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  • Ethan Semendinger

'59 Week: Day 4 - Don Drysdale

On my quest to complete the whole 1959 Topps set, this Christmas I became 3 cards closer. Here are the stories of those players:

 

The Card:

Card Information:

  • Card #262 of 572

  • 58th Yellow Background Card

  • 15th Dodgers Player

  • 8th Special Card

  • 19th Hall of Famer

 

Getting to 1959:

Don Drysdale was born in 1936 in Van Nuys, California. His father, Scott Drysdale, was a minor league pitcher for one season in 1935 before being serving as a supervisor over repairs for the Pacific Telephone Company. It was through his dad that Don learned to love baseball, though it took until his senior year of high school at Van Nuys High for him to attempt pitching. This shift from second base to pitcher helped him attract the eyes of scouts and before long he was signed to a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. His professional career would begin that summer with the Bakersfield Indians, where he pitched phenomenally.


The next season, the Dodgers looked to challenge Drysdale by moving him all the way up to Triple-A, where he excelled...for the first half of the season while pitching to a 10-2 record. However, a right hand injury (which Drysdale later learned was a break) kept him from finishing the season with success as he lost 9 of his final 10 decisions to go even at 11-11. Much to his credit, though, he pitched through the pain. This must've been noticed- in addition to his combined 3.33 ERA over the season- as Drysdale was quickly moved up to the big leagues for 1956.


Drysdale would later claim that it was luck that brought him up to the MLB as a 19-year-old. (We can also look to card-sharer, Johnny Podres, whose time spent serving in the Navy in 1956 helped necessitate arms for the Dodgers). Regardless of what got him up so quick, Drysdale proved it was a worthwhile decision for the team. In 1956, Drysdale was given just under 100 innings of work while playing in mostly a spot-starter role, but his 2.64 ERA quickly showcased that he was going to be a top talent. So much so that in 1957, he was promoted into the full-time rotation and again showcased a top ERA (2.69) while leading the Dodgers with 17 wins. Drysdale also served his country as a member of the United States Army Reserve during the offseason between 1957 and 1958 alongside Sandy Koufax at New Jersey's Fort Dix.


Moving away from Brooklyn back to his home state, however, did not go smoothly for Drysdale in 1958. The Dodgers as a whole did not play well, and the transition of being one of two clubs (the Giants being the other) to move across the country and first two teams to expand west of the Mississippi River must've had an effect. Maybe we can also chalk his poor 1958 season (4.17 ERA)- during which he moved back into a spot starter role- to Drysdale's mind being on other things as he got married that September. (He wasn't all about love, however, as he led the MLB for the first time in his career in any stat. Don Drysdale had shaped his reputation as a head-hunter, leading the MLB in hit-by-pitches.)

 

From 1959 On:

Now printed on one of the best baseball card sets ever made- and with the excuse of being in love no longer good enough as he was married- Don Drysdale came into the 1959 season ready to prove his worth again. He quickly cemented himself back into the rotation while putting up a sub-3.50 ERA to a 17-13 record and pitching over 270 innings, leading the MLB in strikeouts (242) and earning 2 All-Star nods at the midseason and after the season was over. He also collected an important win in Game 3 of the World Series to bring the first World Championship out west for the Dodgers. (He also led the MLB in hit-by-pitches again.)


Drysdale followed up his 1959 campaign with an even better season in 1960, pitching 269 innings to a 2.84 ERA and again leading the MLB in strikeouts (246) and hit-by-pitches. However, his record of 15-14 did not earn him any praise as he missed out on any accolades. (Looking back on it with a modern eye, Drysdale also led the MLB in WHIP (1.063) and greatly deserved more consideration for achievement.)


The 1961 season would be the beginning of a long stretch of noticed dominance for Drysdale through his peak over the next 8 seasons (to 1968). While the seasons on either end of this peak both missed 250 innings pitched, they showcase the start and the finish of a long stretch of dependability and constant pitching. In that 1961 season, Drysdale set a career record of 20 hit-by-pitches alongside earning end-of-season All-Star recognition. It was honestly a bit worse than his 1960 season, but he did get recognized.


In 1962, Drysdale led the MLB in wins (25), games started (41), innings pitched (314.1), and strikeouts (232) while taking home the National League Cy Young award that also came with a 2.83 ERA. It would be the first and only time he'd ever receive any votes for the award, which he won with all 14 first place votes. A clear victory.


In 1963, Drysdale continued his leading the MLB in games started (42) and he posted a very good 2.63 ERA and getting his 3rd straight All-Star nod, though he also led the league in hits allowed (287). He also won his 2nd World Championship with the Dodgers, collecting what I'd argue was a more important award (Commissioner's Trophy) for him than the season before (Cy Young Award). A similar story would happen in both 1964 and 1965 for Drysdale as he led the MLB for both of those seasons in games started (40 & 42 respectively) while collecting All-Star nods in both those years along respective stat lines of 18-16, 2.18 ERA, 321.1 innings pitched (leading the MLB) and 23-12, 2.77 ERA, 308.1 innings pitched, 12 hit-by-pitches (leading the MLB). It was in the 1965 season that Drysdale won his 3rd World Championship with the Dodgers as well.


Before the 1966 season, Drysdale and Sandy Koufax took place in a salary holdout together, attempting to get 3 Year/$500,000 contracts apiece. (The Dodgers only offered 1 year deals at the time.) Ultimately, the two pitchers would settle at $105K (for Drysdale) and $130K (for Koufax), making them both the first pitchers to break the 6-figure salary mark in baseball. Maybe it was this, but that 1966 was a huge change of pace for Drysdale as he pitched to a 3.42 ERA (the first time over 3.00 since 1961) as he also lost more games than he won (for the first time since 1958). However, he came back with another All-Star season in 1967 on the backs of a 2.74 ERA and 282.0 inning season. And then he really made sure people forgot about his '66 campaign as Drysdale set a record for the longest consecutive scoreless innings pitched streak with 58.2 innings (while throwing 6 straight complete scoreless games) in 1968, or "The Year of the Pitcher". This helped Drysdale to a 2.15 ERA (a career best), and his 9th (and final) All-Star nod.


Drysdale would pitch one final season with the Dodgers in 1969, pitching just 62.2 innings with a 4.45 ERA before a torn rotator cuff ended his season, and career, far earlier than it should've happened.

 

Post-Playing Career:

Don Drysdale would not leave the sport of baseball after his career was taken from him by injury. Following his retirement, he immediately went into the booth. He bounced around many different clubs over the years, calling games for the Montreal Expos (1970-71), Texas Rangers (1972), California Angels (1973-79, 1981), Chicago White Sox (1982-87), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (1988-1993). It was during his first year with the Dodgers that Drysdale would be on the call as Orel Hershiser broke his scoreless innings streak record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.


However, Drysdale wouldn't just call games for baseball teams as he also worked for NBC (1977) and ABC (1978-86), covered the Los Angeles Rams (1973-76), called regional college football games, and covered shows like Superstars and Wide World of Sports. During this time, he also worked on radio doing a show called Radio Baseball Cards in 1987 and doing the interviewing of National League ballplayers for the 1988 radio series Baseball Talk.


On July 1st, 1984, Don Drysdale had his number 53 retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers and just over a month later on August 12th, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with Luis Aparicio, Harmon Killebrew, Pee Wee Reese, and Rick Ferrell.


Don Drysdale lived and breathed baseball for his whole life. So much so, that during the 1993 season as a TV broadcaster for the Dodgers, Don Drysdale would pass away while on a road trip to Montreal at the (far too early) age of 56.

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