By Jon Weisman
Along with everything else in a hot pennant race 50 years ago, a spitball controversy revved up between the Dodgers and Milwaukee Braves.
“Drysdale may call ’em sinkers, but I got three wet ones in a row when he fanned me in the third,” Hank Aaron told Frank Finch of the Times after a 4-3 victory Milwaukee victory August 4.
Aaron’s comments might have been calculated at least in part to take the spotlight off Braves manager Bobby Bragan, who was in the midst of a spitball controversy of his own.
“How long is NL president Warren Giles going to allow Bobby Bragan to flout authority by publicizing the fact that he has his pitchers under orders to throw spitters?” Finch had asked in print two days earlier. “To be sure, every club has spitball pitchers, but they don’t advertise.”
For his part, Bragan remained sanguine about the whole thing.
“If a pitcher can control the spitters, he’s crazy not to throw it,” Bragan told Finch. “Sure, we’ve got a couple of guys who throw it real good. Dan Osinski told a writer that he’s been using one for seven years.”
If you want to call it praise, Bragan added that Drysdale “throws the best spitter in the game,” according to Finch.
Whatever the case, it didn’t help Drysdale in Milwaukee that August 4. Allowing homers to both Aaron and Gene Oliver, Drysdale pitched an eight-inning complete game but took the loss.
Here’s what else was happening with the Dodgers, who were 1 1/2 games ahead in the National League on August 1 and 1 1/2 games ahead in the National League on August 15.
- In the 10th inning of a 4-4 tie August 6 at Cincinnati, Drysdale pinch-hit for a slumping Willie Davis, who was in the midst of an 8-for-55 slump with one walk and no extra-base hits. “Before his removal, Davis had failed to knock the ball out of the infield 18 times in a row,” wrote Finch. Drysdale struck out, and Ron Perranoski, in his fifth inning of relief, gave up the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.
- Two days later, the eventual World Champions suffered the worst loss by a Dodger team in the 20th century: 18-0 at Cincinnati on August 8. “Custer’s last stand was but a tea party compared to the massacre perpetrated Sunday in Crosley Field,” wrote Finch. Drysdale lasted two innings, allowing six runs (three earned), and things hardly improved after he left.
- The following day, Reds manager Dick Sisler declared the Dodgers dead in the NL pennant race: “I don’t know who will win, but of the contenders, the Dodgers are the one club I’m convinced won’t make it,” Sisler told The Associated Press. “I’m convinced the Dodgers will be the first to fall back because I don’t believe Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale can continue to carry the club alone. … At the finish, it will be a fight among the Giants, Braves and us with the Phillies.”
- Sandy Koufax struck out 14 Mets in a 4-3 victory August 10 for his 20th victory of the season. Leading 4-0 after seven innings, Koufax gave up two runs on three hits in the eighth and Ron Swoboda’s solo homer to start the ninth — but stayed in to retire the final three batters of the game.
- On three days’ rest, Koufax then went 10 innings for a 1-0, five-hit shutout of the Pirates on August 14. Koufax fanned 12 and walked none — and, less than a month after his game-winning walkoff single to beat the Astros, batted for himself in the bottom of the 10th, walked and scored the winning run.
- Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi told the Times that Koufax would become baseball’s first $100,000-a-year pitcher in 1966. “He’s worth it and he’ll get it,” Bavasi said. “Sandy puts an extra 5,000 people in the ballpark every time he pitches.” Little did Bavasi reckon how protracted those contract negotiations would become.