The culture of baseball is a little less rich today. We lost one of the all-time colorful characters on Saturday when Moe Drabowsky died from bone marrow cancer at the age of 70. Drabowsky was a journeyman pitcher for much of the 1960s and early 1970s, but gained far more acclaim for his extraordinary abilities as a practical joker. In fact, Moe–and how can you not love the name Moe Drabowsky?–might have been the greatest prankster the game has ever known.
Let’s consider some of Drabowsky’s most comical stunts:
*Moe regularly ordered Chinese food from the bullpen phone, once placing a direct call to Hong Kong for some takeout. I doubt that Drabowsky’s orders were ever actually delivered to the bullpen, but the habit was reminiscent of a moment in Seinfeld when Elaine once ordered Chinese food and had it delivered to a janitor’s closet.
*Drabowsky wasn’t satisfied with giving hotfoots to teammates and other players; he once found a victim in Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Laying out a trail of lighter fluid from the trainer’s room to the clubhouse, Drabowsky set the commissioner’s foot on fire. And by using the trail of lighter fluid, he made it more difficult for Kuhn to find out who had been the perpetrator.
*In a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City A’s, Drabowsky pulled off what is generally considered his most famous practical joke. With A’s pitcher Jim “Jumbo” Nash mowing down Drabowsky’s Orioles, the troublemaking right-hander called Kansas City’s bullpen, impersonated the voice of A’s manager Alvin Dark, and ordered reliever Lew Krausse to begin warming up. With Baltimore relievers howling in the bullpen, Nash became so unnerved at the site of warm-up activity that he lost his composure and began getting shelled by Orioles hitters.
*After the 1968 season, Drabowsky departed the Orioles when he was left unprotected in the expansion draft and was taken by the Kansas City Royals. Drabowsky exacted some “revenge” in 1969, when he sent the American League champion Orioles a six-foot-long boa constrictor during the World Series. Coincidentally or not, the Orioles went on to lose the Series in five games to the upstart New York Mets.
Such hijinx overshadowed Drabowsky’s pitching abilities, which were certainly respectable. At one time a highly touted young starter with the Chicago Cubs, Moe became an effective reliever for the Orioles during the mid-1960s. In Game One of the 1966 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he became downright Herculean. Relieving Dave McNally early in Game One, Drabowsky came on to pitch six and two-thirds innings of one-hit ball and set a World Series record for relievers by striking out 11 Los Angeles Dodgers. Buttressed by Drabowsky, the Orioles won Game One, setting the tone for a surprising four-game sweep of Los Angeles.
It was the hallmark moment in a career filled with hotfoots, six-foot snakes, and crank phone calls. Thanks, Moe, for making the game fun.