KC Royals: Pitcher Moe Drabowsky, an original Royal

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals made a former Kansas City A’s pitcher a member of their first team, and he pitched well for the new franchise.

You won’t find a plaque for him in Cooperstown, nor is he a member of the KC Royals Hall of Fame. He never won a Cy Young Award, pitched a no-hitter or made an All-Star team.

But Moe Drabowsky has his place in the annals of major league baseball in Kansas City. He was an important part of both the city’s American League entries. He pitched in four seasons for the A’s and two for the Royals.

A purchase deal brought Drabowsky, who became well-known as an accomplished prankster, to the A’s in 1962; in those days, teams bought and sold player contracts far more frequently than they do today. By then, Drabowsky was in his seventh big league season and had started and relieved. In his best pre-Kansas City season, he went 13-15 with a 3.53 ERA for the Cubs in 1957, but hit more batters (10) than any other pitcher in the National League.

The A’s, owned by the innovative but controversial Charles O. Finley, were never good. In fact, they were bad and, consequently, even their better pitchers didn’t boast stellar records. Drabowsky, like so many of his colleagues, suffered from that fate: he was 14-32 for the A’s before St. Louis rescued him in another purchase deal after the 1965 season.

The Cardinals promptly lost him a few weeks later when Baltimore snatched him up in the old Rule 5 draft. Joining the Orioles proved that a great team can make a decent pitcher good—the O’s won the American League pennant and Drabowsky went a perfect 6-0 with a 2.81 ERA. He then earned the victory over the Dodgers in Game One of the World Series when, after relieving starter Dave McNally in the third inning, he struck out 11 and gave up only one hit in 6.2 scoreless frames.

Drabowsky established himself as an excellent big league reliever in his next two seasons with Baltimore. He appeared in 43 games in1967 and went 7-5, 1.60; had saves been an official statistic that year (they didn’t become official until ’69), he would have accumulated 12. He posted another sub-2.00 ERA in 1968 and was 4-4 in 45 games.

Then came expansion, and with it the draft that stocked four new franchises—Kansas City’s replacement for the A’s, who Finley made off with to Oakland after the ’67 campaign, and San Diego, Seattle and Montreal. Drabowsky was one of many players KC chose from other major league teams and he began the Royals’ 1969 inaugural season back in old Municipal Stadium.

And it was in the same ballpark he’d pitched for Finley’s Athletics that Drabowsky made KC Royals history. He became the first Royal pitcher credited with a win when he relieved in the 12th inning of the new team’s first-ever game and held Minnesota hitless and scoreless before the Royals scored a run in the bottom half of the frame to walk off the Twins.

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He appeared in a team-leading 52 games that season, led the club with a 2.94 ERA, and tied Dick Drago for second in wins with 11 (Wally Bunker, a teammate of Drabowsky with the Orioles, won 12). And, in the first year of the new saves stat, Drabowsky paced KC relievers with 11 which became, of course, the club record. It was Drabowsky’s record only for a season, though—Ted Abernathy broke it the next season with 12.

Despite his good 1969 campaign, the Royals traded Drabowsky to Baltimore the next summer. He spent the rest of the year with the O’s and pitched in the World Series again, went 6-1 for St. Louis in 1971, and concluded his major league career in ’72 by going a combined 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA for the Cards and White Sox.

Drabowsky spent the first several years of his big league retirement in private business, then coached in the minors and majors for several more. He died in 2006.

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Moe Drabowsky was a good pitcher who had the misfortune to pitch for some bad teams, particularly the Cubs and Kansas City A’s. But he was excellent for the KC Royals in their first season.