Durham, Leon (1980, 1989)

Leon “Bull” Durham (born July 31, 1957) is a former first baseman and outfielder in Major League Baseball who played for 10 seasons, and current hitting coach for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. Durham played with the St. Louis Cardinals (1980, 1989), Chicago Cubs (1981-1988), and Cincinnati Reds (1988). Durham batted and threw left-handed.

Playing career

Durham graduated from Cincinnati Woodward High School in 1976 where he was a high school All-American selection his senior year, posting a .385 batting average with 16 home runs and an 11-3 record as a pitcher. Durham was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1976 amateur draft in the first round and 15th overall.

Durham made his major league debut on May 27, 1980 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was traded that off-season to the Cubs for Bruce Sutter, and his career took off. He hit 10 home runs and drove in 55 runs in a strike-shortened 1981 season, then followed that with a stellar 1982 season in which he had a .312 batting average with 22 homers, 90 RBI, and 28 stolen bases. He won the Silver Slugger Award as the Cubs’ left fielder and made the All-Star team. He followed that with a hot first half in 1983 of 12 homers and 55 RBI and another All-Star Game appearance, but was injured shortly after the break and missed the rest of the season.

In 1984, the Cubs made several team-improving deals. They acquired Bob Dernier and Gary Matthews from the Phillies, moved Keith Moreland to right field, and Durham to first base. Durham essentially supplanted Bill Buckner, who was then dealt to the Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley. Durham responded with another stellar year by hitting .279 with 23 homers and 96 RBIs as the Cubs won the National League East. For good measure, Durham homered in both Games 4 and 5 of the 1984 NLCS. Durham would follow that season with three more consecutive 20-homer seasons, including a career-high 27 in 1987. However, his RBI totals decreased from 96 in 1984 to 75, 65, and 63, respectively.

In 1988, Durham got off to a miserable start, hitting only .218 with 3 homers after 21 games. Mark Grace began to see more time at first, and the Cubs traded Durham to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Perry amid rumors of drug use. Durham played in only 21 games for the Reds that season before entering into drug and alcohol rehabilitation. He tried a comeback with the Cardinals the next season, but only went 1 for 18 before retiring. He missed getting his pension by 10 games[1]

In a 10-year Major League career, Durham compiled a lifetime batting average of .277, hitting 147 home runs and driving in 530 runs. In 1982, Durham won a Silver Slugger Award as an outfielder. He was named to the All-Star team in 1982 and 1983 as a Chicago Cub.

1984 National League Championship Series

Leon Durham is widely remembered for an error that he made at first base during the 1984 National League Championship Series. In the bottom of the seventh inning in the decisive fifth game between Durham’s Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres, the Padres sent pinch-hitter Tim Flannery to face the Cubs’ ace pitcher Rick Sutcliffe.

Through the top of the sixth inning, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Padres cut the Cubs’ lead to 3-2 with a pair of singles by Alan Wiggins and Tony Gwynn, a walk to Steve Garvey, and sacrifice flies by Graig Nettles and Terry Kennedy. The bottom of the seventh inning kicked off with Carmelo Martínez walking on four pitches from Sutcliffe. Garry Templeton then sacrificed Martínez to second, setting things up for Tim Flannery. Martinez would then score when Flannery hit a sharp grounder that trickled through Leon Durham’s legs for an error.

Groundball hit to Durham…RIGHT THROUGH HIS LEGS!!! Here comes Martínez, we’re tied at three!

— ABC’s Don Drysdale calling Cubs first basemen Leon Durham’s crucial error in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS.
The error became known as the “Gatorade Glove Play” because before taking his position in the field that inning, Gatorade was spilled on Durham’s glove. Some Cub fans believe the Gatorade spilled on Durham’s glove amounted to a curse, similar to the goat and Bartman curses of Cub lore.

The play would also turn out to be very similar, in style and effect, to Bill Buckner’s much-discussed error in the 1986 World Series. The coincidental connection between these two events is that Durham had been moved from the outfield to first base during the 1984 season, replacing Buckner after the Cubs traded him to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Dennis Eckersley. Buckner’s error, like Durham’s, would be seen as turning a post-season series around. The same joke even circulated for both incidents: That they had been despondent, jumped in front of a moving truck, and “the truck went between their legs”.

The Padres wound up winning the game 6-3 to reach the World Series for the first time ever. What was especially frustrating was the fact that the Cubs had a 2 games to 0 lead (1984 marked the last time that the League Championship Series was a best-of-five series) over the Padres.
Durham is currently the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League.
Durham has been married over 30 years to his wife Angela; they have 3 children: Ashley Lauren, Ian, and Lance. They have two granddaughters and one grandson. Durham and his wife currently reside in Cincinnati, Ohio.