SABR

Dick Drago

This article was written by Tom Harkins.

Some time during the 1975 season, pitcher Dick Drago stopped in a convenience store and was recognized by the counter clerk as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Not being familiar with Drago out of uniform the clerk asked the pitcher his name. Dick answered, "I'm Drago." To which the clerk responded, "Oh yeah, Drago Segui." [1]

That Dick Drago was mistaken for the older, Cuban-born, fellow reliever Diego Segui shows that Drago, while in Boston, played in the shadows of his more highly visible and more widely publicized teammates. Although never receiving the acclaim given to others, it is clear that he was a key player on his Red Sox teams; never was he more important than during the glory season of 1975.

Richard Anthony Drago was born in Toledo, Ohio on Monday, June 25, 1945. Of Italian-German descent, he had a typical middle-class upbringing in the medium-sized industrial city of his birth. Of course he played local youth baseball, culminating in being named a Connie Mack all-star. At Woodward H.S., Dick lettered in basketball and bowling as well as baseball. It was in baseball, however, that he truly excelled; his varsity record was 18-3, which included two no-hitters as a senior. Although he did receive some attention from scouts, Drago decided to accept a baseball scholarship to the University of Detroit. Although more known as a basketball or football school (the university dropped football in Drago's freshman year) it had recently produced a prominent baseball pitcher for the White Sox: Dave DeBusschere. Better known as a pro basketball player, DeBusschere was an eight-time All-Star in the NBA.

After his freshman year, Detroit Tigers scout Herman Kander signed Drago to a professional contract. In 1965, he began the year at Daytona Beach in the Florida State League. After 14 appearances, and record of 4-7, he was promoted to Rocky Mount in the Carolina League. Unfortunately his midseason elevation did not meet with immediate success. Although suffering from errors behind him (one-third of the runs scored off him were unearned), he completed only three of eight starts while posting a 1-7 record.

In 1966 Drago returned to Rocky Mount and had a fine year, finishing 15-9, 1.79 ERA, with a league-leading seven shutouts. He was the winning pitcher in the Carolina League all-star game and, in the first game of a doubleheader versus Greensboro, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter (interestingly, his roommate, Darrell Clark, tossed another seven-inning no-no in the nightcap).

Drago advanced to Montgomery (Southern League) for 1967 where he again won 15 games, this time leading the league. This earned him a promotion to Triple-A Toledo where he got in one game giving up two hits and one run in three innings.

In 1968, he spent the entire season pitching for the hometown Mud Hens and for the third year in a row won 15 games. He had 146 strikeouts, nine complete games, and a respectable 3.36 ERA. He was also named to, and pitched in the International League All-Star game. His continued success throughout the Detroit minor league system would suggest that a Tigers call-up loomed for 1969. Instead, the promising pitcher was selected by the brand new Kansas City Royals in the 1968 expansion draft.

For the Royals, Drago became the workhorse. During his five years in Kansas City, he averaged 32 starts, 10 complete games, and well over 200 innings pitched. His best year, and the only one in which he had a winning record with K.C., was 1971 when he posted a 17-11 record, completed 15 of 34 starts, and had an ERA under 3.00, and was selected as the Royals' Pitcher of the Year. In 1973, his last year as a Royal, his ERA exceeded 4.00 for the first time and he was outshone on the staff by Paul Splittorff. Later, Drago would say that Royals manager Jack McKeon quit on him that year. McKeon has denied this but it soon became clear that the Royals were ready to deal Drago in the offseason. [2]

On October 24, 1973 the Royals dealt Drago to the Red Sox for Marty Pattin, a 30-year-old right-handed starter who was two years older than Drago. Both players wanted and needed a change in scenery. Rookie Boston skipper Darrell Johnson used him in 1974: 33 games, 18 as a starter and 15 out of the bullpen. This dual role of starter/reliever was one he shared with Roger Moret. Drago said he favored starting but it was his relief work that made him a success in Boston. [3] Although his season ERA was 3.48, his relief ERA was a dominating 1.37. During the stretch run in which the Red Sox fell out of contention he pitched well but lost two games by scores of 3-1 and 2-1.

