Though his major league career consisted of only five hitless at-bats for the 1980 Baltimore Orioles, Drungo Hazewood remains a legendary baseball cult figure, chiefly because of his unique moniker. Eyewitnesses to Hazewood’s feats of power and speed, however, wondered what might have been had the muscular outfielder learned to hit a curveball before leaving professional baseball for good at age 23.
On September 2, 1959, in Mobile, Alabama, Catherine (Beard) Hazewood went into labor. Since marrying in 1938, she and her husband Leonard had already welcomed eight children. One of their two sons, Aubrey, earned the right to name number nine. “My mother told the other children that the first to get to the hospital when I was born would get to name me,” Drungo LaRue Hazewood explained in 2010. “My older brother got there first and gave me the name of Drungo as he had misunderstood another name he had heard. But it stuck.”1 Their father worked at Mobile’s Brookley Air Force Base. When Drungo was 5, the family –completed by a younger brother– moved 2,300 miles northwest to Sacramento, California, where his father was a sand blaster at McClellan Air Force Base. Drungo described his mother as a housewife, and his best friend. “We are a Southern family and you always obeyed your mother,” he said.
When Drungo began playing baseball in Little League, a coach named Mr. Warren encouraged him. “But I never needed encouragement to get out and play because I loved doing it,” Hazewood said. Growing up in the tight-knit Oak Park community, he rooted for the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, though he didn’t have a particular favorite player. Later, he played Babe Ruth ball and suited up for the American Legion Post 61 club.2 Two Post 61 alums, Larry Bowa and Rowland Office, were established major-leaguers by the time Hazewood started high school in the mid-1970s.3
For the Sacramento High School Dragons, he was an outfielder who could also pitch or play first base.4 Hazewood was named the school’s athlete of the year during his 1976-77 senior season after earning basketball team MVP honors and All-American football recognition.5 His strong right arm made him an outstanding quarterback, but the two-way star was also a dominant defensive back. “Drungo’s one of the very best athletes we’ve seen around here. Ever,” insisted Dave Hotell, then the Dragons’ football coach.6
In February 1977, Hazewood sat on a stool in Hotell’s office after signing a letter of intent to attend the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. Six weeks earlier, the USC Trojans had finished the season ranked second in the country after knocking off Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Joining Hazewood as defensive backfield recruits were Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith, both of whom went on to 14-year, All-Pro NFL careers after college. “In that defensive back group, we probably did the best recruiting we ever have at those positions,” predicted USC coach John Robinson.7 Hazewood, 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, was the biggest of the trio. “Drungo doesn’t mind knocking people down. As a matter of fact, he rather enjoys it,” observed Robinson. “Drungo Hazewood could become famous around here.”8
When Major League Baseball held its annual amateur draft on June 7, however, the Baltimore Orioles used their first-round pick to make Hazewood the 19th overall selection. “I saw him at a special workout eight days ago in Sacramento and was really impressed with him,” explained Clyde Kluttz, Baltimore’s director of player development. “We consider him to be an outstanding prospect, and I’ll tell you why,” said scouting director Tom Giordano. “Hazewood has plus speed, plus power and a plus arm.”9
Orioles scout Bob Zuk insisted that Hazewood –at the same stage of development– was ahead of Montreal Expos’ stars Gary Carter and Ellis Valentine, two 1972 draftees out of California.10 Nevertheless, Hazewood was as surprised as anyone after the Orioles picked him so high and signed him with a $50,000 bonus 12 days later. “In high school I was considered a better football player than a baseball player,” he said. “But the money did it. Plus, I always wanted to play in the major leagues, and I didn’t know if that chance would come again.”11
“He is still a little crude in the field,” Giordano admitted. “We are not sure if we will go with him in the outfield or try him as a catcher.”12 As it happened, the outfield was the only place he played as a pro. When Hazewood joined Baltimore’s rookie-level affiliate in Bluefield, West Virginia, it was his first time back in the South since age 5. “Total culture shock,” was how he described it, recalling “a lot of n-word and hatred in West Virginia.” It didn’t help that he committed 10 errors in 42 games and batted just .184 before heading to the Florida Instructional League. “That year was a horrible experience. I just wasn’t happy with the game,” he said.13
Hazewood called USC’s assistant football coach, Paul Hackett, and lunched with him at a Peppermill restaurant as he considered switching back to the gridiron. “He wants me to be a father to him, to tell him, ‘This is what you should do’,” Hackett recalled. “I want him to make the decision.”14 Hazewood matriculated at the university but left after two weeks once the realities of being a student-athlete again hit home. “I never was high on school,” he explained.15 Promoted to the Single-A Florida State League in 1978, Hazewood’s batting average for the Miami Orioles was a lowly .191 on June 13.16 Despite striking out 119 times in 414 at bats to lead the circuit, he raised his average to .242 and improved his defense. He returned to the Florida Instructional League that fall.
