Frank Schwindel, an 18th-round draft pick of the Royals in 2013 (for reference, the Cubs’ pick in that round, Giuseppe Pappacio, played only two games above A-ball), has been a revelation since he came to the Cubs in July.
In 33 games and 133 plate appearances, Schwindel is hitting .374/.421/.699 (46-for-123) with eight doubles, a triple and 10 home runs. During his current eight-game hitting streak, he’s been even better: .441/.472/.971 (15-for-34) with six home runs.
So let me tell you about Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, someone who streaked across the baseball sky for the Braves in 1957 and, for a time, hit even better than Frank the Tank.
Hazle, originally signed by the Reds in 1950, was traded to the Braves in April 1956 after missing a couple of years of baseball due to service in the Army. He hit well in Triple-A in 1955 and again in 1956, much like Schwindel, but never got a chance to play in the big leagues until mid-1957, when the Milwaukee team needed an outfielder to replace the injured Bill Bruton.
He started hitting, and hitting, and hitting some more. In his first 22 games, Hazle hit .507/.571/.836 (34-for-67) with seven doubles and five home runs. That was enough to get the attention of the New York Times, whose Howard M. Tuckner wrote:
The Milwaukee Braves’ rookie outfielder has stunned the baseball world with his outstanding hitting since he was recalled a month ago from Wichita. He owned a modest .279 batting average at the time. The 26-year-old left-handed hitting South Carolinian has made thirty-four hits in sixty-seven times at bat for an average of .507. …‘It doesn’t seem possible that anyone can keep up such a pace,’ said Red Schoendienst …‘but right now the kid is Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams all wrapped in one.’ … Some say he simply is an overnight sensation. … Others, such as Andy Pafko, the Braves hard-hitting flychaser, say Bob is a natural hitter. ‘The kid can really rip the ball,’ Pafko said. ‘Next to Henry Aaron, he’s got the strongest wrists in baseball. And he doesn’t swing at too many bad balls, either.’
Hazle did slow down a bit the rest of the year, but still wound up with a .403/.477/.649 slash line, with 12 doubles and seven home runs, and just 15 strikeouts in 155 plate appearances. He went 2-for-13 in the Braves’ World Series win over the Yankees, including 2-for-4 in Game 7, the Braves’ series-clinching win.
At about 36:30 into this video, you can see Hazle’s third-inning single to left in that game. He scored the first of four Braves runs in that inning, and they eventually won 5-0.
The next year injuries limited Hazle’s play and then he was traded to the Tigers, who shipped him back to the minor leagues. He never played in the major leagues after 1958 and was done with baseball after 1961. Per his SABR bio:
That winter Little Rock sold Hazle’s contract to the Macon Peaches of the Southern Association. Instead, in April 1961, he retired at the age of 30. In a 1987 interview, he told writer David Lamb, “Everything went wrong, and that was the end of it. … I told the wife it was time to wrap it up.” And once he left the game, he “never thought about going back, managing, coaching, or whatever. What’s done is done. Besides, the way it ended, I left with kind of a bad taste in my mouth for baseball.”
Hazle passed away from a heart attack in 1992. He is the only MLB player to bat .400 in more than 110 plate appearances since Ted Williams’ .406 season in 1941.
About his nickname: Hurricane Hazel was a deadly storm that hit the North Carolina coast in October 1954. The ballplayer was tagged with that nickname the following winter while playing winter ball in Venezuela, per the SABR bio.
As for what this all means for Frank the Tank? There’s no real comparison as baseball is so different now than it was nearly 65 years ago when Bob Hazle helped the Milwaukee Braves to the National League pennant. Hopefully, Schwindel will have more of a MLB career than Hazle did.
But the way the two men hit and got attention is quite similar, even though Schwindel won’t taste postseason ball this year. Both are worth remembering.