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Drungo LaRue Hazeood

Drungo LaRue Hazewood – and we always used all three names – was a baseball legend when I came to Charlotte in 1981. The name had a lot to do with it, of course. What a name. Say those three names together. Poetry. But it wasn’t only the name. It was also that he had the bearings of a star. Some people just have that.

Oh man, I can still see him now: 6-foot-3, chiseled in stone, long and violent right-handed swing that – when it connected – would make baseballs hurt. He could run too. He could do everything.

Well … OK … not everything. That long and violent swing missed baseballs. A lot.

But we were 13 and 14 years old, we didn’t come to Crockett Park – an old wooden ballpark on Magnolia Avenue — to scout players. We came to be amazed. And Drungo Larue Hazewood amazed us. He would hit these home runs that would not come down. And he would strike out four times in a row. He would steal bases with such ease you wondered how a catcher could EVER throw him out. And he would get thrown out by five steps. He would uncork these ridiculous throws from the outfield, some of them so perfect you wanted time to stop to celebrate, others so far off target you wondered exactly where he was aiming. He was every single thing a minor league baseball legend should be. We all wanted to be him.

And he was named: Drungo LaRue Hazewood.

Yes, of course, there was a more unsentimental baseball story too: Hazewood was Baltimore’s first round pick in 1977, just before the Dodgers took Bob Welch. A scout in Sacramento had watched him play and fell in love with the tools – he had all of them. Ah, there should be a baseball heaven for toolsy players who couldn’t hit well enough. Hazewood went to Bluefield at 17 and hit .184 and struck out 55 times in 51 games. In Miami — an A-ball team then — he hit .242 and struck out 119 times in 111 games.

Those numbers may not look out of place in today’s baseball, but the late 1970s — especially in the minor leagues — they were kind of shocking.

Then he came to Charlotte in 1979, and he hit .231 and struck out 137 times. But he also cracked some homers, stole some bases, and got himself an invite to Orioles spring training.

At spring training, Drungo LaRue hit .583 for the Orioles. Earl Weaver cut him. The Orioles were defending American League champions and had no place for him. “He was making the rest of us look bad with that average,” Weaver cracked. Hazewood went back to Charlotte and he hit 28 homers and stole 29 bases (and struck out 177 times). He made it to the big leagues as a September call-up.

In his first three games, he was a defensive replacement and did not get an at-bat.

In his fourth, he was used as a pinch-runner for Ken Singleton and he scored a run.

In his fifth game — the first of a double-header against Cleveland — he pinch-hit for Mark Belanger. It was his first big-league at-bat. He flew out to center field.

In his sixth game — the second game of that same doubleheader — he finally started. He came up in the second inning against Rick Waits. He struck out. In the fourth, he faced Waits again. He struck out. In the sixth, he came up again against Rick Waits and, yes, he struck out. Finally ninth inning, against Rick Waits, Drungo LaRue Hazewood struck out. Four at-bats. Four Ks.

And that’s where it ended. He never got another big league at-bat. He went to Rochester in 1981, the Class AAA team, and was hitting .094 and striking out like crazy when he was returned to Charlotte, where he was beloved. Drungo LaROOOOOOOOOOO Hazewood, they used to say at Crockett Park, and he hit .282/.419/.500 with 19 homers and 17 steals for the Charlotte O’s. I saw many of those. Oh did we love him.

My Charlotte O’s love probably hit its height in 1982, and Hazewood hit just .226 with 11 homers. But those homers seemed outsized. I still get psyched up hearing some of the names on that 1982 O’s team — Jesus Alfaro and John Stefero and Kenny Dixon. Eddie Hook, in my memory, did not have a great hook. Donald Bowman was this giant of a man who could poke long home runs. But Drungo LaRue was more memorable than any of them.

On Sunday, Drungo Hazewood died. He was just 53 years old — it’s hard to believe he was just seven years older than I was. He had always seemed SO MUCH older. Hazewood had apparently battled cancer for a long time. The story says that while some thought Hazewood was embittered by his baseball experience, his wife Lagette says he was not. “He wasn’t bitter about baseball,” she says. “He wasn’t angry that it didn’t work out. He had a dream to play major-league baseball, and he got his chance. He did his best.”

Also to a bunch of kids in Charlotte, Drungo LaRue Hazewood was bigger than life.

