For four years, Erubiel Durazo had been a prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. They had picked him up from the Mexican League’s Monterrey team in late 1998 and installed him at first base in 1999 for the Double-A El Paso squad.
Durazo tore the place up, batting .403 with 14 homers in just 64 games. That impressive performance earned him a promotion to Triple-A, where he smashed 10 homers in just a month while again hitting north of .400.
With numbers that impressive, it didn’t look like Durazo could be denied, and sure enough the 25-year-old made it to the big leagues in late 1999 for Arizona, where he proved his minor league performance was no fluke. In 52 games, he drew 26 walks, belted another 11 homers and hit .329. Yeah, that’s a nice performance from your first baseman. You’d expect Durazo to be penciled in as Arizona’s starting first baseman for the next several years.
Except that isn’t what happened.
2000 was the year of frustration for Durazo. He had a great start but cooled off. He suffered through some injuries and ended up playing 67 major league games and 16 minor league games. His big league numbers weren’t great but were at least decent. Besides, he’d had such a track record of success, his troubles in 2000 could be chalked up as an anomaly. Durazo was a young player on an aging Diamondbacks roster, so it would make sense to give him the first-base job in 2001. After all, he’d be 27 that year and entering his prime.
Instead, the Diamondbacks signed 37-year-old free agent Mark Grace to play first for them.
To be fair, Grace had a nice year, hitting .298 with a good glove. But it’s odd to spend extra money to fill a hole that didn’t exist. Durazo rode the pine most of the year, with just 207 plate appearances in 92 games. His OPS of 909 was superior to Grace’s 852, but Grace was the big name having a nice season, and who’d heard of OPS back in 2001 anyway?
So Grace was the starting first baseman again in 2002. Durazo batted .265 in his backup role, but a majority of his hits were for extra bases. Also, his plate discipline gave him an on-base percentage of .395.
In sabermetric circles, Durazo had become a cause: FREE DURAZO! It was a rally cry in those days when sabermetrics was beginning to have an influence but not yet really a league-wide breakthrough. Some teams, most notably Billy Beane’s A’s, had embraced it, but many other teams still made moves that made stat-friendly fans scratch their heads.
Ten years ago today, one of the most long-sought and eagerly anticipated trades in sabermetric history occurred. It was on Dec. 15, 2002 that Durazo finally was freed. Arizona took part in a four-team trade that sent Durazo to a team willing to use him, none other than the Oakland A’s themselves, fresh off their 103-win Moneyball season.
Durazo was in their starting lineup for two years. He proved to be a good player, drawing 100 walks and hit 21 homers in 2003. The next year, his walks declined, but he hit well over .300 with nearly 60 extra-base hits. Then he fizzled completely in 2005, and that was it for his major league career.
Looking back on his numbers, you might not guess he’d been the leading sabermetric cause for a few years, but he was. And the cause’s moment of glory came a decade ago when Durazo finally was freed from Arizona.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago) or anniversary today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to just skim the list.
4,000 days since Pittsburgh signs free agent reliever Mike Williams.
4,000 days since Oakland signs free agent Scott Hatteberg to be its new first baseman.
6,000 days since Hall of Fame centerfielder Kirby Puckett announces his retirement from baseball, effective immediately.
6,000 days since Colorado rallies from a 9-2 deficit against San Diego and scores 11 in the bottom of the seventh to win, 13-12.
10,000 days since Texas signs an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic named Sammy Sosa.
10,000 days since Steve Sax is so happy upon hitting his first career walk-off home run that when he gives third base coach Joe Amalfitano a high-five, he breaks the coach’s thumb.
25,000 days since the Cubs release Jimmie Foxx.
1886 The American Association approves a new reserve clause. It’s not just for next year but as long as the team wants.
1887 The Texas League organizes.
1894 Veteran manager Jack Chapman comes out in favor of a proposed rule that would allow only the first baseman and catcher to wear a fielding glove.
1896 The first pitching machine is demonstrated.
1905 Pittsburgh trades three players to the Braves for starting pitcher Vic Willis.
1905 The Cubs trade four players to the Dodgers for Jimmy Sheckard.
1912 The Cubs trade Joe Tinker to the Reds in an eight-player trade.
1923 The A’s send three players and $40,000 to the AA’s Milwaukee club for star outfielder Al Simmons.
1927 Boston purchases Ken Williams from the Browns for $10,000.
1932 AL and NL owners hold a joint meeting to approve of the “chain store” baseball developed by the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, overcoming the strenuous objections of commissioner Judge Landis.
1932 The Boston Braves trade Bucky Walters and $60,000 to the PCL’s Mission club. Walters has yet to play in the majors but will go on to win 198 games.
