Feb 27, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Spring training baseballs are prepared for practice prior to the inaugural base ball game at the new Cubs Park in Mesa Arizona between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
Leon Durham – 1981 to 1988
Leon Durham originally came to the Chicago Cubs as an outfielder but after some transactions by the Cubs front office, Durham would find himself playing first base – taking over for then-first baseman Bill Buckner. The move turned out to be a good thing for both the Cubs and Durham. Durham would finish the season with a .279 batting average, 23 home runs and a career-high 96 runs batted in.
Durham was always able to hit – no matter where he played on the field. After posting his first twenty-plus home run season in 1982, he would surpass the twenty home run plateau five times over the next six seasons – including four years in a row. Durham could have easily had six consecutive home run seasons if not for an injury that cost him a hefty number of games in 1983.
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Durham was consistently hitting home runs for the Cubs but his runs batted in would start to fall off after his career-high 96 RBI in 1984. After that season, his numbers would decline every year. Most people will probably say it was because of the worst moment of his career that took place in the National League Championship Series in 1984.
That game is a tough pill for Cubs fans of that era who witnessed it. What is called the “Gatorade Glove Play”, Durham had a ground ball hit to him at first base and the ball ran right between his legs and into the outfield. The error essentially cost the Cubs the series and the chance to go on to the Fall Classic.
Durham would hit a career-high 27 home runs in 1987, ending his run of being an offensive weapon for Chicago. In the 1988 season, Durham would struggle from the start and with pressure of a young Mark Grace cutting into Durham’s playing time, the Cubs had to decide to make a move, eventually dealing him to the Cincinnati Reds.
While it is easy to focus on the negatives of Durham’s Cubs career – considering what it cost the team and its fans – you can’t take away from how well Durham played while in Chicago.
His numbers were consistent and he was a valuable member of that 1984 Cubs team that came so close to winning it all. Was the fallout of his error in the Championship Series the reason for the consistent decline in his numbers? Maybe, but considering what happened and the pressure that Durham must have faced afterwards, he still had two good seasons after that error. Some players may not have ever been able to bounce back after that.
Cubs career stats: .279 batting average, 138 home runs, 485 runs batted in