Cooperstown Confidential: Remembering Johnny Logan and Drungo Hazewood

He wasn’t a Hall of Famer and he wasn’t a household name to fans under the age of 45, but he was just about the greatest shortstop the Braves’ franchise has had over the past 60 years. Johnny Logan, who died earlier this month at the age of 86, was one of the lynchpins to those great Milwaukee Braves teams of the late 1950s.

Logan emerged from Endicott, located in New York’s central southern tier, hardly an ideal place for developing ballplayers, what with the long winters and the short springs. Signed by the Boston Braves in 1947, Logan would spend parts of five long seasons in the minor leagues before finally earning the ultimate promotion in 1951. He struggled during a 62-game trial, as he shared time with Negro Leagues veteran Bus Clarkson, but Logan built on the experience and showed massive improvement his second time around in 1952.

Logan credited former Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti with providing him some much needed advice on playing the position. In response to a letter that Logan sent him, Crosetti wrote him back, telling him to “play every ball hit to you as though it is going to take that last bad hop.” Crosetti also told him to forget about learning the supposed fundamental way to turn double play and instead “make the double play the way that feels natural to you.”

In 1953, Logan moved with the franchise to Milwaukee and played in the team’s first home game at County Stadium. Just as significantly, Logan become one of the National League’s top shortstops that summer, excelling both at the bat and in the field.

Logan enjoyed his prime years from 1953 to 1959, when he anchored the middle infield for the Braves. Milwaukee did not have particularly strong second basemen during those years, at least not until Red Schoendienst made his arrival, so Logan’s steady presence solidified the Braves up the middle at a time when they badly needed the help. Though not blessed with a strong arm or a particularly athletic body, Logan had very quick hands and feet, which made him especially adept at turning the double play. I’ve heard some observers liken Logan to current Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, and that sounds like a particularly good comparison to me. That’s no insult, either. Hardy is a fine, underrated player, and that accurately describes Logan during the prime of his career.

A fiery, hard-nosed player, Logan did a lot of the grunt work for the Braves. He batted second for a good portion of his career, setting the table for the team’s stars, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. A capable right-handed hitter, Logan frequently reached double figures in home runs and walked almost as much as he struck out. He consistently put up OPS numbers in the .700 to .800 range, very good figures for middle infielders of the day. National League writers certainly recognized Logan, giving him some consideration for league MVP every year from 1952 to 1957.

In many ways, he was the glue to those Braves teams that won National League pennants in 1957 and ‘58. Aaron and Mathews often carried the team, but it was second-tier talents like Logan, Del Crandall, and Bill Bruton who also did their fare share as supporting actors, deepening the Braves’ lineup and bolstering the team at key defensive positions.

As good as Logan in terms of numbers and winning, there was more to his game than simply the tangibles. Pound for pound, he was as tough as any player of his era. One time the Braves were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had a young Don Drysdale on the mound. After Drysdale hit Logan with a pitch that landed on the small of his back, the shortstop’s patience ran thin. After taking his place at first base, Logan began to jaw at Drysdale and made his way toward the pitcher’s mound. Although Drysdale was much taller and larger, the five-foot, 11-inch Logan did not give in. He took a swing, landing a punch in Drysdale’s midsection. Gil Hodges then grabbed Logan, preventing him from making further contact with his intended target, but the equally pugnacious Mathews finished the job, hitting Drysdale with a flurry of fists. As a tag team, Logan and Mathews were difficult to match.

According to legend, Logan never lost a fight during his career in baseball. It was also said that he never backed away from a single fight, either. He certainly looked the part of a tough guy, with a lantern jaw and facial features that would have made him a proud member of the Bowery Boys.

Another incident later in his career typified his no-nonsense attitude toward the opposition. During the 1959 season, Dodgers baserunner Norm Larker charged into Logan as he finished off a double play ground ball. Larker delivered a rolling block, which was legal at the time, but which also came late in the play. “It was unnecessary, entirely unnecessary. I had the play. I got the ball away,” Logan told sportswriter Dick Young. “Then he hit me, right here [in the chest] with his elbow.”

The play knocked Logan from the game, for which he refused to forgive Larker. “I have a memory like an elephant,” Logan told Young. “A big elephant.”

Not only could Logan provide the colorful quote. He also had a colorful nickname, which he acquired while growing up in Endicott. Born to a Croatian mother and a Russian father, Logan was unusually active as a child. His parents would try to calm him by saying, “Yah-shoo,” a Russian-Croatian saying that means “be quiet.” When one of Logan’s Endicott neighbors heard the word, he started calling Logan “Yatcha.” The nickname stuck for the rest of his life.

After he wound down his playing career with the Pirates, Logan returned to Milwaukee to live out his retirement years. He became a popular member of the community, renowned for his lively storytelling and his salty manner of speech. Logan could throw expletives with the best of them, but he did it in a way that made him sound funny but not angry.

Logan put down strong roots in Milwaukee, helping to establish the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association and working for the Brewers as a scout. Even after retiring, he frequently attended games at Miller Park. He often spoke to Brewers players and staff, entertaining them with his stories and his occasional malapropisms, which only accentuated his sense of humor.

Back in June, the Brewers honored Logan by inviting him to Miller Park and officially inducting him in their Walk of Fame. It was a pretty nice honor for a man who never actually played for the Brewers’ franchise. But it tells us just how much Johnny Logan meant to the tight-knit community of Milwaukee.

