Drysdale, Don(ald) Scott

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Drysdale, Don(ald) Scott

(b. 23 July 1936 in Van Nuys, California; d. 3 July 1993 in Montreal, Canada), baseball pitcher for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1950s and 1960s, baseball broadcaster, and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Drysdale was one of two children born to Scott Sumner Drysdale, a onetime minor league baseball pitcher and repair supervisor for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, and Verna Ruth Ley, a homemaker. He began to play organized baseball as a nine-year-old in the Valley Junior Baseball League, followed by play at Van Nuys High School and American Legion baseball on a team managed by his father. Drysdale played mainly infield positions, but he was asked by his father to pitch when the scheduled pitcher failed to show up for an American Legion game. Drysdale, a right-handed thrower, pitched a complete game and won. A scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers watched the game and later asked Drysdale to join the Dodger Juniors, a team of high school prospects. During his senior year Drysdale drew interest from baseball scouts when he pitched a no-hitter, striking out twelve batters. After his graduation in 1954, he received scholarship offers from Stanford University and the University of Southern California, while the White Sox, Yankees, Braves, Pirates, and Dodgers wanted to sign him immediately to a professional contract. Instead of attending college, Drysdale signed with the Dodgers in June 1954. Drysdale was sent to the class C Bakersfield club in the California League. In 1955 he moved up to Montreal, the Dodgers top farm club.

In 1956 Drysdale spent his rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In wins versus losses, his record was 5–5 for the season. In 1957, the Dodgers’ last year in Brooklyn, he led the team’s pitchers with a record of 17–9. Drysdale started the Dodgers’ first home game in Los Angeles, losing to the San Francisco Giants 7–0 in the Los Angeles Coliseum. On 27 September 1958 Drysdale married Eula Eugenia (“Ginger“) Dubberly, the 1958 Miss Tournament of Roses. They had one child and divorced in 1970. Drysdale contributed to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ capturing the National League pennant in 1959, compiling a record of 17–13 and leading the major leagues with 242 strikeouts. The Dodgers then defeated the Chicago White Sox to win the World Series that year. Drysdale won game four. In 1960 he went 15-14 and leadin g the major leagues with 242 strikeouts. In 1961 he signed a contract with the Dodgers for $32,500, making him the highest-salaried pitcher in baseball at the age of twenty-four.

Known as “Big D,” Drysdale stood six and a half feet tall and weighed about 190 pounds (215 pounds later in his career). As a pitcher, he threw three-quarter sidearm, a range of motion between overhand (throwing over the top) and sidearm (throwing when the arm is parallel to the ground). On the mound he was intimidating not only for his size and pitching motion but also for his tendency to pitch inside to hitters. In 1961 he hit twenty batters, the most in the National League since 1909. He led the league in this category five times and holds the National League career mark with 154 batters hit. Often accused of altering baseballs, Drysdale admitted in his 1990 autobiography that he used spit mixed with slippery elm.

Between 1962 and 1965 Drysdale was one of baseball’s dominant hurlers, posting a record of 85–54. In all four of these years he started the most games of any pitcher in the National League, logging more than 300 innings in each of these seasons and leading the league in innings pitched in 1962 and 1964. Drysdale’s career season was 1962, when he led the major leagues with a record of 25–9. He led the National League with forty-one games started and topped both leagues with 3141/3 innings pitched and 232 strikeouts, receiving the National League’s Cy Young Award in recognition of his achievements. He and his southpaw Hall-of-Fame teammate, Sandy Koufax, dominated baseball’s hitters and took the Dodgers to the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1966.

Drysdale went 23-12 and Koufax notched a 26-8 record as the Dodgers won the National League pennant in 1965. The Dodgers then defeated the Minnesota Twins in the World Series, Drysdale going 1-1 and Koufax going 2-0. After the World Series, Drysdale and Koufax held out in an effort to become the first pitchers to make more than $100,000. After the pair missed most of spring training, the Dodgers signed them to one-year contracts. Koufax agreed to $125,000 and Drysdale signed for$110,000. During 1966, Drysdale’s record declined to 13–16. This included two of the Dodgers’ four losses during which they dropped the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles. In 1967 Drysdale again posted a discouraging 13–16 record. In 1968 he went 14–12, but, more important, from the period of 14 May through 8 June he threw 58⅔ consecutive scoreless innings, eclipsing Walter Johnson’s major league record of fifty-six scoreless innings. This led to 1968 being called the “year of the pitcher.” As a result, the pitching mound was lowered in 1969 in an effort to lessen pitchers’ domination of hitters. (Drysdale was a broadcaster for the Dodgers in 1988 when the Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser broke his record.) Drysdale was selected to the National League All-Star team, pitching three scoreless innings to pick up the victory. After his twelfth start of the 1969 season, he retired.

In 1969 Drysdale joined the Montreal Expos as a part-time television announcer and minor league pitching instructor. In 1971–1972, he was an announcer for the Texas Rangers, and he worked as a broadcaster with the Anaheim (then California) Angels from 1973 to 1981. From 1978 to 1986, he worked as an analyst for the American Broadcasting Company’s weekly baseball games. Drysdale was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. On 1 November 1986, he married Ann Elizabeth Meyers, a former All-American basketball star at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. They had three children. From 1988 until his death Drysdale worked as a broadcaster for the Dodgers. In 1989 Drysdale became a part owner of the Visalia Oaks, a class A minor league team in the California State League. He died of a heart attack and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Spending his entire career with the Dodgers, Drysdale compiled 209 wins and 166 losses, posting a 2.95 earned run average. Also known as an excellent hitter for a pitcher, Drysdale hit twenty-nine career home runs, including two seasons with seven, and had a respectable batting average of .186. Only twice did he win more than twenty games in a season, but he was a dominant pitcher from 1962 to 1965. He played in five World Series, pitching in seven games, winning three, and losing three (one game was a no decision). Drysdale was selected to eight All-Star teams, posting a 2-1 record. In a time when aggressive pitching dominated the game, “Big D” set the standard.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York, has a clippings file on Drysdale. His autobiography is Once a Bum, Always a Dodger: My Life in Baseball from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, written with Bob Verdi (1990). Drysdale’s records can be found in Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 4th ed., edited by John Thorn and Peter Palmer with Michael Gershman (1995). A chapter on Drysdale can be found in Bill Libby’s Star Pitchers of the Major Leagues (1971). The 1966 holdout by Drysdale and Koufax is covered in William B. Mead, World of Baseball: The Explosive Sixties (1989). Current Biography (1965) provides background on Drysdale’s life before major league baseball. From the many magazine articles written about Drysdale, three in particular give insights into the man and the baseball issues of his time. Don Drysdale, “You’ve Got to Be Mean to Pitch,” Sport (30 June 1960), suggests the role of intimidation in baseball. Huston Horn, “Ex-Bad Boy’s Big Year,” Sports Illustrated (20 Aug. 1962), provides background on Drysdale as he neared completion of his best season. Jack Mann, “The $1,000,000 Holdout,” Sports Illustrated (4 Apr. 1966), offers a balanced appraisal of the situation faced by Drysdale and Koufax as they tried to improve their salaries dramatically during a time when the “reserve clause” precluded negotiation and mediation. (The reserve clause was a traditional provision in a player’s contract that reserved the player’s services for the following season, even if new terms had not been reached.) Obituaries are in the New York Times (5 July 1993) and the Los Angeles Times (4 July 1993).

Paul A. Frisch