Dorktown: A Hall of Fame pitcher’s most outrageous accomplishment was with his bat

Don Drysdale was a Hall of Fame baseball player for the Dodgers and one of MLB’s all-time great pitchers. To pinpoint one chart that encapsulates his pitching mastery, let’s go with the fact that he had eight workhorse seasons (min. 200 innings) in which he posted a sub-3.00 ERA — a number surpassed by only five other pitchers since the birth of the live-ball era 100 years ago:

Most seasons with 200+ innings pitched and a sub-3.00 ERA. Drysdale is near the top with eight.

Throughout the early-to-mid-1960s, he and his teammate Sandy Koufax constituted two of the best pitchers on the planet, and they even dragged middling offenses to World Series-winning seasons in 1963 and 1965.

However, nothing he did on the mound is the reason he became a Dorktown hero.

While Drysdale was a pretty good batter for a pitcher, posting a career OPS above .500 when the average pitcher’s was under .400, for a period of time in 1958 he was nothing short of a Greek god while at the plate.

On August 14th, he took Cubs reliever Marcelino Solis deep in his last at-bat of the game. His next game, he went 1-for-3 while homering off Braves starter Carl Willey. Then, in his next game, also against the Braves, each of Drysdale’s first two at-bats resulted in homers off Juan Pizarro.

For those scoring at home, that’s four dingers in a six-at-bat stretch … by a pitcher. Which is about as ludicrous as it gets, right? Indeed, pitchers historically homer in right around 0.5% of their at-bats, meaning the odds that the universe would ever enable a pitcher to homer at least four times in a given six-at-bat span are roughly 1-in-107.5 million.

But let’s not stop there, because it gets even more fun when you zoom out a bit. Eight at-bats prior to that homer off Solis, he victimized Alex Kellner with a long ball in Cincinnati. Six at-bats prior to that, and again against the Braves, Drysdale had homered off Joey Jay. And last but most certainly not least, four at-bats before that, on June 26th, he homered. Guess which team it was against?

So that’s three home runs in the 18 at-bats leading up to four in six. Add it all together, and that’s an absolutely whopping seven (7) home runs across a stretch of just twenty-four (24) at-bats … by a pitcher.

Likelihood? About 1-in-39.8 billion. With a B. Hell, for a pitcher, seven home runs in an entire season is incredible. In fact, only five other pure pitchers — Wes Ferrell, Bob Lemon, Don Newcombe, Earl Wilson, and Mike Hampton (and even Lemon wasn’t a pitcher for the first chunk of his career) — have ever done so.

That season, the only position player to homer so much within a 24-at-bat stretch was some dude named Willie Mays:

Most homers within a 24-at-bat stretch in 1958. Don Drysdale in second place with seven.

To be fair, there’s a slim chance that chart’s not completely airtight. The methodology there was figuring that it would be pretty likely such a 24-at-bat stretch by a player would come within an eight-game span of his team’s season (would generally expect about six games to equate to 24 at-bats, so this gives some decent wiggle room to absorb losing some at-bats to some combination of missed game(s) with injury/day off, merely pinch-hitting, drawing a bunch of walks, etc.)

Therefore, a manual exploration on baseball-reference of every feasible eight-game stretch, starting with 1-8, then 2-9, then 3-10 …… 149-156 was necessary. It often required checking which at-bat number homers were hit within the games that both started and ended the stretch, in order to determine if it fit within the parameter of 24 at-bats.

So while it’s theoretically in the realm of possibility someone had such a stretch that was bookended more than eight team games apart, those charted are likely all (or at least close to all) the instances of any MLB player hitting even five home runs within a 24-at-bat stretch in 1958. A pitcher hit seven!

Additionally, here’s the number of home runs hit by every player in the league during that window, as a function of at-bats:

At-bats and home runs of every National League player between June 26th and August 23rd, 1958. Drysdale has seven in fewer than 50 at-bats.

Only 21 other players joined Drysdale in hitting at least seven home runs in that time, and those 21 averaged 178.3 at-bats. A position player ever having a power surge like Drysdale did is beyond remarkable. A pitcher doing so is completely loony.

For a bit more context, in 1927, Babe Ruth hit 60 homers. No one did that again for decades. To this day only four other players (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Maris) have ever done it. It was the greatest home run-hitting season in the career of arguably the greatest home run hitter of all-time.

Babe Ruth never had a 24-at-bat stretch in which he hit seven homers in 1927.

On top of all that, as previously alluded to, somehow five of the seven Drysdale homers came against the Braves. Well damn, so the Braves’ arms must’ve been embarrassingly bad. Nope!

Every National League team’s ERA and OPS in 1958. In both categories, the Braves were far and away the best.

And the only reason they didn’t allow the fewest home runs in the league was because of, well, Drysdale. The four Braves who allowed five homers to him (Willey, Jay, Pizarro, and Lew Burdette) were all awesome in 1958. Overall, the only pitcher he took deep that wasn’t was Solis (and even he entered that game having allowed just eight earned runs across his previous 34 innings):

ERA and OPS allowed in 1958 by the six pitchers who surrendered the seven home runs to Don Drysdale. Nearly all were far better than average in both categories.

So it’s probably a pretty safe assumption that any of the extremely rare times in baseball history even a position player’s pulled off this feat wasn’t against pitchers as collectively strong as those victimized in this instance by a pitcher.

Forget the hours in a day and days in a week, what Drysdale pulled off is the real 24/7.

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