Kevin Love opens up on The Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project that is working well

 

You’ve read some stinging criticisms of Derek Jeter in this space from time to time, all of them dealing with his disconnect when it comes to Miami Marlins fans being fed up with the team’s constant teardowns.

I’ll give Jeter credit, however, for recognizing that athletes often have a deeper story to tell but don’t really trust anyone else in the telling of it.

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love watches from the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Love disclosed in an essay for the Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, that he suffered a panic attack on Nov. 5 in a home game against the Atlanta Hawks. He was briefly hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic and the episode left him shaken. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

We’re talking about The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by Jeter in 2014 and expanded since then with videos and podcasts to augment the written content provided by sports celebrities.

The latest buzz created by this site is an essay written by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. He reveals that he had a panic attack during a game in November but at first wanted to keep that information from teammates for fear that they would consider him weak.

“Everyone is Going Through Something” is the title of the essay, and in it Love writes “No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”

Would a player feel comfortable talking about private reflections and personal issues with a member of the traditional sports media?

Some have, like Ricky Williams, and with full knowledge that they might be misconstrued or ridiculed or marginalized. Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan took all of those risks last month in an interview with the Toronto Star about his ongoing problems with depression.

For most, though, it figures that truly opening up to a reporter in the locker room is way outside the comfort zone.

If you only see that reporter ever now and again, how do you make a connection that is solid and believable? And if that reporter covers the team every day and strikes up something like a friendship with a player there, sooner or later he or she will wind up writing something that offends the athlete because it points out an error made to lose a ballgame or is perceived to be taking the wrong side in a contract negotiation with the team.

Honestly, if I had the blessing of athletic skills worthy of millions of dollars on the open market, it might just be easier to keep spouting clichés in interview settings. That’s pretty much what Jeter did in the high-profile position of New York Yankees captain. He made no enemies that way and he tried, other than what happened on the field, to make no news.

Are these Players’ Tribune essays ghost-written? Surely, in some cases, they are crafted and edited and packaged by people who are writers by profession. Since the athletes approve every presentation before it is published, however, this shouldn’t bother anybody all that much. If it’s a genuine expression of their feelings on a particular matter, they are saying what they want to say.

Not journalism in its strictest sense. More like journal writing, and then passing that journal around the room for anyone who is interested to read.

Jeter is a smart guy to figure all this out. We all need to know each other a little better, and any forum that makes that possible is a benefit.

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his courageous story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

[Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans]

Playoffs? Dolphins history says you just can’t get there from 5-7

The Miami Dolphins looked great against Denver last Sunday. Now all they have to do is play great enough to win the last four games of the regular season, including a Monday nighter against New England, and they’re, what, a remote playoff possibility?

Truth is, the reality of the situation is even tougher than that sounds.

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) enters the field during pre game introductions at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 3, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

No Miami team has ever gone from 5-7 to a playoff appearance. The only thing that comes close to that is 1995, Don Shula’s final season, when the Dolphins were 6-6 after 12 games and rallied to claim the AFC’s final wild-card spot at 9-7.

It was a struggle all the way, with Bernie Kosar starting a couple of midseason defeats at quarterback while Dan Marino was dealing with an injured hip. Three wins in the last four games earned a playoff spot, but the spark was quickly snuffed by a 37-22 loss at Buffalo in the opening playoff round.

The Bills led that one 37-0 through three quarters, which is a fair indication of how these things usually go when a flawed team barely reaches the playoffs and is matched against one of the league’s best. Today’s Dolphins, in comparison, have more flaws than the 1995 version, so it really is silly expecting anything spectacular to happen for them now.

Since 2000, no AFC team has qualified for the playoffs with fewer than nine wins.

One of the most disappointing memories in recent franchise history was the 2013 season, when Miami was almost there but ran out of gas.

Wins over Pittsburgh and New England raised hopes for those Dolphins, who improved to 8-6 in the process. Then came a 19-0 loss at Buffalo and a 20-7 loss at home to the New York Jets.

Kerplunk, Joe Philbin missed the playoffs by a game at 8-8. The only good news is that Ryan Tannehill somehow got through it in one piece after leading the league with 58 sacks.

Adam Gase’s 2017 Dolphins have demonstrated the same tendency to curl up into a ball for long stretches, getting shut out two times and very nearly a third. Until there is mathematical elimination, however, there will be talk of turning things around.

You understand how hollow that talk is, but I just wanted to highlight what the echoes of the past say about this.

When a team is 5-7 and there are so many other teams bunched just above, you can’t get there from here.

[Rams’ Sean McVay has overtaken Adam Gase as NFL’s Next Big Thing]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Greg Schiano and Dan Mullen]

[For Gators, Dan Mullen is a good situation who wants to be great]

Driving an SUV at world-record speeds, and other scenes from life as a video game

 

Former NASCAR driver Carl Edwards recently got a Toyota Land Cruiser up to 230 mph in the kind of marketing stunt that proves very little but gets people talking.

Isn’t that the ad business in a nutshell?

FORT WORTH, TX – Carl Edwards, former driver of the #19 Sport Clips Toyota, celebrates winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 6, 2016. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The test run took place in California’s Mojave desert, where the blazing sun makes men do all sorts of crazy things.

Edwards, for instance, stepped away from racing in January, naming as one important reason a desire to maintain his health at the age of 37. Next thing you know he’s barreling toward what Toyota said is a world-record speed for a SUV, albeit one that was souped-up and turbocharged beyond the wildest extremes of any showroom model.

“The front end kind of wandered at about 225,” Edwards told Fox Sports, “and I thought, ‘Holy crap, I don’t know what’s coming next…Man, my heart was pounding. I’m not exaggerating. It was pretty exciting.”

Well, yeah. It’s like turning life into a video game, every teenager’s dream.

[60th anniversary remembrance of Herb Score’s brutal baseball injury]

[A clearer picture of challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

[New draft class confirms Adam Gase has confidence to succeed in Miami]

Now why would Toyota find all of this necessary, considering the fastest lap ever turned by an actual NASCAR racing machine is 212 and change? I offer these promotional possibilities.

