Don Drysdale pitched during an era where intimidation was as much a part of the game plan as video rooms and data analysis are now. Today, the sheer admission of intentionally throwing at a hitter can land a player a suspension–one reason it’s a question that is often side-stepped in press conferences by both players and managers.
During Drysdale’s career, he embraced this persona and made a point to assure his opponent did as well. “My own little rule was two for one,” Drysdale said in the 1989 Hall of Fame Yearbook, “If one of my teammates got knocked down, then I knocked down two on the other team.”
It was an eye-for-an-eye mentality that wasn’t in line with the teachings of Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King, but certainly was appreciated by Drysdale’s teammates. Any opposing pitcher who wanted to throw at a Dodger with Drysdale on the mound was jeopardizing most, if not their entire lineup.
Dick Groat once said that “batting against Don Drysdale is the same as making a date with a dentist,” a sentiment that was shared by many of the greats from that era. Mickey Mantle said that he “hated to bat against Drysdale. After he hit you he’d come around, look at the bruise on your arm and say, ‘Do you want me to sign it?’”
Boxers often use a similar ploy, harkening back to the likes of Mike Tyson and Sonny Liston who it has been said would often win a fight before the first punch was ever thrown. But the anger must be genuine, and the object of this hate must be real—making Drysdale a perfect embodiment of this art of intimidation.
“I hate all hitters,” Drysdale said. “I start a game mad and stay that way until it’s over.” For Drysdale, it was about being the victor, not the victim—a survival of the fittest ideal that made more than a few hitters question digging in too deep against the Hall of Famer.
While collectors were cheated out of seeing Drysdale cards in the 1970s, he did leave behind a cardboard legacy that stretched from one coast to the other. He’s one of the most affordable Hall of Famers from the “golden age” of baseball cards.
During his 14-year career, Drysdale never turned in his Dodger blue. His 209 career wins put him second on the team’s all-time list, trailing only Don Sutton (233). With 175 wins, Clayton Kershaw is the only active Dodger who could approach Drysdale’s mark in the foreseeable future.
Drysdale was also an accomplished hitter, recording an OPS of better than .800 twice (1958, 1965). In both of those seasons, Drysdale tallied seven home runs and would finish with 29 for his career. Madison Bumgarner, widely regarded as the best hitter among active pitchers, has 19 career home runs going into the 2021 season. Adam Wainwright (10) and Zack Greinke (9) are second and third respectively on the active list, but likely won’t get close with their careers winding down.
With the National League debating the advent of the designated hitter after experimenting with it in 2020, Drysdale’s 29 home runs may never be approached by a pitcher in the modern game.
The nine-time All-Star was feared both on the mound and in the box, helping the Dodgers to three World Series titles during his career. Elected into the Hall of Fame in January of 1984, Drysdale passed away of a heart attack in 1993 while in Montreal as a broadcaster alongside Vin Scully.
The baseball lifer had a variety of desirable cards from the 50s and 60s, but here is a look at five that epitomized the bulldog mentality and old-school toughness that “Big D” was remembered for.
1957 Topps RC
In May of 1957, during the rookie season of Drysdale, National League owners voted unanimously to move both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants westward. Drysdale’s 1957 Topps card is the only one you can find with him in a Brooklyn hat.
At 6’5”, Drysdale was a little too tall to be compared to David, but did have a knack for taking down giants—a trait alluded to on the back of his Topps rookie card. “Don is the Dodgers’ expert Giant killer. Last season he chopped down the New Yorkers four times without tasting defeat.”
Four of his five wins in his rookie season of 1956 were against the rival Giants, as Drysdale posted the lowest ERA (2.64) on the Dodgers team. The Giants would see much more of Drysdale when the teams moved to California, paving the way for classic showdowns between Drysdale and Giants greats like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda.
It was Cepeda who said, “The trick against Drysdale is to hit him before he hits you.”