***

Somewhat lost amid the deaths of George Scott and Frank Castillo in late July was the passing of another ballplayer. His name was Drungo Larue Hazewood, or Drungo Hazewood for short. Just 53 years old, he died of ampullary cancer, two years after being diagnosed. (Ampullary cancer, which develops from the common bile duct, is the same cancer that recently claimed the life of actress Karen Black.)

I think it’s safe to say that Drungo Hazewood had one of the most unusual names in baseball history, but he was far more than that. As a high school player in Sacramento, he became a local legend, renowned for his incredible strength and his long home runs. And then, as a minor leaguer in the Orioles’ farm system, he put up some impressive numbers, including a couple of seasons in which he came close to becoming a 30/30 player.

Hazewood’s talents left his teammates, including shortstop Bob Bonner, in awe. “The only other player I can come close to describing his physicality probably was Bo Jackson,” said Bonner in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. “He had just so much natural talent, it was unbelievable.”

More than all of his talents, which included a cannon like throwing arm, his raw power stood out as supreme, reminding some of Mickey Mantle. While playing with minor league Charlotte, Hazewood was ejected from a game. The brawl and the ejection left him furious. After putting on his street clothes, he approached a wall display that featured two bats. “He grabbed one and snapped it like a toothpick,” said Cal Ripken, Jr., who played with Drungo in Charlotte. Hazewood did not break the bat over his thigh; he simply used his arms and hands. “He just twisted and snapped it like a toothpick.”

With so much raw ability, the question becomes inevitable: why didn’t Hazewood have a more substantial major league career? Unfortunately, Hazewood found himself in the wrong organization, one brimming with talent in the majors and at Triple-A.

When Hazewood went to spring training in 1980, he put up a tremendous bid to make the defending American League champions. He was hitting .583 during the Grapefruit League season when he was informed that he was being sent back to Triple-A. Orioles manager Earl Weaver tried to add some levity to the situation by telling writers, “I’ve never cut a guy hitting that high before. But he was making the rest of us look bad with that average.”

Hazewood could have sulked, especially when the Orioles sent him all the way down to Double-A Charlotte, but he refused to let down. He went back to Charlotte, put up 28 home runs and 29 stolen bases, and worked his way to the major leagues, earning a late-season promotion to Baltimore. He accrued a handful of at-bats, failing to register a hit, and then never received another chance.

I wonder if a guy like Hazewood would have gotten another stab at the major leagues if he had played today, when there are four additional teams for a total of 30 major league clubs. That’s anywhere from 100 to 160 additional jobs, depending on how many moves any one team makes in a season. Based purely on the numbers, I have to wonder if Hazewood would have profited from that.

But even if Hazewood wouldn’t have made it long-term in today’s game, he at least did something that most of us dream of: and that’s play in a major league game. As a bonus, he played with Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer, and played for a managerial legend like Weaver. He also did some good things out of baseball, like help raise his large family of seven children.

To paraphrase Bill Murray from Caddyshack: “So Drungo Larue Hazewood had all of that going for him… which is nice.”

Indeed, playing in the major leagues and being a good father must be nice. You did well, Drungo.

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Comments

  1. John C said...

    There’s no secret to Drungo Hazewood’s inability to make it to the major leagues and stick there. He had incredible power, but he couldn’t hit breaking pitches. After a while, even minor-league pitchers figured that out, and he stopped hitting even in the minors. He was a great prospect, but his development stunted because of a serious weakness, and he was out of the game at 23.

    If he played today, he’d probably have had longer to figure things out, because he was also a strong OBP guy, and some organization like Oakland or Boston would have stashed him in AAA on the off chance he’d learn to hit a curve well enough to be of value. If he’d developed into a big-leaguer, he would have been a lot like Rob Deer or Adam Dunn.

  2. AndrewJ said...

    Logan emerged from Endicott, located in New York’s central southern tier, hardly an ideal place for developing ballplayers, what with the long winters and the short springs.

    Though it should be noted that the baseball coach at rival Binghamton North High during Logan’s adolescence was Eddie Sawyer, who only a few years later would manage the 1950 Phillies.

  3. Joe Distelheim said...

    I have fond memories of watching Hazewood play with the Charlotte O’s, as they were known.  He was a fan favorite; when he came to the plate, the P.A. announcer could rev up a sleepy crowd by announcing Drungo LARUUUUUE Hazewood.

  4. Robert Haymond said...

    Thanks, Bruce, on this little known former ballplayer, Drungo Hazewood, reminding us (fans) how incredibly difficult it is just to play professional ball, even one game; it’s something we, the fans, often overlook.  And much appreciation to John C. for further explaining why Drungo never stuck (in the major leagues).

  5. Ballmer Bruce said...

    Thank you for the nice remembrance of Drungo.  Never saw him play but sounds like a good guy.  RIP Drungo.

  6. cooldrive said...

    Those Braves’ teams in the mid to late ‘50s had all sorts of tough guys.  Logan, Mathews and Bob Buhl.  I think Buhl and Mathews looked for fights
        The other team of that era who enjoyed an occasional rumble was the Redlegs.  Frank Robinson, Johnny Temple and Don Hoak (a professional boxer) were just as tough.

  7. Johnny Cabrera said...

    Our family went to Florida on vacation during spring break of 1981. We went to an Orioles versus Yankees spring training game in Ft. Lauderdale. Dave Winfield was taking batting practice before the game. The Yankees had just signed him with much fanfare the previous winter. It was Drungo Hazewood who hit a mammoth home run during that game in front of a standing room only crowd. I’ll never forget that.

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