9.15.2009

An interview with two daughters of baseball.


For collectors, images on baseball cards may remind us of the game's history or details about a favorite player. But something we don't often consider as we open a pack or organize a binder is that there is complex, rich life behind those poses and shots.

A while back we took a fancy to the cards of Moe Drabowsky. Soon enough we learned that over the course of his 17-season career, he pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox. He was a World Series star for the Baltimore Orioles when they won their first championship in 1966. He was 88-105 with 55 saves and a 3.71 earned-run average.

Dinged Corners is pleased to present an interview with two people whose very accomplished lives also happen to include a youthful background of well-tended green grass, diamond days, and major league energy. The daughters of Moe Drabowsky--Laura Nevell and Beth Drabowsky Morris--here kindly take the time to answer our questions.

Even though your dad played for different teams, is Chicago mainly where you grew up? Did you get to explore the backstage world of Wrigley Field?

Laura: Even though he was traded many times, my parents still kept that home as their primary residence. Both my sister and I were born there. After graduating college I lived just a few blocks from Wrigley Field and LOVED it.

When baseball season starts, the energy in that part of town is magical. My husband is also a HUGE Cubs fan so it was only natural that we settled on the name Wrigley for our dog. I remember attending an Old Timer's game at Wrigley (in the early 80's I think?) and we got a behind-the-scenes look at the park and also got to hang out on the field with the Cubs players. I got autographed baseballs from Ryne Sandberg and Jody Davis and pictures with them and a few other players.

Beth: The Cubs signed Dad after his sophomore year at Trinity College and gave him a $75,000 signing bonus, which was HUGE back in 1956....He had a very soft spot both for the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles....I do remember being taken into the locker room after some games and my all-time favorite baseball player was Mike Cuellar (pitcher for the O’s). I did go to many Cubs games as a kid, teen, and adult. My dad played in a lot of Old Timers games too…we usually sat in the wive’s section. I didn’t get to do much exploring of Wrigley…but when he was with Kansas City (probably 1970 or so; he split the season between O’s and Royals that year) we were sitting behind homeplate and I saw my dad on the mound. I just went down and opened the gate and went running out to him. The ump had to call a delay of game and my dad picked me up and took me back to my mom.

Did you find it difficult to travel so much?
Beth: I remember being taken out of school in February and we would pack up and rent a house in Florida, and I attended school down there for the remainder of the year. I always cried when we would leave because I would miss my friends, but once we got down there didn’t give it a second thought. I think I was able to adapt because I was so young–had I been in high school it would have been A LOT harder!

Laura: What was hard for me was summertime. Dad was coaching when I was in junior high and high school, so summers were spent away from home and my friends, traveling to where he was. We had summers in Florida, Alabama and Vancouver, B. C. I really didn't enjoy this part about his job but in a way it was exciting to experience different parts of our country, as well as Canada, and I think it groomed me for future moves with my husband.

Beth: We lived in (besides Florida during spring training) Baltimore, Kansas City and St. Louis. It was just my mom and me and she would always make traveling so much fun. My dad would fly off with the team and we would have to drive the packed-to-the-gills car and find an apartment and get settled ourselves. I have a lot of good memories from those days. Especially going to night games in St. Louis. We would always go to Steak-'n-Shake after the game, this became a ritual… even if he lost!

Do you recall any of his well-known pranks?
Beth: He had some great ones! He was soooooo premeditated on some of them. Besides the hotfoot and the $5 bill on fishing line that he would drop and snag away quickly when someone tried to pick it up-he had some doozies. One time the trainer for the O’s, Ralph Salvon, was working on my dad’s shoulder after a game and really hurt him. He rubbed too hard and my dad was really sore afterward. So my dad calls down to the hotel the team was staying at and tells the front desk clerk, “This is Ralph Salvon in room 213. I need to take eyedrops for an infection I have every hour during the night, so I need a wake-up call every hour on the hour. I may yell at you and say DON’T CALL ME, but don’t listen to me, I need that call every hour.” So this poor guy got woken up every hour that night and had no idea why.