  • Because Speed Unlimited Vehicle allows for sexier marketing without having to pay some ad firm for a new acronym.
  • Because moviemakers have run out of sequel ideas, leaving only “The Fast and Luxurious” for future summer fare.
  • Because auto manufacturers are putting such emphasis on gas-sipping hybrids that a niche market is needed for the contrary appeal of the Super Big Gulp.
  • Because there are garden-variety hockey and soccer moms, and then there’s Sarah Palin.
  • Because there is money on the table until somebody earns a multi-year contract as Official Car of Stormchasers.
  • Because if there really does turn out to be a zombie apocalypse, and if the undead turn out to be a lot more sprightly than TV portrays them, this is the vehicle for you.

 

 

Every amazing thing we’re seeing from LeBron was predicted on the day he left high school

 

All right, so this LeBron James guy is pretty good.

Here he is again, cruising into the Eastern Conference finals with…oh, what does it matter which team he is on at a particular moment?

TORONTO – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James slam-dunks past Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) during  Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Whoever has this guy is going places, as demonstrated by the fact that LeBron will be playing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals if the Cavaliers get there this year, and surely they will.

I thought it might be fun to look back at coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper on the day LeBron was drafted to see what people in the industry were saying about him. Of course, every indicator was great. The guy came straight out of high school to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

Could anyone have seen all this coming, however, with absolute certainty?

Consider that LeBron averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in his senior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

His career numbers in the NBA postseason against the best of the best aren’t much different – 28.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Here is what LeBron said about his expectations on the day he was drafted.

“As a 6-8 point guard, I can rebound and do what Jason Kidd does,” James said. “There’s a lot of mismatches for a 6-8 point guard, it’s like going back to the Magic Johnson days. At whatever position I’ll play, I’ll bring the willingness to win because I don’t accept losing very well.”

Cavs teammate Darius Miles clearly agreed. He took one look at the high-schooler and said “LeBron’s like one in a million. There was Magic Johnson, now it’s LeBron James.”

[60th anniversary of Herb Score’s brutal baseball injury]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

[Draft confirms Adam Gase has confidence in himself and his plan]

Then there was the world association game played by ESPN’s talking heads. Going around the table, each gave a quick one-word reaction to the simple prompt of “LeBron James.”

Jay Bilas’ answer was “Springfield.”

No pressure, huh?

Most amazing of all when compared to today’s numbers, LeBron’s rookie contract, regulated by an established pay scale, was $18 million for four years.

Last year, LeBron’s agent told GQ magazine that the star’s current Nike contract is worth more than $1 billion all by itself.

60th anniversary of Herb Score’s nightmarish injury revives memories of Lake Worth legend’s grit and humor

Sunday was the 60th anniversary of Herb Score’s scariest day, when the former Lake Worth High School star was hit in the face by a batted baseball.

For those who don’t know his story, here is my intensely local feature on Herb, who died in 2008. It was first published in the Palm Beach Post a couple of years ago, but I’m always interested in introducing Score to those who are new to Palm Beach County, and so many always are.

This story was originally published in The Palm Beach Post on Sunday, May 10, 2015

There is a way to tell the story of Herb Score that doesn’t begin with the sensational lefty being struck in the eye by a line drive and, in that instant, forfeiting the kind of momentum that carried Sandy Koufax, his contemporary, all the way to Cooperstown.

You could start instead at a Dairy Queen that no longer exists in downtown Lake Worth, where Herb worked as a teenager and always made sure his friends got an extra scoop.

Or there’s the grittier tale of Score getting backed over by a delivery truck as a toddler, which wound up leaving one of his legs slightly shorter than the other but, miraculously, changed little else.

And how about the crafty baseball scout named Cy Slapnicka who thought his days of relevance in the game were over until he left Iowa to warm his 66-year-old bones in Lake Worth and started hearing rumors of a neighborhood phenom whose squirrely fastball couldn’t be timed or tamed?

It’s a fat scrapbook of memories, with a state baseball championship for Lake Worth included, but there is one day above all days that people connect to Score’sname. Might as well tell it right one time in his hometown, or at least as best as we can without input from Herb, who died in 2008 at the age of 75.

Truth is, he never really talked much about May 7, 1957, anyway. Didn’t want it to have any power over him, probably. Didn’t want it given greater weight than all the wonderful things that followed, certainly.

The scene was Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, a cavernous Depression-era structure long since demolished and dumped into Lake Erie, piece by piece, to make an artificial reef. On this Tuesday afternoon, however, the place was alive and buzzing for a visit by Mickey Mantle and the defending World Series champion New York Yankees.

Cleveland Indians fans were more wound up than worried.

Their starting pitcher, 23-year-old Herb Score, was coming off consecutive shutout victories over the Yankees the previous season. In his two full seasons in the major leagues, Score had a 3-1 record against the game’s most glittering franchise, with 54 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings pitched against the Yankees, and with Mantle’s endorsement as the toughest American League left-hander that he faced.

Overall, Score and a fastball that had to be 100 mph in the days before speed guns had pretty much everybody scared.

In 1955 he struck out 245 batters, which remains the American League record for a rookie and crushed the previous record of 227 set by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1911. Included in that total was a 16-strikeout game against the Boston Red Sox in which Score struck out the side in each of the first three innings.

Dwight Gooden of the National League’s New York Mets eventually set the major league record of 276 strikeouts by a rookie but it was 29 years later, in 1984. Dr. K wasn’t even born by the time Score’s career was ended, prematurely.

Like most kids, the old names and the old records probably didn’t mean much to Gooden, but try these on for size.

Koufax and Nolan Ryan didn’t strike out 200 batters in a single season until they were 25 years old. Score had 508 in his first two seasons with the Indians. Over the same period, two full major league seasons at the start of a career, Steve Carlton struck out 330 batters and Roger Clemens had 312.

It was a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald that stopped Score’s rise. The Yankees shortstop was the second batter in that May 7 game, looking for a low fastball and slashing it right back from where it came. Score never had a chance.

