This article was written by Tom Harkins
Sometime 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 he never received 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 June 25, 1945. Of Italian-German descent, he had a typical middle-class upbringing in the medium-sized industrial city. He played local youth baseball, culminating in being named a Connie Mack all-star. At Woodward High School, Dick lettered in basketball and bowling as well as baseball. It was in baseball 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 Chicago White Sox, Dave DeBusschere. Better known as a pro basketball player, DeBusschere was an eight-time All-Star in the NBA.
After Drago’s freshman year, Detroit Tigers scout Herman Kander signed him to a professional contract. He began the 1965 season at Daytona Beach in the Florida State League. After 14 appearances, and a record of 4-7, he was promoted to Rocky Mount in the Carolina League. 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), Drago 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 a doubleheader against Greensboro, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter. (His roommate, Darrell Clark, tossed another seven-inning no-no in the nightcap.)
Drago advanced to Montgomery (Southern League) for 1967 and 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.
Drago spent all of 1968 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 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 exposed to the expansion draft in 1968 and was selected by the brand-new Kansas City Royals.
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 the Royals, was 1971 when he posted a 17-11 record, completed 15 of 34 starts, 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 traded 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. In 1974 rookie Boston skipper Darrell Johnson used Drago in 33 games, 18 as a starter and 15 out of the bullpen. This dual role of starter/reliever was one Drago shared with Roger Moret. He said he favored starting but it was his relief work that made him a success in Boston.3 Although his 1973 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 Drago was as important to Boston as the much more publicized Rollie Fingers was to Oakland.4
In the ALCS against Oakland, Drago proved his worth, pitching 4? scoreless innings in Games Two and Three, earning saves in both. In Game Two at Fenway Park, 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 a former NL batting champ, was not Drago’s only concern as he prepared to pitch, because the batter Moret had walked was former Red Sox teammate Tommy Harper, one of the best basestealers in the game. Nursing a one-run lead, Drago showed a lot of interest in the runner leading off first. Drago began Williams’s at-bat with three throws to first, making Harper dive back while Williams worked the count to 2-and-2. After one more toss to first, Drago struck Williams out with a high fastball. Drago threw to first once more before pitching to the next batter, Billy North. North lined the first pitch to center fielder Fred Lynn, whose throw to Cecil Cooper at first 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 Drago’s teammates got him an insurance run in both the seventh and eighth innings.
Moving to Oakland for Game Three, 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 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-and-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-and-0. Drago now bore down and after Holt fouled off one 3-and-2 pitch, he grounded slowly to Denny 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 he 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 at a game apiece.
After sitting out all three games in Cincinnati and waiting out three days of rain, Drago was next summoned into Game Six with the 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, he 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-and-1 pitch, Morgan lined Drago’s offering deep to right, where Dwight Evans pulled the drive out of the first row of fans and instinctively threw quickly – if not accurately – towards first. Yastrzemski 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 offseason, even championship teams try to better themselves. The Red Sox, however, made a move that 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 Baltimore 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 Red Sox. He spent the next three years on teams that were never quite good enough to get into the postseason though they couldn’t have come any closer in 1978. (Drago was 4-4 with a 3.03 ERA that year.) The most important game Drago appeared in during this second stint with Boston was on October 2, 1978 – the Bucky Dent playoff game. He came on in relief of Andy Hassler with two outs in the top of the ninth and Paul Blair on first. After keeping the speedy Blair close with three throws to first, Drago got Thurman Munson to hit a grounder in the hole that third baseman Frank Duffy missed cutting off, but Burleson fielded it, just forcing Blair at second.
During these three years Drago 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 in which Drago excelled was the role of bench jockey. In his days as a relief pitcher, he 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
Just before the 1981 season began, Drago was dealt to Seattle for Venezuelan right-hander Manny Sarmiento, who never pitched 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 with the highest ERA of his career; his 5.53 was more than one run above any previous season ERA 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-Red 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.
A version of this biography appeared in “’75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball” (Rounder Books, 2005; SABR, 2015), edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan.
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 draw on Retrosheet.org, the 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 Joe Giuliotti, “Sox’ Reliever Drago Rates Among Best in A.L.,” Boston Herald, September 28, 1975.
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’s catch the greatest he had ever seen. See “Evans Sensational Catch Balks Reds,” San Francisco Examiner, October 22, 1975, cited in Tom Adelman, The Long Ball (Boston: Little Brown, 2003), 352.
8 Mike Ribowsky, “Scoring from the Dugout,” TV Guide, May 3, 1980, 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 Drago’s 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 (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003), 93-97.