Ray Durham or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love José Abreu
I want to tell you a little bit about my all time favorite White Sox player, Ray Durham.
Durham played for the Sox from 1995-2002, which means I probably decided he was my favorite player somewhere around the age of seven or eight years old.
There were really only two reasons I became such a big Ray Durham fan:
1. His stance
2. He wore number 5, my favorite number
At seven years old, I couldn't tell you what his batting average, on base percentage, WAR, or average exit velocity was. It honestly wasn't even until I wanted to write this piece today that I looked at his career numbers, and you know what, he had a really solid major league career!
He finished his career with a batting line of .277/.352/.436 and ended up with more than 2,000 hits. He was just a really solid player throughout the entirety of his career, but his numbers have nothing to do with why I loved him so much: He had one of the coolest, weirdest batting stances I had ever seen. He would hold the bat high up over his head, and stick his butt out. I used to love showing my dad how close I could mimic it.
(Side note: What the hell happened to cool/weird batting stances? I mean there a few now, but growing up watching baseball throughout the early 2000s I feel like every team had at least a few guys with unique stances)
Regarding his jersey number, I only just had a realization about that part of it, as I write this now. I never thought too hard about it, but didn't really know why my favorite number was five, but it's now becoming clear. Durham was my favorite player because he had a cool stance, and he wore No. 5, so therefore Durham was my favorite player, and the number five would be my favorite number. It really was that simple. That's the number I always picked in Little League, and the number I've long considered to hold some kind of luck when I spot it in the wild.
All of this reminded me of José Abreu.
Abreu signed with the White Sox in 2013. My favorite players were no longer determined based on their batting stances or jersey numbers, but instead their effectiveness on my favorite team.
For the first several years of his major league career, Abreu was becoming a favorite player for lots of Sox fans, young and old, with his on-field play. As he became more established on the team, his calm demeanor and outstanding work ethic, along with his leadership and off-the-field impact, kept him in the highest regard of not only the fanbase, but the organization that signed him.
That organization that signed him most recently handed him a three-year extension that will more than likely take him through the end of his career. From a pure baseball standpoint, it was a decision that was criticized by many. Abreu is not the same player he was when he first arrived to Chicago, as his bat has slowed a bit and his on-field value is diminishing.
We can't quantify his impact on the young players that make up the future core of this team, specifically those that hail from his home country of Cuba. But I don't think we have to quantify it to know that it has meant a lot.
For the purpose of this piece though, 2020 José Abreu's on-field effectiveness doesn't really matter.
What matters more to me is appreciating the young White Sox fan. The seven-year-old fan who calls Abreu his favorite player because of some reason completely unrelated to anything that us old and crusty observers of the sport hold most important.
Twenty years later, that same fan might look back on Abreu's career numbers and realize, wow, that guy had a really solid career, just like I did with Durham.
I am all for diving into the analytics to determine a player's value. At the same time, I'll never forget I knew nothing about analytics when I decided that Ray Durham was my favorite baseball player — and a significant reason I became as passionate about the team as I am today.