Friday, January 2, 2015

Friday Five: Top 5 Durham Bulls Second Basemen

I must say that I really enjoy writing these posts on the Durham Bulls.  Minor leaguers are fun to research and there is a lot of work you have to do to connect some of the dots on the players.  So far I have published two Durham Bulls Friday Five posts on their Top 5 catchers and first basemen of all-time and I am already contemplating scrapping/revising those lists.  Actually I am at peace with my list of first baseman, but my catchers list will likely be redone at some point.  I started working on the second baseman post several weeks ago and did more work for this post than anything I have posted on here in a long time.  Hope you enjoy this list:

Shout Outs:

Some of the Minor League stats are records are not the best once you leave the 1980s.  How many RBIs did Joe Morgan have for the Durham Bulls?  I am not sure, but he .332 with 13 home runs and 20 doubles in only 95 games.  Don't worry, he's on the list and not in this shout out section.  The actual five second basemen on the list are ranked on both their time with the Durham Bulls and their impact beyond.  I am going to post a few players here who look like they might be deserving of the honor, but I could not find enough data of some sort to give the player a nod onto the list.  Almost all of the players in this section appeared for the Durham Bulls during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.  

Rewind to that first base post for a second.  I am going to add this one:

John Radulovich- This Tigers farmhand appeared on the 1953 Durham Bulls.  He is listed as a first baseman and a second baseman, but there is no exact break down of where he played in the field and how many times.  There are also many minor leaguers who start off playing a position and end playing another position.  It appears that Radulovich start out playing second, missed time for World War 2, and then returned to the Minors in the late 40s and early 50s as a first baseman.  In this case, there is a record for the 1953 Durham Bulls that Radulovich appeared in 101 games at first base for the Class B Carolina League team that season.  Why the late shout out?  In 395 at bats the 30 year old (very Crash Davis like) hit .349, with a .585 slugging percentage, 19 home runs, 4 triples, and 28 doubles.  All of that stacks up against the five first basemen I picked a few weeks ago.

now second basemen...

Mike Fontenot- I am throwing a curve for my first shout out player.  Mike Fontenot has spent the last two years playing a lot of second base for the Durham Bulls.  The long time Cub and Giants second baseman has been an invaluable part of two division winners and the 2013 Governors Cup Championship team.  All of the players on this list have better numbers than Fontenot, but he's also one of the few players on my Friday Five Durham Bulls Second Baseman list who I have seen in person.  I can tell you the Bulls probably would not have gotten as far as they had the past two years without this Major League veteran taking the field.

Rufus Anderson- Rufus Anderson spent a few years in Durham during the summers of 1959, 1960, and 1961 playing shortstop and 2nd for the Class B Carolina League Team.  Again, the defensive records are not great, but it looks like he played 2B for 108 games in 1961.  I am not sure where he played in the field the other two years on the Bulls, but I can probably speculate that some of the time was playing second.  During his 1961 season the 22 year old Tigers farm hand hit 19 homers, 5 triples, and 21 doubles while posting a slash line of .272/.314/.439.  For the era, Anderson displayed a good deal of pop for a middle infielder.    Anderson never appeared in the Major Leagues.

Edward Richardson- This guy was Kevin Youkilis before Kevin Youkilis.  His last year of professional baseball was spent in Durham playing for the Class B Houston Colts affiliate.  It appears that Richardson played a lot of second base that year for the Bulls, but also spent time playing other places on the infield during his career.  During his one season in Durham his slash line was .256/.414/.426.  Not a typo, but that's a pretty hard line to duplicate.  For what it's worth Youk had a .382 OBP, but had a slugging percentage of .478.  Richardson's on base was greatly helped by his incredible 117 walks that season.  He also had 13 home runs, 25 doubles, and 73 RBIs.  You wonder what would have happened to a guy like this if he played during a different era.

