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The night before he was to pitch the opening game of a holiday double-header in Seattle a few days ago, Herbert Jude Score, a tall, blond all-American boy right out of a Ralph Henry Barbour book, was a guest of honor at a baseball dinner. He nibbled pizza chips, polished off a steak, sipped politely at a drink and exchanged pleasantries with another guest, Seattle Rainiers' Manager Johnny Pesky. "It's nice to see you here, Johnny," said Score. "You were one of my boyhood idols." Pesky, age 41, ran a hand across his crew cut and riposted that Score, age 28, had been one of his boyhood idols, too. Reminiscences flowed till nearly midnight. Punch lines of hoary baseball stories echoed around the room—"So Yogi said, 'Well, sister, you're not so hot yourself....' " "Yeh, Ump, but when I get up tomorrow I'll be sober, and you'll still be blind...." Score confined himself to an unpolished but gracious little speech to the effect that if he were to be out of baseball tomorrow he would still owe the game more than he could ever repay. There was polite applause, and down at the other end of the table a baseball man whispered a hurried answer to his wife's question. "Nobody seems to know what happened," he said. "He's wild, that's all."
Friends drove Score back to Seattle's unpretentious Mayflower Hotel, where the San Diego team, of which he had latterly become a member, was in residence. He turned in at midnight, read The Conscience of a Conservative till nearly 2 a.m., then dropped off to sleep. The forming-up of a holiday parade below his hotel window awakened him after his customary seven hours' sleep, and he ordered a breakfast of orange juice, basted eggs, bacon, coffee and toast. He dressed leisurely and headed out to Sicks' Seattle Stadium for another joust with survival.
There were still two hours till game time when Score walked through the musty catacombs, past the pulpits where vendors were stacking programs, past the counters where frankfurters were hotting up in aromatic splendor and into the liniment-and-leather smell of the visitors' clubhouse. Three players were dressing desultorily. A plump coach, nattily attired in white T shirt and socks, looked up from his copy of the Official Baseball Guide and grunted, in the mock harshness with which athletes traditionally try to encourage their troubled colleagues, "C'mon, Score, put your blankin' uniform on. You're pitchin'." As if Score didn't know.
He undressed slowly, reflecting that manifest calmness which has characterized his career and his life. Around him were the trappings of boondock baseball. DO NOT ASSAULT UMPIRES, the bulletin board warned, FILTHY LANGUAGE IS DETRIMENTAL NOT ONLY TO BASEBALL BUT TO THE PERSON USING IT. PAY YOUR DEBTS OR FACE SEVERE PENALTIES. From a wall radio came loud renditions of contemporary musical culture ("I love you, I love you, I love you in oooooooh so many, many ways"). Players arrived in little clusters, and the room began to resound with the all-purpose four-letter words which form the very foundation of the English language whenever soldiers and ballplayers get together in their underclothes.
A mixed bag
Score chatted amiably with the other players. There were former major leaguers like Kent Hadley and Jim Bolger, still full of promise, and fighting, like Score, to get back into the big time. There were veterans like Harry Simpson and Hector Rodriguez, playing out their strings with elderly esprit. And there were young hotbloods like Mike Hershberger and Kenny Retzer, inexorably headed for the majors just as Score had been a handful of years before.
The niceties of conversation observed, Score walked out through the tunnel and into the bright sunlight of the playing field, there to hit fungos, take a few cuts and throw erratically to a warmup catcher for 15 minutes. Just before game time he said to the trainer, "How about a little hot stuff on the arm, Cookie?" The rubdown completed, he told catcher Retzer, "O.K., it's 1-2-3 today, eh, baby?" Retzer agreed that it would be 1-2-3, and the umpire shouted, "Play ball."
Six weeks before, Score, in the uniform of the Chicago White Sox, had started a night game in Baltimore. He had pitched to five batters, got none of them out and allowed four runs before Manager Al Lopez, a man of infinite patience, had mercifully removed him from the game. Seated together later in the little office assigned to the visiting manager, the two figures played out another act in the continuing tragedy of Herb Score. "Well, Herbie," said Lopez, "what do you think?"
"Gee, I don't know what to think," Score said. Lopez was silent. "I feel good," Score went on. "I can't figure out why I'm as wild as I am."