Sunday, 15 May 2016


 Exhibit card of Sandy Koufax.
Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago
(US Public Domain)
From 1962-1965, in the era before player agents, teammates Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were the best one-two pitching punch in baseball. Shrewd businessmen, they knew their worth to the Los Angeles Dodgers and they were going to do something about it for the 1966 season. 

In the first half of the decade, the combination of Koufax and Drysdale accounted for half the Dodger starts. On an all-pitch, no-hit, small-ball team, left-hander Koufax was the finesse pitcher of the two. Never one to deliberately throw at a batter, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound hurler born and raised in Brooklyn was a fastball-curveball man with blazing speed, followed by outstanding control. Owner of four no-hitters to date (one a perfect game), he had just come off four straight seasons winning the ERA title, with 1963 his first quality season: 25 wins, 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts and 11 shutouts, all NL-best stats; plus an MVP and Cy Young Award, when the latter was given to the best pitcher in both leagues combined.

In 1965, he had won 26 games, completed 27, struck out a record-setting 382, and had held the National League opposition to a 2.04 ERA, all league-best. He had also won both the National League MVP and another Cy Young.  In the 1963 World Series, a four-game sweep over the favored New York Yankees, Koufax had won two games: the first one by striking out a record 15 hitters, as well as the Game Four 2-1 finale. In the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, he had won two games, both shutouts, including the seventh, a masterful three-hitter.

The second part of the duo, the temperamental right-hander born and raised in California, Don Drysdale never held back from throwing his devastating fastball “inside” to batters using his distinct sidearm fashion. He was a workhorse, starting at least 40 games and throwing at least 300 innings in each season since 1962. One of the game’s most intimidating hurlers, he stood 6-foot-5, appearing more like 10 feet tall in the days when the mound was higher than it is today. To Drysdale’s way of thinking, he owned the inside and outside parts of the plate, leaving only the middle to the hitter. So, back off mister!  And they did, terrified they could get killed by one of his bullets.
“Big D” had taken the Cy Young Award in 1962, posting a 25-9 mark with 2.83 ERA, 41 starts, and 232 strikeouts in 314 innings, good enough to lead the league in these categories except ERA. In 1963, he had won 19 games, lowered his ERA to 2.62, and won Game Three of the World Series by shutting out the Yankees 1-0 on a three-hitter combined with nine strikeouts. In 1965, he had won 23 games, thrown seven shutouts, and won a crucial Game Four to even the World Series at two apiece, after the Dodgers had lost the first two games in Minnesota to the Twins, the best-hitting team in the American League.

Exhibit card of Don Drysdale.
Exhibit Co of Chicago
(US Public Domain)
Following the 1965 World Series, Koufax and Drysdale, at the top of their game, decided they now had the leverage to take on the Dodgers at the contract table. For decades, going back to their years in Brooklyn, Dodger management were notorious cheapskates. Now they were the best draw in baseball, bringing in at least 2 million fans since the new 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium had opened in 1962. During the 1965 season, Koufax had made $85,000 and Drysdale $80,000. When they met with team GM Buzzie Bavasi in mid-October at Dodger Stadium to discuss their futures, they unfolded a well-conceived plan by demanding that they were a package deal. Neither one would sign unless they both agreed. They also said they had an agent, Koufax’s lawyer, Bill Hayes, who had determined that his clients were worth an extra $1 million in revenue to the Dodgers whenever they pitched. Furthermore, Koufax and Drysdale insisted on a three-year, no-trade, no-cut contract for $1 million, which worked out to be $166,000 per year each. In shock, Bavasi countered by saying that he would not deal with any agent, that $1 million was too much and there would be only one-year contracts, the same as what everybody else in the organization received. Basis offered $100,000 to Koufax, and $90,000 to Drysdale. The players said no, and the meeting broke off.

The three met again in late November at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel restaurant, where Koufax did most of the talking for the two: $200,000 each in the first and second year, then $100,000 in the third year.

“But, that’s still a million,” Bavasi said.

“OK, then, $150,000 per year for three years,” Koufax replied. They broke off again. The third conference occurred at the same restaurant, this time in late-February 1966, only a few days prior to spring training at Vero Beach, Florida. Now it was crunch time. Bavasi offered $100,000 each for one year, but no package deal. The players left and were a no-show at spring training when it began February 26, becoming the first-ever dual holdouts.

Most of March went by, and still no money talk from the best one-two pitchers in baseball, except to tell management that they were going to retire and start acting careers if they weren’t better paid. With only a few days left in the exhibition schedule, Bavasi and owner Walter O’Malley began to worry, with good reason. Koufax and Drysdale had won a combined 49 games in 1965, half of the team’s 97 wins. By now, the two pitchers were in the sports news almost daily. Trying to sound firm, calm and collected from Vero Beach, O’Malley decided to call the two hurlers on the phone. He wished them luck at their new ventures outside baseball, then said his goodbyes, hoping that his bluff would work.

