9.15.2009

The Moe lowdown: part one.

We get letters from bloggers and readers, and Lucy collects those in blaster boxes. She keeps every note. And sometimes we get cards, too. This one came from Jeremy and helped fan the flames of our interest in collecting Moe Drabowsky.

Here's what Jeremy said: "There's a small story behind the signature. I was in Orlando in 2005 I think. Me and my youth group went to this place called Old Town, an attraction with rides, shops, carnival food, and stuff like that. I was walking around, and stumbled into a baseball card shop. I was looking around, and found a box of old cards from the '60's and '70's. I don't have many cards from that era in my collection, and I love getting autographs through the mail, so I got about 15 cards of guys I thought would sign through the mail, as well as a sweet 1951 Topps Mickey Vernon. I got the Drabowsky because I remembered that he was a famous prankster, and also a good pitcher for Baltimore and St. Louis. So I sent it to him about a week later, and sure enough, he sent it back to me autographed. I wish I could've found a few more cards of him, because I believe he passed away last year."

Major league pitcher Moe Drabowsky passed away on June 10, 2006. With this post and the one following it, we want to remember him.

Now, many bloggers and readers have interesting backgrounds that they barely ever even talk about. Take Collective Troll, for example. When we began expressing interest in the cards of Mr. Drabowsky, Troll mentioned something offhandedly about having known him. Of course we had to find out more. Here is our interview with Marck.

Was Moe Drabowsky friendly when you worked as a reporter, or was he more forthcoming once you worked as photographer/team assistant? That is, was he leery of The Press?

Moe treated me well from day one that I met him. Since the Baltimore Orioles had separate major and minor league camps (major league in Ft. Lauderdale and minor league in Sarasota) there wasn’t too much press around. Moe was generally friendly and outgoing to everyone. From what I have learned in being around baseball, pitching coaches are typically the most approachable members of the coaching staff.

He was known as a merry prankster. Did you witness any of these incidents, or were you on the receiving end of any of his practical jokes? Was he fun to talk to?

He was a merry prankster; there is no doubt about that! As a member of the coaching staff he couldn’t do that much goofing around because he had to set a good example for the young guys. There were no hot foots that I witnessed in camp. At the time that I knew him and saw him daily, the local NBC sportscaster at the Sarasota affiliate (and his name totally escapes me now) had been a beat reporter in the '60’s and '70’s in Baltimore. He had shared with me a few stories of how Moe got to him back then. I told Moe about that and he playfully denied it.

Everyone in camp thought it was hilarious that I was a vegetarian…I should probably set this up a little more. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Not only was I THE WORST hitter and one of the worst fielders in camp, I was also the shortest and one of the oldest. I am covered head to toe in tattoos, my long hair was shaved into a Mohawk and I am a vegetarian. I was definitely known by everyone. I remember (on more than one occasion) entering the cafeteria and Moe flagging me down and saying, “Tooser (the nickname that Tom Treblehorn gave me: tattoo-ser), I saved you a seat and grabbed your lunch!” Of course there was a steak or a burger or something on the plate. He also liked to throw me a baseball while I had a camera in my hand and then bust my chops because I didn’t catch it. I had heard that in his playing days he had once wrapped a reporter’s car so thoroughly and tightly in toilet paper that the doors wouldn’t open. He then (allegedly) offered said reporter a lighter to burn the TP off.

He was a very nurturing coach and did not pick on his players at all that I saw. We did have big league guys come to camp to rehab. He got Brady Anderson pretty good once, but I can’t elaborate, I really can’t. He was very fun to talk to, but not so much about baseball. He would never speak to me about his accomplishments and he was not one to critique his players either. If you wanted to talk about the weather or fishing or something else, he could go on for hours.

What was his greatest contribution in helping players do better? Hs strengths as a coach?

As a coach he was very positive about his guys. He was the pitching coach for high A Frederick Keys (I think) when I knew him. My memory is a little cloudy from back then. When camp broke, I followed them to Frederick. There were a few guys that I was very interested in following. Brian Roberts was one of them. I proclaimed him an All-Star the first time I ever saw him play and remained his biggest fan in the press. He was below guys like Ivanon Coffie and Edward Rogers at the time and many press types thought he would never make it past Bowie. I was right, they were wrong!

There was also a guy named Charlie Dees who made the team out of camp. He had played rookie league the year before and had all the power in the world. I don’t know what happened to him. I can’t always be right. Anyway, I tried to talk to Moe about pitchers' “stuff.” He had a pitcher named John Stephens who was Australian, I think. He was a low-velocity, high-movement guy and I was certain that he would be an All-Star, too. Again, I can’t always be right.

