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Moe Drabowsky

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The Joker

“Some People call me the Space Cowboy. Some call me the gangster of love. Some people call me Maurice. ‘Cause I speak of the pompitous of love”

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I was fascinated with Moe Drabowsky. Moe was a relief pitcher with the 1969 and 1970 Royals teams. Plus, he had that unusual name. I mean when you’re ten years old, who do you know that is named Moe? And Drabowsky? At that age, you have no concept that some people were first generation immigrants. You just naively and innocently assume that everyone was born in the USA, like you were. It also seemed like I got one of his baseball cards in every pack I opened. As a kid, you open a pack of cards hoping to see a Hank Aaron or a Mickey Mantle or a Roberto Clemente. Even though a Topps spokesman said they issued the same number of cards for each player, I came to doubt the truthfulness of that statement. My packs always seem to be loaded with guys like Dal Maxvill, Curt Blefary, Don Buddin or Moe Drabowsky.

Moe Drabowsky was born Miroslav Drabowski on July 21, 1935 in Ozanna, Poland. The 1930’s and 40’s were a bad time to be Polish. Young Miroslav’s mother was a Jewish American, and a smart one at that. When Hitler began making noise against European Jews, she and three-year-old Miroslav fled Poland for the United States in 1938. Her husband, a Jewish Pole, joined them a year later and they settled in Windsor, Connecticut. Miroslav took the American name of Myron Walter Drabowski, but most people called him Moe and misspelled his last name as Drabowsky, so he stuck with that.

As a teen, Moe took up the American sport of baseball and became a minor sensation as a pitcher. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs as a “bonus baby” on July 22, 1956 for $75,000 and made his major league debut on August 7th, 1956 as a 20-year-old. With his appearance, Moe became the fourth and last native-born Pole to play major league baseball. Legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko said that Drabowsky “is still considered the best pitcher that Ozanna Poland ever produced.”

From World War II era Poland to the big leagues in 18 years. Is this a great country or what? Drabowsky began his career as a starting pitcher but an arm injury in 1958 changed the trajectory of his career. He was sent to the bullpen and embraced the role. During his career, he played a part in many notable events, among them serving up Stan Musial’s 3,000th hit in May of 1958. Musial, who was also the son of a Polish father and Drabowsky enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship. The two traveled to Poland in 1987 on a mission trip to teach the country about the game of baseball. The trip marked the first time Moe had been back to Poland since 1938. The baseball training center that the duo established in Kutro, Poland is now the largest youth baseball complex in Europe.

In 1963, while pitching for the Kansas City A’s, Drabowsky was the losing pitcher opposite of Hall of Famer Early Wynn, who won his 300th game that day. Drabowsky was one of four players who played for both Kansas City teams (the others being Dave Wickersham, Aurelio Monteagudo and Ken Sanders).

On May 6th, 1964, Drabowsky, still pitching for the Athletics, gave up a monster home run to Dave Nicholson of the Chicago White Sox. The shot traveled over the left field roof of old Comiskey Park and was estimated at 573 feet. Nicholson, who hit some prodigious home runs (and struck out at an alarming rate) was purchased by the Royals in October of 1968, but never played a game for them.

Drabowsky’s greatest feat though came in Game one of the 1966 World Series. Pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in relief of Dave McNally, Moe pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball, striking out 11 Dodgers, including 6 in a row, picking up the win and sparking the Orioles to a sweep of Los Angeles. That series was amazing in many ways. The underdog Orioles pitching staff threw three consecutive shutouts and limited the powerful Dodgers to two runs in the series, all in Game One. The Orioles only used four pitchers the entire series, which must be some kind of a record. Future Royal Wally Bunker threw a six-hit shutout to win Game three. That Dodger staff was loaded with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen. Drabowsky also won a World Series title with the 1970 Orioles.

Drabowsky was purchased by the Kansas City Athletics from the Cincinnati Reds in August of 1962. He played four seasons for the A’s and went 14-32 over 103 games with a 4.24 ERA. The Royals selected him with the 42nd pick in the 1968 expansion draft (from the Orioles) and Drabowsky appeared in 76 games for Kansas City, going 12-11 with 13 saves and a 3.03 ERA. Drabowsky claimed the first win in Royals history, pitching a three up three down 12th inning in the Royals opening day win over the Twins.

In June of 1970, the Royals parted ways with Drabowsky, trading him back to the Orioles for utility infielder Bobby Floyd.

Drabowsky played for eight teams over a 17-year career, which saw him finish with 20 WAR and a record of 88-105. He pitched 1,641 innings over 589 games and ended with a career ERA of 3.71. He was never much of a hitter, only hitting three career home runs, but two of those came in the 1963 season with the Athletics, where Drabowsky collected ten hits and turned into a minor slugger, with three doubles and those two home runs.

Drabowsky’s biggest legacy, however, was that he was one of baseball’s al-time great pranksters. Once, playing for the Cubs, he got hit by a pitch and had a teammate wheel him to first base in a wheelchair, a stunt that got his teammate ejected from the game. He was notorious for slipping goldfish into the opposing teams water coolers and once ordered Chinese takeout from the bullpen of Anaheim Stadium. Playing for the 1969 Royals, on his first trip back to Baltimore, he hired a plane to fly over Memorial stadium towing a banner that read, “Beware of Moe.” He was also a master of doling out nicknames. He had a Baltimore teammate named Frank Bertaina, who had a reputation for being a little spacey. No problem. Moe dubbed him “Toys in the Attic” Bertaina.

As a member of the Orioles, he was notorious for leaving snakes in lockers, shoes and anywhere else he could fit one, terrorizing teammates like Paul Blair and Brooks Robinson, who like most sane people, are frightened of snakes.

Drabowsky was also notorious for calling the opposing team’s bullpen and getting a reliever up. After joining the Orioles in 1965, he used his knowledge of the bullpen phone system at Municipal Stadium to call the Athletics pen and shout, “Get Krausse up!”

The Athletics got Lew Krausse up and throwing, which caused much confusion with starter Jim Nash, who was cruising along with a shutout.

He returned the favor when as a member of the Royals, he called the Orioles bullpen and disguising his voice as Earl Weaver, barked “Get Hall up!”. Weaver later called the bullpen and asked, “What the hell is Hall throwing for?” Hall sits down. An inning later, Drabowsky calls again and orders the Orioles pen to get Hall going. Once again, Weaver, losing his temper, asks why is Hall throwing? Moe’s bullpen mates were falling out of their chairs with laughter.

Drabowsky’s real specialty was the hot foot, baseball’s timeless gag of lighting someone’s foot on fire. His most famous hot foot was given to baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn during the Orioles 1970 World Series celebration. “I stuck a book of matches under his foot and then got a can of lighter fluid, ran a trail all the way through the back of the room about 40 feet away, all the way into the training room. So, I lit it up from back there and all of a sudden you see the flame snake out to where the book was, and it exploded and lit Bowie up real good.” Can you imagine a middle reliever today, giving Rob Manfred a hot foot at a World Series celebration?

In a 1987 interview, Drabowsky said “Players seem to be more serious now. I would tend to believe they don’t have as much fun. You don’t find the same kind of characters in the game today. Egos are a big factor. And the guys are making so much money.” Amen.

Moe Drabowsky, baseball’s merry prankster, from Poland to the ball fields of the United States. He was inducted into the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. Drabowsky died from multiple myeloma on June 10, 2006 at the age of 70.