Mickey Mantle was the quintessential “baby boomer” icon in post-war America. His good looks, athleticism and strength personified the American concept of exceptionalism. “The Mick” was the ultimate hero for the white American male, who controlled all the levers of power. It is not a stretch to state that Don Drysdale was the pitcher who complemented the slugger.
To commemorate the SABR Baseball Committee’s 400th blog post, members were tasked with coming up with a post that tied in the number 400. In 1969, Topps assigned Drysdale card number 400 in the set. Many of you know that Topps gave superstar players the “hundred” numbers. The card turned out to be Don’s last regular issue card. This post celebrates our blog’s milestone by examining the Big D’s cardboard legacy.
Most of you remember that 1968 was a record-breaking year for Don-while 1969 had a tragic ending. 1968 saw him set the record for consecutive scoreless innings with 58-2/3 (since broken by Orel Hershiser with 59 in 1988). Unfortunately, starting 35 or more games for nine straight seasons finally caught up to Drysdale. Ongoing shoulder issues culminated with a diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff. After 12 starts in 1969, Don was forced to retire.
Standing 6’3’ and weighing 190, Don was a prime physical specimen and the epitome of the sun-splashed, California athlete. Being handsome, well-spoken and playing in Los Angeles resulted in advertisement opportunities and TV appearances. People of a certain age remember the Big D as a guest on “The Donna Reed Show,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and the “Brady Bunch.” The alliteration of the double D’s in his name contributed his recognition in and out of baseball.
My favorite Drysdale card was issued in 1967. The posed, follow through shot at Shea Stadium exudes confidence and command. Don had mid-century America by the horns, and he knew it.
The early cards depict a young man still developing into a prime athlete. Drysdale’s first Topps card in 1957 shows him with the Brooklyn “B” in the “Bums” last season in Ebbets Field. The shift to LA in 1958 results in an airbrushed “LA” on the cap. The Hires Root Beer card from that year makes him look rather cherubic.
1959 and 1960 are great, mostly due to the backdrop of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The massive football stadium-turned ballpark is certainly distinctive.
Drysdale shows up on specialty cards as well. In 1959, Don joins teammates Johnny Podres and Clem Labine on a cool, multi-player card captioned: “Hitters Foes.” Podres is back in 1963, but this time Drysdale’s fellow superstar teammate, Sandy Koufax, joins him on the card titled: “Dodgers Big Three.” Additionally, Drysdale has 1960 and 1962 All-Star cards and is on numerous league leaders.
Fleer attempted to break the Topps monopoly in 1963. Topps successfully sued to stop future production, but Fleer managed to put out at least a portion of its set. Don plays in “both ends of a double dip,” showing up in both sets.
Topps chose Don to represent the Dodgers in the 1967 poster insert and the 1968 large posters, which were sold individually, one per pack. Both are excellent photos and the designs are superb in their simplicity.
As one of baseball’s top stars, Don is featured in every Topps insert or test issue set. He shows up on Bazooka boxes, Post Cereal, Salada coins and many other oddball sets.
Receiving a “hundred” number in a Topps series in 1960s was to be recognized as a true icon. Don is a man certainly worthy of our 400th post. I’ll leave you with a photo of my Drysdale shrine in my memorabilia room.
To learn all there is to know about Don Drysdale, I highly recommend Joseph Wancho’s BioProject entry.