All-’80s Baseball Hoops Team

It’s NCAA Basketball tournament time and that can mean only one thing: Baseball!

Not only were the ‘80s a great decade for baseball, you could make a pretty solid hoops team from guys who played baseball in the 1980s. Here’s our team:

Point Guard: Tony Gwynn

Not only was Tony Gwynn one of the top hitters in baseball history, he was also a pretty good hoopster. Tony actually skipped the baseball season in his freshman year at San Diego State to focus on basketball. During his time at SDSU he set the single game, single season and career assist record and in addition to being drafted by the Padres, he was also selected by the San Diego Clippers in the NBA Draft.

Shooting Guard: Danny Ainge

This is a pretty easy selection. Danny didn’t hit much in his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he did OK once he switched to basketball full-time. He finished his career with nearly 12,000 points, more than 4,000 assists and two NBA championships. He also authored one of the great moments in NCAA tournament history.

Small Forward: Ron Reed

Reed’s path was the opposite of Danny Ainge. After a standout career at Notre Dame, the 6-5 Reed was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1965 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent two season in the NBA, scoring just shy of 1,000 points. Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, Reed was playing two professional sports at the same time. After finishing the 1966 NBA season, he pitched in two games for the Braves and went back to the Pistons.

Power Forward: Dave Winfield

Winfield was just a phenomenal athlete. In addition to being a Hall of Fame baseball player, he was also a stud basketball player at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of his career, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and was drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA. Had he chosen the ABA, he could have teamed up with Moses Malone to form a pretty solid frontcourt.

Center: Tim Stoddard

Stoddard won a state title in high school, where he teamed up with future NBA player Junior Bridgeman, and then went to N.C. State where he teamed up with David Thompson and won an NCAA title by knocking off Bill Walton and UCLA. Not too shabby.

6th Man: Frank Howard

OK, Frank Howard was a coach in 1980, but he was also an incredibly talented basketball player. Howard went to Ohio State where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball in the 1950s. In a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden, Howard once grabbed 32 rebounds in a single game.  In addition to being drafted to play major league baseball, he also was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, which means he and Wilt Chamberlain could have potentially been twin towers in the NBA, predating Sampson and Olajuwon by decades.

The Best of 2016 on ’80s Baseball

I started this blog 364 days ago. Since then, I’ve published 64 posts, including guest posts, for which I’m very grateful.

It’s been a great year and I thought I’d take a look back at the Top 5 posts of 2016 based (unscientifically) on page views.

Number 5: George Brett’s amazing 1980

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Brett was absolutely ridiculous in 1980 and this post tells the story of his remarkable season. If you’re going to hit .400, or even have a shot, it helps to have a summer like George Brett did in 1980.

 

Number 4: Schmidt and Brett in 1971

The Reds passed on a kid in their back yard. The Phillies snapped him up

The most important day of the 1980 baseball season may very well have taken place in 1971. One decision would have put Mike Schmidt in a Royals uniform and given the 1980 World Series a completely different look.

 

 

Number 3: Missed it by That Much: The Mike Parrott Story

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Mike Parrott was the opening day starter for the Seattle Mariners in 1980. Unfortunately for him, 1980 was just a horrible year, in more ways than one.

 

 

Number 2: You Forgot How Good J.R. Richard Was

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James Rodney Richard was absolutely dominant and 1980 was shaping up to be the best year of his career. Then tragedy struck and he never pitched again.

 

 

 

Number 1: Missed it By That Much: The Drungo Hazewood Story

<a rel=Drungo Hazewood had all the talent in the world. He was a can’t miss prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. Then he missed.

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to 2017!

-J.D.

Missed It By That Much – The Drungo Hazewood Story

 

The runners were tense at the starting line. The 1960 Summer Olympics were about a year away, but there was still a lot at stake in this race. On the line were bragging rights and the opportunity to affect someone’s life forever; someone who would be a big part of their lives forever.

“Go!”

The children took off, arms and legs pumping.