Next day, March 30, Drysdale called Bavasi at his Dodger Stadium office to arrange a meeting at a nearby restaurant that same day. There, without Koufax present, Bavasi laid it on the line to Drysdale: “All right, what will it take to sign you boys.”

“One year, $110,000 for me and $125,000 for Sandy,” replied Drysdale, letting the Dodger GM know he was acting also on Koufax’s behalf. Not surprised by the numbers, Bavasi called O’Malley in Vero Beach. The deal was made on the spot, and a press conference was arranged at Dodger Stadium where Bavasi, Koufax, and Drysdale appeared to let the writers know that the “Don and Sandy Show” was back in town. After holding out for 32 days, they had made history as the first pitchers to earn $100,000 a year when the average National League salary was $17,000. And they also started something: the beginning of collective bargaining in baseball.

The 1966 regular season--50 years ago--began with Koufax starting the second game and Drysdale starting the fourth, neither one with a decision. But they quickly got into the swing of things after that and helped lead the Dodgers to another pennant. While Drysdale slipped to 13-16 and 3.42 ERA, Koufax had his best year ever, winning his fifth-straight ERA title with a stingy 1.73. He won 27 games, the most for a National League southpaw since 1900, and led the league with five shutouts and 317 strikeouts, his third 300-plus strikeout mark in the last four seasons. In addition, he won his third Cy Young Award, all three times unanimously.

The World Series in 1966 wasn’t good to the Dodgers, however: They were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in four games. Summing it up, in the five-season stretch from 1962-1966, Koufax and Drysdale combined for an incredible 209 wins, 53 shutouts, 2,551 strikeouts, four Cy Young Awards, six individual World Series wins, three pennants, and two MLB championships. After 1966, the Dodgers wouldn’t win another pennant until 1974.

Koufax, at 31, announced his retirement from baseball a month after the 1966 World Series, fearing future permanent damage to his throwing arm--bone spurs in his elbow--which had been giving him trouble for the past several seasons. No such thing as “Tommy John Surgery” then, otherwise he could’ve gone on to win 300 contests. Before games, he had to apply massive heat to his elbow, then ice packs after, with painkiller shots and pills in between that often left him “high” on the mound.

Drysdale continued until August 1969, when he retired due to a nagging shoulder injury. He was the last player on the club who had started his Dodger career in Brooklyn. He had his last hurrah in 1968 at the age of 32 throwing 58 and two-thirds consecutive shutout innings (six shutouts), a record that stood until another Dodger hurler, Orel Hershiser, extended the mark by one-third of an inning in 1988.

Two pitchers as different as night and day, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale are Hall of Fame members, making their way to Cooperstown in 1972 and 1984, respectively. 

Monday, 2 May 2016


On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold left the runway at Chehalis, Washington in his privately owned Piper Cub, bound for Seattle. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was shining. The sky was clear. No haze. Very little turbulence. A great day to fly. That afternoon, only a few minutes into the air, the 32-year-old Arnold caught a magnificent view of the jutting, high peaks of the Cascade Range as he continued to climb. A short time later, he levelled off at 9,000 feet.

All of a sudden, as he was flying to one side of Scenic Mt Rainier, he saw a quick flash to his left. At first, he thought it was an explosion. Then he saw nine silvery objects, resembling inverted plates, skimming across the mountain tops at incredible speed before forming up in a stationary, hovering line about five miles long. As he approached closer, Arnold determined that the machines were solid objects, metallic and circular, about a hundred feet in diameter, with no rudders or tail sections. The center of each aircraft had a shiny cupola. Then, to his amazement, the objects took off, disappearing in mere seconds.

Startled, Arnold worked out the mathematics. When the first aircraft shot past Mt Rainer, his panel clock read exactly one minute to three. When the last object drew even with the crest of nearby Mt Adams, the elapsed time was one minute and 42 seconds. Arnold dug for his area map. The peaks were 47 miles apart. Sweat began to form on his face, and it wasn’t from the bright sun. According to his calculations, the speed had to be at least 1,500 miles per hour, which computed to twice the speed of sound! Impossible!

When Arnold landed in Seattle and told his story at the airport, reporters quickly sought him out. He told the doubtful newsmen: “They flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.” Little did Arnold know he had coined a new phrase: the words “flying saucer” came into being.

From 1947-1952, there were thousands more of these mysterious Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings in the United States, as well as around the world. The United States Air Force made an intensive study of nearly 5,000 such reports. They concluded that most sightings were common mistakes, such as weather balloons, solar reflections, and meteors. Only a small percentage could not be explained.