The ball struck him flush in the face, bouncing so far that Cleveland third baseman Al Smith had time to gather it up and make the throw to first base for the out. Actually, Smith didn’t need to rush the throw at all because McDougald didn’t run the play out. Instead, he sprinted to the mound to see if he could do anything for Score.

Rocky Colavito, Score’s roommate from the minor leagues on up, was there soon after. He sprinted in from his position in center field to place his glove under his friend’s head as Score lay flat on his back, surrounded by shocked teammates.

“I didn’t see the ball until it got a foot or two from my face,” Score said later from Cleveland’s Lakeside Hospital, his address for the next three weeks. “Then I saw too much of it.”

News didn’t race around the world like it does now.

Herb’s sister Helen, a government worker in Tallahassee at the time, didn’t hear about the injury until later that night. The report, far too spotty, came over the radio while she was driving home from work with a basket of food she picked up at the drive-in.

“When I got home, a lady said my mother had been calling,” Helen said from her home in Rabun Gap, Ga. “I got in touch with her and Mom said, ‘It’s bad, but he’s got the finest doctors in the world and they will do everything that they can. You need to go down to the church and say your prayers for Herb, but more than that to pray for Gil McDougald. That man is a hurting man’ ”

That story sounds right to any Lake Worth longtimer who knew Anne Score, who once felt such compassion for a Key West High School baseball team in town to play Lake Worth that she had the whole crew and their coaches over to sleep at the house, sprawled across furniture and plopped with pillows on the floor, so they wouldn’t have to make the long drive home so late at night.

Anne was a single mom, long separated but as a devout Catholic never divorced from her husband, a New York City traffic cop. Herb, the oldest of her three children, was given the middle name of Jude, in honor of the patron saint of desperate causes.

Surely there were desperate times for Herb during his boyhood days in the Long Island town of Valley Stream, N.Y., not far from John F. Kennedy Airport and horse racing’s Belmont Park.

His sister Helen remembers a couple of astonishing comebacks known well to family but never mentioned by Score in his adult years. He was by nature a quiet man but when it came to recounting and discussing the downturns in his life, Herb was an absolute sphinx.

Herb was probably 2 1/2 or 3 and he wanted to go across the street to play with friends,” Helen said.

“Mother was in the basement doing laundry, but she could look out the basement window and look across the street and tell him if it was all right.

“When he started to step out from behind a truck, and I can’t remember if it was a milk truck or a bakery truck, all of a sudden the driver backed up and rode over him. They say his legs were severely injured. They put him in the hospital and put him in traction and apparently he was there for months.”

Doctors wanted to operate but Anne resisted, asking for time to let the body heal.

Finally, on the day before a difficult but seemingly necessary procedure was scheduled, she requested that one more X-ray be taken, just to make sure.

“Miracle of miracles,” said Helen, “the bone was fusing. They never had to operate at all.”

Then came the rheumatic fever, which kept Herb home in bed for months and cost him a year of grade school.

“That was another reason my mother gave consideration to going to Florida, so we could get away from the horrible winters,” Helen said. “The rheumatic fever must have been about sixth grade. The doctor told her Herb would never lead a normal life in terms of hitting the ball in the street like the other kids did.

“She was relentless in the pursuit of getting him well, though, and she found a doctor who was aware of the properties of penicillin, which apparently had just come out. Whatever other therapies he used I don’t know, but Herb came out a winner.”

Before anything else could go wrong, Anne Score got busy on relocating her kids to Florida, not only for Herb, who was called “Buddy” by his family, but for little sister Ann, who also had health problems.

The first stop was Fort Lauderdale but jobs were hard to find. After a month, an opportunity opened up for a head bookkeeper at a West Palm Beach bank. It was August, 1949, and Anne Score needed a place to live. She settled on a small rental house on North D Street in Lake Worth, enrolled her two daughters at Sacred Heart Catholic School and sent Herb, a ninth-grader, over to make friends and try to fit in at Lake Worth High.

Nobody knew that the new kid could pitch. Herb himself didn’t know until a priest named Father Thomas Kelly showed him how back in a CYO league in New York.

That’s really when baseball became Score’s life and he never forgot it. Years later, on July 10, 1957, it was Father Kelly who performed the wedding ceremony for Herb and Nancy McNamara Score at St. Mark Catholic Church in Boynton Beach.

Their wedding got moved up three months from the original October date because Score was rehabbing from the line drive disaster and wasn’t playing . Come to think of it, that incident changed just about everything, except for Herb’s calm and likable demeanor. Not even being so horribly injured that some teammates had to look away changed that.

“They can’t say I didn’t keep my eye on that one,” Score said on the day McDougald’s line drive struck him down, and he said it before a medical crew had placed him on a stretcher and headed for the ambulance.

Nearby, McDougald was practically inconsolable, telling a teammate, “If he loses his sight, I’ll quit baseball. The game’s not that important when it comes to this.”

Between the immediate swelling around Score’s right eye and the blood that was dribbling from the pitcher’s ears, Cleveland teammate Russ Nixon almost couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I’ve never seen a man look so dead,” Nixon said in Terry Pluto’s book, ‘The Curse of Rocky Colavito.’ “He didn’t even flutter, and his face swelled up like a beehive.”

Score was rushed to the hospital, where he listened to the rest of the Indians’ 2-1 victory on radio.

McDougald called repeatedly for updates in the coming days, but the only relief he got was a phone conversation with Anne Score, who told the player it wasn’t his fault and that everything would be all right.

For years to come, whenever McDougald was in South Florida, he made it a point to stop by for a visit with Herb’s mom.

Everything was not all right, however, at least not immediately, though Score also tried to lessen the anxiety for McDougald, who batted .289 that season but soon retired at 32 when his own numbers dropped off.

“I talked to Gil and told him it was something that could happen to anyone.” Herb said. “It’s just like a pitcher beaning a batter. He didn’t mean it.”

