other since nations competed for black pepper and saffron along the Silk Road. The Boston Red Sox once made a major play for the best young pitcher in the game with a shockingly large offer that was even more surprisingly refused. However, just weeks later, it turned out that the rejection was fortunate for the team as the hurler suffered a freak accident that derailed a career that appeared destined to end in enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
In the winter of 1957, the Red Sox knew that time was running out on the career of their legendary outfielder, Ted Williams, who was 38 and could see retirement around the corner. For years the team vacillated between mediocre and good but were never able to take the final leap. This was in part because of the dominance of their rival, the New York Yankees, and the team’s inability to find an ace to lead what was typically a pretty uninspiring pitching staff.
At the same time, left-handed pitcher Herb Score was on top of the world. Just 23, he was coming off his first two seasons in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians. During that span, he was a combined 36-19 and a 2.68 ERA. He also led the American League in strikeouts both years, including a rookie-record 245 in 1955.
Although it was highly likely that Score was considered untouchable, the Red Sox were owned by Tom Yawkey, who was willing to spend gobs of his vast fortune on players to improve the team. With a nothing ventured, nothing gained mentality, he went for it during spring training of 1957, offering Cleveland general manager Hank Greenberg a cool one million dollars for the southpaw, which shocked the baseball world.
“The offer was made to me today by Tom Yawkey and Joe Cronin, said Greenberg. “It was a valid cash offer but I was forced to turn it down.” He went on to say that while he gave real consideration to accepting the proposal, he ultimate didn’t feel that he could do it because Score “may become the greatest pitcher in the game’s history.” It was believed to be by far the most ever offered for one player at the time, showing just how great Score’s potential was believed to be.
If things had gone as planned, Yawkey’s offer for Score may have been a fair one. Unfortunately, just two months after the blockbuster sale proposal went public, the pitcher suffered one of the worst injuries a player has ever seen on a major league diamond.
Score cruised through his first four starts of 1957, posting a 2.07 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. On May 7th, he faced off against the mighty Yankees, and saw disaster strike in the first inning. After retiring the first batter, shortstop Gil McDougald smashed a liner back through the box that connected squarely with Score’s eye. In addition to injuring the eye, it broke a number of bones in his face. Just like that, Score’s season was over. McDougald reportedly vowed to retire if the pitcher lost his sight. Fortunately, he later regained full vision after a lengthy recovery.
He returned in 1958 but was not the same. He lasted through the 1962 season with Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox but never came close to discovering his former dominance. A series of arms issues, along with reportedly changing his pitching motion to avoid possible comebackers in the future were all believed to have contributed to his downfall. After the injury, he was a combined 19-27 with a 4.20 ERA. Done playing before he was 30, he did persevere to become an acclaimed broadcaster for over 30 years—culminating in his induction in the Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame.
The way Score’s playing career was a tragedy that reverberated through the game and is still remembered widely in baseball circles. Although they could have never guessed it at the time, the Red Sox dodged a major financial catastrophe when their massive offer for a pitching phenom was rejected because of how valued he was as a player.
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