Sunday, February 28, 2010

Through The Eyes Of...Dick Drago: When a Save Was A Save

The following is part of a weekly series called "Through the Eyes Of....". In each segment, I share interviews with or stories about those that I view to be the "Good Guys". "Through the Eyes of..." is a part of my personal crusade to present baseball in all it's beauty, splendor, and goodness, instead of through hashing and rehashing all that is broken with our National treasure.

On the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website, author Tom Harkins does a thoroughly wonderful job of telling former Major League pitcher Dick Drago's story. He starts the biography off with a story that he had read some years before in a Boston newspaper, though as he states he was unable to cite the publication.

The story is a wonderful account of how I remember Drago that I've taken the liberty of sharing the anecdote.

"Some time 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."

The store clerk was, of course, humorously confusing Drago with another Sox pitcher, Cuban-born Diego Segui. The story tells volumes, however, about the relative anonymity that Drago enjoyed in Boston despite being one of the teams unsung heroes.

Drago played on a Boston team that year that included the likes of Yaz, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk. With three Hall of Famers and three others who have at least visited the Hall it is no wonder that Drago flew under the radar during his time in Boston.

Yet without the pitching of Drago during the Red Sox World Series loss in '75 to the Big Red Machine, baseball would have been robbed of what is arguably the greatest World Series in baseball history, most notably Carlton Fisks heroics in the 12th inning of game six. A game that many refer to as the greatest game in World Series history.

I've become acquainted with Drago through his involvement with A Glove of Their Own, the award winning children's book that many baseball players and coaches are using to promote sharing through baseball. Drago has been diligent in his efforts to have the book adopted by many of his former baseball brothers and by non-profits around the country.

He recently appeared on Sports Talk NY Live with Coach Bob Salomon of A Glove of Their Own talking about his involvement with the book. He was nice enough to sit down with me and share his thoughts about his career in the latest segment "Through The Eyes Of..."

Civ: You pitched your first five seasons as a starter before going to Boston where you jockeyed between starter and reliever. Which role did you prefer?

DD: Well, I was a starting pitcher throughout my minor league career and my first six years in the big leagues so I liked starting and the preparation needed to get ready for my next start. I liked the intensity and challenge every game that comes with closing, however.

Civ: You threw 63 career complete games, which of course is unheard of these days. What are your thoughts regarding the way you were handled versus the way pitchers are coddled today?

DD: I could spend hours on this subject, but I won't (laughing). I enjoyed being allowed to go deep into games and finish what I started. We were taught to throw almost everyday and build up your arm strength. I believe that with the money they pay players today, they are very careful with pitchers arms. Teams are also paying the setup men very well so they need to get them work.

What could you have done if asked to pitch only six or seven innings like they require today?

I don't think I would have done any better. In fact, I probably wouldn't have won some of the games I did if I only pitched six or seven innings. I liked finishing what I started. I was a good finisher as a starter, which probably helped me convert to a closer. Only difference is I'd be rich!

In 1974, you were traded to the Sox for Marty Pattin. You started 18 games and pitched 15 in relief. Was it difficult to make the transition?

DD: That was the most difficult year for me on my arm. I would pitch a couple of games in relief. Then a starter would come up lame and I would fill in as the starter. That happened all year and at the end of the year I felt like I had pitched 300 innings.

Civ: In 1975 you saved 15 games to lead the team, what do you think of the way closers are used today?

DD: It would have been great to only have to get three outs for a save. A lot of times back then, we would go three innings to get a save. I probably would have had a lot more saves if pitching today.

Civ: You played in 1975 with Rice, Fisk, Yaz in 1975, what other Hall of Famers did you play with?

I played with Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Eddie Murray, Dennis Eckersley and Tony Perez, plus Bob Lemon, Joe Gordon and Dick Williams as Managers.

Civ: Would the Sox have won the series in 1975 if Rice didn't break his arm?

DD: Nothing is a sure thing but we would have been a lot stronger with Rice in the middle of our lineup, which could have made the difference in winning the series.