Score spent three weeks in the hospital as surgeons carefully worked through a list of injuries that included a broken nose, a lacerated right eyelid, damage to the right cheekbone and, of course, an undetermined amount of damage to the right eye. Seconds after the ball struck him, Score asked if the eye was even there.

Once at the hospital, his head wrapped up like a mummy, Score was ordered not to move his head at all.

“They wouldn’t let him blink his eyes,” Helen remembers. “They didn’t want any pressure in that area.”

Doctors didn’t want any visitors, either. An exception was made for Nancy,  Herb’s fiancée, who hurried over from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., where she was a senior. Herb’s mother, Anne, waited a week, not wanting to alarm her other children or friends in Lake Worth, who had been assured the situation was not dire. Anne met with reporters at the Cleveland airport with the happy look of a woman on vacation.

She, like Herb, always tried to tamp down the trauma.
Carroll Webb was one of Herb’s best pals on the Lake Worth baseball team. Still, he didn’t learn of the childhood illnesses and accidents that challenged Score until years later, when Webb married Herb’s sister, Helen.

Herb never mentioned any of that,” said Webb, who went on to become a lawyer and a Florida state legislator. “He had kind of a reserved way about him. He was very friendly, not aloof, but you just knew there was a discipline from which he was not going to deviate. I never heard him use a curse word or even a slang word like dadgum or darn, and he never showed any sign of ‘I’m the star.’ ”

That doesn’t sound much like 2015, but then neither does the Lake Worth of Score’s high school years, when graduating classes numbered less than 100. Nearly 2,400 students attended during the 2013-14 school year.

Dennis Dorsey, a former classmate of Score’s and a former mayor of Lake Worth, said “the average age of Lake Worth in 1953 was 59.8. That was higher than St. Petersburg but they had more people. It was healthy at that time, because you had a lot of people who would volunteer, taking part in civic clubs and churches and school affairs.”

It was a world without malls, so Lake Worth teenagers might hop the bus on a Saturday for the ride up Dixie Highway to West Palm Beach, where you could get a hot fudge sundae at the Walgreen’s and spend the afternoon shopping on Clematis Street. A trip to the beach and Lake Worth’s Casino pool was a long walk across the bridge, unless a kid could scrape up enough money to rent a bike from the shop on Lake Avenue.

And, one way or another, everybody found their way to The Duke, a drive-in restaurant on the main drag south of downtown.

What Herb wanted most to know, however, was where did the local kids play baseball? He immediately got a spot on the Trojans varsity team, even as a freshman, and pitched a no-hitter in his first game against a Pompano Beach school called Riverside Military Academy.

“The following week, he pitches batting practice and it’s no fun,” Webb said. “Coach (John Golden) realized it and I think that was the last week he pitched BP. When he threw, he threw. He didn’t let up in BP or a game.

“I remember stepping in one time against him and you couldn’t even see the ball.”

Catching it was worse, in some ways. Lake Worth’s catchers began shoving sponges inside their mitts to reduce the pain. It took another future major leaguer, Dick Brown, to handle Score’s fastball well.

Larry Brown, Dick’s brother, also played in the big leagues for 12 years but he was five years younger. For him, watching the 6-foot-2 Score mow down the high school competition must have made an even bigger impression. The experience of playing at the top level himself, however, gives Larry’s opinion great credibility.

“They didn’t have a speed gun back then,” said Larry Brown, 75, who lives now in Wellington, “but when you get up to that level, the naked eye says, ‘Wow.’ He had a great curveball, too. That thing would drop three feet in the dirt. I remember one game my brother was catching Herb and they were playing Vero Beach. Their players were making bets on who could foul a ball off.

“He was going to be a Hall of Famer.”

It didn’t happen, but the wonder of those Lake Worth days remains, including the fact that Score was a star basketball player, too, specializing in a deep corner shot that would count for 3 points today.

The Trojans played their baseball games on campus back then, with bleachers backed up against the outside wall of the old gymnasium. Right field reached all the way to the football stadium. Some of the football bleachers actually had to be removed each season to make room for the diamond.

Score pitched six no-hitters for Lake Worth and averaged two strikeouts per inning. He was 8-0 in his final season with the Trojans, with a couple of 17-strikeout days. The games were only seven innings, too. The only problem for Score, and it was a serious problem for batters, too, was his wildness. In one game against Fort Pierce he struck out 14 hitters and walked nine more.

Through it all Slapnicka, the crusty old scout, worked his own kind of magic. He was known as the man who discovered Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, a huge star in Cleveland, and Slapnicka steered Herb toward the Indians, too. Constantly he haunted Lake Worth games. He took Herb out to dinner or dropped by the house to hobnob with the family.

There’s no telling how many other scouts were around when Lake Worth headed into the 1952 state playoffs on a championship run. Score pitched the first of the three games that were needed to take the Class A title at Fort Pierce’s Jaycee Field. He was not himself, however, drained by a viral infection and throwing up behind the dugout between innings.

Didn’t matter. Score let three runs score on wild pitches but he still beat Bronson 4-3 with 14 strikeouts and just one hit allowed.

Don James did the heavy lifting after that. He worked four innings of an easy win over St. Paul’s of St. Petersburg and 10 more in an extra-inning clincher, with Lake Worth beating Cocoa 3-2. James worked 14 innings over two days because Score was too sick to go on.

One more game remained, a trip to Lakeland to play Class AA champion Miami Edison for statewide bragging rights, but the best Score could do was a late-inning relief appearance in a 5-4 loss.

The Trojans headed home in a caravan of cars the next day, a Saturday, figuring the excitement was over. Then came the Sunday Palm Beach Post with the front-page news that Score had signed with the Indians, and for the spectacular sum of $60,000, a fortune half a century ago. Score said later that a few other teams had offered $100,000 but he wanted to stay with the Indians.

“He gave the money to my mother,” Helen said. “We had lived in a house on Dixie Highway but she bought a house over on South M Street. Not a large house. Just two bedrooms, but we built on the back of that house a breezeway and a master suite and a bathroom that could be Herb’s when he came home from playing ball.”