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12 Responses to Drungo LaRue Hazeood

  1. Craigsca says:

    Never saw Drungo play, but as a young child my friend and I used to play wiffleball in our pool, pretending to be the real players of that time (down to their batting stances). I’m still not sure how (this was in 1980), but as a lifetime Orioles fan, I was able to get a copy of the O’s 40 man roster. I remember distinctly a number of times bringing in Drungo Hazewood (who?!) to pinch hit against the Goose in the bottom of the 9th.

    It’s great to hear this guy’s story and have him made human. He never knew it, but back in 1980 he had a big 11 year old fan. He had a great name and he was an Oriole — that was more than enough for me.

  2. tarhoosier says:

    I never thought I would see a national writer cover this topic.
    I did (and do) live in Charlotte and walked to that ancient dilapidated park and saw La-RUUUUUUU in right field. He was going to be a right handed Eddie Murray.
    He never looked like he was trying that hard. His talent was apparent, his flaws, equally so. He peaked early and I am glad I had a chance to experience the aura of Drungo.

  3. daveyhead says:

    In the middle of all these 100 word essays about the (mostly) legendary athletes of our time, it was nice to have Joe’s unique slant on a guy I literally never heard of but, just on his name alone, I wished I had.

  4. Ian says:

    Very nice article Joe. You did him well.

  5. MCD says:

    I have vague memories of Hazewood as an AA opponent playing against Memphis, but all I remember is at the time, he struck me as an all or nothing (HR or K) type of guy. As it would always a road game for the O’s when I saw him, I don’t recall the LaRue middle name being used even a single time, whether over the PA or by other fans. I am certain the distinctive name was probably a large part of why I still recollect him playing.

  6. Bill Rollins says:

    I covered Drungo Larooo Hazzzzze-wood when he played AA ball in Charlotte. Check out his minor league stats on Baseball-Reference. In his 7 minor-league seasons, he hit .240 with 97 HR (79 in four seasons in Charlotte) and struck out once every 3.02 at-bats – but his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .358. As nice a guy as you’d ever want to meet.

    Glenn Rollins

  7. His wife Lagette is my first cousin. Thank you for this article and showing the world the greatness his family saw on a daily basis. RIP Drungo!

  8. Luis says:

    I can’t believe somebody mentioned Jesús Alfaro because I can’t believe any non-Venezuelan (or for that matter any Venezuelan younger that 40) knew about him. Jesús played 21 years in the Venezuelan Professiona Baseball League (a.k.a. some winter league) with two different teams, but mostly for my Leones del Caracas after coming from the Aguilas del Zulia in kind of a historical trade for Manny Trillo. Trillo was an established major league player by then and decided to hold out for the 1981 season. Aguilas then traded Jesús and his brother José to Leones. José was an established pitched in the league but the Leones were really after his little brother.

    Jesús was in a way the perfect winter league player, very good but not good enough to make it to the big leagues (sadly he never got called up to “the show”), which meant that he’d always play from day 1. See, most established major league players do not play the entire winter season, if they play at all. They’d report to their teams in November when the season is half way done. (There was a time up until the late 70’s when Winter League money was significant even for major league players; so players like Dave Parker, Pete Rose, Rod Carew, Luis Tiant would come to Venezuela to play in the winter.)

    But Jesús was a constant all those years which happen to be my elementary and high-school years. He was not a super star, not even down there, but the fact that you could pencil him on 3rd base for 13 years in which he played an average of 56 games (out of a total of 60 games per season) was a luxury not many teams had. Jesús is one of those blue collar players all winning teams need.

    Jesús’ playing time connects an era of the Leones that spans from Manny Trillo, Tony Armas, Bo Diaz, Andres Galarraga, Omar Vizquel, to finally Bobby Abreu. And he won a title with each one of them.

    This mention certainly triggered a lot of nice memories. Thanks.

  9. excellent post, great baseball name.

    drungo was ahead of his time and probably lost chances due to his high strikeout rates that would be a non-issue now.

  10. ojg says:

    I grew up with Drungo’s son, Aubrey LaRou Hazewood. None of the stories mention it, but Aubrey passed away last year on August 17th at 19 years old. Drungo provided a lot of support for his family and Aubrey’s small group of friends. It is heart wrenching that he has passed not even a year after losing his only son, Aubrey.

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