Monday, February 27, 2012
20,000 days since a phenom’s greatest gamePosted by Chris Jaffe
20,000 days ago was one of the great performances in the history of baseball phenoms. On that day, the Cubs saw their franchise record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game set by a kid who was still in his teens.
On May 26, 1957, young Dick Drott, still five weeks shy of his 20th birthday, blew away the Milwaukee Braves, fanning 15 in a game. Pete Alexander had fanned 15 in a game for the Cubs in 1919, but he had to pitch 14 innings to do it. Drott did it in just nine innings.
Prior to him, the Cubs club nine-inning punchout record was 13 by Lon Warneke on Opening Day in 1934. However, by the end of the 1957, Drott would break that record twice. Aside from his 15-whiff game 20,000 days ago, he also had a 14-strikeout game later in 1957. In fact, despite the massive surge in strikeouts over the years, there are only two Cub pitchers who have fanned more than 15 in a game. One, obviously, is Kerry Wood, who blew away 20 in an early 1998 game. Mark Prior struck out 16 twice during his short career.
Neither Wood nor Prior ever fully lived up to his early promise, with an oft-injured Wood eventually becoming a reliever, and Prior leaving baseball outright due to injuries. Yet they both ended up with better careers than Drott.
Drott’s rookie season in 1957 was his glory time. Prior to 1957, no 20-year-old had ever tossed 200 innings in a season since Bob Feller, and no NL pitcher had done it since 1916. Yet two NL pitchers did it in 1957: Drott and Don Drysdale. In some ways, Drott was the more impressive of the pair. Drott struck out 22 more batters (170 to 148) despite pitching just eight more innings (229 to 221).
Then again, in some ways Drysdale was more impressive. Aside from having a better record (17-9 versus 15-11), Drysdale also had a far superior ERA on the season: 2.69 to 3.58. So Drott wasn’t quite as good as Drysdale at age 20, but the point is they were comparable. Yet one ended up in Cooperstown while the other became one of history’s forgotten also-rans.
Perhaps a more important stat looking forward for Drott was walks. Drott had worse control—far worse control—than did Drysdale. Drott walked a league-high 129 men in 1957, over twice Drysdale’s total of 61. That’s a lot of extra pitches to come out of a young arm.
There’s a pitch count estimator out there popularized by tangotiger, and the basic formula is: (3.3*TBF)+(2.2*BB)+(1.5*K). By that approach, Drott threw almost 20 percent more pitches on the year than Drysdale did, despite having almost an equal number of innings.
That proved to be a bit too much for Drott. In 1958, at the still tender age of 21, Drott went 7-11 with a ERA on the wrong side of 5.00. Hampered by injuries the next year, he threw just 17.2 frames. He’d never top 100 innings in a season again, ending his career in his age-26 season with a record of 27-46.
But during his prime, he looked great, and he was never more in his prime than 20,000 days ago. On that day he not only fanned 15, but he did it while facing the league’s toughest offense. The Braves would pace the senior circuit with 772 runs that year, and their 729 strikeouts made them one of the harder teams to strike out.
Every single batter in the starting lineup struck out at least once. Hank Aaron was Drott’s favorite victim, going 0-for-4 with three whiffs. Fellow slugger Joe Adcock was also 0-for-4 but with only one strikeout. Eddie Mathews managed a pair of singles but also fanned.
The Braves only managed seven hits on the day, but four were for extra bases, allowing the Braves to score five runs (including one unearned). That wasn’t enough, as Drott and the Cubs won, 7-5. Drott’s toughest out was, of all people, Chuck Tanner, who belted a home run and double against him.
Drott fanned at least one batter every inning, including a pair of batters in each of the first five frames. The game began and ended with Drott fanning Milwaukee center fielder Bill Bruton.
It was the greatest moment of a career that didn’t quite turn out as planned, and it happened 20,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to just skim the list.
2,000 days since Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez tosses a no-hitter, beating the Diamondbacks, 2-0.
3,000 days since the Rockies sign free agent Vinny Castilla. It’s a return for him.
3,000 days since the Royals sign free agent Benito Santiago.
4,000 days since the Giants sign free agent Benito Santiago. He’ll stage a nice career revival here (and then, yes, go to KC exactly 1,000 days later).
6,000 days since Expos pitcher Carlos Perez is charged with raping a 20-year-old woman.
7,000 days since Sal Maglie dies at age 75.
8,000 days since the Pirates trade Billy Hatcher to the Reds.
9,000 days since Floyd Youmans and Nolan Ryan stage one of the greatest pitchers duels of the 1980s. Youmans wins 1-0 on a one-hitter. An eighth-inning single by Kevin Bass is all he allows.
9,000 days since Rick Burleson appears in his final game.
25,000 days since managers Bill McKechnie and Frankie Frisch square off for the 200th time.
30,000 days since pitcher Art Nehf announces his retirement.
At some point today, it’ll be 1,000,000,000 seconds since Al Cowens charges the mound against Ed Farmer on a ground out. The last time they faced each other, Farmer broke Cowens jaw on a inside fastball. After the game, Farmer says he’ll take criminal action against Cowens. That won’t happen, but baseball will suspend Cowens for seven games. A fuller depiction of this story can be found here.
1894 The Giants send two players and $7,500 to Washington for Jouett Meekin and Duke Farrell.
1895 The NL restricts the size of fielding gloves (except for catchers and first basemen) to 10 ounces with a maximum circumference of 14 inches around the ball.
1901 Baseball’s rules commission determines that all fouls are strikes, unless there are already two strikes on a batter.
1908 Baseball adopts the sacrifice fly rule. It’ll be repealed before becoming permanent in 1954.
1908 Doctors operate on Walter Johnson’s right ear due to an infection. He’ll be sidelined until late May.
1909 The Giants release Hall of Famer Iron Man Joe McGinnity, ending his pitching career.
1914 Babe Ruth leaves St. Mary’s Industrial School and becomes a pitcher for the minor league Baltimore Orioles.
1932 Brooklyn signs Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt.
1937 The Negro American League announces the schedule for its first season.
1953 Ron Hassey, catcher, is born.
1956 The Piedmont League disbands after 37 years.
1982 The Giants sign free agent Reggie Smith, and he’ll spend his final season with San Francisco.
1984 Montreal trades Al Oliver to the Giants for three players.
1985 The Yankees trade Toby Harrah to Texas.
1986 La Marr Hoyt, pitcher, arrested nine days earlier on drug possession charges, enters a rehab program.
1986 A natural gas explosion at the Brewers clubhouse in their spring training facilities at Chandler, Arizona injures several, including manager George Bamberger and GM Harry Dalton. Coach Tony Muser gets the worst of it and will require skin grafts to heal from his wounds.
1988 Baltimore trades Ray Knight to the Tigers.
1989 John Olerud undergoes surgery to remove a brain aneurysm.
1993 Baltimore signs Fernando Valenzuela, a free agent who didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 1992.
1998 Anaheim signs free agent pitcher Jack McDowell.
2002 Houston buys back the naming rights to its field from Enron for $2.1 million.
2009 The Phillies release Adam Eaton.
2011 Duke Snider, legendary Dodger slugger, dies.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.