I used to try and get Moe to commit to making a comment on the record about one of his young pitchers' stuff. He told me and I know this was how he felt, that every one of those kids had “big league stuff” otherwise they wouldn’t be pitching at high A level. They are here to mature, gain arm strength and learn how to pitch over the length of a season, stay healthy and conditioned and not be distracted. If anyone can do that, they can all pitch in the big leagues. I don’t remember everyone on that staff that year, but I know he had Erik Bedard. Anyway, I took that philosophy from him. I used to see a young guy throw heat or have a huge curve and immediately look to see them in the big leagues, but now I know that isn’t the only tool that they need.

What is your favorite memory of Moe?

I really just enjoyed seeing him every day. It was easy to be starstruck being around camp those days. The Orioles had some pretty amazing guys in their history. The first time I met Cal Ripken, Moe introduced me to him. He said “Tooser is a writer or something, so he has probably never said anything good about you." Then I wet my pants because I was talking to Cal Freaking Ripken!!!

In my years as a beat writer, I have only gotten an autograph from four people that I covered. Duke Snider, Bert Blyleven, Buck O’Neil and Cal Ripken Jr. I never got an autograph from Moe, although I did ask him. He was modest to a fault about his amazing career. He really didn’t like to talk about his accomplishments at all.

He did sign autographs, though. I would classify him as a great signer. People traveled from Baltimore a lot for autographs in spring training. Aside from Moe and Trebelhorn, Don Buford was always around, plus we had some pretty big prospects. Most fizzled, but Jayson Werth was around then and he still exists. I can’t say anything positive about him though!

As far as greatest memory, that is a tough one. I just enjoyed seeing his smiling face every day. He always said “Hi” when someone arrived and that always made me feel welcome. Like I said, hitting coaches don’t normally like the press too much. Moe made me feel welcome. Baseball-wise, he tried to teach me to throw a knuckleball. I had been cut recently and continued to hang around. I had been cut many times, in fact I never made a team out of camp with the O’s. Every year I got that camp invite, though. I was kind of a clean freak and I always picked up at the end of practice. I think I was cheaper than hiring a janitor for spring training! I did whatever I could to stay around.

Anyway, I was trying to talk to Tom Treb to get an idea if I had a shot at coming back the next year and what I should do. Moe overheard and playfully suggested that I learn to throw a knuckleball. I know he was just teasing, but I took him up on it. I practiced it a lot and with his help I did learn to throw it over the plate at least one in every ten attempts! He also mentioned reading my stories sometimes. That was cool. I would write corny things like “Moe Knows…” and the like. He was very supportive of me. We e-mailed each other from time to time; I really wish I saved that stuff so I could give you an actual quote.

Did he ever mention baseball cards?

No, not really. When fans brought cards to sign, he would say things like, “Who is that guy?” or “Wow, talk about a worthless card--you should collect Jim Palmer, that guy could pitch!” He was always a good signer though, just very modest. I don’t think he collected cards. I never let on that I did either, so I don’t know. Around this point I was working with another former Orioles player, Curt Blefary, trying to write a book with him. Things were rough in life back then and many hours of tape from those conversations were destroyed. I did ask Curt about Moe and all of the O’s pitchers.

Moe was an amazing person and he truly stood out. There were probably 20 different coaches, trainers and instructors in camp back then, but Moe (and Treb and Buf) stood out. Moe mainly because the High A pitching coach had absolutely no reason to speak with a light-hitting rookie league level infielder like myself. He was just nice.

Other bloggers have mentioned Moe, and here are some of those links:

The great Orioles Card 'O the Day: 1966 Topps #291

The witty Beardy (he likes the Orioles too): 1967 Topps Moe

Cubs Fan Extraordinaire Wrigley Wax has at least three Moe posts

Our own Top Ten Reasons to Collect Moe Drabowsky (and we wrote that post before we got serious)

And to find high-quality scans of his cards, go to the terrific Vintage Card Traders.

Next up: an interview with Moe's daughters!

5 comments:

Collective Troll said...

What a fine interview! I just read it and I think I learned something! Moe was a fine man and is definitely missed in baseball and in every life he effected. Thanks again Ladies...

Paul said...

Fantastic post and very well written. Thank you.

night owl said...

Good stuff.

Cubfan2639 said...

Thank you for the wonderful article on my dad. It was fun contributing to it! Anyone interested in his fan club on facebook go to www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=247691415316 Thanks!
Beth Drabowsky Morris

beardy said...

How in the world did I miss this post last week? As always, fine writing ladies, and an interesting post.

If you want to read up on some of Moe's prnaks, check out the book "Black & Blue" by Tom Adelman. I can send you my copy if you'd like.

Oh, and thanks for calling me "witty". I try.