What he did: Adam Darowski’s piece Monday on pitchers who could hit got me thinking about Don Drysdale. If Drysdale didn’t have the greatest year at the plate ever for a pitcher in 1965, it had to be somewhere close. Not only did he smack seven home runs with 19 RBI and an OPS+ of 140, Drysdale was the only .300 hitter on a team that batted .245. His 2.2 offensive WAR was better than all but four Dodger batters. Drysdale even went to the plate as a pinch hitter 14 times, going 3-for-12 with two RBI. And of course, he was also brilliant on the mound, finishing 23-12 and fifth in National League MVP voting and helping his Dodgers to a World Series title.
Drysdale, one of the subjects of a recent outstanding paper here, did enough in his career to finish 209-166 with a 2.95 ERA, 2,486 strikeouts ,and 49 shutouts. Seeing as he played his prime years in perhaps the greatest pitcher’s era ever, with Sandy Koufax as a rotation mate, he might have been in the best possible time to reach the Hall of Fame as he did in 1984. Still, Drysdale’s hitting numbers suggest he might have been the best player in baseball in an earlier era.
Era he might have thrived in: Men like Drysdale ruled baseball in the late 19th century, Bob Caruthers, Guy Hecker, and others able to dominate both on the mound and at the plate. Official MLB historian and longtime baseball writer John Thorn explained to me awhile back, when I did one of these columns on Josh Hamilton, that the overall talent level was lower in the early days of baseball, forcing the best players to both pitch and hit. Drysdale would have been even more of a menace than he was in his prime when he loomed 6’5″ and set the record for hit batsmen in a career.
Why: It’s about increased opportunity, mostly. As Caruthers averaged 290 at-bats a season and Hecker annually had about 330, Drysdale would likely double his number of trips to the plate. He might not belt 29 career home runs playing before the Live Ball Era, but his seven lifetime triples and lanky frame suggest he still would have put up good power numbers. And other parts of his game would benefit as well.
On the hill, Drysdale would be well-equipped to handle the draconian, “Let’s pitch 600 innings this season” workloads of 19th century hurlers, seeing as he pitched at least 270 innings seven times in his career and made at least 40 starts five consecutive years. It was a pace that may have contributed to him having to quit playing two weeks after his 33rd birthday in 1969, but that wouldn’t be an issue in the late 1800s, when pitchers rarely lasted in the majors beyond their mid-30s. His short but brilliant peak would be nothing out of the ordinary.
And it’s worth noting here, too, that Drysdale’s “Hit one of my guys and I’ll hit two of yours” baseball ethos would play perfectly in the 1800s, when respectable women were barely allowed at ballparks and none but the sketchiest of hotels would put up ballplayers.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies,Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson,Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe,Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson,Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson,Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays