The Legend of Hurricane Hazle
Happy Independence Week, everybody! This is a crazy week for us — we will be visiting family, and then, on Friday, we’re in Kansas City at the Taylor Swift concert. Full report to follow, I’m sure. You know, I was just thinking …
I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero
I don’t know how much JoeBlogs there will be time for this week, but I’ll check in when I can. And to start off the week, here’s something I promised a little while ago: A bit of a deep dive on one of the wildest stories in baseball history: the story of Hurricane Bob Hazle.
Beginning in 1953 — the year that the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee — the team began to threaten greatness. That year, a 21-year-old Eddie Mathews led the National League with 47 home runs. Warren Spahn, still just 32 years old, won 23 games with a league-leading ERA and might have won the Cy Young Award had it existed.
Milwaukee won 92 games that year, and even though they didn’t exactly threaten the Boys of Summer Dodgers — they finished second, a rather distant 13 games back — the Braves did announce their presence. They had mostly been a non-factor in their years in Boston. Other than their rather shocking pennant in 1948*, they had not finished even as high as second since Deadball.
*That was the “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” year.
In 1954, a 20-year-old Henry Aaron arrived, and Joe Adcock — a big first baseman acquired from Cincinnati in a trade — hit .308 with 23 home runs. Lew Burdette, the pride of Nitro, W.Va., won 15 games for the second year in a row by wielding what Whitey Ford would call the best spitter in baseball. The Braves finished 11 games behind the ascendant Willie Mays Giants.
In 1955, the Braves finished second again, behind the Dodgers, and in 1956, with Aaron, Adcock and Mathews combining for 101 home runs and Spahn winning 20 for the seventh time in his career, they finished second yet again, but this time by only one game. In the last 10 days of the season, they lost two heartbreaking, walk-off games — one to Pittsburgh on a Roberto Clemente single, the other to St. Louis when Rip Repulski doubled in Stan Musial — that could have made the difference.
Everybody in Milwaukee was pointing to 1957 as Milwaukee’s year. Finally.
For the first half of the season — and a few weeks into the second — the Braves battled with the Reds, Cardinals, Dodgers and even Philadelphia for the National League pennant. Going into Sunday, Aug. 4, the standings looked like this:
Tm W-L W-L% GB
STL 62-40 .608 --
MLN 61-42 .592 1.5
BRO 59-43 .578 3.0
CIN 57-45 .559 5.0
PHI 56-48 .538 7.0
That day, Aug. 4, the Braves started in rightfield a 26-year-old rookie just called up from Wichita — his name was Bob Hazle. Everybody called him Hurricane. He got the nickname in 1954, while playing in Venezuela. That was the year that the real Hurricane Hazel hit the Carolina Coast.