What a thrill it was (for five seconds) to see Don Drysdale’s picture on the cover of Sunday’s sports section.
One of our own, a legendary Dodger, No. 53, was front-page news again.
It was a thrill until flipping over the fold — the old news “paper” term for the crease that separates the top and bottom half of the broad sheet — and jaw-dropping my way through the headline:
“THIS MAN DOES NOT DESERVE TO BE IN THE HALL OF FAME. And neither do 93 others.”
I was too incensed to care about the 93 others, although I would later.
Was this a joke? Don Drysdale? Big D was getting the Big Diss from his hometown newspaper?
The story should have come with a disclaimer: “The opinions expressed here are the views of the author (Houston Mitchell) and do not reflect the views of, well, almost any Earthly other person."
Hey, I love lists as much as any other 50-something man who grew up in the era of phone booths and paper routes, but kicking Drysdale out of the Hall of Fame crosses my personal Mason-Dixon line.
It deserves getting knocked off the plate with a fictional fastball near the chin (something Drysdale knew a little about).
Yes, Drysdale went “only” 209-166 in his 14-year career with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Any close examination of Drysdale’s career, however, would uncover why he was rightfully elected in 1984.
If you’re kicking out Don Drysdale, by the way, you better eject Sandy Koufax — and I would not advocate doing that either!
Both legendary Dodgers had their careers cut short by injuries.
Koufax pitched 12 years before an arthritic arm forced his retirement in 1966, while shoulder injuries pushed Drysdale out, in 1969, after 14 seasons.
Both pitchers helped lead the Dodgers to three World Series titles. Both won Cy Young Awards -- Koufax three, Drysdale one.
Koufax’s career ERA was 2.76 while Drysdale’s was 2.95.
But wait: Drysdale averaged 14.9 wins per season to 13.7 for Koufax.
Drysdale pitched two more seasons and won 44 more games.
Koufax finished with 137 complete games and 40 shutouts. Drysdale had 167 and 49.
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Drysdale had a lower ERA than Maddux (3.16) and Glavine (3.54) and more complete games in 14 years than those guys had in their combined total of 45.
Drysdale had a lower lifetime ERA than dozens of Hall of Famers and these elected since 1970: Lefty Gomez, Early Wynn, Robin Roberts, Bob Lemon, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, Dennis Eckersley and Ferguson Jenkins.
Drysdale also had a lower ERA than future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson (3.29) and John Smoltz (3.33). Also: Roger Clemens (3.12).
Dismissing Drysdale for his win-loss percentage misses the larger picture. Drysdale pitched for teams that did not offer much run support. In fact, Koufax got more help than Drysdale. According to stats provided by retrosheet.org, the Dodgers scored an average of 4.09 runs when Drysdale pitched. Koufax received 4.35.
To put that in context, Tom Glavine received 4.71 runs per start.
Remember 1968, the year Drysdale set the then-major league record with 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings?
He finished 14-12 that year, with a 2.15 ERA. The Dodgers averaged 2.84 runs in his starts.
Orel Hershiser, who broke Drysdale's scoreless innings record in 1988, finished 23-8 that year with a higher ERA but more than one more run (4.06) of support per game. Funny how that works.
In 1967, Drysdale finished with a 13-16 record and 2.74 ERA, his team backing him that year with 2.87 runs per start.
Noticing a trend here?
Drysdale also, for what it’s worth, batted .300 in 1965 with seven home runs (Lou Johnson and Jim Lefebvre led the team with 12).
The L.A. Times list kicked Drysdale out but left in . . . Lefty Gomez?
The only reason we can gather for that is Gomez was lucky enough to pitch in his heyday for the New York Yankees in the 1930s.
Drysdale and Gomez had 14-year careers. Gomez had a higher ERA (3.34), 20 fewer wins (189) and 21 fewer shutouts (28).
The reason Gomez was 87 games over .500? Well, the Yankees, with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and, later, Joe DiMaggio, blessed him with a whopping 5.6 runs per start.
Bottom line: Don Drysdale earned his way into the Hall of Fame and should have been spared Sunday’s sports cover for any number of other hurlers.
I would also seriously dispute the fictional expulsion of Don Sutton, who had a better career than one pitcher inducted Sunday: Glavine.
Anyway, it's not called the Hall of Numbers, it's called the Hall of Fame.
And Don Drysdale, forever and always, belongs.
OK, on to the next list: which current baseball player has the best Civil War beard?
Winner: Joba Chamberlain (Detroit)
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