Do you remember, as a kid, your Dad appearing on baseball cards?
Laura: We had baseball paraphernalia all over our basement and I remember as a very young child seeing my Dad on the cards thinking it was just his picture, didn't really grasp that concept that they were actual baseball cards.

Do you or any of your friends collect?
Laura: I really only collect my Dad's cards! My friends aren't really into card collecting; however, their fathers, uncles and grandfathers enjoy card collecting and get a kick out of finding his cards.

Sometimes they would send the cards to me so I could have my Dad autograph it for them which is something he always enjoyed doing.
Beth: I also collect some of my other favorites… Mike Cuellar, (of course)

Brooks, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Jay Johnstone, and Mark De Rosa. I was devastated when he was traded last year. My dad’s favorites included Brooks and Frank, Joe Torre like Laura says [below], Charlie Lau (catcher for the O's) and Ernie Banks. I know the Orioles were another favorite team of my dad’s. I don’t know if you remember Charlie Lau.

He was instrumental in getting my dad signed with them in ’66. My dad had rotator cuff surgery (can’t remember the year now) but it really hurt his career and that’s why he became a reliever. My dad had once pitched to Ernie and hit him, and actually put him in the hospital. My dad felt so bad, he went to visit him and Ernie was so grateful and impressed…because not even any of his own teammates came to visit him and he always remembered that. Oh--and Dick Drott, a former Cubs pitcher who was signed at the same time-they were great friends. And, let me see, I am trying to remember the people that were over to our house. Walt Moryn...Bob Gibson…John Klipstein… I can’t think of all of them.

Laura: I just wanted to give a list of a few of my Dad's favorite players over the years:
Ernie Banks - My Dad said Ernie was the type of guy who was so even-tempered, he held the same disposition in the dugout whether he struck out or hit a home run. Never had a temper, was very grounded and a genuinely nice person to be around.
Frank Robinson - Initially when my Dad played against Frank he wasn't a huge fan. Frank was extremely competitive and there was a bit of rivalry when my Dad pitched to him. It wasn't until they were on the same team, The Orioles, where my Dad grew to appreciate and respect Frank's "stop at nothing to win" attitude. And what a team they were in 1966! [One career highlight came for Mr. Drabowsky in the the 1966 World Series opener against the Dodgers when he relieved Orioles starter Dave McNally and one-hit Los Angeles for 62/3 innings, striking out 11, a Series record for a relief pitcher.]
Joe Torre - Another first-class, genuine guy both on and off the field in my Dad's opinion. Joe is a very likable person, as well as a respected athlete who has proven himself again and again over the years.

He also had to overcome the obstacle of cancer and was a support to my Dad when he was diagnosed with his.

Did your dad have a favorite card?
Laura: I'm not sure if he had a favorite card, but one of his favorite baseball players was Stan Musial. Stan got his 3,000th hit off my Dad in 1958. They became friends and traveled to Poland together in the 80's, along with the then-commissioner of baseball Bowie Kuhn. The baseball association donated equipment and Stan and my Dad instructed the kids on how to play the game, and replaced their sticks and knotted rags with actual bats and balls. My Dad loved sharing his talents with young kids and could connect with anyone through his love of baseball.

There was one card, 1958 Topps, that is an 'error card' because it says "Mike Drabowsky." Did he find this a) amusing or b) annoying?
Laura: My Dad thought that the error on the card was funny and didn't mind it at all. His father actually REALLY enjoyed it because his name was Mike. After this card was printed in error, I believe a new corrected card was issued, though I'm not 100% sure about this.

Beth: The 1958 Topps Cubs card did have Mike Drabowsky printed on it. That was his dad’s name. My dad didn’t care…he was the most easygoing guy and things like that didn’t bother him at all.

