Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-6-12

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Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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The only spin here is on a curveball

Monday, June 12, 2006

Top of the 1st
He didn’t have a baseball player’s name, but not too many baseball players are born in Poland (the answer to that trivia question is four). On July 21, 1935, Myron Walter Drabowsky was born in Ozanna, Poland and came to the U.S. in 1938. But it was “Moe” Drabowsky who went straight from striking out 16 in a no-hitter for Trinity College of Hartford into the Chicago Cubs rotation on August 7, 1956 at the age of 21 years old.

Drabowsky was the kind of guy you looked forward to seeing his name in the newspaper because he brought fun to the game. It was with great sadness that I read this morning that he passed away yesterday from multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood.

Drabowsky had a 17-year major-league pitching career with the Chicago Cubs (1956-1960), Milwaukee Braves (1961), Cincinnati Reds (1962), Kansas City Athletics (1962-1965), Baltimore Orioles (1966-1968, 1970), Kansas City Royals (1969-70), St. Louis Cardinals (1971-72) and Chicago White Sox (1972). That he lasted as long as he did was pretty amazing considering that soon after his first full season pitching for the last-place Cubs in 1957, a season in which he went 13-15, throwing 240 innings, with 170 strikeouts (second in the NL behind another rookie, Philadelphia’s Jack Sanford, who had 188), a sore arm cost Moe that fastball that brought him to the big leagues.

Moe was never the same pitcher. His three years with the Cubs after 1957, he was 17-21, and it has been written that he “probably led baseball in “not getting out of the second inning” in that time-period.” Following the 1960 season, the Cubs traded him to the Braves.

Before he left the Cubs Moe did become the answer to a trivia question on May 13, 1958 allowing a pinch double in Wrigley Field to Stan Musial; the 3000th hit of “The Man’s” career. At the time, Musial was only the eighth player in history to reach the 3,000-hit plateau, and the first since Paul Waner in 1942. “It isn’t every day a man gets his 3,000th hit,” said Musial, who got to 3,000 in a shorter period of time than the previous seven. “I knew it was in there, and I’m glad it was a good, clean shot.” Moe and Stan’s career intersected again on May 6, 1962 while pitching for the Reds, Stan Musial hit a 3-run homer in the 9th to give Bob Gibson a 3-0 victory in the second game of a double header. That day Musial set a record for most games played, appearing in his 2,786th and 2787th.

In 1962 he became the answer to another trivia question. Who hit the first Dodger homer in Dodger Stadium? On April 11, 1962, Jim Gilliam hit it off Moe Drabowsky, in the 3rd inning.

But, these moments of trivia are just that…trivial. Drabowsky did have a moment of greatness still awaiting him on the field of play, but it was his off-the-field behavior that made him so memorable. He was known as the “Prince of Pranks.”

By the mid-60’s he was a bullpen guy, his job on the field putting out fires, off the field he started them. He was the master of the hot foot, the attaching of a lit match or more likely a lit book of matches to someone’s shoe. John Eisenberg spoke to fellow reliever Dick Hall in “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles”, who recalled, “You’d be standing there and suddenly feel twinges of heat. It made you jumpy. You can’t be tense all the time. After a while we said, ‘Hey, no more players.’ The poor sportswriters really paid for that. Guys would set ’em up, giving real serious, earnest answers while Moe was creeping up behind them with a match. By the time you felt it, it was too late. If you went to sleep in the bullpen, you paid for it. That didn’t happen too often, but sometimes. We had benches out there, and it was hard work, but Moe would crawl around and go under the bench to stick the match in. That woke them up.”

“It became his obsession,” said teammate Boog Powell. “If there were 20 guys sitting on the bench, Moe would crawl on his belly under 19 of them to give the last guy a hot foot.” Outfielder Paul Blair said, “Moe was something. They had to tell him to tone it down a little. I mean, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. The man could give a hotfoot better than anybody. He was inventive. He would use cigarette lighter fluid and make a trail up, go in the bathroom, light it in the bathroom, and you’d see a trail of flame. Then it would be right next to somebody’s shoe, and the match would shoot up. You could really burn a guy’s pants off. It was really funny.”

He would give a hot foot to anyone at any time. He gave them regularly to coaches. Reporters were not immune. He burned The Baltimore Sun’s Jim Elliott so often that hew would stare at his shoes during interviews. In response, Drabowsky lit a match to the notebook in Elliott’s hand (out of fairness, Moe also torched newspapers while players were reading them). Once, in Cleveland, Drabowsky lit the instep of an Indians fan. He even gave Commissioner Bowie Kuhn a hot foot during the Orioles’ 1970 World Series celebration. For that one, Drabowsky used a trail of lighter fluid as a fuse from the trainer’s room to the clubhouse. “You never saw a shoe come off so fast in your life,” Drabowsky said later.