His 1957 Topps card can be owned in lower grades for less than $100, but prices soar with condition. It’s a classic Topps set that features the 2.5” by 3.5” sized cards for the first time, the dimensions we are used to in today’s hobby. It was also the first set to feature statistics on the back, a trend that continues more than 60 years later.
Aside from Drysdale, 1957 Topps featured rookie cards of Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Richardson, Jim Bunning and others, making it one of the most collected sets from this era.
While Drysdale was one of the best hitting pitchers of all-time, there are few cards that feature him at bat. His 1959 Bazooka card is a rare and hard to locate example of “Big D” gripping the lumber.
It’s a blank back card that was issued on backs of boxes of Bazooka bubble gum, with the photo taking up virtually the entire back. On PSA’s population report, there are 13 authentic examples, plus one PSA 5 and one PSA 8. Ungraded examples are in private collections but it’s safe to say your local show won’t likely have one. The most recent sale of an PSA authentic netted $875, so check your old bike spokes. If you’re sitting on a high-grade example, you could be looking at several thousand dollars.
Aside from his 29 career home runs, Drysdale proved he could hit for average as well as for power. Most notably in 1965, when Drysdale hit an even .300 with seven home runs and 19 RBI in just 130 at-bats. Had he kept the pace over a 500 at-bat season, Drysdale was on pace to hit more than 30 home runs while driving in close to 100—as a pitcher. His .839 OPS was well above league average, resulting in Drysdale even receiving a few pinch-hit opportunities when the Dodgers offense struggled.
Pictured with his trademark chaw that provided lubrication for his alleged spitball, Drysdale’s 1963 Fleer card shows the young hurler the year after one of his best seasons in 1962.
That year, Drysdale led the league with 25 wins and 232 strikeouts, establishing himself as one of the best in the circuit.
With Topps dominating the 1960s baseball card market, Fleer tried to get back in the game in 1963 but eventually lost in court. Fleer thought a cherry-flavored cookie that came with their cards may distinguish their product, but the court disagreed. This started a long battle between Topps and Fleer over exclusive contracts and the right to use player images on cards.
You can still easily pick up a 1963 Fleer Drysdale card for less than $30 ungraded, while high-grade examples won’t break the bank either and usually range from $150-500 in 8 or 9 form.
1962 Topps N.L Strikeout Leaders
Reaching the 200-strikeout plateau is something Drysdale accomplished six times during his career, en route to leading the league in that category three separate times.
In 1964, Drysdale came up just short of that mark with 181, but was a part of a three-headed monster that included Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Stan Williams. Koufax and Williams both eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark that year, giving the Dodgers all three of the top performers in that category. Johnny Podres was also on that staff, finishing 12th in the league with 124 strikeouts—tied with Juan Marichal.
Affordable at most levels, the 1962 Topps N.L. ERA leaders card is a cool look back on one of the most dominant staffs of the era.
At the age of 31, Drysdale put together one of his best statistical seasons in 1968 and forged a record that would only be broken by a fellow Dodger 20 years later.
Drysdale pitched six consecutive shutouts in 1968, totaling a record 58 1/3 scoreless innings pitched. The record would be broken by Orel Hershiser in 1988, pitching 10 scoreless against San Diego to accomplish the feat.
A sore shoulder in 1969—an ailment that would later be diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff– put an end to a career that seemed to be aging like a fine wine. “A torn rotator cuff is a cancer for a pitcher and if a pitcher gets a badly torn one,” Drysdale said. “He has to face the facts, it’s all over baby.”
Drysdale was done at 32 and wouldn’t appear on any more baseball cards until long after his days as an active player had ended. His last card can be had in very nice shape for a very modest amount.
Drysdale would transition into broadcasting Dodgers games next to Vin Scully, but was taken far too soon at the age of 56 in 1993. Some of his memorabilia was auctioned off in 2016, including his Cy Young award and three World Series rings.