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Arizona Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50: #43, Erubiel Durazo

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A precious, slugging Arizona 1B who wears #44? But before there was Goldy, there was Ruby...

Arizona Diamondbacks Erubiel Durazo watches his fo Photo credit should read ROY DABNER/AFP/Getty Images
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 38.41 (19/49/41)
  • Seasons: 1999-2002
  • Stats: 287 games, .278/.390/.528 = .918 OPS, 128 OPS+, 4.3 bWAR
  • Best season: 2002 - 76 games, .261/.395/.550 = .944 OPS, 136 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR

It’s impressive that Durazo makes it onto the Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50, considering he never played even 100 games in a season for the Diamondbacks. But he was a solid hitter in his time here: the lowest on-base percentage he had over the four years in Arizona was .372. I always wondered why he didn’t get more playing time, the team opting to sign Mark Grace instead. Erubiel’s defense was likely a factor. It is probably the same reason why, after his trade to Oakland, he played mostly as a designated hitter. And Durazo had considerably success there, putting up 3.3 bWAR in 2004 and getting MVP mentions.

That’s getting well ahead of ourselves, so let’s rewind. Durazo was almost entirely overlooked growing up in Mexico - not least because he was mostly a pitcher. But Derek Bryant, the scout who discovered Durazo said, “when scouts saw him, he was a skinny left-handed pitcher who [at bat] was spraying the ball all around. It’s not that so many people were wrong about him. It’s just that it was the wrong time.” Brought up in Hermosillo, he relocated to Tucson to improve his chances, going to Amphitheater. He went undrafted in June 1993. He moved to Pima Community College, hitting .434 there. He went undrafted in June 1995 too, and thought about quitting.

“I was ready to give up, to go back to college, do something else. For six or eight months I just stayed home and thought about it... Baseball was my past. I was thinking about what I would do next. Get an education, I thought.”
-- Erubiel Durazo

But then he got a call from Bryant, who was also manager of the Mexican League’s Monterrey Sultans. Durazo had abandoned pitching by this point, and become a full-time first baseman. He hit .282 for the Sultans, and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year, then upped his average to .350, with nineteen home-runs to boot, the following season. That got him on the Diamondbacks’ radar, courtesy of Bryant, and Durazo destroyed minor-league pitching in 1999. He played 94 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and batted - get this - .404 with 24 home-runs. With our inaugural 1B Travis Lee fading fast, Durazo got the call that July.

Then-manager Buck Showalter knew almost nothing about his new player: “His arms seemed awfully short.” But then Showalter saw how Durazo could hit, and it wasn’t long before Lee was banished to the outfield and Erubiel installed as the team’s everyday 1B. His first home-run came against the Phillies on August 7, 1999, a 446-foot bomb on a split-finger fastball, from some guy called Curt Schilling. Ten more followed that season for Durazo, including two in successive at-bats off future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. In 52 games, he hit .329/.422/.594 for a 1.015 OPS. He also played error-free 1B, and it seemed the team had its future everyday starter there.

However, 2000 saw Durazo hampered by bad health, with a a torn cartilage in his wrist just not healing. He first went on the DL for it at the end of May, missed four weeks, and managed only three games on his return before having to be shut down again. He came back in mid-July but hit .225 and was optioned to Tucson. 12 plate-appearances after Erubiel came back from there, the wrist flared up again and his last game was on August 19, with just 233 PA. He had surgery to remove a bone chip from the wrist, and a very forgettable season ended with Erubiel being in a car accident, though he escaped serious injury.

For whatever reason, the team went a different direction that winter, bringing Mark Grace aboard on a two-year, $6 million deal. While this ate into Durazo’s playing time considerably, he was still a huge contributor off the bench, batting .269 with 12 home-runs in just 209 PA. Five of those HR came in 45 pinch-hit at-bats; no D-back since has had more than three in a year. He then had an expanded role in the post-season, his biggest knock being another pinch-hit home-run in Game 5 of the NLCS. He came off the bench (replacing Grace) to go deep against another Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine. It broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth, and the D-backs won 3-2 to reach the World Series.

The left-handed Durazo started all three games in New York, Bob Brenly seeking to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s friendliness for southpaws. It worked, as Erubiel went 4-for-10 with three walks there. Those hits included a go-ahead RBI double in Game 4 on Halloween night, and Durazo then came home himself, to put the D-backs 3-1 up in the eighth. #ThenKim, of course. He pinch-hit in Game 6, and didn’t play a role in Game 7, but you can’t complain about his overall performance for the Diamondbacks that post-season. Durazo hit .333, going 5-for-15 with a home-run and a double, driving in three.

His 2002 got off to a rough start, Erubiel breaking his wrist in spring training. But when he recovered from that in May, he was finally anointed the everyday first baseman, as Grace was struggling, and the team’s clean-up hitter. Said manager Bob Brenly, “The way Ruby played this spring, the way he played in his rehab, it’s very apparent that it’s his time to show what he can do.” Having missed the first forty games, a strained oblique also cost him four weeks in July, but in between, he had one of the greatest games in Diamondbacks history (below). Against the Phillies, Erubiel had three home-runs and drove in nine runs, the latter a still standing single-game franchise record.

Despite the Brenly vote of confidence, and Durazo putting up a .944 OPS that year, he was sent packing to Oakland in December 2002, in a four-way trade which saw the D-backs get the underwhelming Elmer Dessens and cash, after a deal involving the Rockies and Larry Walker fell through. At the time, A’s GM Billy Beane said, “I’ve really been after him for the last two years, but they told me he was unavailable.” What changed? This is pure speculation, but Durazo “was raising suspicion even at the time” of the World Series, and going from a “skinny” kid into a 225-lb slugger is unusual. Could “whispers” have factored into Arizona’s sudden decision to clear him out?

Regardless, Durazo played three more years in the majors with Oakland, but had Tommy John surgery in 2005 - apparently against team advice. He had minor-league spells with the Twins, Yankees and Rangers, then went home to Mexico, finishing his playing career back where he was born, in Hermosillo. But he returned to us last January, joining the front-office as a special adviser on Mexico. Derrick Hall called Durazo, “arguably one of our franchise’s most popular Mexican players ever” and “extremely knowledgeable and well-connected in that country.” Durazo is now the team rep there, for Arizona’s partnership with the Hermosillo Naranjeros.