Few players in baseball history have jumped directly to the major leagues without ever playing a game in the minors. Many of these were the Bonus Babies in the years before the amateur draft was established in 1965. Before that, Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Frankie Frisch, Mel Ott, and George Sisler went directly from their high school or college teams to the big leagues. Another such player, unfamiliar to most fans, was right-handed pitcher Ed Hanyzewski.
For a short time during World War II, Hanyzewski was one of the top pitching prospects in the Chicago Cubs organization. The big-league club thought so much of him that he made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster in 1942, just a few months after being signed off the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Veteran Cubs pitcher Claude Passeau called him “the best young pitching prospect I ever saw.”1 Hanyzewski had an excellent season as a reliever and spot starter in 1943, posting a winning record for a second-division club. But the next year he hurt his arm, and never fully recovered. Two years later Hanyzewski, not yet 27 years old, was done with professional baseball.
Edward Michael Hanyzewski was born on September 18, 1920, in Union Mills, Indiana, a small community in the northwestern part of the state halfway between Gary and South Bend. His parents were Louis and Anna Hanyzewski, Polish immigrants. He had an older brother, Julius, and three younger sisters; Lucy, Anna, and Helen. By the time of the 1930 US Census, the family had moved to South Bend, and in the 1940 Census Ed's father, Louis, was listed as working as a laborer in the farm implements industry.
Hanyzewski had a very difficult childhood. His mother, Anna, died when he was young, and his father, who drank heavily, beat him often. He remembered many nights sleeping under the front porch, and times when the only food he had was what he could find in neighbors’ vegetable gardens. At an early age he vowed that if he ever married and had children, he would always make sure there was food on the table. These experiences shaped Hanyzewski’s character and helped provide the determination needed to help him succeed as a major-league pitcher, and in other aspects of his life after his baseball career was over.
Despite the obstacles, Ed became an accomplished all-around athlete at Washington High School in South Bend. He was an excellent basketball player and a star left end on the state championship football team. But baseball was his best sport. He led his high-school team to three consecutive conference championships, and American Legion Post 357 to the national championship game in 1941.
In one of his last high-school games, the 30th consecutive victory for Washington High School, Hanyzewski threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Kalamazoo, Michigan, striking out 17 of the 21 batters he faced.2
While still a teenager, Hanyzewski became a local sandlot legend, at one point reportedly fanning 42 batters in three games. Summers he got a job at the local Studebaker automobile manufacturing plant, and pitched on the company baseball team. The young fireballer first gained notoriety when he fanned nine Chicago White Sox batters in an exhibition game during the summer of 1939. He graduated from high school in 1940 and enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where he was the star of the freshman team. Ed married Lucille Paprocki on November 22, 1940.
On June 26, 1941, the summer after Hanyzewski’s freshman year at Notre Dame, the Chicago Cubs scheduled an exhibition game against the Studebaker Athletics at Lippincott Park in South Bend. An estimated 7,500 fans saw the “Big Pole” strike out 14 Cubs, including Swish Nicholson three times, in a 2-0 loss. He lost the game only because his amateur teammates could not score against Cubs starter Dizzy Dean.3
Cubs manager Jimmie Wilson couldn’t believe scouts had missed someone with Hanyzewski’s talent and that he hadn’t already been signed. After the game Wilson asked Hanyzewski if he had any interest in pursuing professional ball. Ed replied that he did not, and that he planned to return to college. Before leaving, Wilson got him to promise that if he changed his mind, he would contact Wilson first. About a month later, Hanyzewski wrote Wilson and said he had decided he would like to try professional baseball.
Chicago general manager Jimmy Gallagher invited Hanyzewski in for a tryout and he was signed by scout Tony Lucadello, with the understanding that he would be farmed to the Cubs’ minor-league team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Texas League. In the spring of 1942 the Cubs decided to take Hanyzewski along to their spring-training base at Catalina Island, California “just for the ride.”
Two dazzling performances that spring caught the eye of Wilson. Hanyzewski allowed San Diego one hit in three innings in a B-squad game, and clinched his spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster by holding the Philadelphia Athletics to a single hit in five innings in his next exhibition outing. Hanyzewski pitched so well, and showed such poise, that the club had no choice but to add him to the pitching staff.
Hanyzewski made his major-league debut on May 12, 1942, against the Braves in Boston. He entered the game as a relief pitcher, and although he surrendered four earned runs in four innings, he was credited with the 9-8 Chicago win. He helped his own cause with a two-run single. Over the next two months Hanyzewski was used sparingly, and on July 12 was optioned to Milwaukee of the American Association, the Cubs’ top farm club. His first minor-league start was a one-hit victory over the Minneapolis Millers.4 Nine days later Hanysewski struck out 15 against Columbus. He had a 7-2 record with the Brewers and was called back up by Chicago in September. He got his first major-league start on the 22nd, and pitched eight strong innings in a 4-1 loss to the Reds.
