Monday, December 16, 2019

1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman Ray Durham

The Chicago White Sox were hoping that a 23 year old rookie could fill the shoes of the veteran Joey Cora, who had moved on to Seattle. Ray Durham more than fit the role as an excellent defender, lead off hitter with a combination of power and speed, and an exciting style of play that was perfect for the South Side. This article from the Chicago Tribune in 1995 highlights the many reasons why Durham was the right choice to be the Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman for 1995.

Sure, the 5'8" Durham defeated Michael Jordan in a high jump competition in Spring Training, but he'd also have to out hit MJ to get a job in the big leagues. In 1995, Durham slugged 27 doubles, 6 Triples and 7 Homers. He also stole 18 bases, which would end up as the fewest he'd steal in a White Sox uni. His .257 batting average was also the low water mark in his Chicago tenure, but the talented infielder already was showing the potential of a perennial All Star.

Durham was a 5th round selection in 1990 right out of Harding High School in Charlotte, NC. In high school, he excelled in baseball of course, but also played WR and in the defensive backfield. He returned a kick 92 yards for a touchdown as Sophomore (his first H.S. football play!), scored 5 receiving TDs in a single game, and intercepted 14 passes as a Senior.  He made very quick work of the minors, and was nearly 5 years younger than the average player in the league by the time he reached AAA as a 22 year old. He displayed speed and power in large doses, crushing 16 homers while stealing 34 bases for the Nashville Sounds. It was the second year in a row topping 30 steals. He would continue show that speed (and highly efficient base stealing success rate) at the big league level.

Following his Rookie season, Durham found his stride. Over the next seven years, he'd hit double digit homers each year and stole at least 23 bases.

In his White Sox career, Durham made the All-Star team twice, and had 249 doubles, 219 steals, 106 homers, and 53 triples. While he never surpassed .300 for a batting average, his on base percentage for Chicago was a robust .352. He scored over 100 runs in 6 seasons. 

Durham would be a trade deadline deal to Oakland at the height of Moneyball. He was sporting a .390 OBP for Chicago at the time of the trade. He was also hitting a career high .299 average when the deal was struck, sending Durham to the A's in exchange for Jon Adkins. Once in Oakland, Durham's base stealing was curtailed, and he also had a regression to the mean in his batting average and OBP. Even so, the 2 time All-Star was approaching free agency as a 31 year old when that was still considered a positive thing. The 2 homers he hit in the ALDS against Minnesota didn't hurt either.

The San Francisco Giants signed Durham to replace Jeff Kent, and expected him to provide protection in the lineup for Barry Bonds. He would finish the year with just 8 home runs, but his rate stats were right in line with his career averages. He would find his power in San Fran in 2006, hitting a career high 26 homers. He had a rough 2007 with a career low .218 batting average, and the writing was on the wall. Despite a bounce-back season in which Durham hit .293 in the first half, he would be traded to the Brewers for two middling prospects at the trade deadline.

Most people will immediately think of the other deadline deal made that year by the Brew Crew when they acquired C.C. Sabathia for the stretch run. Sabathia was fantastic for the Brewers, posting an 11-2 record with a 1.65 ERA and 3 shutouts to close out the 2008 season. The move to get Durham solidified their lineup and provided a boost from a position that had been struggling at the plate. He would score 21 runs in 41 games, and hit .280 over that stretch. He hit just .125 in the post season that year, which would be his final major league games. Following the 2008 season, Durham was offered a minor league deal to play in the Nats organization, but he chose to retire as a major leaguer.

Durham was a tremendously talented base stealer, and hit for power from the lead off spot. He retired as Chicago's All-Time leader in lead-off homers, and his 273 steals ranks in the top 200 among all major leaguers. He posted a career power-speed number of 225.4, good for 68th All-Time. This stat favors players that can both run and hit for power. Let's hear some of your best Ray Durham stories!

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