Lost in the Shuffle

Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

Back when I was in the army I spent a year at a small base in Virginia. I had a roommate who was perfect for me. He was also a diehard Dodgers fan. We were allowed to put up posters on our wall. I didn’t have any but he had three. The one closest to the door extoled the virtues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The one closest to the windows had a picture of a First National Bank somewhere with a guy in a robe heading in the front door. The caption read “Jesus Saves.” In the middle was a big poster of Don Drysdale in motion. The picture above is the nearest to it I could find.

Drysdale’s dropped off the face of the earth in the last few years. He made the Hall of Fame, which was controversial, but once you’re in a lot of the commentary (“He should be in” “He shouldn’t be in”) goes away. He showed up again when Orel Hershiser passed him in consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Then there was one last flurry of comment when he died, but that’s about it. It’s kind of a shame.

Drysdale hit well. Most people don’t know that about him. He hit a buck-86, but had 29 home runs (peaking at seven in both ’58 and ’65), 26 doubles (six in ’60), and 113 RBIs (19 in ’65). His OPS is .523 (and Baseball Reference.com has his offensive WAR as 5.9). His seven homers in ’65 was seventh on the team. OK, it isn’t Ty Cobb, but not bad for a man who hit in the nine-hole.

He had a couple of problems when he pitched. He was only the ace of the staff a few years, taking over for Don Newcombe about 1958 or so and surrendering the position to Sandy Koufax by 1963. In between he won a Cy Young Award in 1962 (back when they only gave out one). He only got to 20 wins twice (’62 and ’65), only led the National League in shutouts once and in strikeouts three times. Not bad, right? But his chief problem was that he pitched on the same staff at the same time as Koufax and got pushed to second place quickly. He just wasn’t Koufax, but then few pitchers were. Worse for Drysdale, when you looked away from the Dodgers there were Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal; and in 1966 there was even Gaylord Perry. So it was tough to consider Drysdale second best pitcher in the NL. As a rule, most years after 1962 the best you could do was slot him into the fourth slot in an all-NL rotation. That hurt his memory a lot.

Having said all that, he still managed 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, an ERA+ of 121, and a1.148 WHIP. Not bad, but not in the same ballpark with Koufax, Gibson, or Marichal.

It’s a shame that he’s been lost in the shuffle. But he does have one advantage over all the rest of them. Back in 1967 I was on my way to Viet Nam and had a chance to overnight in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were in town I got to see the only game I’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale was on the mound and won the game. I, at least, will always remember him.


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5 Responses to “Lost in the Shuffle”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Hey, you got to see a HOF’er pitch on your way to Vietnam. How many people can say that?
    Nice post,

  2. steve Says:

    Sounds deliciously strange; an army roommate with Marx on the wall. What a send off to Vietnam, but wait a second, is there such a thing? I should stick to baseball. I know nothing of what it is to be in a war as a soldier.

    I would think pitchers thrive when teammates are also great pitchers. Drysdale must have learned things from Koufax and vice versa. It’s all for the better, no? Unless Drysdale was petty and wanted the label as team ace.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Not sure how much Drysdale and Koufax compared notes. According to the newish bio of Koufax, Walter Alston liked Drysdale better. As far as I know Drysdale had no problems acknowledging Koufax as the ace.
      As to war, some genius once said something to the effect that war is 10 days of pure boredom followed by 10 minutes of sheer terror. I’ll buy that.
      BTW really liked your post on Cliff Lee.

      • steve Says:

        Thanks v. I guess Koufax and Drysdale compared financial notes. They seemed in definite cahoots during their sit out for more money.

        Amazing that those 10 minutes could feel boring with those other 10 minutes waiting on deck.

  3. Gary Trujillo Says:

    Just went to a game at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night. The Tigers were in town…it was kind of weird.

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