In 1979, though he started slowly for the Charlotte O’s and led the Double-A Southern League in whiffs, the legend of Drungo Hazewood began taking shape. In the last 52 games, he batted .291 with 10 homers –including blasts in the final two contests, for a total of 21, then a club record.17 During that stretch, he became a first-time father when his girlfriend (who later became his wife) Venus Lagette McDowell gave birth to a daughter, Zakiya.18
When Hazewood batted at the O’s Crockett Park, the PA announcer introduced him using an elongated pronunciation of his full name to entertain fans. “There’s more to it than that,” the outfielder explained. “I was the first one to hit a home run over a jewelers’ sign and they gave me a diamond ring. From then on, the people called me ‘Diamond Drungo’ LaRue Hazewood.”19 Teammate Bobby Bonner recalled a mammoth Hazewood blast on the road that summer. “It was 375 to left center and there was a parking lot behind the fence and a 10-story apartment complex behind that, and he hit it over that complex,” Bonner said. “It was estimated at 600 feet. I stood in awe. Everybody did. You could hear a pin drop at the ballpark when he hit it.”20
In the Florida Instructional League that fall, Hazewood led the team with four homers and batted .260. The Orioles promoted him to their 40-man roster. In two seasons, he’d come a long way from his struggles at Bluefield. He insisted that Jimmy Williams, his manager at both Miami and Charlotte, was the “greatest thing that ever happened to me. Very encouraging, a good person.” Williams said, “Drungo will be a big league player someday. Of that I have no doubt. He’s a big guy who moves around like a 170-pounder and he has a big league arm now. His main problem is that he still chases the curveball.”21
After Hazewood ripped a two-run homer off Rangers’ reliever Adrian Devine in spring training 1980, first base coach Frank Robinson had to slow him down to prevent him from passing teammate Mark Corey on the bases. “I guess I was a little excited,” the rookie confessed.22 In a dozen exhibition at bats, he struck out five times, but hit safely every time he made contact. He was batting .583 when the Orioles sent him to their minor league camp. “I’ve never cut a guy hitting that high before,” said Baltimore manager Earl Weaver. “He was making the rest of us look bad with that average.”23
Back in Double-A, Hazewood hit cleanup for a Charlotte club that won the Southern League championship in 1980. He was involved in a memorable brawl that summer after a Memphis Chicks pitcher threw a fastball behind the head of O’s third baseman Cal Ripken Jr. following John Shelby’s tie-breaking homer.24 After the game, Hazewood wanted revenge against one of the Memphis players who’d taken a swing at him during the melee. “He threw on some street clothes –no shower– and then stopped in front of a display of two bats mounted on hooks on the wall. He grabbed one and snapped it like a toothpick,” recalled Ripken. “Drungo didn’t snap this bat across anything, and he didn’t hit it against anything. He just twisted and snapped it like a toothpick.”25 Order was restored before Hazewood could confront anyone, but it was a reminder of something Bonner (promoted to Rochester in 1980) had learned the previous year after a Charlotte player was intentionally drilled. “Drungo put two of their guys in the hospital,” the infielder recalled. “He was a very loyal teammate.”26 Charlotte’s traveling secretary, Marshall Hester, recalled a different side of the slugger. “Drungo was a sweet guy off the field. A man-child. Did an imitation of Babe Ruth by being able to eat two Whopper quarter-pounders with cheese, fries and a Coke before the game.”27
Hazewood was chosen to start for the Southern League All Stars against the Atlanta Braves that summer, but the game was rained out. In seven days, July 28-August 3, he knocked in 13 runs to earn player-of-the-week honors.28 “Best time of my life in baseball,” he recalled. “I loved playing and was doing well.” Meanwhile, his year-old club record for homers fell when Ripken hit number 22. “I knew Ripken would be famous,” Hazewood said. “He is a total iron man. He is an open book and good person. Good work ethic.” Drungo homered in three straight games in the first week of August to retake the team lead.29 His final total of 28 trailed only Nashville’s Steve Balboni in the Southern League that season.
After Charlotte swept Memphis in the playoffs, Hazewood was the club’s only player called up by the Orioles. He debuted as a pinch runner at Memorial Stadium on September 19 in the ninth inning of a tie game against the Blue Jays. He didn’t score, but second-place Baltimore prevailed in 12 to keep pace with the division-leading Yankees. He played three innings of right field and ran two more times over the next week. He scored his only major league run on a Pat Kelly single in Cleveland after racing from first-to-third on a hit by Eddie Murray.
