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'The Prince of Pranks,' Orioles pitcher Moe Drabowsky had 'hundreds' of victims

Call them flakes, misfits or screwballs. They are athletes whose offbeat antics mystify teammates and fascinate fans and, over three centuries, Baltimore has been blessed with its share. The Baltimore Sun is counting down The Daffy Dozen, the 12 most memorable characters in the city's sports lore. Today's oddball, No. 1, is Orioles pitcher Moe Drabowsky, who played for the team from 1966-1968 and in 1970.

Who called a Hong Kong carry-out from the Orioles bullpen? Must have been Moe. Who put sneezing powder in the air ducts of the visitors clubhouse, a garter snake in Luis Aparicio's britches and a lit match under baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn's shoe? Moe, Moe, Moe.

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They called him The Prince of Pranks and, for four years in Baltimore, Moe Drabowsky conjured up the high jinks that duped teammates and opponents alike. Like phoning the Kansas City Athletics bullpen, pretending to be their manager, and ordering a reliever to warm up. Or putting live mice in players' shoes, goldfish in the visitors' water cooler and a lit cherry bomb in Boog Powell's bathroom stall.

"I have a mind that kinda looks for ways to throw monkey wrenches," he once said. "And I always considered the clubhouse a no-man's land."

The media was a favorite target. Drabowsky gave The Sun's Jim Elliott so many hot feet that the reporter took to staring at his shoes during postgame interviews. So Drabowsky lit his notebook on fire instead.

How many times did he pull the hot-foot prank?

"Hundreds and hundreds," Drabowsky told The Sun in 2004. "I'd go to some discomfort to satisfy a practical joke. In Detroit, before a game, I crawled under a tarp behind the bench in the Tigers bullpen, through ants and maggots, and waited until the guys stood up for the national anthem. Then I slid my hand out, lit several matches and waited for the screams."

On the mound, he caused mischief of another sort. Acquired by the Orioles in November 1965  (he wore No. 25, as had flakey outfielder Jackie Brandt before him),  Drabowsky won the first game of the 1966 World Series, pitching 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He allowed one hit and struck out 11 — including six straight to tie a Series record — in a 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Drabowsky was lost to the Kansas City Royals in the 1969 expansion draft, but when the Orioles reached the World Series that season, he again made his presence known in October. Before Game 1 at Memorial Stadium, Drabowsky rented a plane trailing a banner that read "Beware Of Moe," which circled the stadium six times.

In two turns with the Orioles, he went 21-11 with a 2.33 ERA and 26 saves. But it's monkeyshines that mark his legacy. In the bullpen, he was known to grill hot dogs, stage a funeral for a dead bird and scare the bejesus out of coach Charlie Lau, who was terrified of snakes.

"Once, while Charlie was asleep in a golf cart [in the bullpen], I got this one-half-inch pipe, 20 feet long, and draped one end of it over his left shoulder," Drabowsky once told The Sun. "In the other end, I placed a 3-foot brown snake. Five minutes later, the snake pops out the other end of the pipe just as Charlie was waking up. He went ballistic with both arms and legs moving at the same time."

Fans weren't immune to his tomfoolery. In Milwaukee's County Stadium, Drabowsky tied a $10 bill to a string and placed the bill on a ramp near the bullpen.

"Pretty soon, here comes a guy returning to his seat carrying six Cokes in one hand and a bag of popcorn in the other," he said. "When he sees the bill, he crouches down in a catcher's position to pick it up, we jerk the string, he jumps back and everything spills all over the place."

The offseason didn't slow the pranks.

"In the winter, I'd call some of the A's, pretending I was [owner] Charlie Finley," Drabowsky said. "I asked [infielder] Wayne Causey, 'Now, what's wrong with your contract?' And he said, 'Well, Mr. Finley, $13,500 isn't enough. I want $16,000.' And I said, 'You got it,' and hung up."

Once, to his chagrin, Drabowsky played the patsy. In 1970, while pitching for the Royals, he visited the Orioles clubhouse and received a hot foot. He sent the team a bill for $37.39 for new shoes, and a note hinting at a lawsuit.

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