In 1966, his Orioles won the World Series sweeping the Dodgers. “We had a pretty loose team, because Moe took the pressure off in the clubhouse,” pitcher Eddie Fisher said. That year Drabowsky went 6-0, 2.81 ERA and seven saves and had his great moment in Game 1 of the Series. Facing Don Drysdale (Sandy Koufax pitched on the final day of the regular season to wrap up the National League pennant), the Orioles scored three runs in the 1st inning on Frank Robinson’s two-run homer and Brooks Robinson’s solo shot. But Dave McNally, the Orioles starter was struggling as well. Drabowsky, replaced McNally in the 3rd inning with one out and the bases loaded and pitched six and two-thirds innings of shutout baseball giving up just one hit, and striking out 11 Dodgers, including six in a row to tie the World Series record. He won his first 12 Baltimore decisions, achieving ERAs of 1.60 and 1.91 in ’67 and ’68 and hit .364, .350, and .286 in 1966-1968.

That success only encouraged Drabowsky. Powell told Eisenberg, “Obviously, Moe’s parents never let him have toys when he was little, so he had a lot of catching up to do. He sat around and dreamed up things. He’d tie string to dollar bills and leave them on the floor in the airport, then yank them away when people reached down to pick the bill up. He was basically insane.” “Rolling a cherry bomb under the door, while you’re in the bathroom, is real bad,” said Powell, whose ears rang for days afterward.

Drabowsky liked snakes and other small animals. He put a garter snake in shortstop Luis Aparicio’s pocket. He loved to put snakes in shaving kits and in lockers, During a sports luncheon in Baltimore, Drabowsky snuck a small python into the bread basket at the head table. When Brooks Robinson reached for a roll, he nearly fell off the dais. He placed live mice in teammates’ shoes and put goldfish in the visitors’ water coolers.

Moe liked to use the phone. His favorite gag ever, he said, came at old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. “I had pitched there for a few years so I was familiar with the phone system. I knew the extension of the Kansas City bullpen and you could dial it direct from the visitor’s bullpen,” Drabowsky once recalled.

Drabowsky once called the Kansas City bullpen and impersonated manager Alvin Dark to get pitcher Lew Krausse ready, even though the A’s starter was doing fine. “You should’ve seen them scramble, trying to get Lew Krausse warmed up in a hurry,” Drabowsky said. “It really was funny.”

“Their dugout never looked down there. Our bullpen was just howling,” former Oriole Dick Hall once said, recalling the incident. “Moe got worried, [Krausse] may be needed … and called [to get him] to sit down.”

According to Dick Hall, one night Drabowsky got on the bullpen phone and ordered Chinese food, which was duly delivered. That too, only encouraged him. “Once, out in the bullpen at Anaheim,” Jim Bouton wrote in “Ball Four”, “Moe picked up the phone, called a number in Hong Kong, and ordered a Chinese dinner. “To go.”

As far as his time with the Reds, Moe was a little “off”. Rob Neyers of wrote that his roommate Jim Brosnan later recalled: “He would become an expert practical joker as his career progressed – he would order pizza or call overseas from the bullpen phone – but then he was 20 or 21, and the only thing I found unusual about him was that he used eight to 10 towels a day and threw them on the floor. He was a neatness freak. I thought that was kind of weird. I thought, ‘Where in the hell have you been brought up, you dumb Polack?’ He actually was born in Poland. I asked, ‘What am I going to dry myself with?’ He replied, ‘They have more towels. All you gotta do is call ’em and they’ll bring ’em.’ He did this every day.”

In 1969, Drabowsky was selected by the expansion Royals pitching staff (yes, he is the answer to the trivia question, who was one of only two players to have played for both Kansas City-based Major League teams?). He led the team with 52 appearances and led American League relief pitchers with 11 wins. He is the answer to the trivia question “who got the first win in Royals history?” During a Royals losing streak, wanting to lighten up his teammates, he borrowed a security guard’s shotgun and shot at a “voodoo doll” in infielder Chuck Harrison’s locker. When the Orioles made it to the World Series that season, Drabowsky hired an airplane to fly over Memorial Stadium with a banner that read, “Beware of Moe.”

On reporter Roy Firestone’s first day on the job, he was in the clubhouse trying to do his job when Moe sent him on a fruitless search for his left-handed bat. “I looked at him kinda funny, and then he gave me this very serious stare, like, we’ve gotta do this. And I wasn’t sure. I just wasn’t sure. So I started looking for some left-handed bats. He pointed me to someone who said the left-handed bats were on the other side of the field. He got me pretty good.”

He was once rolled to first base in a wheelchair after being hit by a pitch. In 1998, before the start of an Orioles old-timers’ game, Drabowsky snuck behind the Orioles’ mascot, and covered Oriole Bird’s head with shaving cream.

