- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
When Donald Scott Drysdale walked from the mound after reducing the St. Louis Cardinals to a blob of whipped cream one night last week, he muttered under his breath: "Take that." One has to go back in history almost to Hairbreadth Harry, that comic-strip hero of decades gone by, to find red-blooded Americans who use expressions like "Take that." But Don Drysdale, the No. 2 man in baseball's highest-paid pitching act, is one of them.
This is not to say that Don Drysdale, 78 inches and 216 pounds of carefully regulated malevolence, does not get mad. He gets plenty mad, and not always at the opposition. The subject of his wrath last week was Emil Joseph (Buzzie) Bavasi, general manager of the Dodgers, a highly talented front-office career man who owns several honorary degrees in holding payrolls down, an M.A. in trading nothing for something and a Ph.D. in giving people what is euphemistically known as "the needle."
To comprehend the degree of Drysdale's vituperation, one must know that 1966 has been the most frustrating year of his career. This man who has pitched 173 victories, won the Cy Young Award, worked harder and oftener and more consistently than any other pitcher in baseball for the last 10 years, this man who should be accepting plaques in Pasadena and attending dinners in his honor in Cucamonga suddenly hears boos from the fans and reads insulting remarks in the public prints. "Why should he be subjected to that kind of treatment?" a typical Dodger student says with studied sarcasm. "Just because he's having a rotten, lousy, miserable year? Is it fair to boo a man who's rotten, lousy and miserable? Is this the American way?" It certainly is.
Drysdale's public-relations problem is compounded by the fact that this year he and Sandy Koufax nailed the Dodgers for the biggest salaries ever paid a brace of ballplayers. At first the K-D entry demanded three-year contracts, full ownership of California and Nevada and the Strategic Air Command, plus options on the Mississippi River and Philadelphia, all of which was well above the presidential guidelines. When the smoke cleared and the long holdout ended, the pair signed for simple one-year contracts calling for a simple $120,000 to Koufax and a simple $110,000 to Drysdale. Anyone who thinks that the two pitchers were defeated at the bargaining table is simple.
Koufax, the superstar who cannot be compared to anybody but himself, breezed right into the season with one week of spring training, and except for a short period of adjustment moved back into his old overpowering arthritic stride. Drysdale could not make the quick adjustment. "I didn't feel strong," he said. "I didn't have anything. I didn't have a good fast ball. I didn't have a good curve ball. You name it, I didn't have it." A New York columnist suggested that next year the Big D would have to hold out with Nate Oliver, the perennial scrub. A San Francisco newspaperman suggested that Bavasi put Drysdale to work around the ball park to help salvage some of his salary. "His imposing height suggests he could command respect as a gateman or a guard," wrote Prescott Sullivan.
Last week Drysdale assessed the long season. "I'm not giving any excuses," he said at his pocket-sized ranch in Hidden Hills near Los Angeles, while his nine horses cavorted outside and the water splashed down the red-blue-and-yellow-lighted artificial waterfall above his swimming pool. "I've pitched lousy and nobody knows it better than I do. What it gets down to is some pitchers can miss spring training and some can't. I learned that this year. I need the whole six weeks, throwing almost every day. Sandy is different. There's such a contrast between his fast ball and his curve ball that all he has to do is work the ball up and down on each hitter. But I don't have Sandy's stuff, and I have to work around two inches on each corner. If I can hit those spots, I've got command.
"Early in the season I pitched three pretty good games in a row and I had good command—I knew where the ball was going. Then I pitched and won a game in Atlanta, but my command was just terrible. It all had something to do with this long muscle that runs down from the shoulder along the outside of the arm. That's always the last arm muscle to tone in, and while it was toning in I was trying to find a groove. I'd find a groove and the muscle would tone in a little better and I'd have to find another groove. Normally, all this would've been worked out in spring training."
One morning the struggling Drysdale awoke to find himself the holder of a magnificent 8-13 record and an earned run average approaching the range of his salary. Enter the villainous Bavasi, stroking his imaginary mustache like Relentless Rudolph and hurling challenges all about him. " Drysdale doesn't look in shape to me," Buzzie intoned, with a straight face. "He insists that he's in shape, but he doesn't look it. And he's making too many mistakes. He lost one ball game because he didn't cover first base, another because he dropped a ball, another because he hit somebody with two outs, another because he pitched carelessly on an 0-and-2 pitch. Nobody should lose a game on an 0-and-2 pitch. I don't know what it is. Donald seems to have too much on his mind. He's not concentrating. I don't know what he can be thinking about."
Some of the Bavasi quotes reached Drysdale via the newspapers. Others got to the big pitcher through his own private fountains of information. "A lot of things he says get back to me," Drysdale explained, and added, "I've always been a person that if you've got something to say, it's all right to say it, but say it to the person you're talking about, person to person."
Drysdale brooded about Bavasi's cannonade, and then one day blew his top. "Anyone in the front office can put a padlock on my locker anytime they think I'm not giving 100% or that I'm not in shape," Drysdale said for publication. "It looks like he's worried more about cutting me 25% than winning the pennant. That's his prerogative. However, it's also my prerogative to refuse it. When they get into my private life and say I haven't been giving 100%, I don't like it. Anytime I don't go all out I'll take off my uniform and quit." Then he stomped off to face the Chicago Cubs in an afternoon game.