Civ: You played with several characters of the game. Lee, George Scott, Tiant. Tell me about each as a teammate.

DD: Bill Lee was extremely smart and knew how to capture the media with some of his off the wall topics, but he was an outstanding competitor on the mound. George Scott had his own terminology and was a fun guy to play with. Luis Tiant was the best teammate I ever played with. He was the same whether he won or lost and kept everybody loose on the team. Lots of fun in the clubhouse and road trips.

You also played with Lou Pinella, how does Lou differ as a player and a manager?

DD: That would take too long! He did destroy several water coolers and jerseys in the five years I played with him in KC. Lou took hitting very seriously and we used to talk for hours, helping each other become better players. We would talk late into the night in our apartments.

Civ: How far would John Mayberry be able to hit one if he juiced?

DD: Don't know, but I played against several hitters that could hit them a long way. Guys like Boog Powell, Frank Howard, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Dick Allen, Jeff Burroughs and Gorman Thomas.

Civ: You are in the record book for giving up Hank Aaron's 755th home run. Do you feel cheated by Bonds breaking of the record as it essentially knocked you from the record book, too?

DD: Not at all. It is a honor simply to be associated with such a great player as Aaron.

Civ: You were traded after the 75 World Series essentially for a bag of baseballs. Three nobodies named John Balaz, Dave Machemer and Dick Sharon despite being the closer of the team that went seven games with the Big Red Machine. What were the Sox thinking?

DD: Don't know, but it was very disappointing going to a last place team as a closer. I think I might have been part of a deal they made earlier in the season for Denny Doyle, as the player to be named later.

Civ: Then in '77 you resigned with the Sox. Was that like coming home for you?

DD: I was so happy to have been able to resign with the Sox as a free agent. Boston was the greatest place to play in my opinion. It's great to go back there today and have people remember me.

Civ: What role did you pitch then?

DD: I shared the closers role with Bill Campbell, Tom Burgmeier, and Bob Stanley over the next three years; three more enjoyable years with the Red Sox.

Civ: Tell me what you have done since leaving baseball. Do you miss it?

DD: I had several sales and marketing jobs and co-owned a couple of businesses in Ft. Myers, Fl. up until 2000. I retired and moved to Tampa to be closer to my two oldest children and my girlfriend. I have been very much involved with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association doing charity Golf tournaments and Legends games. I also do the Red Sox Fantasy Camp every February. These days I'm a stock trader.

I miss everything about playing baseball. It was my life from age nine until thirty-eight.

Civ: Do you have family?

DD: Yes, my children are Darren 38, Dina 34 and Justin 29, plus, I have a Grandson Taylor, 14, and Granddaughter Haley, seven.

Civ: Who was the toughest on you, and who did you own as a pitcher?

DD: The toughest was Tony Oliva & George Brett. I had good success against Gorman Thomas (0-22).

Civ: What is your most memorable baseball moment?

DD: There are two. My first major league start. It was a complete game win against the Angels, 3-2, at 24 years old. Imagine that, a complete game. Also, it was the first ever Royal's complete game. The other was pitching in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. I pitched three shutout innings. The 9th, 10th, and 11th. Then Fisk won it in the 12th.

Civ: Do you keep in touch with any players?

DD: Yes, I see many during Alumnae events and the Red Sox Fantasy Camp.

Civ: Tell me about your involvement with A Glove of Their Own and what made you become involved?

DD: At first I just joined the group on Facebook. Then, Bob Salomon contacted me to ask me if I would support the book on the website. After reading the book, it reminded me of my days as a young boy playing sandlot baseball and I wanted to get more involved in spreading the world about a wonderful story. With all my contacts I wanted to help Bob out as much as I could. I am proud to be a part of such a great cause.

Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for the Bleacher Report and Seamheads. He can be reached at with comments or story ideas. He is also a supporter of "A Glove of Their Own", the award winning children's book that is capturing the heart of the nation. For more information visit the site at and purchase under today's donor code PIF129 Pitch in for Baseball.

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