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Drago cherishes Minor League feat

Vetaran pitched opener in history's only doubleheader no-hitters
Dick Drago (bottom row, second from the left) went on to play for the Toledo Mud Hens in 1968. (Toledo Mud Hens)
November 5, 2019

Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, will attempt to fill that gap

Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our new feature, "Cracked Bats."
Three balls sit on the desk in the office of Dick Drago's Tampa home.

One commemorates the first of his 108 Major League victories accumulated over the course of a 13-year career. The second marks his first big-league shutout, which he also notched as a rookie with Kansas City in 1969.
Surprisingly, the third ball wasn't thrown in the World Series. It wasn't used to strike out Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew or any of the other great sluggers from Drago's era. Heck, it wasn't even used in a Major League game.
Rather, that last ball on Drago's desk represents a piece of baseball history that most folks outside Greensboro, N.C., have never heard about. Drago used the ball on May 15, 1966, while pitching for Rocky Mount, a long-forgotten team in the Carolina League.
He tossed a no-hitter in the opening game of a doubleheader against Greensboro that day, then watched from the bench at Memorial Stadium as roommate Darrell Clark duplicated the feat in the nightcap, marking what many believe to be the only time in history that a professional team tossed no-hitters in both ends of a twinbill.
Both games were seven-inning affairs, with the Leafs posting 5-0 and 2-0 victories, respectively. While Rocky Mount went on to win the league title later that summer -- Drago finished with a 15-9 record and 1.79 ERA -- it was that mid-May afternoon that stands out most for Drago and some of his teammates.
"That was the only no-hitter I ever threw, except for maybe Little League," Drago recalled recently. "I'm looking at the game ball on my desk now. I have written on it, 'May 15, 1966, Carolina League, two walks, four strikeouts.' I can still read the Rawlings official Carolina League on it. It's a little reddish-brown, like the dirt there, but it hasn't faded."
Neither has the memory. Drago clearly was the ace of the Rocky Mount staff, earning his fifth victory of the season. He came within four outs of a perfect game, the only blemishes on his day coming when he walked a batter in the sixth and seventh innings. A double play in the seventh preserved the victory and Drago's half of the history-making effort.
The Leafs broke the game open with a three-run sixth, giving Drago some room to work as he pitched the final two frames.
"Darrell and I were roommates on the road that year," he said. "And I remember going into the clubhouse in between games and Darrell saying to me that now he had to go out and pitch one, too. I don't think that's ever happened again."
Clark went out and matched Drago's effort, surprising considering he was not nearly the prospect Drago was. Clark never reached the Major Leagues and was out of professional baseball a few years later. But for those seven innings, he certainly proved his mettle, keeping the G-Yankees off-balance, despite issuing five walks.
Like Drago, Clark used the double play to his advantage, inducing a twin-killing in the fourth after walking a pair. He walked two more in the sixth but left both stranded, setting the stage for Al Otto's game-ending fly ball to left field in the seventh.
Bill Burbach, who went on to pitch for the Yankees, opposed Clark in the nightcap and was almost as effective, holding the Leafs scoreless through six innings. But he made a wild pickoff throw in the seventh that led to a run before Jim Leyland, who managed the Tigers to the World Series this season, executed a successful suicide squeeze to bring in an insurance run.
Burbach didn't remember much about that game when contacted by, but Leyland had no problems recalling the day. He was behind the plate in the second game.
"I can remember that suicide squeeze because I couldn't hit," Leyland said. "And I remember Darrell Clark. He wasn't a sure-fire prospect, but he was a good, tough competitor. He had real thick glasses, sometimes they were almost like Coke bottle glasses. His eyesight wasn't real good. He squinted a lot and had a lot of trouble picking up the signs. I'm not sure he wore his glasses when he pitched, but he was a good guy.
"The thing I remember, too, is that the next day we played them again and I think we had the no-hitter for another four or five innings. Don't hold me to that because I'm not really sure, but that's kind of what I remember."
What made the second game even more interesting was the fact that Greensboro manager Gary Blaylock got tossed in the second inning. Afterwards, he was clearly frustrated when speaking with Tom Northington of the Greensboro Daily News.
"That Drago has been tough on us," Blaylock told the paper. "He also shut us out down there [at Rocky Mount], but we'll get started one of these days and the hits will begin to fall again. We hit the ball good in the two games before this, but we sure didn't do much today."
Both Drago and Leyland grew up near Detroit, so they were aware of one another before they were teammates at Rocky Mount. Drago is a Toledo native, while Leyland hails from Perrysburg, a Toledo suburb. Their careers took different paths shortly after their time in the Carolina League -- Drago going on to star in the Major Leagues, with Leyland making a name for himself as a manager -- but for one afternoon, they were kings of the baseball world.
"It was unbelievable," Leyland said. "It was a big thrill, the only time I think it's ever been done in baseball history. It was talked about for some time and it's in the baseball record books, too. I keep telling people I'm in the book as a player and they laugh, saying yeah, yeah. But I was involved in the only no-hit doubleheader game."

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for