Woody Fair- He's listed as having played second base on his Baseball Reference page, but I am not sure if he played there for the Durham Bulls.  What I do know is that he appeared for the 1946 Durham Bulls and played in 139 games that season.  During those 139 games he had 569 at bats and hit .348 with a .589 slugging percentage, 24 home runs, 7 triples, and 51 doubles.  Again, not sure if he played second base, but that's a really good season.  In fact, in talking to a few folks who witnessed the Carolina League in the late 1940s and early 1950s, they are hard to find, they describe Woody Fair as the best player in the league during that time.  He appeared almost exclusively for Carolina League teams between 1946 and 1951.  Interestingly his final season in 1951 was spent playing for the Raleigh Capitals managed by former Cardinals star Joe Medwick.

5.  Elliot Johnson

The most recent member of the team on this list, Johnson was an important part of the very successful Charlie Montoyo Era for the Durham Bulls.  Johnson appeared in games for the Durham Bulls during the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons.  He also appeared in 2 games for the 2011 team, but we are going to ignore those 9 at bats.  I am not sure if I can really point out a singular great season that Johnson posted during that time for the Bulls, but the team won and he was on the field a lot playing pretty well.  In 2009 the Bulls won the Triple A National Championship game with Johnson slashing .265/.324/.450 with 11 home runs, 11 doubles, and 7 steal in 68 games.  The slash line was pretty typical of Johnson's time in Durham and he usually had pretty good pop and speed to go along with solid defense.

4.  Tony Graffinino 

Graffanino appeared for the Durham Bulls as a farmhand for the Braves and Rays.  During his first trip through Durham he was a 21 year old second baseman playing for the Braves A ball team.  He posted a .275/.342/.460 line with 15 home runs, 30 doubles, 24 steals, and 69 RBIs.  Six years later Graffanino appeared for the Bulls as a late twenty-something trying to make it back up to the big leagues.  I might add that he was successful and ended up playing in the Majors until 2007 before spending 2007 and 2008 back in the International League.  During his second appearance in Durham Graffanino hit .313/.379/.499 with 9 home runs, 6 triples, 25 doubles, 58 RBIs, and 16 steals in just 87 games.  He also appeared in 10 games with the Bulls during the 2000 season, but it looks like it was a rehab appearance, but for what it's worth he had a .286/.405/.543 line during those games.

3.  Mark Lemke 

Lemke appeared for the Durham Bulls in 1987 and spent almost the whole summer playing for the second base for the team.  While you probably do not remember Lemke hitting in the Majors, he held his own during his time in the Minors.  During the 1987 season the Bulls second baseman hit .292/.364/.485 with 20 home runs, 28 doubles, 3 triples, and 10 steals.  Lemke went on to be an important member of the 1990s Braves teams including the 1995 World Series Champions.  

2.  Ron Gant 

Gant played second base?  Absolutely.  Gant appeared in 135 games for Durham Bulls in 1986 all of them at second base.  During that season Gant hit .277/.372/.529 with 26 home runs, 10 triples, 31 doubles, 102 RBIs, and 35 steals.  I thought I was surely going to find a Carolina League MVP in there for that performance, but it appears that Ron was best by Mets prospect Gregg Jefferies who hit .354 with 43 steals in just 95 games with the Lynchburg Mets.  Still a great year for Gant and one of the better offensive seasons in the history of the Bulls.  Gant started off on the infield for the Braves, but eventually ended up as an outfielder for the majority of the team he played in Majors.  He was a feared power hitter, but ended up spending the second half of his career bouncing around the league.

1.  Joe Morgan 

Obviously the biggest impact beyond his time with the Durham Bulls, but he was a pretty special player during his brief stay with the team.  Again, the record on Morgan's time with the Bulls is incomplete.  He hit .323 with a .434 slugging percentage in 95 games with the Bulls, but their is no record of walks, nor his on base percentage.  Morgan also hit 13 home runs, 20 doubles, and 2 triples in just 322 at-bats.  Morgan went on to be an important part of the 1970s Cincinnati Reds teams hitting over 250 career home runs, driving in more than 1000 RBIs, and stealing almost 700 bases.  He won two World Series rings for the Reds in 1975 and 1976 and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.  Bill James called Morgan "the percentages player in baseball history"

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