Catherine Hazewood had just given birth to her ninth child, a baby boy. He didn’t have a name yet but that would soon change. Her children were racing to the hospital and the winner would have the honor of naming her son.

Catherine’s son Aubrey was the winner and decided to name his baby brother Drungo in honor of his friend’s last name.

TWO-SPORT STAR

Ask anyone in the Orioles organization who the top prospect was at the end of the 1970s and, despite the presence of future Hal-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr., the answer would probably be Drungo Hazewood.

Drungo Hazewood
Hazewood was a future star

Hazewood stood 6’3”, weighed 210 pounds and was a former first round draft choice. His decision to play baseball was a tough one since he had also signed a letter of intent to play tailback at USC where he would have had a shot to take over for Heisman Trophy winner Charles White.  Playing football for John Robinson and baseball for Rod Dedeaux was tough to turn down. Not many people have a chance to win a National Championship in football AND baseball during their collegiate careers, but Drungo Hazewood did. He said no.

“In high school I was considered a better football player than a baseball player,” Hazewood said later. “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.”

Entering 1980, his decision to go with baseball seemed to be paying off. Had he gone to USC, he would have earned a Rose Bowl ring by virtue of the Trojans 17-16 win over Ohio State. But six weeks after the Rose Bowl, Drungo Hazewood was in spring training with the Orioles. He hit just .231 at AA Charlotte in 1979. But the tools…

“(He’ll) be a big league player someday, of that I have no doubt,” said Jimmy Williams, his manager in Charlotte. “His main problem is that he still chases the curveball, but he’ll get over that. I think he has a chance to go the farthest (of all the Orioles prospects) and stay the longest.”

BIG SPRING

That assessment looked to be correct after his performance in the spring of 1980.  In twelve at-bats, Hazewood collected seven hits. Interestingly enough, all five of his outs came via strikeout. A performance like that, especially from a first round draft pick, could be enough to make a lot of teams. But the Orioles were the defending AL champs, and already had a veteran outfield, so manager Earl Weaver had the odd job of sending a .583 hitter back to the minor leagues.

“He was making the rest of us look bad with that average,” Weaver joked. With depth at the major league level and Hazewood’s lack of AAA experience, it was the right decision. A bit more seasoning in the minor leagues and he could come to Baltimore to stay.

THE SHOW BECKONS

Back in Charlotte, Hazewood teamed with Ripken to terrorize Southern League pitching staffs. Ripken hit .276 with 25 homers and 78 RBI, while Hazewood batted .261 with 28 homers and 80 RBI while adding 29 stolen bases.

The Charlotte O’s finished 72-72 but it wasn’t for lack of offense. They scored 605 runs, but unfortunately the pitching staff gave up 607 and they finished five games behind the Savannah Braves.

Hazewood had earned his shot. But the Orioles were in the middle of a pennant race and Weaver didn’t have the luxury of giving an inexperience 21 year-old outfielder a chance to get his feet wet on the major league level.

Drungo Hazewood made his major league debut as a pinch runner in the 9th inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 19th, 1980. He would appear in three more games before getting his first at-bat.

It wasn’t until the Orioles were officially eliminated from the AL East division that Hazewood stepped to the plate in a major league game. In the bottom of the 11th inning on October 4th, Hazewood pinch hit for Mark Belanger and flew out to center field against Bob Owchinko in the first game of a double-header. In game two, he was the starting right fielder and faced Cleveland’s Rick Waits four times. He struck out all four times.  He would never appear in another major league game.

CHARLOTTE’S FAVORITE SON

Drungo HazewoodHazewood returned to Charlotte in 1981 and continued to be a fan favorite. Stories abound about his power, his speed, his arm and his raw strength. In his 1997 autobiography, “The Only Way I Know,” Ripken tells a story of Drungo being so upset after a fight with the Memphis Chicks that he broke a bat with his bare hands.

“He … stopped in front of a display of two bats mounted on hooks on the wall. He grabbed one and snapped it like a toothpick. … 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.”

