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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN

He Was a Workhorse Warhorse, Very Few Are Left

July 11, 1993|ROSS NEWHAN

The No. 53 that he wore with such distinction has already been retired by the Dodgers--along with his role, essentially.

Don Drysdale was both workhorse and warhorse. There are few remaining--anywhere.

The right-hander known as Big D started 36 or more games in nine of his 14 seasons, and started 40 or more in five. He threw 300 or more innings in four straight seasons starting in 1962, and is credited with pitching almost 10 years without missing a turn.

"Don and Sandy (Koufax) were the leaders of our staff," Dodger pitching coach Ron Perranoski, the club's closer through the early 60s, said. "They pitched every fourth day and thrived on it."

While winning four National League pennants from 1959 through '66, the Dodgers used a four-man rotation, sometimes a three-man. Koufax started 40 or more games three times. Johnny Podres and Claude Osteen started 40, as did Don Sutton, Bill Singer and Andy Messersmith in the '70s. As recently as 1973, 37% of all baseball starts were made on three days' rest, or less. A season of 38 starts was routine.

Now, 32 qualifies for workhorse status. Greg Maddux and John Smoltz led the National League with 35 each last year. Mike Moore and Rick Sutcliffe led the American League with 36 each. A "quality start" is defined as six innings, allowing three runs or fewer. The four-man rotation went out with love beads.

In reflecting on Drysdale's career in the aftermath of his shocking death, there is this question: If they could do it then, why not now?

With three rounds of expansion since '69 having contributed to the diluted pitching, with almost all of the 28 teams conducting a futile search for fourth and fifth starters, why wouldn't the clubs dump the five-man rotations they are using and restore the four-man?

"We've talked about it, but habits die hard," Perranoski said, meaning that young pitchers are conditioned to working on four days' rest by the time they reach the majors.

"You can get away with (a four-man) for a while, but if one or two drop out after a month, you're back where you started," he said. "On our staff, (Tom) Candiotti could definitely pitch every fourth day, and Kevin Gross probably could. But (Orel) Hershiser couldn't since his operation, and neither could (Ramon) Martinez. He's pretty fragile.

"The other thing is that we were on year-to-year contracts in the '60s. If something wasn't feeling right, we couldn't afford to sit out or miss a turn. Now, with the long-term contracts, guys want the extra rest to extend their careers, and their agents insist on it. I mean, we used to have guys throw 30 minutes of batting practice between starts. They might even get on a mound twice in the three days they had off. Tell a pitcher to do that now and you might get sued."

Perranoski also cited the increase in youth baseball, saying youngsters are putting more stress on undeveloped arms, which takes a later toll, requiring more rest.

Angel Manager Buck Rodgers, trying to keep his team in the American League West race while conducting tryouts for fourth and fifth starters, disagreed with that, saying there are rules to protect young pitchers, at least, from throwing too much, and if anything, pitchers at the pro level are being overprotected.

"Randy Johnson threw 157 pitches for Seattle the other night and the writers asked me about it as if (Mariner Manager) Lou Piniella had butchered him," Rodgers said. "You have a minor league mentality at the major league level now. If a guy throws 125 pitches, his agent is on the phone, screaming that he's overworked. I mean it. I've had agents call and say I'm using their pitcher wrong. One agent said I've got to tell his pitcher what his role is. I told him that as soon as his pitcher did something, I'd give him a role."

And it's not just agents, Rodgers said. Team doctors often are caught in the middle, wanting to tell a pitcher that his twinge is nothing, that he can keep throwing, but nervous about protecting the club's multimillion-dollar investment as well.

"There's definitely not enough pitching and it's going to get worse," Rodgers said, alluding to future expansion. "There's going to be more and more reliance on the Dominican and other Latin countries.

"A four-man rotation makes sense, and Whitey (Herzog) and I have talked about what it would take to do it. You'd have to start at the double-A level, reconditioning arms, getting guys to accept it mentally."

What does it matter? Check the success of the Dodgers in the '60s and early '70s. If the Nos. 1 and 2 starters are each starting 38 games, instead of 32, that's 12 starts that are now going to the No. 5 starter. Modestly, the difference could be 8-4 instead of 4-8.

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