Continuing our countdown of the 20 greatest Dodgers of all time, as selected by our readers.
No. 4: Don Drysdale (202 first-place votes, 65,432 points)
Naming the most famous number in Dodgers history is easy: Jackie Robinson’s 42.
Also not debatable is the most famous letter.
That’s "Big D,” the all-time alphabet Dodger dog.
Drysdale’s legacy offers more than an accumulation of wins and strikeouts that eventually led to the Hall of Fame.
He and announcer Vin Scully were the connective tissue through the transition from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Drysdale served as on-field father/protector for a franchise many expected would go soft sipping poolside umbrella drinks in California.
Drysdale proved a kid from Van Nuys was as tough as any Bowery Boy.
He never received a full appreciation pitching in the same rotation as Sandy Koufax. While Koufax was fronting the organization in the heydays of the 1960s, though, Drysdale always had its back.
He threw, on purpose, the wild pitches Koufax threw by accident.
They were baseball’s best one-two punch, the difference being Drysdale wasn’t opposed to actual punches.
Numbers are numbers. The shoulder injury that ended Drysdale’s career after 14 seasons in 1969 prevented him from a late-career statistical pileup. That forced him to wait a decade for his 1984 Hall of Fame induction.
His win-loss record of 209-166 needed a context provider to add his stellar 2.95 ERA or the fact he received an average of 4.09 runs per career start on generally weak-hitting Dodger teams (Koufax received 4.35).
Historians rarely note Drysdale, not Koufax, posted wins in each of the World Series championships of 1959, ’63 and ’65.
Drysdale also hit 29 career home runs, No. 6 on the all-time list for a pitcher, and was the only .300 hitter in the Dodgers’ lineup for Game 1 of the 1965 World Series.
My favorite Drysdale numbers, though, are these: He was ejected four times in his career, the first time in 1957 for fighting. He was also tossed for arguing a ball-strike call (1958), bench jockeying and equipment tossing (1959) and intentionally hitting a batter (1961).
Big D made sure the “Little Ds” didn’t get pushed around. He vowed hitting two batters for every Dodger that got decked. Ordered once to issue an intentional walk, Drysdale plunked the batter with his first pitch.
“Why waste four of them?” he said.
Drysdale hit 154 opposing batters in his career, leading the National League four straight seasons from 1958 through ’61.
Orlando Cepeda said the trick against Drysdale was to “hit him before he hit you.”
It was a hit parade that led Drysdale from Dodgertown to Cooperstown.