Hazewood retired after the 1983 season to care for his mother, who was battling breast cancer. He took a job driving a delivery truck and settled into life after baseball. There were rumors if his being disenchanted with the way things turned out, but those closest to him deny that was the case.

In 2011, Hazewood himself was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in July of 2013. He was just 53 years-old.

Missed it by that Much: The Dan Graham Story

If you happened to read the transactions section on December 8th, 1979 you probably would have missed it. The previous day, the Detroit Pistons fired their General Manager, a guy named Dick Vitale. At the winter meetings in Toronto, the Montreal Expos pulled off a big trade for Ron LeFlore, who would lead the N.L. in stolen bases in 1980.

Just after that was this note:

MINNESOTA (AL) – Traded infielder Dan Graham to

Baltimore for first baseman Tom Chism.

Between the two of them, Graham and Chism had a total of seven big league at-bats and zero hits.

“It looks like deals like this are the only ones you can make these days,” Orioles G.M. Hank Peters told the media. They’re unencumbered, uncomplicated.”

Graham was playing winter ball in Venezuela when he heard he news and he was thrilled. He was buried behind 1979 Rookie of the Year John Castino at 3rd, Ron Jackson at 1st and Butch Wynegar at catcher. A trade gave him a new start and he was ready to take advantage of it.

Dan Graham and Earl Weaver
Graham and Earl Weaver

Once Spring Training rolled around, Graham immediately impressed people with his bat. He put up 20 or more homers in three different seasons in the minor leagues, but after his batting average slipped to just .213 in 1979, the Twins felt he was expendable while the Orioles saw potential.

He hit .346 to begin the year in Rochester and got the call to the big leagues in May and collected nine hits in his first 16 at-bats, including home runs in his first two starts.

Player of the Week

After a rough June, he caught fire in July, hitting .302 and driving in 20 runs in just 15 games. The highlight of the month was a three game series against the Twins where he went 6-11 with two homers and 13 RBI, earning him Player of the Week honors.

Graham became so popular in Baltimore that among the items up for bid at the Orioles charity auction, along with a pair of jockey shorts signed by Jim Palmer, was a 30 minute fielding practice session with the new slugger.

The new star hit three more homers in just 13 August games, and as the Orioles battled the Yankees for the A.L. East flag, Graham hit .313 with six homers in 80 at bats down the stretch. He finished the year at .278 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs as a part-time player.

 

Dan Graham
It wasn’t meant to be

Baltimore seemed to be set with a platoon of Graham and Rick Dempsey behind the plate. But just as quickly as he burst onto the scene, Graham lost his mojo in 1981. He hit just .176 in 55 games. He spent 1982 in AAA and retired.

That Time I Met The Orioles

It’s tough to be the new kid. Having someone introduce you helps. Having someone introduce you to about half the Baltimore Orioles is another thing entirely.

In the summer of 1978, Rich Stanfill and his family moved to Cockeysville, Maryland, a small town whose claim to fame was a quarry that produced some of the marble used in the construction of the Washington Monument. In the late 1970s, it was also home to many of the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Colts.

Rich’s father worked for Chemlawn and was charged with turning around struggling franchises. They bounced around a bit, spending time in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and the latest stop brought them to Orioles country.

The family lived in an apartment building and it just so happened that Baltimore Colts wide receiver Roger Carr lived upstairs and Rich became friends with his son. Carr was a standout receiver in the 1970s. He was the favorite target of Colts QB Bert Jones and led the league in receiving yards in 1976 with 1,112 in a 14-game season. He also averaged an amazing 25.9 yards per catch and scored eleven touchdowns. If Fantasy Football existed in those days, Carr would have been a top pick.

As if star professional athletes living in relatively modest apartment complexes with “regular people” down the stairwell wasn’t unusual enough, it got even more surreal with the benefit of hindsight.

Roger Carr - Baltimore Colts
Roger Carr lived upstairs

“The first time I met Roger, his wife was sewing his pants,” Rich told me. “He was a tall receiver (6’3″) and the Colts didn’t have pants that fit him so he was constantly ripping his pants. His wife would sew them back together in their apartment.”

