- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

Death claimed two outstanding left-handers of the 1950s last week. The pair couldn’t have been more different.

Preacher Roe, who bamboozled batters with an illegal spitball and other crafty pitches for the Brooklyn Dodgers, died at 92 from colon cancer in West Plains, Mo. Three days later, he was joined by 75-year-old Herb Score, a sensational fireballer for the Cleveland Indians who appeared headed for the Hall of Fame before a horrific on-field accident destroyed his career.

Roe’s death removed another member of the Dodgers’ fabled “Boys of Summer” clubs that won five pennants from 1949 to 1956. The only significant survivors include pitchers Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Joe Black and Ralph Branca, plus outfielders Duke Snider and George Shuba.

After enduring a 4-15 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, Roe blossomed when Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey obtained him in a trade. Preach, as he was known, went 90-33 in the next six seasons, including a 22-3 campaign in 1951.

The year after he retired in 1954 to run a small-town market, Roe received $2,000 from Sports Illustrated for admitting he had thrown spitters.

“Guys would be looking for it, but I didn’t throw it more than two or three times a game,” Roe once said. “Don’t make it sound like the spitter was my only pitch. Some guys seem to think I threw a hundred of them every game.”

Roe insisted his best pitch was a change-up, a claim hitters of that era often disputed.

With Newcombe and Erskine, Roe gave the Dodgers a strong 1-2-3 starting rotation to go with the team’s powerful hitting attack in bandbox Ebbets Field. However, the Bums were never good or lucky enough to win the World Series until the year after Roe retired. Brooklyn was licked by the New York Yankees in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953 before Johnny Podres finally shut out the Bronx Bombers in Game 7 of 1955.

The Dodgers also lost two National League pennants on final-game home runs, by Dick Sisler connecting for the Philadelphia Phillies on the last day of the 1950 regular season and Bobby Thomson in the third and final game of the 1951 pennant playoff. But Roe, whose career record was 127-84 in 12 seasons, was almost always a winner in Flatbush.

Score, meanwhile, was not fortunate enough to last as long or enjoy as much success as Roe. After replacing Hall of Famer Bob Feller in the Indians’ rotation in 1955, Score already had won 38 games in two-plus seasons when a line drive by the Yankees’ Gil McDougald struck him in the right eye May 7, 1957, at Cleveland Stadium.

The ball broke Score’s nose and several facial bones. He won only 17 more games before retiring in 1962 at 29. In effect, McDougald’s line drive ended Score’s career at 23.

Score claimed that an elbow injury caused his downfall rather than being struck in the face, but the memory of him lying on the ground with blood streaming from his eye and nose remains indelible for anyone who saw pictures at the time.

“I heard the crack of the bat as I came out of my follow-through, and all I saw was a white blur,” Score recalled. “I snapped up my glove, but the ball blasted through the fingertips and into my right eye. I clutched at my face, staggered and fell. I thought, ‘My God, the eye has popped right out of my head!’”

Not quite, but close enough.

After retiring, Score became a Cleveland icon as a broadcaster for the Indians from 1964 to 1997. He often garbled descriptions and misidentified players, once referring to Indians pitcher Efrain Valdez as “Efrem Zimbalist,” a former TV star. But the fans loved his homespun delivery and his knowledge of inside baseball.

Misfortune continued to bedevil Score in later years. He nearly died in a 1998 auto accident, then suffered a stroke that put him in a wheelchair for the last four years of his life. But he never complained.

“I’m lucky,” he said in 2006.

Undoubtedly, he meant he felt lucky to be around the game that he loved for his entire adult life.

“[He gave] a great example of how to live,” said Score’s former broadcast partner Tom Hamilton. “When I think of how he treated me … he made me feel comfortable from Day 1. For 30 years, he was the best thing about Indians baseball.”

Preacher Roe was one of the best things about Dodgers baseball in days gone by. Both deserve to be remembered.

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