Interview Date: 8/26/16
Doug Drabek has a mortal enemy and he does not know it. It is a faceless enemy that strikes quickly and never takes credit for what it has done. His enemy is just a word: Entropy.
In 1824, Sadi Carnot wrote a largely forgotten work that would become the foundation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. An isolated system will always see an increase in entropy. No matter how strong a man builds something, it will eventually fall apart. The typical baseball fan will not know who Sadi Carnot was, but we all know that his discovery does not simply apply to inanimate objects. Man suffers from entropy too.
In 1983, the White Sox dug a diamond in the rough out of the 11th round of the Amateur Draft when they took a shot at Doug Drabek. Drafted a year earlier by the Indians, it was a risky move. Drabek had not signed with Cleveland and Chicago risked a similar fate. “I didn’t think I was ready to go pro and the University of Houston was a great opportunity to get schooling in just in case baseball didn’t work out.” But a year later, Drabek was ready to show the world what he was made of. The White Sox were not. Before the ink had even dried on his contract, they traded him to the New York Yankees.
Entropy was striking at the heart of the New York Yankees. From 1976 to 1981, they had won an unbelievable four World Series titles. Drabek was brought up in 1986, hoping to help return the waning team back to the Playoffs. In a panic to obtain a starting pitcher, the Yankees traded Drabek to Pittsburg in a deal that brought them Rick Rhoden. For the Yankees, they would not see the Playoffs again for nine years. Their organization had fallen apart at the seams. Drabek would lead the Pirates to a resurgence.
Doug Drabek turned out to be a rare thing in baseball: a man with no weakness. A four-pitch starter with a sinker that sent many a dejected batter back to the dugout muttering about how they’d get him next time. All four of his pitches were well commanded and his placement was spectacular. Baserunners hated facing Drabek because he rarely let them advance because of a mechanics issue. His pitching form was perfect. The Pirates had robbed the Yankees and found themselves quickly in the Playoff hunt.
1990 was the pinnacle of Doug Drabek’s career. Nobody could touch him. Not only would the Pirates make the Playoffs for the first time in over a decade, but Drabek won the Cy Young Award. It was the epitome of success and the natural point for entropy to rear its ugly head. Things always fall apart given enough time. The Pirates would see the Postseason in 1990, 1991, and 1992. Drabek was without fault for three years until Game 7 against the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series. At the bottom of the 9th, leading 2-0 and having thrown 8 shutout innings, entropy struck. The Pirates were so devastated by the 3-2 loss that they did the unthinkable and did not sign Drabek during the Offseason. “If I could change anything about my career it would have been one of those pitches. It would have changed the outcome against Atlanta. I hope they always remember me as a good teammate. I never wanted to cheat myself or the team.” Pittsburg would not go back to the Playoffs until 2013.
“I loved playing for Houston. I was close to home and made great friends. I have no brothers or sisters and Darryl Kile became like a younger brother to me. We always had adjoining rooms on the road. We just clicked.” Drabek was signed by Houston as a way to create an unstoppable pitching corp in 1993. At first, it appeared to be a total failure. Drabek lost more games that year than any other pitcher in all of baseball that year. He would turn it around, but Drabek would never find himself in the Postseason again. “I chose to retire because I just felt like my body was different and my last year was so disappointing. I felt like my teammates couldn’t count on me anymore, which I didn’t like.” He would hang up his uniform and coach his son’s Little League team until the Diamondbacks came calling. “Someone whom I played with in the minor leagues got the hiring job for Minor League coaches and gave me a call.” As the Minor League pitching coach for the Diamondbacks, Drabek has an important story for all of his students.
They may be great, but all great things fall. No matter how strong something is. No matter how much it is reinforced. It will eventually fall down. Sadi Carnot and Doug Drabek lived it. Baseball can’t outrun it. Entropy is coming for you.