Donald Scott Drysdale was born on July 23, 1936 in Van Nuys, California. At the prompting of his father, a baseball coach who thought it better to save his arm for later, Drysdale didn’t begin pitching until age 16. Two years later the lanky right-hander found himself in Bakersfield with the California league. After compiling a 8-5 record, Drysdale was promoted to Montreal where he pitched 11-11 in 28 games.
In 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers added Drysdale to their pitching lineup. His name would stay at the top of their roster for the next 13 years. It was obvious from the start that Drysdale belonged in professional baseball, and during the first season he was utilized as both a starter and reliever. He soon acquired the nickname “Big D” and a reputation for being a fierce competitor who wasn’t afraid to hit a batter who crowded the plate. Drysdale learned this in part from his mentor Sal “the Barber” Maglie, who taught him the importance of strategic pitching to keep a batter off balance.
From 1957-1966, Drysdale and his equally charismatic teammate, Sandy Koufax, were an unstoppable pitching force that dominated the National League. Together, they set the NL season record for combined teammate strikeouts with 592. In 1962, Drysdale was honored to receive the Cy Young award.
Ironically, Drysdale’s last full season was also one of his best. The ironman pitcher dished out six straight shutout games, amounting to a record-breaking 58 consecutive scoreless innings. However, he left baseball in 1969, forced to retire early at age 33 because of a torn rotator cuff. “A torn rotator cuff is a cancer for a pitcher,” Drysdale said regrettably. “And if a pitcher gets a badly torn one, he has to face the facts, it’s all over baby.”
Drysdale was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. Later that year on July 1, the Dodgers retired his jersey No. 53. He continued to be involved in sports, namely baseball, throughout his life. Drysdale eventually went on to become a sports broadcaster, and had the bittersweet privilege of announcing the night a new shutout record was created. Twenty years after Drysdale set the bar, Orel Hershiser surpassed his Dodger alum in the record books.
On July 3, 1993, while working in Montreal, 56-year-old Don Drysdale suffered a heart attack and died. Per his wishes, Drysdale was taken to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, where his body was cremated.