Score was 19 and not quite finished with high school because of falling behind schedule due to the year claimed by boyhood illness. After a quick summer fling with Double-A Indianapolis, with 62 walks in 62 innings proving how raw Score still was, he returned to Lake Worth to finish classes and get his diploma.

“Discipline,” said Helen, “is one of the things my mother expected.”

In a flash, at 21, Score was with the big club, still walking too many batters but getting so many strikeouts that nobody cared. He joined a Cleveland team that was coming off a World Series appearance and featured a pair of 23-game winners in Bob Lemon and Early Wynn plus the legendary Feller, still getting people out at 35. All three of those pitchers wound up in the Hall of Fame.

All the same, Score was an instant phenomenon. The papers called him “Hurricane Herb.” Ted Williams said he was the toughest left-hander he faced.Score backed it all up, too, by pitching seven shutout victories over his first two major league seasons and leading the American League in strikeouts each year. Oh, and Score scored the cover of Sports Illustrated, too, in the midst of that Rookie of the Year ride.

Season three, 1957, was supposed to be more of the same, and then on and on stretching all the way to Cooperstown. The Boston Red Sox offered to buy Score’s contract for $1 million that spring but the Indians refused, even though entire teams could be sold for $4 million in those days.

Then came that McDougald line drive.

Score’s career didn’t end that day just one month short of his 24th birthday, and neither did his love of baseball.

He returned to pitch two more seasons in Cleveland and two-plus for the Chicago White Sox, never regaining that intimidating presence on the mound but never blaming the psychological or physical damage of the 1957 incident, either. It was arm trouble that first developed on a cold, rainy night in Washington, Score said, and that’s when you could get him to talk about it at all.

Before the line drive, he was 38-20 with a 2.63 ERA. After it he was 15-26. A change in his delivery, moving away from the long and aggressive follow-through that left his back to the plate and his head exposed, likely contributed to the decline in numbers.

“I hit against him when he was trying to make it back,” Larry Brown said. “Herbhad just got sent down to the White Sox farm club in San Diego and I was playing for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League. He did not throw the same. He had pretty good velocity but he didn’t have the pop on that fastball. Fairly good hop, but not real pop.”

Suddenly it was over for Score, at age 30.

“He had a chance at becoming as good a lefty as there ever was,” Colavito said years later. “He had that kind of stuff. He had hard knocks, but he never complained. You had to respect him for that. I loved him like a brother.”

The Indians must have felt the same way because they didn’t hesitate to give Score another opportunity to help the franchise.

They immediately hired Herb to be the voice of the Indians on TV and later on radio, and without a speck of training.

He wasn’t quite a natural at it but Clevelanders didn’t want a smooth operator. They wanted Herb, the superstar who acted like nobody special and who obviously was pleased still to be a part of it all.

That’s the way Ohio fans know him best, a neighbor who lived for decades in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River and is buried there, and a good sport who endured countless losing seasons by the Indians with optimism and good humor.

It was a job that lasted 34 years and brings the tale all the way back to South Florida.

Score’s last broadcast was in Miami, where the Indians lost Game 7 of the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins. “It’s just time,” Score said of his retirement. He was 64 and over a lifetime had worked nearly 6,000 Indians games on the field and in the broadcast booth.

His marriage to Nancy lasted 51 years. He proposed at The Duke in Lake Worth, where they were sharing a drive-in restaurant meal in the car after catching a movie.

“It’s been a long time,” Nancy said recently. “It probably was a matter of him saying, ‘Would you like to be my wife?’ and me saying, ‘Yes, but you better talk to my dad.’  ”

Nancy was his unquestioned angel all the way, caring for Herb through the trials of an auto accident that banged Score up pretty good in 1998 on his solo drive to their Fort Myers winter home. He had been in Akron, Ohio, the previous night to be inducted to the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Score bounced back to the point where he could throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Indians’ home opener in 1999 but the long-term issues from the accident never quite left him. He lost some of his mobility to a stroke in 2002 and died after a long illness.

There’s a way to tell the story of Herb Score, though, without ending it on a down note. Here it is, as bright as the sunny days he once spent in Lake Worth, throwing the ball so blindingly fast that he could just as easily have faked everybody out by keeping it in the glove.

First, a quote from Herb that he sometimes gave when others wanted to wallow in what never was. “I’m a lucky fellow,” he said. “I’m glad God gave me the ability to throw a baseball well for a few years. That drive could have killed me.”

And last, a joke from 1977 told by former Indians infielder Buddy Bell, included here because it was so emblematic of Score’s natural, lasting impact on everyone who knew him, from Lake Worth High classmates to major league teammates to generations of Indians fans.

Herb is such a nice guy,” said Bell, “he probably makes the bed in his hotel room in the morning.”

Anne Score, the mother who chose the long-ago cottage community of Lake Worth as the perfect place to raise her family, would have liked that. She would have expected it, too.

(So that’s it. Thanks to all of you who made it to the end of this long feature, and as a reward here are some quotes I came across recently where Herb explained that it wasn’t the horrible injury that ended his career but other physical problems. What follows is from an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1987).

“The McDougald line drive had nothing to do with my career ending prematurely,” Score said.

“I came back in ’58 throwing as hard as ever. I had a good spring and I was 2-1 early in the regular season. In one of those games, I struck out 13 or 14. I had 48 strikeouts in 41 innings. Physically, I was never better. Then we had about a week of rainouts, and I was pitching in Washington on a cold, rainy night.

“Late in the game, I felt a pain in my elbow and forearm that I didn’t pay much attention to. Then one of my pitches didn’t make it to home plate. The next pitch didn’t make it to the plate, either.

“The club sent me to Baltimore to see a specialist. I was diagnosed as having a tendon injury. I laid off about three weeks and came back in Washington again.

“I went in as a reliever, struck out five or six and ended the game on a popup to the outfield. But I hurt my arm again on that pitch. After that pitch, I was never the same again. My pitches never had the same movement on them. I had no snap.