In 17 seasons Drabowsky won 88 games, lost 105, saved 55, struck out 1162 and walked 702 in 1641 innings pitched. But that hardly told the story of the man who was the answer to the trivia question “who was the losing pitcher in Early Wynn’s 300th career victory?”

You just get the feeling that at Drabowsky’s funeral there will be at least one hot foot and the greatest question asked will be “How did Moe do that?”

Top of the 2nd
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of the bestseller, “The Tipping Point.” The premise of this book is that little changes can have big effects; when small numbers of people start behaving differently, that behavior can ripple outward until a critical mass or “tipping point” is reached, changing the world. Or in the case of the Yankees this weekend, “changing the Bronx.”

Barry Zito and the Oakland Athletics had a big weekend in the Bronx giving Oakland its first sweep at Yankee Stadium since 1994. Zito won his fifth straight decision as Oakland completed its first sweep at Yankee Stadium in 12 years by beating New York 6-5. “It’s huge. We definitely capitalized on their team being beat up,” Zito said.

Injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield seem finally to be affecting the Yankees who also played without Jason Giambi also sat out Sunday with a sore left hand. Derek Jeter (bruised right thumb) started his third straight game as the designated hitter and went 2-13 in the series. Alex Rodriguez is 4 for 25 (.160) since missing two games with a stomach virus on the last trip. With three other power hitters missing from the lineup, pitchers can bait Rodriguez into swinging at bad pitches.

The A’s dominated this series outscoring New York 17-12 and trailing for only two innings. A’s closer Huston Street saved all three games.

Top of the 3rd
Murray Chass of the New York Times writes:
“The Glasses, father David and son Dan, should have plenty of time to fix the Kansas City Royals: They do not waste their time talking on the telephone.Repeated calls to both Glasses, David, the owner, and Dan, the club president, every business day last week went unreturned.

Unable to ask them relevant questions, the persistent caller raises them here.
* How could anyone let a once outstanding franchise, the baseball equivalent of Tiffany’s, deteriorate?
* What do they do with the money they get from baseball’s central fund and revenue sharing system, a total of $56 million last year, when their payroll was $35 million?
* Do they feel guilty making money while the team wallows in competitive muck?
* How do they face their fans, who in the team’s well-run years (i.e. under Ewing Kauffman) were as loyal and supportive as any team’s fans?
* Only three years ago the Royals finished 40 games ahead of the Tigers in the American League Central. Now the Royals are headed for their third successive 100-loss season and the Tigers may be headed for the playoffs. How do they explain that situation?
* Why hasn’t the owner ever followed through on his pledge, when he bought the team, to move from Arkansas?
* Why is the owner so uninterested in his team that the owner’s box at Kauffman Stadium is dark nearly every night?
* If the owner had operated Wal-Mart, of which he was president and chief executive for 12 years, the way he has run the Royals, would Wal-Mart have plummeted into bankruptcy before the Royals plunged into disrepute?
* Would the owner rather see the players union demolished than the Royals win the World Series?

The Devil Rays, matched their club record with six homers in an 8-2 win over the Royals despite a bizarre triple play turned by KC.

With Aubrey Huff on third and Rocco Baldelli on first (great to have him back), Russell Branyan flied out to David DeJesus in shallow center. Huff came home on the play. Baldelli attempted to take second on the throw home, but was thrown out by pitcher Scott Elarton (1-8), who was backing up the throw to the plate. Angel Berroa tagged out Baldelli and then threw to Mark Teahen at third base as the Royals claimed Huff had left early. Third base umpire Bob Davidson agreed with the appeal and ruled Huff out.
“(Huff) left a step early,” Teahen said. “It wasn’t even close. He definitely left early.” Score that 8-1-6-5.

The 2006 Royals are 16-45 – with 101 games left on the schedule
The 1962 New York Mets were also 16-45 – with 100 games left.
The 2006 Brockton Rox are 7-10 – with 75 games left.

Top of the 4th
The Mets came into Arizona in a battle of first place clubs. They left with the Diamondbacks in second place.

The Mets, completed a four-game sweep with a 15-2 rout yesterday as Carlos Beltran drove in four runs and Carlos Delgado had three RBI. Beltran, who went 9-for-17 in the series with three doubles, three homers and 10 RBI. Beltran scored 10 runs in the series. Arizona scored nine. New York went 11-for-25 with runners in scoring position. Mets SS Jose Reyes stole two bases. He has 119 career steals, fifth place on the Mets’ all-time list. Reyes’ 27 steals this season leads the NL and is tied with Baltimore’s Corey Patterson for most in the majors.

“It’s a big-time sweep,” said Met manager Willie Randolph, whose team won its fifth straight game and 39th overall, most in the NL. “We’ve done a great job this year of winning series. Every once in a while it’s nice to sweep it and go four in a row. That’s even sweeter.”

The Mets improved to 6-1 on their 10-game road trip. New York takes a 6