Do you have a complete collection of all his baseball cards?
Laura:
Yes. Several of them handed down from what was in our family and the ones that we didn't have we were able to find thanks to ebay.
Beth: [Dad] lived in Chicago....met and married my mom in 1958. He had missed his train (probably from being out late the night before) so had to fly to where they were playing. My mom was a flight attendant for United and when he saw her he said to himself that he was going to marry her. They lived in Rogers Park, a little north of the city in a rented apartment, and after five years as a Cub in 1961 they decided to buy a house. They purchased a home in Highland Park [30 miles north of Chicago] and TWO WEEKS after closing, he was traded!

Laura: And I have some duplicates because if I happen to stumble upon a card in a baseball card shop, as you can imagine, I have to buy it.

Beth: I have all of my dad’s baseball cards…my ex-husband had them all matted and framed on both sides so you can see all the stats on the back when you turn the frame around. I have all his coaching cards too. I actually have a little dedicated ‘shrine,’ you might say, in the office of our home. After he died in 2006, I became almost obsessed with having as many pictures, baseballs, penants, even old parking passes from the ball parks, all around me. I collect others…not just his, although I have probably 50 of his along with duplicates that I keep in a “Fire Bin” along with other baseball mementos. We live in Southern Cal and between the fires and earthquakes… if we have to make a quick getaway, that is the bin I take with me.

What is the best advice your dad ever gave you?
Laura: A few years before my Dad passed away, I called him seeking advice on how to handle a form of stage fright.

I was going to conduct a live TV interview and thought he'd be a good person to ask about channeling nervous energy and maintaining focus. It was the day before the interview and I told him that since this was live, I kept imagining I'd mess up, and since there was no way to yell "Cut" the interview would just spiral down into one giant mess. He told me to stop visualizing the mistakes (actually he used the word "errors," which of course is much more fitting in a baseball scenario) and focus on conducting a flawless interview from start to finish.

He said, do not allow those negative thoughts to enter your mind and keep your energy up. As long as you are prepared and know your material and what you want to accomplish, the rest will take care of itself. He then asked me to imagine that I had just finished the interview and it was perfect. He said to visualize that everything went better than I ever could have imagined and then the producer said, "Hey, can we do this again? Give us exactly the same thing, don't change a thing." Then he asked, "How would you feel if that was the case?" I told him I would feel great and ready to do it again! He said, that's how I should approach tomorrow's interview.

I need to go in with a positive mindset and quell any sort of negative voice I start to hear. He said he had to do this all the time and oftentimes on the pitcher's mound,

the negative voices he heard were fans from the opposing team yelling horrible things at him, trying to break his concentration. He said he had to tune all of that out and not allow it to disrupt his positive energy and continue to focus on the job that needed to be done. And finally, visualize success as the only outcome.
This method worked extremely well during Game One of the 1966 World Series, where he continues to hold a strikeout record. And it was just what I needed to hear and apply for my interview. I called him afterwards and told him how well it went and realized this advice applies to so many other aspects in life. I will never forget this exchange and our shared enthusiasm when I finally understood this concept.

Beth: After that awesome performance on October 5th… well you know the rest. It was an exciting time (I was almost 1 year old so I don’t remember it) however….my dad used to show us the 8mm movie of it to where I knew it by heart. I would have friends over and he would take out the projector and screen and we would all groan and run away so we wouldn’t have to watch it! Now…. I have a video of it and wouldn’t trade it for a million dollars! I also have his ’66 World Series ring that he left me after he died. And yes…that is tucked away in my fire bin as well!

Laura: I was talking with my Grandmother (Moe's mother, age 93) about what it was like when she saw him on a baseball card for the first time, and she said it was one of the proudest moments in her whole life, words could not describe the feeling she felt when she held that card in her hands. To this day, she continues to keep that card in her "prayer book" (her Bible) and looks at it several times a day while saying her prayers.

