THE DON DRYSDALE COLLECTION
He stood 6’ 5” tall and earned the well-deserved nickname “Big D.” He was an intimidating pitcher who used brushback pitches to keep opposing batters off the plate. A graduate of Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles, he was a lanky hurler recruited right out of high school in 1954 by the then-Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed with the team as an amateur free agent for a $4,000 bonus and a salary of $600 per month. He made his MLB debut less than two years later, at age 19, when he pitched the ninth inning of a game against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on April 17, 1956. He gave up no hits, no runs and walked one batter as the Phillies hung on for an 8-6 win. His name was Don Drysdale and he would soon become one of the most dominating pitchers in Major League Baseball history.
Six days later, he started his first game for the Dodgers against the same Phillies’ lineup at Connie Mack Stadium. Drysdale went the distance, giving up nine hits and striking out nine as the Dodgers posted a 6-1 victory. His batterymate that day in Philly was future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Drysdale also collected his first major league hit that afternoon, a fifth-inning single off 172-game winner Murry Dickson. “Big D” started a total of 12 games that season for Brooklyn and helped “Dem Bums” clinch the National League pennant by posting a 5-5 record with 55 strikeouts to his credit. It was an auspicious start to a Hall of Fame career.
Breaking into the established Dodgers’ pitching corps alongside veterans Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Roger Craig would appear daunting to most rookies, but Drysdale earned his stripes quickly. In just his second season, he led the team with a 17-9 mark, a 2.69 ERA and struck out a team-high 148 batters. The Dodgers finished third in the N.L. standings with an 84-70 record as Drysdale’s light was just starting to shine bright. Conversely to his emergence as the team’s top right-hander, a young 21-year-old southpaw by the name of Sandy Koufax was also proving himself as a force to be reckoned with.
It was during this time that both pitchers learned that they were due to serve their country beyond thrilling baseball performances. Shortly after the ’57 season ended, both Drysdale and Koufax signed up for the Army ROTC six-month program. “We were destined for the Army Reserves in Fort Dix, New Jersey, that off-season,” Drysdale wrote in his book Once a Bum, Always a Dodger.
“That was the winter I first saw snow, another new experience for this kid from the West Coast. Sandy, who was from Brooklyn, actually had to teach me how to walk all over again when there was a coating of snow or a sheet of ice. I was constantly slipping. If it hadn’t been for Sandy, I’d have spent that entire off-season flat on my back!”
While stationed at Fort Dix is where Drysdale first learned the Dodgers were moving out of Brooklyn. “It was toward the end of boot camp that we first heard the big news,” wrote Drysdale. “We were in the mess hall one day and somebody ran up to us and said ‘Well, it’s official. You guys are moving.’
“Naïve as I was, I didn’t know what the guy was talking about. I thought he meant that Sandy and I were moving to another post or something.”
In February of 1958, after 73 seasons in Brooklyn, the Dodgers and their owner, Walter O’Malley, made their way out west. The team played its first four seasons in the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as Drysdale averaged 14 wins a year and twice led the league in strikeouts: 242 in 1959, and 246 a year later. In 1962, the team moved into its brand new digs at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. As Drysdale became one of the game’s most dominant pitchers, the Dodgers were busy winning the N.L. pennant in 1959, ’63, ’65 and ’66. Helping the team win three World Series titles (1959, ’63 and ’65) as well as earning his only Cy Young Award in 1962 – a season in which he went 25-9 with 242 K’s – helped cement Drysdale’s legacy.
Another talent that belonged to Drysdale was his proficiency at hitting. He collected 218 hits and drove in 113 runs during his career and in 1965, in fact, led the Dodgers in batting with a .300 average. He collected 39 hits that season including an astounding seven home runs, equaling the number of round-trippers he launched in 1958.
In 1968, at the age of 31, he set a major league record that few thought would ever be broken. Pitching six consecutive shutouts stretching from May 14 versus the Cubs until June 4 against the Pirates, Drysdale recorded 58-and-two-thirds innings of scoreless pitching. The streak finally ended in the fifth inning of the team’s 5-3 win against the Phillies on June 8 at Dodger Stadium. Despite the streak’s end, Drysdale still earned his seventh straight win. He struck out 46 batters during that stretch of time. Twenty years later, another Dodgers’ pitcher, Orel Hershiser, set the new record by pitching 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run.
Drysdale’s career came to an abrupt halt in the second half of the 1969 season when a chronically sore shoulder forced him into early retirement. He had just turned 33 years old and the culprit turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. Through 14 years in the big leagues, all with the Dodgers, Drysdale posted a career record of 209-166, a 2.95 ERA and 2,486 strikeouts. And when it came to throwing fastballs, home plate belonged to Drysdale. He still owns the N.L. record for hit batsmen: 154.
“I never hit anybody in the head in my life,” he once said. “But you have to move them off the plate. This was part of the game and everybody accepted it as part of the game.”
Even after his playing days ended, Drysdale never really left the game. He started a broadcasting career in 1970 with the Montreal Expos and worked with three more teams (Rangers, Angels and White Sox) over the next 15 years before signing a lengthy contract with ABC. While at ABC Sports, he not only did baseball telecasts, but also provided on-site commentary for the popular “Superstars” competition as well as “Wide World of Sports.” It was during this time that Drysdale met his second wife, Ann Meyers, a former All-American women’s basketball player at UCLA who was a frequent competitor on the “Superstars” and the event’s three-time women’s champion. He was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, the same year the Dodgers retired his uniform number 53. He and Meyers were married two years later.
In 1988 he signed on with the Dodgers Radio Network and even called Kirk Gibson’s famous walk-off home run in Game 1 of that year’s World Series: “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 outs. 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…way back! This ball is gone!”
After nearly two minutes of pure crowd noise, Drysdale resumed: “This crowd will not stop. They can’t believe the ending! And this time, the Mighty Casey did not strike out!”
As a broadcaster, Drysdale was in his sixth season with the Dodgers and his 22nd overall when the unthinkable happened. On July 3, 1993, during a three-game road trip to Montreal, Drysdale suffered a fatal heart attack in his hotel room. He was 56 years old. He was the second Dodger Hall of Famer to die within a week. Roy Campanella, who caught Drysdale’s first MLB victory, passed away on June 26, also of a heart attack.
DON DRYSDALE’S 1962 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL CY YOUNG AWARD (DRYSDALE COLLECTION) $100,100
DON DRYSDALE’S 1965 LOS ANGELES DODGERS WORLD CHAMPIONS 14K GOLD RING (DRYSDALE COLLECTION) $91,000
DON DRYSDALE’S 1956 BROOKLYN DODGERS GAME WORN HOME UNIFORM FROM HIS ROOKIE SEASON (DRYSDALE COLLECTION) $82,727
DON DRYSDALE’S 1969 LOS ANGELES DODGERS GAME WORN HOME UNIFORM FROM HIS FINAL SEASON (DRYSDALE COLLECTION) $41,372