Carr wasn’t the only athlete living in the complex. Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey lived in the building next door and Rich became friends with his son, John. In fact, many of the Colts and Orioles lived nearby. It was less than a 30 minute drive straight down route 83 to Memorial Stadium.

On one summer day, Rich was hanging out with his buddies when John Dempsey said, “Hey. Let’s go get autographs! I know where the players live.”

Rich was just six years old and a chance to hobnob with big leaguers sounded like a good plan so off they went. Of course it made sense to get warmed up by nabbing the low hanging fruit, which in this case was Rick Dempsey. One down, lots more to go.

Rick Dempsey
Hey Dad, can you sign?

 

For the rest of the afternoon the boys simply knocked on doors. They got signatures from a number of the Colts players and also tracked down a lot of Orioles, including Mark Belanger, Rich Dauer, Dennis Martinez and Pat Kelly.

 

 

Lee May - Baltimore Orioles
Lee May was a bopper

A few doors down, they met Lee May, who was one of baseball’s most feared sluggers. Entering the 1978 season, May had clubbed 226 homers and driven in nearly 800 runs. He was on his way to another 25 homer season in 1978. He was also quite a large man at 6’3″ and weighing in at about 200 pounds. To a six-year-old, he must have been a giant. He’s also one of the nicer guys you’ll ever meet and he was happy to sign for the kid who lived around the corner.

 

Behind another door they found outfielder Al Bumbry. The 1973 Rookie of the Year, Bumbry was coming off a 1977 campaign in which he hit .317 with 19 stolen bases. Unfortunately for Bumbry, he had also suffered a gruesome ankle injury in May against the Texas Rangers. When the boys walked in, they found Bumbry sitting on the couch with his leg in a cast. Being six, Rich asked the normal question.

“Can I sign your cast?”

“Sure!” came the response.

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The boys all signed Bumbry’s cast and he, in turn, signed for them as well.

For Rich, it was the beginning of his lifelong love of the game but he kinda did things backwards. Most kids follow games in the hopes of meeting their heroes. Rich met some of the biggest stars in the game first. He quickly made the transition from not knowing “about” the players to actually knowing the players. What began as a slow summer day turned into cruising around and becoming buddies with a bunch of big leaguers.

“We knocked on some doors and no one answered. Looking back, who lived there? Eddie Murray? Jim Palmer? I’ll never know, but I had all my autographs before I bought my first pack of baseball cards.”

Have you met one of your baseball heroes from the 1980s? I want to hear about it! Click here for details and tell me your story.

Happy Birthday, Al Bumbry

Al Bumbry is 70 now. How did that happen?

On my Facebook page, I like to find stories about guys rather than just post their batting average or home run totals. While doing that, I found a few stories about Bumbry’s service in Vietnam.

Bumbry attended Virginia State College on a basketball scholarship and with the war raging in Vietnam he was certain to be drafted. So he made the decision to join the ROTC, which would allow him to graduate before heading to war.

Upon reaching Vietnam the summer of 1970, Bumbry was installed as a platoon leader for reconnaissance missions. His commanding officer also instructed him to take care of his men and ensure that they got back home safely. It was a message he took to heart.

Bumbry would earn a Bronze Star for bravery, but he took more pride in the fact that during his time at war, all of his men made it home.

Not surprisingly, he returned from Vietnam a changed man. In college, he had won the Central Intercollegiate Association batting title with a .378 average, but struggled in his 35 games with the Orioles farm team in Stockton, CA before being called up for active duty.

Once he returned to the U.S. in 1971, he immediately started hitting for the Orioles Aberdeen minor league team in the Northern League. He attributed his success to the fact that after what he’d been through, and seen, in Vietnam, a high batting average didn’t seem as important as it had in 1969. He’d been in life or death situations, and facing a tough lefty was no longer among them.

In 1973, less than two years after returning from Vietnam, Bumbry earned Rookie of the Year honors in the American League and went on to enjoy a 14-year career with the Orioles and the Padres.