Beth: That date he won the [World Series] game was a very sentimental one. My parents had a daughter before me, Deborah Lynn, and she died of leukemia on October 5, 1959. It was a bittersweet day for them but we always thought he had a little angel looking down on him and giving him the strength and ability he needed.

Laura: Another thing my Dad had always told me throughout childhood was to "be flexible and ready to adapt, because life is so unpredictable." Oftentimes I would roll my eyes after he said those words, but this is advice that I tend to draw upon now in my adult life even though my husband has to remind me from time to time.

Oh and one final piece of advice that I heard quite often throughout childhood and the teen years was, "Keep your eye on the ball!"

 Moe received respectful treatment even from the ever-sardonic Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, authors of the ultimate historical baseball card tome, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book: "At 6'3", with a complicated pitching motion and good stuff, Moe was hard to hit," they said. But there's one thing they didn't get right: "Moe Drabowsky...grew up collecting baseball cards in Ozanna, Poland...." No, he didn't collect baseball cards in Poland. On September 15, 1938, when he was only three, his mother left Ozanna with him via train to Warsaw, then a train to Hamburg, Germany, then a cruise ship to the U.S. Hitler invaded the following year. That means Moe and his mother (who was 8 months pregnant at the time with Moe's sister Marion) eluded the Nazis exactly 71 years ago today.
At the Orioles Fantasy Camp in Sarasota in 2005, Moe Drabowsky (right) explains to Brooks Robinson how he signs the ball: PHOF--Polish Hall of Fame.



As for collecting baseball cards, Beth's grandmother said the family didn't even know what baseball was. "But when he was 10 or 11, he and his buddies started playing ball in a lot called West Lot in Windsor," says Beth. "That is when he fell in love with the game."

Laura and Beth, Dinged Corners thanks you for so graciously sharing these wonderful memories with us.



Brooks Robinson and Mike Cuellar photos courtesy Beth Morris.
All other photographs (other than baseball cards) courtesy Laura Nevell.
Laura is pictured with her dad in the photo at the top of this post, and Beth is pictured with Mr. Cuellar.

13 comments:

Brian said...

Great write up and interview. Thanks for sharing that with us!! I loved the part about Beth running onto the field during a game. What a great memory.

Mark's Ephemera said...

Out. Of. The. Park.

Another fantastic post.

I'm nominating this one as Post of the Year.

deal said...

Great interveiw idea and loved both the questions and the answers.

be ready to adapt is pretty sound advice!

MattR said...

Wow---great post. It's always interesting to find out more background and personal stuff about players and to get a different point of view from the people around them. :)

night owl said...

Lots of nice memories from those two. Well-done.

I have a feeling that if I was around for that '66 World Series, that I wouldn't be so fond of Moe. But that aside, it's always great to hear the comments of family members of ballplayers. It's a reminder, that these guys are human, just like your common variety dude.

Collective Troll said...

Wow. You ladies never fail to impress. I am going to echo Brian and say I loved the part about Beth running on field to see her Dad. I got goosebumps instantly. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't crying right now. I can't really process thoughts of my own, but like Mark said. This is post of the year material. Great job. I miss you Moe!

Collective Troll said...

By the way, I love the Pics!!! That one of Beth and Mike Cuellar is from my old stampin grounds at the Buck O'Neill sports complex in Sarasota. I love the beach pic, too!

Kevin said...

The Ladies of Dinged Corners never fail to impress, but you've outdone yourself this time. Excellent interview!

William Noetling said...

What a great interview! I'm going to link to this, more folks need to read this piece.

--David said...

Congratulations on another GREAT interview and a WONDERFUL post! I have to agree that picturing her running out on the field to her dad on the mound brought my own goosebumps. Wow!

beardy said...

Wow, this was most excellent to read. I too am a fan of Mr. Drabowsky, so reading this was extra cool for me!

SpastikMooss said...

wow...such a good piece. Well done once again Dinged Corners!

Dean Family said...

Let me be yet another to compliment you on a tremendous post. Bask in the well deserved glory :-)