Drysdale, Donald Scott ("Don")

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DRYSDALE, Donald Scott ("Don")

(b. 23 July 1936 in Van Nuys, California; d. 3 July 1993 in Montreal, Canada), dominant baseball pitcher for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1950s and 1960s, who later became a sports broadcaster and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Drysdale was one of two children born to Scott Sumner Drysdale, a one-time minor league baseball scout and a repair supervisor for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraphy Company, and Verna Ruth Ley, a homemaker. Drysdale graduated from Van Nuys (Calif.) High School in June 1954. After graduation, the right-handed pitcher signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers franchise. After spending two years in the minor leagues, Drysdale was called up to the majors in 1956, winning five games and losing five games. In 1957, the Dodgers' last season in Brooklyn, he led the team's pitchers with a record of 17–9.

Drysdale served in the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1958. On 27 September 1958 Drysdale married Eula Eugenia ("Ginger") Dubberly, the 1958 Miss Tournament of Roses. They had one child and divorced in 1970. The Los Angeles Dodgers captured the National League (NL) pennant in 1959, with Drysdale contributing by compiling a record of 17–13 and leading the major leagues with 242 strikeouts. The Dodgers defeated the Chicago White Sox to win the World Series that year; Drysdale won game four. In 1960 he went 15–14 and again led the major leagues with 246 strikeouts. In 1961 he signed a contract with the Dodgers for $32,500, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball at the age of twenty-four.

Known as "Big D," Drysdale stood six feet, six inches 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 as of 2002 still held the NL 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. (Slippery elm derives from the inner bark of the slippery elm tree. Its application to a baseball produces the same effect as a knuckleball—the pitched ball has very little rotation, making its movement dependent upon air currents and therefore unpredictable. It finishes its trajectory with a sharp drop.)

Between 1962 and 1965 Drysdale was one of baseball's dominant hurlers, posting a record of 85–54. In each of these four 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 314 and one-third innings pitched and 232 strikeouts, receiving the NL Cy Young Award in recognition of his achievements. He and his southpaw 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 NL pennant in 1965. The Dodgers then defeated the Minnesota Twins in the World Series, with 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. The pitchers' holdout was a major challenge to the Dodgers management and to the baseball establishment, because Major League Baseball's reserve clause bound a player to a team in perpetuity. In the absence of collective bargaining or even legitimate negotiation, a player had two choices: accept the team's contract offer or cease to play professional baseball. Drysdale and Koufax hired an attorney to negotiate, marking a significant step toward the abolition of the reserve clause and the establishment of collective bargaining and free agency.

During 1966 Drysdale's record declined to 13–6. This included two of the Dodgers four losses in the World Series, which they dropped to the Baltimore Orioles. In 1967 Drysdale again posted a discouraging 13–6 record. In 1968 he went 14–2, but, more importantly, from the period of 14 May through 8 June he threw 58 and two-thirds 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 for the NL All-Star team, pitching three scoreless innings to pick up the victory. After his twelfth start of the 1969 season, he retired with an injury to his right shoulder.

From 1969 until his death in 1993, Drysdale held a succession of broadcasting jobs with the Montreal Expos, Texas Rangers, Anaheim (California) Angels, American Broadcasting Company, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Drysdale was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on 12 August 1984. On 1 November 1986 he married Ann Elizabeth Meyers, a former All-America basketball star at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. They had three children. Drysdale died of a heart attack and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

During his 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. 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, written with Bob Verdi, is Once a Bum, Always a Dodger: My Life in Baseball from Brooklyn to Los Angeles (1990). See also Milton J. Shapiro, The Don Drysdale Story (1964). A chapter on Drysdale is in Bill Libby, 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). Drysdale's records are in John Thorn and Peter Palmer, eds., with Michael Gershman,Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 4th ed. (1995). 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), examines 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 the completion of his best season; and Jack Mann, "The $100,000 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. Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times (4 July 1993), and the New York Times (5 July 1993).

Paul A. Frisch