I tried to take it in stride. "No big deal," I thought. "So what if Don Drysdale has been elected to the Hall of Fame? He was a fine pitcher and an outstanding competitor." But it didn't sit right. I had grown up an impassioned fan of the San Francisco Giants of the '60s: Willie and Juan, Hiller and Haller, Jimmy D and Jimmy Ray. Dodger blue always made me see red. And Drysdale, the towering, scowling, whip-armed Double D, had been the most hated Dodger of my youth.
One voice inside me said that Drysdale was riding the blue-and-white shirttails of Sandy Koufax into Cooperstown. He was an average pitcher, the voice said, profiting unduly from the visibility of five trips to the World Series and a successful broadcasting career. And he was nasty. He hit more batters (154) than any other pitcher in NL history.
But I heard a voice of reason. Drysdale's career ERA of 2.95 is lower than that of many Hall of Famers, including Bob Feller, Warren Spahn and former Giant great Carl Hubbell. "But not as good as Juan Marichal's [2.89]," I reminded myself. Marichal never won the Cy Young and Drysdale did, in 1962. Drysdale also had a 95-mph fastball and led the league in strikeouts three times; Marichal, who became a Hall of Famer in 1983, didn't have Drysdale's heater and never was the strikeout leader. Drysdale was durable; he led the league in starts for four straight years (1962-65).
Drysdale's crowning achievement was pitching 58 straight scoreless innings. No one else has ever done that, but inside me I heard the Giant fan laughing derisively. I knew, as did every Giant fan, that Drysdale's streak was tainted. After he ran his shutout string to 36 innings in late May of 1968, the Giants visited Chavez Ravine. The series was broadcast back to the Bay Area and all Giantdom waited to learn of the end of the streak.
But Drysdale proved equal to the task, giving up only five singles in the first eight innings to carry a 3-0 lead into the ninth. Then the fun began. Willie Mc-Covey walked, Jim Ray Hart singled to right center and rookie Dave Marshall walked to load the bases. The Giants had their own Double D, catcher Dick Dietz, and with no outs he followed Marshall to the plate. The count quickly went to 2 and 2. Drysdale peered in at catcher Jeff Torborg, looking for the sign. Dietz dug in close to the plate and leaned in. The 6'5" Drysdale wound and delivered. The ball plunked Dietz on the left elbow and the Bay Area shook, from Stinson Beach to Morgan Hill. The streak had ended.
Ah, but the jubilation was short-lived. Home-plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt said Dietz hadn't tried to get out of the way of the pitch and called it a ball. Even as an 11-year-old, I knew that the batter was required to make an effort to avoid the pitch. I also knew that no one ever invoked the rule.
Dietz then flied out. A force at the plate, a pop-up, the game was over—and Drysdale's streak was at 45 innings and counting. My belief that the Giants had been robbed didn't waver until I read something Drysdale told reporters after his election to Cooperstown in January. Drysdale was now saying that the day after Wendelstedt's call, he had talked to Marichal. "Marichal said Dietz had told him, 'If he throws anything but a fastball, I'm gonna end it [the streak] right here,' " Drysdale recounted.
No, it couldn't be. I wouldn't let him extinguish the flame of my outrage and imply that Dietz had let himself get hit by a pitch. I called Dietz in Atlanta, where he works as a sports promoter. After small talk, I read him Drysdale's quote. "Wrong," he said, laughing at an old foe's new story. "Wrong. No, that's not it. I didn't take one for the club.
"With a 2-2 count, I was protecting the plate. He threw the pitch inside. I think it was a slider, a backup slider. It could have been a spitball. I only had time to flinch, then it hit me on the elbow. I was two steps to first base when Harry said, 'No.'
" 'No, what?' I said.
" 'No, you didn't try to get out of the way.'
"Why would I do that [get hit intentionally] when I had a chance to knock in two?"
Dietz had soothed the fervid fan. But his final words also soothed the adult who was trying to keep his perspective. "I don't think that game or that record is what got him into the Hall of Fame," Dietz said. "Don Drysdale got himself into the Hall of Fame. He deserves to be there. He was a great pitcher."