Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friday Five: Top 5 Durham Bulls First Baseman

This is the Saturday edition of my normal Friday blog post.  I am going to post two of these today.  This post was planned since last week, but my real job took up a lot of time the last few nights and prevented me from finishing this post.  The second Friday Five post is in reaction to some baseball news from yesterday.  

5.  Rusty Staub 

Staub appeared for Durham in 1962 as a minor leaguer in the Astros organization.  The Bulls were apart of the Carolina league that season and Staub's performance that season paced the Bulls to a league title over the Kinston Eagles (Pirates) and their star pitcher Steve Blass.  In his only full minor league season "Le Grand Orange" posted a .293/.429/.483 line with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs.  Staub was one of the top offensive performers in the league that season and ranks as one of the best offensive performances in the history of the Durham Bulls.  On a side note,  Rusty Staub missed out on leading the Carolina League in home runs and RBIs to one Bert Barth, St. Louis native,  who hit 33 home runs and drove in 136 playing for the Rocky Mount Leafs.  He also pitched in the minor leagues too.   I am going to have to track down more info on Bert Barth and I promise he gets a post in the near future.  

4.  Greg Luzinski 

Luzinski was apart of the 1969 Raleigh-Durham Phillies team (they also played one season around this time as the Triangles).  The team placed second that season, to those dreaded Rocky Mount Leafs, in the Carolina League's Eastern Division finishing with a record of 79-62.  Luzinski lead the Carolina league that season in home runs, RBIs, and finished third in slugging and OPS posting a line of .289/.371/.394 with 31 home runs, and 92 RBIs.  "The Bull" ended up splitting his career between the Phillies and White Sox where he hit over 300 Major League home runs, drove in more than 1000 runs, and almost reached 2000 hits.  

3.  Kevin Witt 

Kevin Witt won the International League MVP the first full season that I lived in Durham.  The big first baseman had some incredible power in his bat which never really worked out in the Majors.  He was still a great player in the more than half a dozen Minor League stops during the late 90s through the mid 2000s.  His 2006 season with the Durham Bulls was his last year playing for a minor league team in the US.  Witt posted a .291/.360/.577 line with 36 home runs and 99 RBIs.  Witt lead the International League in both home runs and RBIs, as well as slugging percentage.   The Bulls had a lot of talent on that team including Delmon Young, Jame Shields, Edwin Jackson, Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton, Darnell McDonald, Elijah Dukes, and newly minted Rays manager Kevin Cash.  Still all the talent could not get the Bulls above .500 that season.  After Witt's MVP season he had a short lived career playing baseball in Japan with Rakuten.  

2.  Steve Cox

Cox spent two seasons in Durham with the Bulls and his 1999 season was one of the best offensive seasons in team history.  Cox posted a .341/..415/.588 line with 25 home runs, 127 RBIs, and 49 doubles.  Cox lead the International League in batting and RBIs, but missed out on the home runs leg of the triple crown finishing fifth.  I would like to say that the doubles in an International League record, as I cannot find a total higher than that, but some of the older stats in the IL are a little murky in places.  Cox ended up spending a few decent seasons with the Devil Rays before his career lost traction.  He spent part of a season in Japan and ended up back with the Rays briefly in 2005 and even made a return appearance (for 19 games) as a Durham Bull 

1. Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson spent three years as a Durham Bull.  His second stint with the Bulls, in 2010, he was basically an unstoppable force at the plate.  I attended several games that season where Johnson just simply schooled the other teams pitching staff in every way possible.  You've heard the old say about how the "baseball must look like a beach ball to that player right now"?  Johnson turned the right now into most of a season.  In 98 games in Durham that season Johnson hit 30 home runs, 19 doubles, with 95 RBIs while posting a .303/.430/.624 line.  Johnson basically missed a third of the season, but still lead the league in home runs, walks, slugging, and finished second in RBIs to Brandon Moss who played 38 more games than Johnson.  It was one of the most impressive seasons I have ever seen.  His Major League career has not been the best, but he still owns one of the biggest hits in Rays history.  


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