1940 Billy Hamilton, great outfielder from the 1890s, dies at age 74.
1944 Jim Leyland, Tigers manager, is born.
1944 Stan Bahnsen, starting pitcher, is born.
1945 The Tigers release Tommy Bridges, longtime ace pitcher. He has one of the greatest full names in baseball history: Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges.
1946 Art Howe, former A’s manager, is born.
1948 Brooklyn trades Pete Reiser to the Braves.
1955 St. Louis signs Walker Cooper as a free agent.
1959 The first ever period of interleague trades ends. From Nov. 21 to Dec. 15, clubs in the AL and NL could trade players across the leagues. On the last day, the Indians trade Billy Martin to the Reds.
1961 Charles Comiskey Jr. sells his 46 percent share in the Chicago White Sox to a group of 11 investors.
1961 Dummy Hoy dies at age 99.
1964 ABC buys TV rights for 27 baseball games a year for the next two seasons for $12.2 million.
1967 Mo Vaughn is born.
1967 Dodger executive Al Campanis trades his son Jimmy Campanis to the Expos.
1969 The National Labor Relations Board agrees to hear the cases of AL umpires Al Salerno and Bill Valentine, thereby issuing a challenge to baseball’s anti-trust status. The AL claims both umpires lost their job for poor performance, but it’s clear they really lost it due to their efforts to form a union.
1970 Rick Helling, pitcher, is born.
1975 The White Sox trade minor leaguer Tony LaRussa to the Cardinals.
1975 The Royals release veteran outfielder Vada Pinson.
1976 Philadelphia signs free agent Richie Hebner.
1979 Stan Hack, third baseman who arguably belongs in the Hall of Fame, dies at age 70.
1980 The Yankees sign free agent Dave Winfield.
1980 The Padres trade former Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones to the Mets.
1983 Bowie Kuhn imposes a season-long suspension on a series of players recently busted for drugs: Steve Howe, Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens, Vida Blue, and Willie Wilson. This ruling will be challenged.
1989 The Royals trade starting pitcher Charlie Leibrandt to the Braves.
1990 The Red Sox sign free agent slugger Jack Clark.
1992 The Yankees sign free agent third baseman Wade Boggs.
1992 Texas signs free agent closer Tom Henke.
1993 The White Sox sign free agent designated hitter Julio Franco, ending his extended run in Texas.
1994 The Yankees sign free agent Tony Fernandez.
1995 In Boston, the Ted Williams Tunnel opens up. The first person to go through it is, of course, Teddy Ballgame.
1997 Texas nabs Scott Podsednik from Florida in the Rule 5 draft.
1999 The Cubs sign veteran catcher Joe Girardi as a free agent.
1999 Seattle signs free agent John Olerud.
1999 St. Louis signs free agent catcher Mike Matheny.
2002 Dick Stuart, slugger who was arguably the worst fielder of his generation, dies at age 70.
2002 The Mets trade shortstop Rey Ordonez to Tampa Bay.
2002 The Phillies trade Jeremy Giambi to Boston.
2002 San Francisco signs free agent infielder Edgardo Alfonzo.
2003 Baltimore claims Jose Bautista from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft. Like several teams, though, Baltimore lets Bautista go before he suddenly erupts as a star power hitter. In the same Rule 5 draft, Houston takes Willy Tavares from Cleveland.
2003 A pair of trades involve catcher Michael Barrett. First the Montreal Expos send him to the Oakland A’s for a player to be named later. The A’s turn around and trade Barrett to the Cubs for veteran catcher Damian Miller. Barrett will make Montreal and Oakland look foolish as he will enjoy a trio of good seasons in Chicago.
2004 MLB suspends all sales of Nationals merchandise due to the vote yesterday by the Washington, D.C. city council stipulating that half of any new funding for a new baseball stadium must come from the private sector.
2004 Seattle signs free agent first baseman Richie Sexson.
2005 Detroit signs free agent starting pitcher Kenny Rogers, who will help them claim a pennant.
2005 The Dodgers sign free agent Bill Mueller.
2005 Minnesota signs free agent Tony Batista.
2005 Pittsburgh signs free agent closer Roberto Hernandez.
2006 Boston signs free agent middle reliever J.C. Romero.
2006 Chicago Cub GM Jim Hendry makes the most memorable move of his tenure. Despite being sick and laid up in the hospital, he signs free agent starting pitcher Ted Lilly. The same day, the Cubs sign outfielder Daryle Ward.
2006 The Angels trade middle reliever Brendan Donnelly to the Red Sox.
2008 Detroit signs free agent and defensive specialist Adam Everett.
2009 The Dodgers trade outfielder Juan Pierre to the White Sox.
2010 Hall of Fame fastball pitcher Bob Feller dies at age 92.