Hazewood’s first at bat came on the final weekend of the season; he flied out to center as a pinch hitter against the Indians’ Bob Owchinko in the first game of a doubleheader. He made his lone big league start in the second game, striking out all four times against southpaw Rick Waits and catching the only ball hit his way. Nevertheless, he’d enjoyed a breakout year, which he completed in the Colombian Winter League with the Indios team managed by Minnie Mendoza.30
In a 1981 spring training game televised back to New York, Hazewood muscled a long leadoff homer off the Yankees’ Tom Underwood.31 In drills, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, and the 60 in 6.5. In addition to his 28 homers in 1980, he’d also stolen 29 bases, and admitted thinking about a 30-30 season. “I wanted it last year, but this year I’m just thinking 20-20,” he said.32 He knew he’d face tougher pitching in Triple-A, and he’d been whiffed a whopping 177 times by Southern League hurlers the previous year. “Don’t worry about the strikeouts,” Weaver told him when he sent the 21-year-old to minor league camp. “Just have the kind of year you had in Double-A with the homers and RBIs and you’re on your way.”33
Hazewood insisted he was ready upon joining the International League’s Rochester Red Wings. “I’m getting better with the curve,” he said. “Anyway, the strikeouts don’t really bother me. I’m a free swinger.”34 When he went deep against Columbus in one of the final exhibitions, the local paper described it as “a 500-foot job that even the Clippers admired.”35 On Opening Day, however, he struck out four times and lined into a double play. “I messed up my day good, but all I can do now is get better,” he said.36
That was true, but his terrible start extended to 18 games, in which he hit .094, struck out in more than a third of his at-bats and went deep only once. “Everybody’s been pulling for me, but I’ve been struggling,” he confessed. “I really started worrying about it…I just went back to my old way of swinging as hard as I can and hoping to hit that thing out of the park.”37 In right field one night, he hustled to make a diving catch along the foul line, but only after he’d already dropped another fly ball and run over his 170-pound teammate, second baseman Tom Eaton.38 “I thought Eaton would be dead,” remarked Ripken.39
On May 2, Hazewood learned that he was being demoted to Charlotte. “It’s a move they had to make,” he said. “They were playing me every day and I wasn’t doing anything.” Rochester manager Doc Edwards explained, “We feel what’s best for Drungo Hazewood is to go to Double-A where he can play and where he was successful before and get his feet on the ground.”40 At Charlotte, manager Mark Wiley noted that Hazewood was “still having problems with the away pitch. He’s taking a few too many pitches, mostly on the outside part, and we’re trying to make adjustments with him.” The outfielder earned Southern League All-Star honors again and really heated up beginning in late July, when he batted .375 over a four-week stretch.41 By season’s end, he was making more contact and he’d batted a career-best .282 with 19 homers and 80 walks in 340 at bats. His club record fell when teammate Willie Royster went deep 31 times, but the veteran catcher was the player Hazewood called his “all-time favorite” out of all his professional teammates. “Others were Shelby, Ripken, Bill] Swaggerty, and Ken] Dixon,” he said. “I eventually came to admire Eddie Murray for his play, and also because of his kindness toward me with the Orioles.”