In an era when offseason conditioning was almost unheard of, the determined Hanyzewski worked out on his own at the Notre Dame field house for three months before the start of spring training in 1943. That spring also marked the birth of his first son, Edward Jr., in March. He arrived in camp in great shape and impressed manager Jimmie Wilson, who said, “Just look at that kid. He’s got so much stuff that all those guys can see is the smoke.”5 The big, strong (6-feet-1, 200 pounds) Hanyzewski always had a great fastball and a sharp curve, but had now developed an effective change of pace.That, and the experience gained at Milwaukee the previous season, enabled him to be counted on as a key member of a potentially strong Cubs pitching staff that included Lon Warneke, Paul Derringer, and Claude Passeau.
Hanyzewski opened the 1943 season pitching out of the bullpen but also got two starts. After two rough relief outings in mid May, he was optioned back to Milwaukee to make room on the 25-man roster when holdout outfielder Lou Novikoff signed. Hanyzewski went 5-1 in six starts for the Brewers and was recalled by the Cubs in late June. He was given a start on July 31 against the Phillies and threw a complete-game victory. He was placed in the starting rotation for the rest of the season and pitched very well. His season record of 8 wins and 7 losses would have been even better had he received better offensive and defensive support from his teammates. Of the 47 National League pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched, Hanyzewski’s 2.56 earned-run average was ninth best.
The name Hanyzewski (pronounced “Hanna-zeski”) was as difficult to fit into box scores as it was to pronounce. Baseball fans are familiar with the way long surnames are sometimes abbreviated in box scores to meet space restrictions. Hanyzewski’s name was often shortened, usually just as “H’ski, p” in box scores. Ed’s cousin Don (their fathers were brothers), who pitched briefly for the White Sox across town (1942-44), solved the problem by changing his last name from Hanyzewski to Hanski. When Dizzy Dean was broadcasting for the Cardinals, Hanyzewski’s name gave him fits. He remarked, as only Dean could, “I like to broke my jaw tryin’ to pronounce that one. But, I said his name by just holdin’ my nose and sneezin’.”6
In December 1943 Hanyzewski was ordered to report to Indianapolis for induction into the US Army. His physical revealed a knee injury sustained while playing high-school football, and he was rejected and classified 4-F. Two years later, in 1945, Hanyzewski was ordered to report a second time, but was rejected again. He was always disappointed he was unable to serve in the armed forces when so many of his friends did.
In 1944 the Cubs won their opener but then lost 13 straight games. Wilson was replaced as manager by Charlie Grimm and he gave Hanyzewski a starting assignment against Philadelphia on May 11. With a four-leaf clover given him by Grimm in his cap, Hanyzewski responded with a complete game, 5-3 win to end the losing streak. He seemed poised for another strong season, but a week later he felt pain in his right elbow after breaking off a curveball against the Giants, and began to experience swelling. He missed two months of action and didn’t return to the Cubs until late July. This would be the start of arm problems that prematurely ended Hanyzewski’s career.
On August 23, 1944, against the Cardinals in St. Louis, Hanyzewski entered the game with two out in the sixth inning. A sportswriter present that day7 claimed the “pop” in Hanyzewski’s elbow could be heard in the press box. He faced three batters and surrendered a hit, walk, and hit batsman before leaving the game. This would be his last appearance that season.
Ed and Lucille’s second son, Robert, was born early in 1945. When Hanyzewski reported to spring training, both he and Cubs management thought his arm had healed. But soon the soreness returned, and he got into only two games that year as his teammates won the National League pennant. He was left off the Cubs’ World Series roster. No one was more disappointed than Hanyzewski, who said, “I’ve been of little help to the Cubs for a couple years. My arm wasn’t right.”8 On January 10, 1946, he underwent surgery to remove bone chips and scar tissue in his elbow. The surgeon pronounced the procedure a success and by late February Hanyzewski had begun throwing and reported that his arm felt great.
Hanyzewski signed his 1946 contract with the Cubs and reported to spring training. Early reports were positive and he pitched effectively during the exhibition schedule. An early April report from spring training said the team was “jubilant over the apparent comeback, and … [his arm] showed full effectiveness after last winter’s operation.”9 He opened the season on the Cubs’ major-league roster, but after pitching in one game he was optioned to Nashville in the Southern Association. One report said he had “failed to round into shape,” while another said that the Cubs assured Nashville management Hanyzewski was “ready to go now.” Hanyzewski himself said he was confident he would be fine once the weather warmed up.
