Andrew J. Ferraro
While the list of Cougar greats who have played or are currently playing in the major leagues is fairly active, Victoria native Doug Drabek leads that list and does it with class and in style.
As a Cougar from 1981-83, Drabek was not the star in the Houston rotation. Current UH head coach Rayner Noble was the stud, so to speak, as he led the Cougars in most pitching categories. But Drabek was equal to the task, as he holds the record for Cougar wins in a career with 27.
Drabek is also second on the all-time record list for wins in a season with 12 in 1983 and holds the second-best winning percentage in a season with .800 (12-3), also in 1983. Drabek also threw the third no-hitter in UH history in the midst of that memorable season.
On March 6, 1983, the Cougars traveled to Lafayette, La., for a doubleheader with Southwestern Louisiana. It was in game two that Drabek took the hill and blanked the Ragin' Cajuns 6-0, pitching the seven-inning gem while striking out six and walking four. That game against USL was the cornerstone in Drabek's season, even though he did not make the All-America team.
In his three-year career with the Cougars, Drabek posted six shutouts and compiled 268 innings of work.
Drabek was honored in November 1996 when Noble and the Cougar baseball program retired his jersey. The number 16 he wore while at UH currently resides on the wall in right field at Cougar Field. He is only the second UH baseball player to have his jersey retired, sharing that honor with former Cougar great and current Chicago White Sox announcer Tom Paciorek.
In a 1996 interview, Drabek said that despite all the good times he had with the Cougar baseball team, the memories that stood out most in his mind were attending the basketball games.
"Going to see Phi Slama Jama really made playing here memorable," Drabek said with a smile. "But getting to go to Arizona (1982) and coming within one round of the College World Series will always be a sweet memory."
Drabek's major league career has seen him play for several ball clubs in both leagues and includes pitching's greatest award.
Drabek, 36, is currently pitching in the American League for the Baltimore Orioles, but began his career in the majors with the New York Yankees before a 1986 trade sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates (where he won the National League Cy Young Award in 1990) before moving on to Houston for three years.
Following the 1996 season, the Astros decided not to exercise the option on Drabek's contract. He was forced into free agency and it appeared that he would not finish his career playing for his hometown team, the same team that had put so much faith in him three years earlier.
In three seasons with the Astros, Drabek compiled a record of 29-24 with an earned run average of just over four at 4.06.
It was the last two years of his Houston stint that lead to his awkward departure. After a solid 12-6 record and 2.84 ERA in 1994, Drabek countered with a 10-9 record and a 4.77 ERA.
While trying to get back on track the following season, Drabek again faltered and took a 7-9, 4.57 performance in 1996 to the American League where the White Sox were willing to give him another shot.
In 1997 Drabek had an up and down year pitching for the White Sox. Entering the All-Star Break he had an ERA of 6.80, but settled down in the second half. His final record was 12-11 with a 5.74 ERA in 31 starts.
But it was with the Pirates in the late '80s and early '90s that Drabek became a pitching force in baseball before the heroics of Greg Maddux and the rest of the Atlanta pitching staff began dominating the game.
1990 was the year that Drabek won the coveted Cy-Young Award, given to each league's top pitcher throughout the season.
That year, Drabek was 22-6, with a 2.76 ERA in 33 starts for the Eastern Division champion Pirates. Drabek won 15 games or more four times in his six-year stint with the Bucs. His 1990 campaign was amazing as he dominated the NL and helped the Pirates into the playoffs.
In short, Drabek was a great pitcher and can still compete in the majors, even if his remaining time in the big show is spent mopping up innings for a team (Baltimore) who currently has no shot at a playoff run anytime soon.
Drabek is currently 5-7 with the Orioles and boasts an ERA of 6.72 in 14 starts. But should history repeat itself, Drabek will win nine or 10 games in the second half, lower his ERA by a point or two, and Baltimore will come back to life only to finish in second place in the AL East this year.
Just in case you didn't know, Drabek led the Astros to three straight second-place finishes in 1994-96.
Last year, the White Sox were second only to the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.
Although his Pirates won the NL East three times in a row, they never got to the World Series.
And to top it all off, in his final two seasons with the University of Houston, Drabek and the Cougars compiled a Southwest Conference record of 26-14 but coasted to two consecutive second-place finishes.
That's a lot a second-place finishes for a guy who pitches with a lot of heart and is still the pride and joy on the list of former Cougars now pitching in the majors.