Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Tales from the Dugout" #3: Don Drysdale

Let’s move forward with the “Tales from the Dugout” series with a funny anecdote about notorious bean-baller Don Drysdale and the unfortunate Gene Oliver. Enjoy!

Drysdale’s reputation as a brushback pitcher – some would say “beanball pitcher” – was well deserved. In his 14-year career the 6’6” sidearmer hit 154 batters, a National League record. Drysdale not only intentionally hit batters, but also talked openly about it. He put his philosophy of retaliation this way: “If you knock down on of my guys, I knock down two of yours.”

There is also an old baseball maxim about the inside half of home plate belonging to the hitter, with the outside half of the plate belonging to the pitcher. His maxim is meant to politely warn hitters against digging into the batter’s box too deeply and leaning out over the plate to hit to outside pitch. Drysdale even put his own threatening spin on that: “Half the plate belongs to the batter, and half the plate belongs to me. That’s fair. It’s just that I never let the batter know which half is mine.”

Drysdale beanball stories are numerous. Here’s a good one that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lou Brock told Frank Dolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer. One day at Dodger Stadium, St. Louis catcher Gene Oliver blasted a long home run off Drysdale. Before beginning a leisurely trot around the bases, Oliver first stood at home plate admiring the flight of the ball and then said, loud enough for Drysdale to hear, “Hey, batboy, come get the bat.”

Oliver’s actions came under the heading of “showing up” the pitcher, and it was a foregone conclusion that Drysdale would make Oliver pay for his Cardinal sins. The next time Oliver batted, Drysdale drilled him with a fastball. While Oliver writhed in the dirt of the batter’s box and teammates and the Cardinals’ trainer rushed to his aid, Drysdale said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Hey, batboy, come get Oliver.”

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