“I know people think it was the McDougald line drive, but I really don’t think so. Oh, it’s possible the long layoff, the medication–I was on cortisone for 10 months to reduce swelling on the right side of my head–might have altered my muscle tone, and that may have affected my windup somehow . . . but I’ve really never been able to make a connection.

“I do remember this — when I came back, I’d wear out a toe plate in one game. Before McDougald hit me, a toe plate would last me all season.”

The FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door

(UPDATE – FAU fired Charlie Partridge on Nov. 27. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is being mentioned in media reports as a possible replacement based on the fact that he interviewed for the FAU job in 2013. Also, Pat Chun spent 15 years in the Ohio State athletic department before becoming FAU’s athletic director in 2012.)

 

An important window of opportunity may just have closed for Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge.

Already behind schedule with a 9-25 record in three seasons as the Owls football coach, Partridge has picked up a formidable rival right here in the same Conference USA neighborhood.

butchieButch Davis, a terrific recruiter and a known commodity among South Florida high school coaches, will coach Florida International starting in 2017. He will be introduced at the school Tuesday afternoon with a contract expected to stretch five years into an uncertain future.

Uncertain because Butch is a big name with a winning reputation from previous turns as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Miami Hurricanes and North Carolina Tar Heels. The natural question is how long would a guy like this be satisfied to operate outside the national spotlight in a league where a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl or the Independence Bowl is pretty much topping out?

If it’s any time at all, the competition will be hard on FAU and a head coach who believes he is just beginning to turn an important corner.

The Owls are on a rare win streak, with back-to-back wins over Rice and UTEP.

What Partridge also has, unfortunately, is a 3-7 record that includes a 33-31 loss to FIU. To change all of that he needs more kids from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, not less, and he’s got more than 30 from down there as it is.

Butch can flash his championship rings from his days as Jimmy Johnson’s assistant and wow the few South Florida high school coaches he hasn’t already met. For those too young to remember all of that, he can count on being recognized from his analyst job on ESPN2. Finally, he can look into the eyes of potential recruits and their family members and say that he wasn’t charged in the NCAA violations that caused North Carolina to vacate a bunch of wins, because he wasn’t.

Is there a glass-half-full view on this thing for Partridge? Sure.

Because nobody else is going to want to mess with Butch, there will be fewer mid-level assistants eager to replace Partridge at FAU and less reason for the Owls athletic department to go fishing around for anyone who might.

[Rams holding Jared Goff on bench is the mistake that Miami thankfully didn’t make with Tannehill]

[Speaking of Dolphins return touchdowns, remember what Ted Ginn did to Jets?]

[Tough to recognize America when Cubs won World Series in 1908]

Any way you slice it, the FAU job, with the new stadium and the huge enrollment and the fertile South Florida recruiting fields, just got tougher than Partridge or anybody else saw coming.

If Butch is serious about making a run at Conference USA supremacy, all the other coaches in the league are in for a fight. And if he’s not, all the other coaches in the league have just been put on notice anyway.

Whatever FIU makes look easy over the next few years will be interpreted as something those other guys should already have been doing.

If that doesn’t close some windows of opportunity, it surely smudges them up.

Strange but true, American football briefly was an Olympic sport

 

If ever the Summer Olympics return to the U.S., there’s no doubt which demonstration sport most Americans would love to see introduced by the host nation.

Football, baby, and I don’t mean the kind you play with your feet.

Think helmets and touchdowns and instant replay instead. Think, too, of the NFL getting behind any effort to market its product to a wider international audience than already has been reached through games in London and Mexico City.

Red Grange grabs the ball after the first kick-off of the Illinois-Michigan game in Oct. 1924, with teammate Wally McIlwain at his side. Grange began a sprint that took him over 95 yards downfield for a touchdown. The game was hardly a minute old before he had finished his trip. (Chicago Tribune historical photo/TNS)
Old-school, helmet-free football of the sort played as a demonstration sport at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. (Chicago Tribune historical photo/TNS)

Funny thing is, American football has already had its moment on the Olympic stage as a demonstration sport. It happened in Los Angeles in 1932 with a game featuring seniors from some of the top college teams of the day. You know, Yale and Harvard and Princeton from the East. Cal and Stanford and USC from the West.

The game was played at L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum, where on different days the gymnastics competition also took place under a blazing sun and where equestrian events were staged, too.

A headline-grabbing shootout would have been great for the promotion of the game, of course, but there wasn’t a whole lot of passing in those days. The West team won 7-6 and here’s how the official 1932 L.A. Games publication described its impact on the Olympic movement.

“The foreign athletes and press representatives were interested in the game but bewildered by its complexity. The consensus of foreign opinion was that American football is a hard, bruising physical combat with a little too much emphasis on complicated technique.

“Most of the visitors commented chiefly on the great amount of time outs and the numerous substitutions.”

Too complicated, huh? Depends on who’s asking.

[The Olympic gold medal sprinter who played for the Miami Dolphins]

[Amar’e Stoudemire is on my list of greatest stars from state of Florida]

[Here’s a fun look back at Dolphins’ first training camp in 1966]

In those same 1932 Olympics, a Swedish dressage rider was knocked down from a silver-medal finish to last place because officials determined he was illegally encouraging his horse by making clicking noises. According to David Wallechinsky’s amazingly comprehensive “Complete Book of the Summer Olympics,” a Jury of Appeal refused to accept the rider’s explanation that the noises were made by a creaking saddle.

On second thought, maybe we ought to keep our version of football out of the Olympics. Might ruin it.

The Olympic gold medalist who played for the Miami Dolphins

With the Rio Games about to open and NFL training camps on full go, it’s time to ask if any player on the Miami Dolphins has ever competed in the Olympics?

Well, technically, the answer is yes, and it’s based on the determination that, technically, Jimmy Hines was ever a football player in the first place.

hinesHines won the gold medal in the 100-meter run at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Then he won gold again as a member of the U.S. 4X100 relay team. Spectacular sprint speed like that cannot be ignored, which led the Dolphins to take Hines in the sixth round of the 1968 combined NFL/AFL draft.