During Hanyzewski’s earlier minor-league stints in Milwaukee, he dominated American Association batters. In Nashville he tried to regain his former speed, but with his arm still not healthy, he was having trouble getting minor-league hitters out. He went 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA in 15 games and 3-210 with Tulsa in the Texas League later in the 1946 season. He received a September call-up but was ineffective in two games for Chicago. These turned out to be Hanyzewski’s last appearances in the major leagues.
Hanyzewski went to spring training with the Cubs in 1947, but was released outright to Oakland of the Pacific Coast League on March 25. He didn’t report, instead returning to South Bend because his son was ill. On March 28 the Cubs sold Hanyzewski to the Cleveland organization and he briefly attended the Indians’ spring-training camp before being released on May 14. A five-year major-league record of 12-13 with a 3.30 ERA in just 58 games does not reflect the potential Hanyzewski once had and what he might have accomplished had he not been injured.
Ed returned to South Bend and joined the police department, but continued to play semipro ball. Later in the summer of 1947, he pitched for a team in nearby Michigan City, Indiana, and the next year was back with the Studebakers. In 1949 he pitched briefly for Benton Harbor, Michigan, before his arm finally gave out and he retired from baseball. He and his family continued to live in South Bend and he retired, with the rank of captain, from the police department in 1967 after 20 years on the force. In his spare time he volunteered with youth baseball programs in town and refereed college football games.
Hanyzewski then worked in security for the South Bend school system and as a ticket manager at Clay High School. He was known as a kind, warm-hearted person, especially with youngsters. Stories were told of times when a youth showed up at the high-school baseball field without enough money for a ticket and Ed would wink and look the other way. Just a few weeks before his death, he was busy making arrangements to transport a stray dog no one wanted to his home in South Bend.
Both of Hanyzewski’s sons were excellent athletes as well. His younger son, Robert, played one year of professional baseball, splitting the 1964 season between the New York Yankees’ Sarasota Rookie League team and Miami of the Florida State League in the Phillies chain. Ed Jr., his older son, was recruited to play football and baseball by North Dakota State University in Fargo in the early 1960s. He married a woman from North Dakota he met in college and they settled in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, a lake resort area a short distance southeast of Fargo.
In the 1950s Hanyzewski built a lake cabin in western Minnesota that he and his family enjoyed during the summers. After he retired from the South Bend police force, he and his wife began spending more time at the cabin, which was near their oldest son and his wife. Shortly after his wife died in May of 1980, Ed retired from his security position and moved to the Pelican Rapids area permanently. He enjoyed retirement and he and his son helped coach the local high-school baseball, and girls’ softball teams.11
Hanyzewski died of an aortic aneurism during surgery on October 8, 1991, at Dakota Hospital in Fargo at the age of 71. His body was returned to South Bend, and a funeral service was held at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church there. Ed was buried next to Lucille, his wife of 39 years, in St. Joseph Cemetery in South Bend. He was survived by his sons, Edward Jr. and Robert; a daughter, Janet; and his sister, Anna. He was posthumously inducted into the Washington High School Hall of Fame12 and later an Ed Hanyzewski Award was established at Clay High School.
Phone and email correspondence between the author and Ed’s son, Robert Hanyzewski.
Ed Hanyzewski obituary, Fargo (North Dakota) Forum, October 11, 1991, and South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, October 10, 1991.
Clippings from Hanyzewski’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.
Billington, Charles N., Wrigley Field’s Last World Series: The Wartime Chicago Cubs and the Pennant of 1945 (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1945).
Winegardner, Mark, Prophet of the Sandlots: Journeys With a Major League Scou” (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990).
Gagnon, Cappy, Notre Dame Baseball Greats: From Anson to Yaz (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2004), 96-98.
1Pittsburgh Press, April 15, 1942.
2 Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1940.
4Kansas City Star, July 19, 1942.
5 Baton Rouge State Times, March 30, 1943.
7 According to Hanyzewski’s son, a sportswriter who followed his career, and attended his funeral, was present in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis the day he injured his elbow.
8 Milwaukee Journal, May 7, 1946.
9 Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1946.
10 Baseball-reference erroneously credits Hanyzewski with an 8-2 won-lost record with Tulsa in 1946. Texas League statistics published in The Sporting News, November 6, 1946, list his record as 3-2.
11 Fergus Falls (Minnesota) Journal, January 10, 2012.
12 South Bend Tribune, January 9, 1999.