Whatever slim chance Hazewood may have had to crack Baltimore’s roster in spring training 1982 disappeared when he left camp for more than a week due to ‘personal problems.’42 One report said there was an illness in his family.43 Another said a relative had died.44 When he returned, he discovered that not only wasn’t he going to the majors, there was no room for him at Rochester either. He would head to Charlotte for a fourth straight year. Mike Young, a 22-year-old switch-hitter, had vaulted ahead of him by blasting eight homers in spring training.45
Hazewood walked a career-high 98 times in 1982, but his batting average dropped to .226 and he produced only 11 home runs. “[I had a] slight injury but that season I was mad,” he said. “I felt them laughing at me when I got sent down.” After the season, he was dropped from Baltimore’s 40-man roster. In 1983, he made it back to Rochester and announced, “I ain’t leaving this time,” at a workout in the snow on the eve of Opening Day.46 When the season began, however, he found himself on the bench behind hot-hitting Rick Lisi.47 When Hazewood started for the first time in more than three weeks on May 10, he blasted a three-run homer against Syracuse and said, “I’d trade the home run for four singles, but I’m not about to give up the RBIs.”48
On the sunny Sunday afternoon of June 26, Hazewood was removed from a game after a fly hit his way dropped safely and bounced over the fence for a costly two-run double. Rochester manager Lance Nichols believed the ball would’ve been caught had the outfielder been wearing sunglasses. In explaining to reporters his decision to remove Hazewood, Nichols said, “It’s a message, not a punishment…don’t be too harsh on the man.”49 When the Red Wings needed to clear a roster spot nine days later, however, Hazewood –batting only .224 in 47 games—was demoted to the Single-A California League. “I think he’s gone from Rochester forever,” said co-GM Bob Goughan. “For all of his ability, he didn’t even look like he was involved with the club. He had his opportunity, but we feel he fell a bit short.”50
Hazewood still believed he could produce. “I got a chance to play but, to me, I have to be in the lineup every day,” he remarked.51 With the San Jose Bees, he batted .288 with a pair of homers in 21 games before he was released altogether.52 “I didn’t want to stop,” he recalled. “I loved baseball. [I] don’t recall any other teams interested in me, but I also wanted to get back to my mother who was dying of cancer.” His mother died a few days after Thanksgiving in 1984, and Hazewood largely fell off the radar of the baseball world. He didn’t appear at team reunions, and his signature became something of a holy grail to autograph-collecting completists as he didn’t respond to fan mail.53 Public records showed a 1985 marriage to Regina McNeal in Reno.
Finally, in 2010, autograph collector David Cameron visited Hazewood’s Sacramento home to conduct a paid signing. When word got out, the former major leaguer answered 22 questions that an Orioles fan had e-mailed to Cameron. He confirmed reports that he’d been driving a truck to make a living since leaving baseball. “I have tried a little coaching of football with kids but constant travel as a trucker won’t allow that to continue,” he said. As for his own children, Hazewood said, “I have seven; first six are girls now aged 30, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, and a 16-year-old son.” He already had six granddaughters and one grandson with two more grandkids on the way. At the time of the May 2010 interview, he was rehabilitating from total hip replacement surgery and expecting to remain out of work into early 2011. “I have been a trucker for many years and all the lifting has caused me injuries.”
In June 2011, Drungo was diagnosed with ampullary cancer. After major surgery to remove it two months later, he endured six months of chemotherapy. In August 2012, his youngest child and only son, Aubrey, died at 19. Shortly after that, his cancer came back and he went through another surgery and chemo treatment.54 Through it all, his wife Venus, retired from the California Youth Authority, remained with him. “I’ve known Drungo since he was 11 years old, and he was my best friend,” she said. “I knew him as a boy, as a teenager, as a man and in his declining years, so I know him well.”55
Though his major league career was short, Hazewood was the only player drafted by the Orioles in the first round between 1977 and 1986 who played even a single game for Baltimore.56 “He wasn’t bitter about baseball. He wasn’t angry that it didn’t work out,” his wife explained. “He had a dream to play major league baseball, and he got his chance. He did his best. He was disappointed, yes, but he was very happy becoming a husband, a father and then a grandfather.”57
Drungo LaRue Hazewood was 53 when he died at his south Sacramento home on July 30, 2013. “Family was his life, and there were grandkids crawling all over him the evening before he died,” Venus recalled. “He was a man of very simple wants and needs, and he died with a smile, and at peace with who he is.”58 On September 1, 2017, the Charlotte Knights inducted Hazewood into the club’s Round Table of Honor.59 His widow was on hand for the ceremony. The inscription on the plaque posted at BB&T Ballpark60 that night reads in part: “A larger-than-life figure, he was a man whose smile and baseball ability left a lasting impression on all who knew him.” Scott Christopher, a minor league teammate of both Hazewood and Cal Ripken, remarked, “Had he mastered the curveball, he could have been standing next to Cal in the Hall of Fame.”61
Special thanks to Drungo Hazewood (interview with David Cameron, May 21, 2010).
This biography was reviewed by Donna Halper and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Karen Holleran.
1 Unless otherwise cited, all Drungo Hazewood quotes are from an interview with David Cameron, May 21, 2010.
2 Drungo Hazewood, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, July 18, 1983.
3 Vincent F. Stanich, “Post 61 Nine Strong Again,” Sacramento Union, June 2, 1974.
4 “Changes Sports,” Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), June 21, 1977: 31.
5 1982 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 108.
6 Joe Davidson, “Hometown Report: Local Legend Hazewood Dies at 53,” Sacramento Bee, July 30, 2013: 1C
7 “Defense Key to USC Success,” Progress Bulletin (Pomona, California), April 29, 1977: 23.
