February 22 – Happy Birthday Karl Drews
The phone rang and he let it ring one more time before picking it up. His family, friends and coaches who were gathered in his Sarasota, Florida living room that early June day in 1993 all fell silent and turned their attention to the expression on the face of the eighteen-year-old high school pitcher who was now holding the receiver tightly to his ear. As soon as they saw the huge grin break out across his face, every person in the room knew not only who was on the other end of that phone conversation but also what he had just said. The caller was Yankee scout Paul Turco, and he had just told the talented teenager that he had been selected with the Yankees first draft pick (13th overall) in Major League Baseball’s 1993 Amateur Draft.
The kids name was Matt Drews and right after he hung up the phone that day, his Dad, Ron Drews handed him a Yankee cap and told him it was his now. But unlike the brand new New Era team lids most modern day top picks get to place on their heads, the Yankee hat Matt’s Dad had handed him looked a bit aged and odd. That’s because at the time, that particular hat was close to a half-century old. It had been given originally to Matt’s grandfather by Joe DiMaggio as a gift for Matt’s Dad. Ron Drew’s Dad and Matt Drew’s Grandfather was former Yankee pitcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Karl Drews. In his rookie year of 1947, Karl had gone 6-6 for New York, appearing in 30 games for Yankee skipper Bucky Harris, including ten starts. Six years earlier, Karl was pitching for the Class C farm team that used to play in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY. He had signed with the Yankees in 1939 and was working his way up the minor league ladder when he was called into the military for service in WWII. That’s why he was already 27 years-old during his first full season in the big leagues.
Drews threw very hard but he had trouble finding the strike zone consistently. Still, Harris had enough faith in his rookie to use him twice in the 1947 World Series against Brooklyn. After his first appearance in Game 3 of that Fall Classic, the gracious DiMaggio walked up to him in the clubhouse after the game and handed him the Yankee cap, telling Drews to give it to his boy as a souvenir of his first World Series game.
DiMaggio would return to three more World Series as a Yankee before retiring but unfortuntely for Karl Drews, 1947 would be his one and only appearance in postseason play. The following season, the Yankees found themselves in a year-long and eventually unsuccessful battle with the Red Sox and Indians to defend their AL Pennant. Drews was actually pitching better baseball than he had the season before, walking fewer hitters and lowering his ERA by over a full run, to 3.79. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from selling Drews to the St. Louis Browns in early August of that 1948 season.
Now pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball, Drews went 4-12 for the Browns in 1949 and was sent back to the minors, where he broke his skull in a base path collision. He got back to the big leagues with the Phillies in 1951 and had his best big league season a year later, as a member of Philadelphia’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 with a sparkling 2.72 ERA and threw 5 shutouts. He would last two more years in the big leagues and then settled with his family in Hollywood, Florida. On August 15th, 1963, he was taking his daughter to swimming practice when his car stalled on a Florida highway. When he got out of the disabled vehicle and attempted to wave a passing car down, the drunken driver of the car plowed into Drews and killed him instantly. He was just 43 years old at the time of his death and he would never get to meet his grandson Matt.
Unlike his grandfather, Matt Drews never made it to the mound of Yankee Stadium. His career started out well, as he went 22-13 during his first two seasons in the lowest levels of New York’s farm system, but during the next five he was 16-58. He left baseball after the 2000 season.