The franchise, in its third year of operation, was looking to promote its product at the time. That wasn’t so simple after opening seasons of 3-11 and 4-10. A curiosity like Hines was worth a shot if he sold a few tickets, or so thought Dolphins owner Joe Robbie and his player personnel man, Joe Thomas.

Also, Bob Hayes had the entire pro football industry thinking about the possibility of transforming track stars into wide receivers. Bullet Bob won the 100 at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. He previously was a halfback on a state championship team in Jacksonville and got a football scholarship to Florida A&M so he wasn’t starting from scratch.

Hines was, and being in the spotlight with the Dolphins probably didn’t help his development.

The team assigned him No. 99 and sent him out to run pass routes for quarterbacks Bob Griese and Rick Norton. It must not have gone all that well based on the fact that Hines quickly gained the locker-room nickname of “Oops.”

He spent the 1968 season on Miami’s practice squad and played a little for coach George Wilson and the Dolphins in 1969 before moving on to a brief appearance with the Kansas City Chiefs and then out of the league for good.

There’s no need making fun of him, any more than there is making light of Herschel Walker for failing to medal as a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic bobsled team. Every sport has its own particular skill set and they need not be interchangeable, no matter how amazing the athletes involved.

Here is the full list of plays involving Hines on Miami’s 3-10-1 team from 1969.

In Game 6, a loss at Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium, he caught one pass from Griese for 1 yard.

In Game 7, a home win over Buffalo in the Orange Bowl, he returned a punt for 22 yards. That apparently was his one and only shot at taking the kick return job from another speedy rookie named Mercury Morris.

In Game 10, Hines had his finest day as an NFL receiver, hooking up with Norton on a 22-yard catch. The wind chill was 17 degrees in Buffalo that day, however, and the Dolphins lost 28-3, so there probably wasn’t much of a celebration.

Finally, in Game 11, Hines got his only NFL carry, a 7-yard rush in a home loss to Houston. Can’t find it in the records but it almost certainly was a reverse that didn’t develop into much.

We’ll never know what Don Shula would have made of Jimmy Hines. He came on as Miami’s coach in 1970 and never worked with the Olympic hero.

Shula did have some fun in later years, however, with Mark Duper, who finished seventh in the 200-meter run at the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials and reached the semifinals of the 100. Duper was added to the Dolphins Honor Roll in 2003, three years after Dan Marino, the quarterback who made the best use of all that blazing speed.

Hey, there were 17 rounds in the NFL/AFL draft the year that Miami took a flyer on Hines. There just wasn’t that much to lose.

Even now, if Usain Bolt showed any interest in trying football at the age of 29, it figures that some NFL team would give him a look.

 

Here’s a fun look back at first Dolphins camp in 1966

In 2011 I wrote the following feature about the Miami Dolphins’ first permanent training camp at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton.

  In it are quotes from a couple of former players, Tom Goode and Billy Neighbors, who unfortunately have passed on, and there also is a reference to it being the 50th anniversary for St. Andrew’s, when actually the school is up to 55 now. The rest of it still works just fine, however, with entertaining anecdotes about rattlesnakes, and about flying to San Diego for an exhibition game in a World War II-era prop plane, and about the head coach using his son at quarterback.

  I’m hoping on this first day of Dolphins training camp 2016 you will find that it is worth your time. Here goes.

 

In 1966 the expansion Miami Dolphins debuted in Boca Raton with an isolated training camp that South Florida residents barely noticed and that the players of the day would prefer to forget.
Saint Andrew’s School was the Dolphins‘ first permanent training headquarters, inheriting that assignment when a brief and failed experiment with sloppy facilities on Florida’s Gulf Coast forced the team to pull up stakes and move on the fly.
The school, in just its fifth year of existence, was surrounded by undeveloped scrub and marshland, with one lonely road leading in and out.

scanned 8/17/99 - SPT - WAHOO McDaniel - Miami Dolphins
Former Dolphins linebacker Wahoo McDaniel at team’s inaugural training camp in 1966.

That meant Boca Raton’s relatively small population center, situated far to the east, was far more a rumor than a daily reality to Dolphins coach George Wilson and his strange new conglomeration of rookies and scooped-up AFL veterans left unprotected by their former teams.
“There would be some people that would come out there to watch us practice, but you had to really want to come because of where it was located,” said former Dolphins center Tom Goode, 72, who had already played eight seasons with the Houston Oilers when Miami took him in an expansion draft.
“It was kind of hidden back off the road, full of palmetto bushes and snakes. Anywhere you could see water you’d see alligators, and you could always see a dead rattlesnake or something on the road coming into campus. Around the school they killed rattlesnakes, I know, and the mosquitoes, they’d just carry you off.”
The Dolphins had what they needed at Saint Andrew’s, however, in the way of multiple practice fields and dormitory rooms and hot cafeteria food.
What a nice change that was, because the first few weeks of training camp in St. Petersburg Beach were just plain silly.
Sparse accommodations
Miami’s first-ever drills were held there on what amounted to an empty lot with background views of the Gulf of Mexico. No goalposts were in place to begin, plus no equipment to speak of and precious little turf.
A gaggle of businessmen known as the Suncoast Sports Group had talked Dolphins founder Joe Robbie into using that tourist-friendly setting, but the team soon had to move its practices to nearby Boca Ciega High School and finally, on Aug. 7, all the way across the peninsula to Saint Andrew’s.
“They tried to put a practice field down over by the beach,” Goode said from his home in West Point, Miss. “It looked pretty going down, with the grass rolled up like carpet, but as soon as we started playing, the stuff tore all up. Seashells started coming through it and we had a lot of infections from cuts on our knees and hands and arms. The team doctor stayed busy with all of that.”
Frank Emanuel, an All-America linebacker at Tennessee and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was drafted by the Dolphins of the AFL and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL but chose Miami because he wanted to stay in the South. His first impressions of that St. Petersburg Beach training camp must have had Emanuel questioning his decision.
“We stayed in this little hotel called the Dolphin Inn right on the beach,” Emanuel,

