November 6, 1961: “These are exciting days for the Valley’s Ginger Drysdale, the beautiful 22-year-old wife of the famous Dodger pitcher. Ginger, a photographer’s model who has done many television commercials, recently was summoned to Warner Bros., placed under 90-day option and given a part in ‘Hawaiian Eye.’…Ginger is going to spend this weekend helping Don paint their comfortable, modern three-bedroom home in Van Nuys.”
I’m trying to get my head around a major league athlete moving to Van Nuys at the peak of his career, let alone a Hall of Famer, even if he grew up here as Don Drysdale did. But then I would be forgetting this was before free agency.
Drysdale won 25 games in 1962, for which he earned…$36,000, together with Sandy Koufax half of the dominant pitching duo of the decade.
They were paid at the pleasure of owner Walter O’Malley who thought of contract negotiation thusly: “Baseball is an old-fashioned game with old-fashioned traditions.” Translation: you are bound to me by a reserve clause, while I enjoy a congressional exemption from anti-trust laws.
It was not uncommon for players to take second jobs in the winter. Stars like Drysdale opened businesses. The Dugout, on Oxnard St., lasted until 1982. Today it is the location of La Serenita, a Mexican restaurant.
Koufax owned the Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood, which would prove both lucrative and historic in the 1970s.
America wasn’t winner-take-all then. There was a lower ceiling but a higher floor (for white folks). Teachers and Dodger wives shared driveways and did their own house painting.
Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were paid $62 million this year. There are people on my block who live in converted tool sheds, then commute to work, in keeping with our New Normal.
On the other hand, I have Moroccan tile in my bathroom now, which no one in Van Nuys had in 1962. I also probably eat better than the Drysdales did, and so can pretty much anyone who takes the time to shop creatively in the cornucopia of LA. Most of us don’t. We eat with our hands from a salty greasy bag without portional restraint. Right now I’m eating Japanese buckwheat noodles and bok choy, watching an ad for Progressive insurance and here’s Stephanie Courtney as Flo, TV’s top pitchwoman. I think of the few hundred actors below her who book regular commercial work and below them, the Breughel-like masses, the 100,000 actors who book nothing and try to create mystique on YouTube….and there, in the background, are the picket fences of Orion Street, Van Nuys’ contribution to Americana porn.
All these things are true simultaneously. Los Angeles is nothing if not polarity.
Ron Shelton wrote a wonderful speech for Bull Durham neatly summarizing the distance between those who make it to the major leagues (and enjoy million dollar contracts) and those who languish in the bus leagues until they give up hope:
“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
In 1969 Ginger filed for divorce and a restraining order against Don, citing 30 separate incidents of assault. Don passed away in 1993, alone in a hotel room.
Drysdale’s second wife sold his memorabilia for over a $1 million in 2016, twice the sum he earned as a player in his entire career, making his memory more lucrative than his performance. Ginger got nothing.
Photos courtesy of Valley Times Collection