Prankster pitcher Moe Drabowsky dies at age 70

Moe Drabowsky, the prankster pitcher who delighted in putting pythons in teammates' shoes and wound up as a World Series star for the Baltimore Orioles when they won their first championship in 1966, has died at age 70.

Drabowsky died Saturday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center in Little Rock, spokeswoman Liz Caldwell said Sunday. He had been ill with multiple myeloma, the Orioles said.

Drabowsky worked for the Orioles' organization the last 13 seasons as their Florida pitching instructor, overseeing players in extended spring training and on rehab assignments.

More than anything else, Drabowsky was known for being one of the most zany players in the majors. He loved to make crank calls from bullpen phones and once gave commissioner Bowie Kuhn a hotfoot. In a 1987 interview with The Associated Press, while working as a minor league pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox, he lamented that the game wasn't so playful anymore.

"Players seem to be more serious now," he said then. "I would tend to believe they don't have as much fun. You don't find the same kind of characters in the game today. Egos are a big factor. And the guys are making so much money."

The highlight of Drabowsky's 17-year career came in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series. He set a record for relievers by striking out 11 over 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, starting the underdog Orioles toward a sweep.

Drabowsky pitched from 1956-72 with the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati, Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis and the White Sox. He was 88-105 with 55 saves and a 3.71 ERA.

Drabowsky also was the answer to several trivia questions. He gave up Stan Musial's 3,000th career hit, was the losing pitcher in Early Wynn's 300th career victory and was the first Royals pitcher to win a game.

Yet, Drabowsky developed more of a reputation for what he did off the field.

Slipping sneezing powder into the air conditioning system of the opponent's locker room was a pet trick. So was putting goldfish in the other team's water cooler. He was a master at hotfoots and claimed Kuhn as one of his victims, lighting the commissioner's shoe on fire during the Orioles' 1970 Series win over Cincinnati.

Oh, and the snakes: Because of Drabowsky, they'd show up in shaving kits, lockers and many other places. During a reunion dinner in Baltimore, in fact, one of them slithered out of Brooks Robinson's bread basket and frightened him.

Drabowsky made his share of crank calls from bullpen phones, too. He used the one at Anaheim Stadium to order takeout food from a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. His favorite gag ever, he said, came at old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City.

"I had pitched there for a few years so I was familiar with the phone system. I knew the extension of the Kansas City bullpen and you could dial it direct from the visitor's bullpen," Drabowsky once recalled.

"One game, Jim Nash of the Athletics is cruising against us in about the fifth inning. So I call their bullpen and shout, 'Get Krausse up' and hang up.

"You should've seen them scramble, trying to get Lew Krausse warmed up in a hurry," Drabowsky said. "It really was funny."

Born Myron Walter Drabowsky in 1935 in Poland, he was a young boy when his family left the country and made it to the United States.

Drabowsky, by the way, once said he never intended to be a kooky character. When he broke into the majors, he actually was ostracized by some teammates for being too serious.

"I signed with the Cubs in 1956 for $75,000, which was a lot of money then," he remembered. "Some of the guys used to get on me pretty good, saying I was strange because I carried The Sporting News under one arm and The Wall Street Journal under the other."