George Wilson Undated Post file photo
First Miami Dolphins head coach George Wilson (Palm Beach Post file photo)

68, said from his Principal Financial Group office in Tampa. “Here I am a college guy, new to the pros, and I find out that we had to wear our same practice gear for both workouts during two-a-days. We’d hang it all up in the room, but that didn’t do much.
“They gave us a clean jock, thank goodness, but our pants and jerseys and so forth stayed wet.”
Miami’s first exhibition game was in San Diego, which presented another logistical problem. Five major U.S. airlines were shut down that summer because an estimated 35,000 industry workers were on strike. Robbie hustled up a ride to California for the Dolphins, but it was with Zantop International Airlines, a company that utilized World War II-era prop planes and only four years earlier had acquired a license to carry commercial passengers as well as freight.
“It took us days to get there, it seemed like,” Emanuel said. “We flew to the West Coast slow and low, and we had to stop on the way over and on the way back to gas up.”
After returning from that 38-10 loss to the Chargers, Wilson instructed his players to pile into their personal vehicles and carpool across the state to Boca Raton.
Move brings little fanfare
They arrived on a Monday at Saint Andrew’s, a private-school campus deserted for the summer by its all-male student body, and jumped right into preparing for that Friday night’s home opener against Len Dawson and the Kansas City Chiefs.
For an idea of the negligible impact that the Dolphins‘ arrival had on Palm Beach County, The Palm Beach Post splashed coverage and photos from the American Legion state baseball tournament across the front page of the sports section that week. The story about the Dolphins‘ opening practice in Boca Raton was on Page 2.
Teresa Vignau, the theater director at Saint Andrew’s, places a much higher value than that on the Dolphins‘ first training camp. She was 14 and living on campus with her family in 1966 because Vignau’s father, a French teacher, was a faculty member.
“We had a piano that my mother wanted to put in my bedroom but we weren’t having much luck because of the angle,” Vignau said. “My father, who stands all of 5-foot-6, runs out and asks these three tired linemen if they could help. They very sweetly came in and moved the piano for us.
“Some of the other guys on the team thought it would be really fun to shoot the ducks in the pond on campus. I didn’t see who did it, but I saw the duck. One of the animal-protection organizations came and relocated the flock after that.”
Wilson, who died in 1978, surely had his hands full that first summer.
He won an NFL title as coach of the Detroit Lions in 1957 but lost his first nine games with the Dolphins, counting four exhibitions and five regular-season games.
One of the major reasons was the lack of a quarterback. Bob Griese didn’t join the Dolphins until the following year.
Father turns to son
In 1966, Wilson had four mediocre passers from which to choose, and he gave much of the early playing time to his son, George Jr., who was never more than a backup at Xavier.
“I have to go by what I see in the games and practice,” said Wilson, who traded a 13th-round draft pick to Buffalo to bring his son to Miami. “Once we get on the field, it’s coach and player, not father and son.”
Wilson Jr. wound up throwing five touchdown passes with 10 interceptions and 11 sacks that year, soon giving way to veterans John Stofa and Dick Wood as the Dolphins scrambled to put together a 3-11 inaugural season.
“It got better, but it wasn’t very organized at first,” said Billy Neighbors, 71, a College Football Hall of Fame guard who played for Bear Bryant at Alabama and then four seasons with the Boston Patriots before coming to Miami in 1966.
“I assume it was a typical first-year operation. People didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”
Wilson lasted four years as Dolphins coach, which just happened to be the only four years that the team trained at Saint Andrew’s. He was fired with a 15-39-2 Miami record and replaced in 1970 by Don Shula, who moved the Dolphins‘ summer camp to what was then known as Biscayne College in North Miami.
By the time Shula arrived, one of the more colorful original Dolphins, pro wrestler Wahoo McDaniel, was gone.
McDaniel reportedly enjoyed handling the snakes he found near the Saint Andrew’s dorms and using them to spook teammates.
“It’s amazing that team survived,” Neighbors said.
Same goes for Saint Andrew’s, now celebrating its 50th year in southern Palm Beach County.

A funny Ronald Reagan tidbit from my upcoming story on Pembrook Burrows III

Just finished writing a long feature on West Palm Beach’s Pembrook Burrows III, who way back in 1970 played with Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore on the unlikeliest Final Four team you could ever hope to see.

The story, which is peppered with great photos, can be found at mypalmbeachpost.com beginning Thursday. It’s full of fun nuggets about the heyday of Roosevelt High School basketball and the overnight emergence of tiny Jacksonville University as a national power. Here’s one funny scene, however, that got left on the cutting-room floor.

ronnie raygunWhen Jacksonville advanced to the NCAA championship game to play mighty UCLA, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, a real colorful guy, sent a telegram to his counterpart in California, Ronald Reagan.

Kirk had a lot of fun with it and made sure the contents of the telegram was released to the media. He referred to the Bruins as “the champagne team from Smoggy Hollow,” and announced “I am supremely comfortable in the knowledge that Jacksonville will ‘win one for the Gov’ while UCLA is ‘losing one for the old Gipper.’ “

Best of all, Kirk promised “If I lose, I will watch 50 reruns of ‘Death Valley Days.’ If I win, all I want is your public acknowledgement of this additional area of Florida’s superiority. I will await your wire of acceptance and your subsequent telephone call of congratulations.”

Reagan, the former actor and future U.S. president, served in 1964 and 1965 as narrator on television’s “Death Valley Days” anthology of western stories from the pioneer days. Some of those shows must have been a little dry based on Kirk’s wager.

[Why shouldn’t Hurricanes be formidable in both major sports?]

[Bullish on the Warriors finishing the job and besting 72-10]

[Simplest measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

There is no record of what happened when UCLA beat Jacksonville 80-69 but it figures that Reagan was gracious, not wishing to speak ill of a fellow Republican. Besides, the Bruins were beating everybody back then.

In 1972, after Kirk had left office, UCLA scored another victory over a Florida team in the NCAA championship game, beating FSU 81-76.