20 Years Ago Today…Remembering Don Drysdale.

You couldn’t dig in the box against him.  When Koufax pitched, you didn’t feel relief after the game because you knew he was next.  In an era where Sandy was Dandy, he picked up a Cy Young Award of his own (1962) and remained dominant even after Sandy left.

Don Drysdale was a fierce sight for any batter. The long, lanky right-hander from Van Nuys stood six-foot-six and threw a devastating fastball, winning over 200 games, striking out nearly 2,500 batters and knocking down countless hitters who dug in in the batters box in a career that spanned from 1956-1969. (Image source: http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0804/mlb.best.baseball.players.numbers.47-99/images/53.don-drysdale.jpg)

Don Drysdale was the second half of the two-headed monster.  For people who weren’t alive to experience it and haven’t heard the stories, think about what teams think these days having to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke back-to-back.  The 209 game winner struck out nearly 2,500 batters and posted a career earned run average of 2.95 while hitting a Major League Record 154 batters with pitches in his 14 year career between 1956 and 1969, an average of more than ten batters per season.  He once pitched 58 2/3 consecutive shutout innings, a record streak broken by fellow Dodger Orel Hershiser during a remarkable stretch of 59 innings that the Bulldog managed to pull off down the stretch during the 1988 season and not nearly matched since.  He won World Series rings in 1959, 1963 and 1965, and made one final trip to the Fall Classic in a losing effort in 1966.  From 1962-1966, he and Koufax combined for a record of 209-104 and pitched the team to four national league pennants to go with their three world titles.  Even when they lost, it was rare that either hurler gave up more than three runs.  Easy wins against Dandy Sandy and Big Don were few and far between, and Dodger Stadium gained a reputation as the premier pitchers’ park in the National League.  As a result of his efforts, Drysdale found himself enshrined in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1984, his number 53 retired by the Dodgers to immortalize him in Dodger lore forever.

Jim Murray wrote of Don Drysdale in 1969:

“Some pitchers throw out of a crouch, others straight overhand, some are underhanded.  Big D threw out of a rage.  You had the feeling that guy up there with the bat had just made a pass at his wife, or threw a brick through his church window, or voted Communist.  Don would be shaking with rage when they gave him the ball.”

Drysdale was also proficient with the bat, twice hitting seven home runs in a season, occasionally being used as a pinch hitter, and

After his career, Drysdale forayed into broadcasting, returning to the Dodgers in time for their World Championship run in 1988.  Lost amongst Vin Scully’s “in a year that has been improbable, the impossible has happened” call and Jack Buck’s “I don’t believe what I just saw!” call of Kirk Gibson’s home run was Drysdale’s call for the Dodger Radio Network.

“Well, the crowd is on its feet and if there was ever a preface to Casey At The Bat it would have to be the ninth inning. Two out. The tying run aboard, the winning run at the plate, and Kirk Gibson, standing at the plate.  Eckersley working out of the stretch, here’s the three-two pitch…and a drive hit to right field (losing voice) WAY BACK! IT’S GONE! IT’S GONE! (After 2 minutes of crowd noise) This crowd will not stop! They can’t believe the ending! And this time, Mighty Casey did NOT strike out!!!!”

Drysdale’s call was very likely the one that blared over the radio in the car that could be seen hitting the brakes just beyond the Right Field Pavilion as Gibson’s shot sailed into the night.  Much like Scully, Drysdale knew the importance of letting the sound of the crowd tell the story where words couldn’t.

Big Don got his call-up to the Big Dodger in the Sky twenty years ago today.  Perhaps Walt Alston needed a big tough righty with a blazing fastball to help settle things down while Sandy developed for a superb run.  But Drysdale left us all heartbroken when Vin Scully, broadcasting the game back to Los Angeles from Montreal on July 3rd, 1993, said solemnly “Never have I been asked to make an announcement that hurts me as much as this one. And I say it to you as best I can with a broken heart.”

Just like that, the world knew that Big Don was gone, a fact Scully had known throughout the broadcast but had been forced to hold back in order for the organization to notify Drysdale’s family first.  The man who had struck fear into opposing hitters and brought joy to fans who heard his calls over the airwaves was felled by a heart attack just three weeks shy of his 57th birthday.

Don Drysdale’s been gone 20 years.  But he won’t soon be forgotten.

Don Drysdale Born: July 23rd, 1936 Van Nuys, CA Died: July 3rd, 1993 Montreal, Quebec Canada (Image Source: Los Angeles Times at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/10/22/lastcall_2.jpg)
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