The Avrocar, Canada's flying saucer
(Canadian Public Domain)
What was Washington’s reaction to the UFOs? “Flying Saucers exist only in the imaginations of the viewers,” stated President Dwight D Eisenhower, December 16, 1954. Not so, Mr President. You and your government helped finance the building of a flying saucer, with the contract going to AV Roe at Malton, Ontario outside Toronto, right here in the Canada, to the same crown corporation who had later built the supersonic CF-105 Avro Arrow fighter interceptor. Really, folks, a flying saucer here in Canada! They called it the Avrocar. In charge of research and production for it was UFO enthusiast and Avro engineer, 31-year-old John Frost.  

In the midst of the then Cold War, Frost, in 1953, had reportedly taken a trip to West Germany to meet a German engineer who had done widespread research into the flying saucer phenomenon during World War II. The engineer claimed that his aeronautical team had built a working model that had flown inside Nazi Germany. However, following the war, both the blueprints and the saucer were deliberately destroyed as the Russian, American, and British Allies closed in. The team had since split up, half went to Russia, the other half to the US. In addition, rumors were afloat that the Russians were also building their own flying saucer.

Although the Avrocar project was Top Secret, rumors did circulate in the press about it in the 1950s. In particular, front page of the February 12, 1953 Toronto Star newspaper lit up with the headline: “Takes off straight up, report Malton Flying Saucer to do 1,500 mph.”

Known as Project Y when it began in July, 1952 inside Hangar Number Four at Malton Airport, Avro funded the program for 18 months before the feds in Ottawa shut it down. All the Frost team had to show for their efforts was $400,000 spent, a wood mockup, and no working prototype.

Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, Look Magazine on June 14, 1955 reported:
…persistent and fairly credible rumors recur that a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, AV Roe, Canada, Ltd., has had a saucer design under development for two years. One report has it that the project was abandoned by the Canadian government because it would cost over $75 million to get a prototype flying model into the air.

John Frost, the engineer behind the Avrocar, 1952
(Canadian Public Domain)
The AV Roe people maintain a confusing silence about the whole thing. They can’t deny the project has been abandoned because they never announced it had begun. Our own Air Force offers ‘no comment.’ Military security and rapidly changing defense problems not only cloud many details of a project like this but also obscure whether anything comparable actually exists. But based on the current requirements of our defense effort and the demonstrated abilities of our designers, an educated guess is that a flying saucer much like this one may well be flying within the next few years…

The magazine didn’t know that the year before, in July 1954, the US Defense Department had provided $2 million for development, while Avro chipped in another $2.5 million to keep it going at Malton. In 1958, the US Army and US Air Force took joint control, and it was here that the craft was named the AZ-9 Avrocar. And it was expected to be versatile. The Army wanted it be a well-armed flying jeep, in close support with troops. The Air Force wanted a maneuverable, supersonic fighter that could fly higher than any other aircraft before it.

Once a metal mockup had been built, the US Navy arrived at Malton one night in mid-1959 and under the cloak of darkness loaded the Avrocar onto a flatbed truck. Then, while the local police closed Airport Road and the entire route to Toronto Harbour, the Americans eased the aircraft on a US-bound tugboat that sailed down the Erie Canal, along the New York inter-coastal waterway, out to the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal. Destination: NASA in California for wind-tunnel testing.  Following the tests, two working prototypes were built: one at Malton which eventually flew a total of 75 hours, and another one at California.

A 1961 test flight of the Avrocar (Canadian Public Domain)

The results were not promising. From the first flights in late-1959, the Avrocar had massive stability problems at anything higher than five feet off the ground. Out of funds to continue after spending $7.5 million, the Americans dropped out before any modifications could be done, although Frost promised to fix whatever was needed. By then things weren’t much better for Avro since the scrapping of the CF-105 Arrow in early-1959 that put 30,000 skilled people out of work. You can read about that in my June 2013 article. The link is The last Malton test-flight for the Avrocar saucer occurred March 1961. A year later, AV Roe closed its doors for good, and with it the Avrocar “flying saucer,” the last of Avro’s aviation projects, came to an abrupt end.

Specs on the Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) AZ-9 AV Roe Avrocar were as follows:

2 (in separate cockpits)

18 ft            

3 ft 6 in

Wing area:
254 sq ft

Empty weight:
3000 lb

Max takeoff weight:
5650 lb

3 Continental J69 turbojet engines, producing 927 pounds of thrust


Maximum speed:
300 mph (estimated), 35 mph (actual)

995 mi (estimated), 79 mi (actual)

Service ceiling:
10,000 ft (estimated), 3 ft (actual)