The Original Sunshine Boys

They were the “Sunshine Boys” long before there was a Broadway play and movie by the same name. By day, Bob Anderson and Dick Drott put a smile on the faces of Los Angeles Angels fans by mowing down batters like gunslingers in a Western movie. By night, they shared an efficiency apartment near Hollywood and with their youthful, good looks fit right in with others from the Midwest looking to be discovered.

Bob Anderson, right, was the Pacific Coast League’s top rookie in 1956 while Steve Bilko, left, won most valuable player honors.  (UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives

Bob Anderson, right, was the Pacific Coast League’s top rookie in 1956 while Steve Bilko, left, won most valuable player honors. (UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives

Anderson, 20, and Drott, 19, already were in the baseball limelight. A month into the 1956 season, they were being called “can’t missers – destined for stardom in the majors.”

The Indiana-born Anderson, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound right hander, inspired comparisons with two of the best relief pitchers of all time. “He was not quite like Mariano Rivera but at least as good as Troy Percival,” said Gene Mauch, the Angels second baseman who went on to manage 26 years in the big leagues. “We knew one thing. If we had a lead going into the eighth inning, the game was over. Everybody in the league was scared to death of Anderson –scared to death of him. He was just wild enough.”

Charlie Silvera, a former major league catcher, likened the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Drott, a native of Ohio, to the New York Yankees’ Allie Reynolds, a six-time all-star, because “he murders those hitters with a fastball, curve and guts.”

Anderson was used only in relief in ‘56, posting a 12-4 won-loss record, team-best 2.65 earned run average (ERA) and 28 saves.

“He was like a machine,” said Dwight “Red” Adams, one of the team’s veteran pitchers. “He could throw strikes. He could overpower you. He just went in there and nailed them to the wall.”

Drott had a 13-10 record and led the league in strike outs with 184. He won six of his first seven decisions, prompting the Los Angeles Herald & Express to report: “His curveball snarls up and bows like a head waiter and his lively fastball exposes every batter to a siege of pneumonia.”

“Dick Drott had the best curveball I ever saw in a 19-year-old kid,” Mauch said.

“I was always amazed by his curveball,” said Jim Brosnan, a teammate of Drott’s with the Chicago Cubs. “It was a beautiful pitch. It reminded me of Sandy Koufax’s curveball and Koufax, in my opinion, was the best pitcher of all time.”

Drott referred to his fastball as a “hummer.”

“In the first inning he’s fast, the next time you’re up he’s real fast and the third time around he throws bullets at you,” marveled Jim Westlake, a former major leaguer playing for the Vancouver Mounties in ‘56.

Dick Drott won 15 games as a rookie for the Cubs in 1957. (Author’s collection)

Dick Drott won 15 games as a rookie for the Cubs in 1957. (Author’s collection)

“Dick has the killer instinct of a tiger and the friendliness of a lamb,” Angel manager Bob Scheffing explained.

“Dick did not like to be beaten,” Anderson said. “He knew that he had good stuff and he was extremely confident in his ability to strike people out. So he was a tiger in that sense. His demeanor off the field was very much like a lamb.”

Anderson added: “Had he not hurt his arm with the Cubs, he probably would’ve been one of the outstanding pitchers of that era.”

The same could be said for Anderson.

“I thought Anderson and Drott would have big, big careers,” Mauch said. “For various reasons, they didn’t quite make it as big as I thought they would in the big leagues.”

Anderson was 36-46 in the majors and Drott 27-46.

Anderson’s best season was 1959 when he won 12 games and was the workhorse of the Cubs pitching staff, starting 36 games and pitching 235 innings.

Over the next three years, Anderson played for seven different managers and head coaches. In 1960, he won nine games as a starter. He pitched primarily in relief in 1961-62 as the Cubs operated without a manager, rotating its so-called college of coaches.

“There was no rhyme or reason as to the way we were used,” Anderson said.  “I remember warming up and pitching six games in a row.  There was no concern for what could happen to the pitchers.”

In late August 1961, Anderson appeared in three straight games against Pittsburgh, recording two saves and a win. He pitched one inning in the first game; two and one-third innings in the second and three innings in the third. On the last pitch of the third game Anderson hurt his arm.

“I remember vividly when I hurt my arm. It was against Roberto Clemente and it was a pitch that didn’t need to be thrown because I had struck him out on the previous pitch but the umpire called it ball two.  Even Clemente dropped the bat and started to walk away from the plate. I threw him a fastball that moved in on him. But when I threw it, I felt something in my shoulder.  The day after that I warmed up to go into a ballgame and I couldn’t throw.”

Anderson and Drott talk hitting with Rogers Hornsby, the Cubs’ batting instructor, in this 1958 photo. (Courtesy of USC Digital Library: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15799coll44/id/51435/rec/4 )

Anderson and Drott talk hitting with Rogers Hornsby, the Cubs’ batting instructor, in this 1958 photo. (Courtesy of USC Digital Library: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15799coll44/id/51435/rec/4 )

Anderson appeared in nine more games in ‘61, finishing with a 7-10 record, eight saves and 4.26 ERA.

“The year after that, 1962, why, it was dog crap,” Bob said, referring to his 2-7 record and 5.02 ERA.

Anderson hung on for two more years before calling it quits in 1964 at the age of 28.

Drott’s rookie season in 1957 was amazingly like another first-year Cub pitching sensation – Kerry Wood in 1998.

Dick, who turned 21 during the ‘57 season, had a 15-11 won-loss record, 3.58 ERA and his 170 strikeouts ranked second in the National League. Kerry, also 21, was 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 233 strikeouts, third in the league.

When Wood fanned 20 Houston Astros in a one-hit shutout at Wrigley Field May 6, 1998, it brought back memories of Drott whiffing 15 Milwaukee Braves on the same field May 27, 1957.

“That boy,” future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts said of Drott, “is as good a pitcher at his age as anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Dick’s 15 strikeouts were just three shy of the major league record at the time. He had Henry Aaron, the Braves’ legendary slugger, so confused that he was called out on strikes three times – twice on fastballs and once on a curve.

The similarity in the careers of the two Cubs pitchers doesn’t stop there.

Wood hurt his arm and spent the following season on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery. Over his 14-year career, he was on the disabled list 16 times, never fulfilling the potential he showed as a rookie.

After a 7-11 record and 5.43 ERA his second year, Drott served six months active duty with the Army Reserve. In the spring of ‘59, he returned to the Cubs out of condition and some 20 pounds under his playing weight. He hurt his arm when he tried to throw too hard too soon.

Drott spent the next three years on and off the disabled list before ending his career in 1963 with a 2-12 record for the Houston Colt 45s.

For one shining moment that last season Drott was as good as he ever was and almost as good as one of the all-time greats – Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants.

He had a one-hit shutout going into the bottom of the eighth inning of a classic pitching duel with Marichal. He gave up a bloop double, struck out the next batter and got Marichal to fly out before another double gave the Giants their only run of the game. Drott struck out seven and allowed three hits. Marichal fanned five and pitched a no-hitter.

In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Anderson says the Cubs “used everybody wildly and people got hurt.”  He ticks off the names of other promising pitchers who injured their arms – Myron “Moe” Drabowsky, Glenn Hobbie and Don Elston. “Drott hurt his arm. I hurt mine. Dick Ellsworth came along a little bit later during that era and he hurt his arm. The Cubs had some good arms in their farm system that they destroyed after they got to the majors.”

Drott was 28 when he quit at the end of the 1964 season – the same age as Anderson.

It was not the kind of ending anybody expected in ’56 when Anderson and Drott were the “Sunshine Boys” and destined for stardom.

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The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ.

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