Over the offseason, the return from injury of veteran starter Rick Wise cemented Dick Drago's role in the bullpen for 1975. Wise led the team in victories and Drago emerged as the premier reliever. His 15 saves ranked fifth in the league and his 34 games finished placed him ninth. In the heat of the stretch drive beginning August 27, he pitched in 13 games, earning one win and eight saves. Darrell Johnson enthused that he was as important to Boston as the much more publicized Rollie Fingers was to Oakland. [4]

In the playoffs against Oakland Drago proved his worth, pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings in Games 2 and 3, earning saves in both. In Game Two at Fenway, Johnson sent for Drago after Moret walked the first batter in the top of the seventh. After Drago was announced, Oakland manager Al Dark countered with pinch-hitter Billy Williams. Williams, a lifetime .290 hitter and former NL batting champ, was not Drago's only concern as he prepared to pitch, because the batter whom Moret had walked was former Sox teammate, Tommy Harper, one of the best base stealers in the game. Nursing a one-run lead, Drago showed a lot interest in the runner leading off first. Drago began Williams' at-bat with three throws to first, making Harper dive back while Williams worked the count to 2-2. After one more toss to first, Drago struck Williams out with a high fast ball. Drago threw to first once more before pitching to the next batter, Billy North, before North lined the first pitch to center and Fred Lynn's throw to Cecil Cooper easily doubled up Harper. In a postgame interview Drago was asked how he was able to deal with the threat of Harper and still focus on the batters. He answered: "That is what I get paid for." [5] The final two innings were much less stressful because his teammates got him an insurance run in both the seventh and eighth innings.

Moving to Oakland for Game 3, Drago came in to relieve the starter Wise with one out, two runs in, and two men on in the bottom of the eighth with the Red Sox holding a slim 5-3 lead. The pressure of the situation on the field was magnified by the frenzied Oakland fans whose unbridled exuberance caused a delay in the proceedings more than once. But it didn't faze Drago, whose one pitch to Joe Rudi was grounded to short for an inning-ending double play. Drago's ninth was not as easy. Once again he faced Williams who, on a 2-2 count, lined the ball off Drago's shin. The ball caromed to Cooper who tossed to the bloodied but alert pitcher covering first for a painful 1-3-1 putout. After the game Boston Globe reporter Peter Gammons commented on Drago's "bloody stocking" (the first reporting of a Red Sox pitcher's bloody sock in postseason play). [6] Gene Tenace popped to short for the second out. Drago then walked North on four pitches, bringing Johnson to the mound for a visit. Drago's wildness continued as pinch-hitter Jim Holt worked the count to 3-0. Drago now bore down and after Holt fouled off one 3-2 count he grounded slowly to Doyle at second who threw to Cooper and the celebration began.

Drago also pitched in two of the seven games of the classic 1975 World Series. In the second game Drago was called upon in a save situation. With the Red Sox leading 2-1, Johnson summoned Drago in the top of the ninth to replace starter Bill Lee after Lee surrendered a first-pitch leadoff double to Johnny Bench. With the tying run on second, Drago got Tony Perez to ground out to short but Bench advanced to third. George Foster flied to left but much too shallow to challenge the arm of Carl Yastrzemski. With two down, Dave Concepcion bounced a good pitch over Drago's head. Doyle fielded it but couldn't make a play as Bench scored the tying run.

On the next pitch, Concepcion took off for second and despite Fisk's throw and Doyle's tag, the lead run was in scoring position. Ken Griffey fouled off two of Drago's fastballs before he lined a double to left scoring Concepcion. After Drago walked Cesar Geronimo intentionally, he got pitcher Rawly Eastwick to ground to second forcing Geronimo. After the Red Sox were retired in the bottom of the ninth, Drago suffered the loss and the series was tied 1-1.

After sitting out all three games in Cincinnati and waiting with out three days of rain, Drago was next summoned into the sixth game with score tied to start the ninth inning. Drago easily disposed of the three future Hall of Famers: Joe Morgan, Bench, and Perez. Sitting in the dugout during the bottom of the ninth Drago, probably thought he was going to even his series record as the Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs. However, this situation just added to the drama of this legendary game as the Red Sox failed to score sending the game into extra innings.

In the 10th, Drago didn't have it as easy. After retiring Foster, Drago faced his Game Two nemesis Concepcion who singled and again stole second. Drago hitched up his belt and struck out Geronimo before pinch-hitter Dan Driessen flied out to Bernie Carbo in left. The Red Sox went down 1-2-3 and quickly Drago was back on the mound for his third inning of work. A cursory look at a scorebook for this inning would indicate a fairly routine three-batter, three-out inning: a hit by pitch, a force out, and a double play. However, it was anything but routine and required two outstanding plays by two Gold Glovers. After Drago nailed leadoff batter Pete Rose with a fastball, Griffey tried to sacrifice him to second, but Fisk threw to second base to force Rose. On a 1-1 pitch, Morgan lined Drago's offering deep to right where Dwight Evans pulled Morgan's drive out of the first row of fans and instinctively threw quickly - if not accurately - towards first. Yaz fielded it and flipped to an alert and hustling Rick Burleson covering first to record the third out. [7] In the bottom of the 11th, Drago was pinch-hit for and, when the Red Sox didn't score, it ended his chance to win the greatest game in World Series history.

