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Posted: November 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The great ones

 Have you heard that Herb Score passed away just a few days ago? He was the longtime announcer for the Cleveland Indians, calling games mostly on radio from 1964 to 1997. A lot of folks may not know, however, that before the move into the announcer’s booth, Score was on the cusp of becoming the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

Signed by the same scout who brought Hall of Fame right-hander Bob Feller to the Indians, Score was the American League rookie of the year in 1955, setting a strikeout record for rookies that stood for 29 years. The next year he went 20-9 and repeated as the strikeout king.

How good was Herb Score? So good that the Boston Red Sox offered Cleveland a million dollars for him — an extraordinary sum back in 1957 — which the Indians rejected. So good that Feller would later say, "Score had as good a curve as Koufax, and a better fastball."

But on May 7, 1957, Score was hit in the face by a vicious line drive off the bat of Yankees’ second baseman Gil McDougald. It was a horrifying moment for everyone present, and although the lefty eventually returned for a few more seasons, he was never the same pitcher again.

So Herb Score moved into the broadcast booth, and generations of Cleveland Indians fans learned about baseball, and about life, from this self-styled "regular guy."

In 2007 an interviewer asked Score to reflect on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the May 7 line drive which effectively ended his budding career. Herb replied that in a few days he would celebrate being married for 40 years, and that was the only anniversary he considered important.

But the story I like most about Herb Score was this one: he’d been in a bad car accident in 1998, and most of Cleveland was in prayer for his recovery. A sportswriter visited him in the hospital and, in the course of the visit, asked Score why in all his years of broadcasting he would never say something like "well, this is a pretty obvious bunting situation," or "he will probably try to steal second here."

And Herb Score said, "No, that’s a dad’s job."

Score’s passing leads me to dwell for a moment on the things that separate the great people from the rest of us. The truly great ones, almost uniformly, possess an exceptional sense of humility. They’re not full of themselves. They move through everyday routine without cutting a big wake.

In my experience, the great ones aren’t normally the swashbucklers. When involved in humanitarian causes or other philanthropy, they eschew the limelight, choosing rather to quietly make the world a better place from behind the scenes.

The great ones come in all shapes and sizes, and although you really can’t tell a book by its cover, the best part is that you know them but might not have ever stopped to think about it.

Have you ever thought about who the great ones are in your everyday life? I’ve got a list a mile long, starting with the guys in the service department who’ve kept my cars running and my family safe for all these years. There’s the family devoted to philanthropy, without whose efforts our county schools would have no fine arts auditoriums. There’s the director of our county recreation department — a superstar in his field — who could have made more money elsewhere but chose to stay here and give back to his community. And there’s the orthodontist who has brought smiles, confidence and self-esteem to thousands of kids while footing the bill for many from his own pocket.

 I could go on, but you catch my drift, I think. The great ones move among us, make life better for us, yet seek no glory. And ultimately, I think, that’s what sets them apart.

The Friday before last in my hometown of Greensboro, I attended the graveside service for Edwin Gaillard "Gilly" Adams Jr. He was born in 1944 with a rare condition which affected his speech and physical ability to walk; the oldest brother of one of my classmates, Gilly wasn’t expected to live very long at all.

There was no special education in those days. Children with special needs were institutionalized, or were cared for at home. But Gilly’s family decided to treat him as if he was normal, and despite the fact that he endured being made fun of by kids being kids, he went on to graduate from old Greensboro High in 1964.

Gilly became a fixture in the everyday life of Greensboro when I was growing up.

 He made rounds downtown daily, checking on folks to see how they were doing, and he’d also telephone people on a regular basis. When his health deteriorated, he utilized crutches and later a motorized tricycle to get around.

The preacher at the funeral told how one day Gilly called the police insisting that they go at once to the home of an elderly friend. Gilly, you see, called this person at the same time every day, and since they weren’t answering, he feared the worst.

Grudgingly, the police responded. They found the elderly person in the early stages of a stroke and saved his life.

When I heard of Gilly’s passing, I knew I had to go to the funeral. After all, Greensboro is different now. Times have changed. Gilly’s last few years had been spent in a nursing home, and I didn’t think many folks would be there.

Well, I was wrong. More than 100 folks, some who’d driven from other states even, turned out. Cars and pickups were parked everywhere at the old Greensboro Cemetery. And the reason was simple: another great one had passed away, and the regular folks needed to say good-bye.

I don’t know if Gilly Adams thought of himself as a great man, but he certainly was. His dogged determination to live life to the fullest extent possible, without feeling sorry for himself, made life better for all the "normal" folks he knew.

Herb Score was a big fish in a really big pond, while Gilly Adams was a small fish in a little pond. They were both, however, victims of circumstances beyond their control which rocked their world and made them a little different. Instead of wallowing in misery, both men rose up and made life better for those of us lucky enough to have crossed paths with them.

And that, it says here, is what makes ’em both great men.

 

Nat Harwell is a resident of Newton County. His column appears in The Covington News on Sundays.

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