8 Bud Tucker, “Try to Remember: Drungo Hazewood,” Santa Ana Register, May 1, 1977: 34.
9 Lou Hatter, “Orioles Take Two Sluggers First in Draft,” Baltimore Sun, June 8, 1977: C5.
10 Greg Boeck, “Orioles Landed a ‘Bigfoot’,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), June 19, 1977: 69.
11 “Missed it by That Much – The Drungo Hazewood Story,” http://www.80sbaseball.com/the-drungo-hazewood-story/ (last accessed November 24, 2020).
12 Hatter, “Orioles Take Two Sluggers First in Draft.”
13 Greg Boeck, “Drungo! Drungo! Drungo!” Democrat and Chronicle, March 29, 1981: 72.
14 Skip Bayless, “End of a Search,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 1978: F1.
15 Boeck, “Drungo! Drungo! Drungo!”
16 1982 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 108.
17 1980 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 109.
18 Boeck, “Drungo! Drungo! Drungo!”
19 Bob Maisel, “Top Accolade Surprises Weaver,” Baltimore Sun, March 19, 1981: C7.
20 Nick Diunte, “Former Orioles Phenom Drungo Hazewood Dies,” Baltimore Sun, July 30, 2013: D6.
21 Ken Nigro, “Oriole Farm Show Takes Upward Turn,” The Sporting News, January 26, 1980: 54.
22 Ken Nigro, “Birds Win, 5-4, on 3 Late HRs,” Baltimore Sun, March 12, 1980: C7.
23 “Morning Briefing,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1980: D2.
24 “A Real Brawl Game,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1980: 41.
25 Cal Ripken, Jr., The Only Way I Know (Viking Penguin, New York, 1997): 60.
26 Diunte, “Former Orioles Phenom Drungo Hazewood Dies.”
27 “Interview with Marshall Hester: November 2006,” https://www.ripkenintheminors.com/intmarshallhester.htm (last accessed November 25, 2020).
28 1981 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 117.
29 “Skinner Sparks Suns,” The Sporting News, August 30, 1980: 44.
30 1982 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 108.
31 “Orioles Nip Yankees, Hazewood Hits Homer,” Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, March 21, 1981: C4.
32 Boeck, “Drungo! Drungo! Drungo!”
35 Greg Boeck, “‘New’ Dallas Ready to Be Wings’ Leader,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 31, 1981: 29.
36 Greg Boeck, “Memories of Silver’s Opener,” Democrat and Chronicle, April 11, 1981: 31.
37 Greg Boeck, “Wings,” Democrat and Chronicle, April 14, 1981: 31.
38 “Wings vs. Braves,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 1, 1981: 39.
39 Greg Boeck, “Wings Get to Know Tom Eaton,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 3, 1981: 77.
40 John Kolomic, “Hazewood to Charlotte as Wings Trim Roster,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 3, 1981: 82.
41 1982 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 108.
42 Greg Boeck, “Figure Wings for 5th Place in 82 Season,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 28, 1982: 69.
43 “Red Wings Rained Out,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 30, 1982: 27.
44 Greg Boeck, “Bad News Can Cloud Sunny Days,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 22, 1982: 21.
45 “The 1982 Rochester Red Wings,” Democrat and Chronicle, April 11, 1982: 70.
46 Greg Boeck, “Red Wings Looking Good for Pennant,” Democrat and Chronicle, April 20, 1983: 35.
47 Frank Bilovsky, “Marriage Between O’s, Hazewood Ends After 7 Years,” Democrat and Chronicle, July 6, 1983: 32.
48 Frank Bilovsky, “Hazewood HR Batters Chiefs,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 11, 1983: 33.
49 Frank Bilovsky, “Busines as Usual for Red Wings as they Lose Again to Chiefs, 6-4,” Democrat and Chronicle, June 27, 1983: 3D.
50 Bilovsky, “Marriage Between O’s, Hazewood Ends After 7 Years,”
52 Ray Parrillo, “Notes,” Baltimore Sun, August 11, 1983: D1.
53 Diunte, “Former Orioles Phenom Drungo Hazewood Dies.”
55 Davidson, “Hometown Report: Local Legend Hazewood Dies at 53.”
57 Davidson, “Hometown Report: Local Legend Hazewood Dies at 53.”
59 Steve Lyttle, “Knights to Honor Former Charlotte O’s Slugger Drungo Hazewood,” https://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/other-sports/article170534467.html (last accessed November 26, 2020).
60 After the 2019 season, the ballpark’s name was changed to Truist Field.
61 Diunte, “Former Orioles Phenom Drungo Hazewood Dies.”