Thursday, June 15, 2006

Moe Drabowsky: An appreciation of the legend

Phil Wood
The Examiner
Jun 14, 2006

BALTIMORE - My earliest memory of Moe Drabowsky comes from 1959, when I was first getting into baseball cards. I was trying to collect the Topps set for that year, and Moe was Card No. 407 — he was wearing a Chicago Cubs’ road uniform on a card with a pink border. The back of the card, which listed career highlights, said: “In 1957 he entered the record books by hitting four batsmen in a game and that year had a total of 10 dented hitters.”

Some highlight. But he would come up with some real ones a few years later in an Orioles uniform.

Myron Walter Drabowsky, who died June 10 at the age of 70 following a long battle with multiple myeloma, was part of a small group of European-born big-leaguers who played during my youth. Moe was born in Ozanna, Poland; Washington’s Reno Bertoia in St. Vito Udine, Italy; and journeyman pinch-hitter Elmer Valo in Ribnik, Czechoslovakia. When you’re 8 years old, the idea of someone coming that far to play baseball — from countries where the ball itself was a mystery — seemed pretty exotic.

Drabowsky arrived in the big leagues with the Cubs in 1956. That he would turn up with the Orioles — a contending team — 10 years later was a bit of good fortune, since he had enjoyed a winning record only once — 3-1 with 1960 Cubs. Career-wise, the righthander was a decidedly unimpressive 48-81 when he pulled on the black-and-orange for the first time, a Rule V draftee from St. Louis.

In Baltimore, Drabowsky became a world-class reliever, going 6-0 in 1966 with seven saves and an ERA of 2.81, his best since his rookie year. He also became known as a world-class prankster and the team’s king of the hotfoot. (He once gave one to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.)

There was never a dull moment with Moe around. Drabowsky got away with his pranks because he produced on the mound. In three seasons with the Birds, Moe went 17-9 with 26 saves in more than 250 innings, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning.

In the Orioles’ 1966 World Series sweep of the Dodgers, Moe achieved household-name status with his performance in Game 1, by striking out 11 in 6 2/3 innings of relief— still a single-game Series record for relievers. He allowed only a single.

Baseball expanded to Seattle and Kansas City in 1969, and Moe was taken by the Royals in the expansion draft. At 33, he excelled out of the bullpen, going 11-9 with 11 saves for a first-year club. At the trading deadline in 1970, when their bullpen needed a boost, the Orioles sent utility man Bobby Floyd to K.C. to reacquire Moe. And once again, he found himself in a World Series on the winning side, as the Orioles defeated Cincinnati in five games.

Drabowsky ended his playing days with the White Sox in 1972, finishing his 17-year career with a record of 88-105. He had 55 saves and an ERA of 3.71. He later got into coaching, most recently with the Orioles, tutoring minor-leaguers.

Moe turned into a front-line reliever once he arrived in Baltimore, but it’s his reputation as a clubhouse funnyman that will overshadow that for as long as old ballplayers tell stories.

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