When Kerry Wood broke the record for strikeouts by a rookie, he overshadowed the performance of a man known as ‘Hummer’ – Dick Drott. Drott burst upon the scene in 1957 after three years in the minors. He was still only 20 years old during a preseason where he performed admirably and instantly garnered a ton of attention. Everyone predicted great things for the Chicago Cubs hurler.
During his rookie season he was 15-11 for the Cubs, a team that went 62-92-2. That would be comparable to a starting pitcher registering over twenty wins for a contending team. He posted an ERA of 3.58, pitching 229 innings and recording three shutouts. Drott finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting for 1957.
He would never approach anything close to those numbers ever again.
Perhaps his greatest game, and the one in which he set the record, was against Milwaukee in May. Drott struck out 15 in the first game of a doubleheader. His many victims included future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who wound up leading the league in homers that year. Drott punched the slugger out three times – all looking!
Drott finished 1957 with a 170 strikeouts in his 229 innings pitched. We can’t ignore the fact he also led the league with 129 walks, so control was an issue.
A 185-pound, six footer, Drott’s nickname was ‘Hummer’, though he was to admit after the stellar Milwaukee game, that he threw a lot of curveballs also. His 3.2 WAR in 1957 was only exceeded among the Cubs pitchers by Moe Drabowsky (4.6), and Ernie Banks with a team-leading 6.7.
His performance in 1957 got him a monstrous raise from Mr. Wrigley, a man never known for his generosity, from $6,000 to $15,000 in 1958. It didn’t inspire him to even greater heights as a pitcher that next year. Instead, in 1958 he went backward in almost every category. While he did manage to start 31 games that year, Drott threw only 167 1/3 innings with 127 Ks. His record was 7-11.
In 1959, bothered by an inflamed tendon Drott appeared in only eight games, pitching just 27.1 innings and registering a 5.93 ERA. In 1960 he was even less effective, though he did manage to appear in 23 games, his ERA ballooned to 7.16 and his record was 0-6.
Chicago Cubs: An end to things for Dick Drott came quickly
Pitching in 35 games in 1961, his last season with the Cubs, Drott managed to go 1-4 while lowering his ERA down to 4.22 in 98 innings pitched. Nineteen sixty two found him on the roster of the expansion team in Houston.
Drott lasted for two more years before leaving baseball. He made an abortive try at a comeback some years later with the White Sox but it was a no-go. He died at the age of 49 of cancer.
The star of Dick ‘Hummer’ Drott shone brightly in one excellent year for the Cubs and he established the record for strikeouts in a game that would be shattered by Wood some forty years later. He was a one-season-wonder if there’s ever been one.