In the off-season, even championship teams try to better themselves. The Red Sox, however, made a move which didn't help them at all. On March 3, 1976 they sent Drago, their best reliever, to California, ostensibly, for three players who would never play an inning for Boston: John Balaz, Dick Sharon, and Dave Machemer. The term "ostensibly" is used because it was reported that Drago was sent to the Angels as "the player to be named later" for Denny Doyle (acquired the previous June). The Red Sox still sent minor league pitcher Chuck Ross to the Angels two days later to make everything look more legitimate. Drago pitched for the Angels for a year and a half. In 1976, he appeared in 43 games, all in relief, going 7-8 with a 4.42 ERA. The next season, he appeared in 13 games for the Angels with a record of 0-1, and a 3.00 ERA, before being traded on June 13 to the Orioles for Dyar Miller. Drago pitched well for Baltimore appearing in 36 games and going 6-3.

After the 1977 season, Drago became a free agent and rejoined the Boston Red Sox. He spent the next three years on teams that were never quite good enough to get into the postseason. During these three years he appeared in 133 games, mostly in relief, although in 1980 he did have a complete game. His composite record was 21-17 with 23 saves, and an ERA of 3.52.

One aspect of the game of baseball in which Drago excelled was in the role of bench jockey. In his days as a relief pitcher, Drago would stay in the dugout until later in the game so he could get on as many opposing players as possible. Nothing was off-limits to the leather-lunged Drago if he felt it irritated opponents and gave his team even the slightest edge. [8] Drago also did good work off the field, including many visits to see children in hospitals, bringing small gifts and signing autographs. In July1978 one of his hospital visits made the wire services and he cheered up a young patient by promising him a strikeout and tickets to the World Series. [9]

The most important game Drago appeared in during this second stint with Boston was on October 2, 1978 - the infamous Bucky Dent playoff game. He came on in relief of Andy Hassler with two outs in the top of the ninth with Paul Blair on first. After keeping the speedy Blair close with three throws to first, he pitched to Thurman Munson who hit a grounder in the hole which third baseman Frank Duffy missed cutting off, but Burleson fielded it just forcing Blair at second.

Just before the 1981 season began, Drago was dealt to Seattle for Venezuelan righthander Manny Sarmiento, who would never pitch a game for the Red Sox. The deal upset Drago, who blasted the Red Sox for not releasing him so he could become a free agent. [10] For Seattle, he went 4-6 record with the highest ERA of his career; his 5.53 was more than one run above any previous season and almost two runs higher than his career mark. As disappointing as 1981 was for Drago, it became even more disappointing in that it was his last year. The Mariners released him on April 2, 1982.

The early years of his retirement from baseball were not kind to Dick Drago. Twice divorced, he was assessed significant child support payments and soon thereafter was assessed even more in tax payments, penalties, and interest because the IRS disallowed tax shelters he had claimed. This all came to a head in 1992 when he was arrested in Florida and returned in custody to Massachusetts to face charges of failure to pay child support. Doug Hornig suggests that Massachusetts had decided to make an example of the ex-Sox player. His brother was able to post bond and he was released. As the trial was about to begin, Drago produced proof of payments, a settlement was reached, and he was allowed to return to Florida. [11]

Despite the high profile of his post-baseball problems, Dick Drago should also be remembered for what he was as a player: a good pitcher who excelled as both a starter and reliever, and who pitched great baseball in his biggest games.


Note

A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.


Sources

The major league statistical, transaction information was obtained from at least one of three sources: The Baseball Encyclopedia, 9th ed., Total Baseball, 1st. ed., or Baseball-Reference.com. Much of the information about Drago's early years comes from an undocumented index card in Drago's clipping file housed in the Research Department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Game accounts are from Retrosheet.org, Boston Globe, and for 1975, Tom Adelman's book The Long Ball. (Boston: Little Brown, 2003).

[1] The author recalls the 'Drago Segui' anecdote in a Boston newspaper at the time but has been unable to locate the exact citation.

[2] Boston Herald, June 24, 1974.

[3] Giuliotti, Joe, "Sox' Reliever Drago Rates Among Best in A.L.", Boston Herald, September 28, 1975.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Boston Globe, October 6, 1975.

[6] Drago's bloody stocking was reported by Peter Gammons, Boston Globe, October 9, 1975.

[7] Reds manager Sparky Anderson called Evans' catch the greatest he had ever seen. See "Evans Sensational Catch Balks Reds", San Francisco Examiner, October 22, 1975, cited in Adelman, Tom, The Long Ball, p. 352.

[8] Ribowsky, Mike, "Scoring from the Dugout", TV Guide, May 3, 1980 p. 17.

[9] "Drago pitches in for friend", Boston Herald, July 18, 1978.

[10] Drago's reaction to this trade is found in an undocumented article dated April 9, 1981 found in the clipping file at the Hall of Fame.

[11] Drago's story of his difficulties is characterized by Doug Hornig in his book The Boys of October, Contemporary Books: Chicago, 2003 p. 93-97.


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