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Song honors rookie record-setter11/17/2008 12:20 PM ET
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Terry Cashman knows what it's like to be a red-headed, left-handed pitcher from New York with potential and a Major League dream.
The singer-songwriter known as the "Balladeer of Baseball" saw it in himself as a Minor League player in the Detroit Tigers organization in the late 1950s, and he saw it in Herb Score, the Cleveland Indians phenom-turned-broadcaster who passed away recently at the age of 75.
Score set the rookie record for strikeouts in a season with 245 in 1955 at the age of 22, a mark that stood until Dwight Gooden broke it in 1984. Score won 16 games that year and 20 the following season. But on May 7, 1957, against the Yankees, Score was struck in the face by a Gil McDougald line drive. He never had the same success again.
Cashman was listening to the radio that night and never forgot the moment.
In fact, of all the baseball songs he's written, and there have been many, he lists "The Ballad of Herb Score" as one of his most personal and heartfelt. Cashman wrote it in 1996 after meeting Score briefly at former big-league slugger Rusty Staub's restaurant in New York City, and the song's still getting attention. Cleveland station WKYC-TV, for example, had the track playing in the background during a recent video tribute to a man who became an Ohio treasure.
"Bet you never heard of Herbie Score, but after the winter of '54, the Indian signals said send us a kid with smoke," Cashman sings. "He blew 'em away in '55, this redhead southpaw, man alive, bet you never heard of Herbie Score."
Says Cashman: "Herb was about six years older than me, so there was that connection. He was just one of those pitchers that came up and you heard all this hype about how hard he threw and what a great curveball he had, and for a lot of guys, it was just buildup and they didn't live up to it. But he did."
So Cashman did what he does best, writing a song about Score to add to his huge diamond discography.
It was a natural fit for a man who has carved a niche as a record producer (Jim Croce) and singer-songwriter. Since scoring a hit with "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke), Cashman has added "Talkin' Baseball" adaptations for almost every team, including an off-beat, hilarious version called "Talkin' Softball" for the legendary "Homer at the Bat" episode of "The Simpsons."
"The Ballad of Herb Score" is not a funny song, but Cashman says it serves a greater purpose than just a profile of a baseball player.
"I saw him at Yankee Stadium and I kind of took him on as someone I could root for," he says. "I started following his career, and then, of course, with what happened to him, one day it dawned on me that 11-year-old or 12-year-old baseball fans probably wouldn't know who Herb Score was. And that's sad.
"The other thing that struck me was that he really was a great pitcher. By all estimates he would have gone on to have a Hall of Fame career. But he never really admitted or said that the line drive ruined his career. He always said that it had nothing to do with it. But I never believed that. I think that was just him being a classy guy and not wanting people to feel sorry for him."
"The gods of the diamond change like the weather, they give us a natural, then they take him forever," Cashman sings. "And that's what they did to Herbie Score.
"The gods of the diamond, they play a strange game. They give us a light, then they blow out the flame. And that's what they did to Herbie Score."
"I was glad that Herb became such a beloved figure in Cleveland as an announcer," Cashman adds. "And hopefully the song is keeping alive the memory of what a great pitcher he was, telling the story of what happened. The idea was to pay a tribute to him, and from my point of view bemoan the fact that the baseball gods decided to do what they did.
"He didn't want to be a martyr and didn't want people to feel sorry for him, and the song says he was dealt a low blow by fate or the gods of baseball. For whatever reason, he was not able to attain the greatness that was there in him."
Cashman, meanwhile, will continue to strive for greatness in his own career.
He's hard at work on a musical play called "Once Upon a Pastime" based on a number of his baseball songs, and he's always conjuring new hardball harmonies for his next album.
"I think baseball has such a rich history," Cashman says. "It's part of the fabric of America. Even if you're not a baseball fan, even if you're not American, you know what a home run is, you know what a third-base coach is, and you know who Babe Ruth is. It's part of our culture.
"And for me, it has a personal place in my heart. My father loved baseball, my mother loved it and my older brothers loved it. Next to family and religion, it's something that's very, very important to people.
"There's always a lot to write about."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.