The curse of Ray Durham is still haunting White Sox two decades later

Romy Gonzalez (12) is expected to be firmly in the mix for the Chicago White Sox's starting second base job this spring.
Romy Gonzalez (12) is expected to be firmly in the mix for the Chicago White Sox's starting second base job this spring. / Quinn Harris/GettyImages

It should not surprise anyone that the Chicago White Sox have treated second base like a second-class citizen this off-season.

It is White Sox business as usual.

The White Sox have considered the position nothing more than disposable, recyclable waste the last two decades, filling it with overrated rookies, unheard-of prospects, and washed-up former stars a step away from retirement.

Call it the curse of Ray Durham.

The White Sox selected an 18-year-old Durham in the fifth round in 1990, among the last in a long line of draft gifts from soon-to-be-fired general manager Larry Himes that also included Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, Alex Fernandez, and Jason Bere.

Ray Durham was a very good player for the Chicago White Sox.

Durham arrived in the big leagues in 1995, finishing sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting and going on to become one of the more dynamic and productive second basemen in White Sox history.

The 5-foot-8 switch-hitter spent eight years in a White Sox uniform, making two All-Star teams and hitting .278 with 784 runs scored, 1,246 hits, 53 triples, 106 homers, 484 RBI, and 219 stolen bases. And he did it all by the age of 30.

The White Sox didn't even have to think about another second baseman during the Durham era. The durable Durham played 151 or more games from 1996-2001 and was on his way to a 150-game season in 2002.

But Durham was going to be a free agent after 2002 so the Sox traded him to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Jon Adkins. Yes, Jon Adkins.

Adkins, from the same school (Oklahoma State) that produced Ventura, would pitch for four major league teams during his six-season career.

He was 2-4 with a 5.08 ERA for the Sox in 59 relief appearances from 2003-05. And no, he didn't help the Sox win the 2005 World Series with an 8.64 ERA over five appearances in the regular season.

Durham though did help the Athletics win the American League West in 2002. The A's were 59-43 and three games behind Seattle when they traded for Durham. They inserted him as their regular designated hitter and the A's took off, winning 44 of their last 60 games.

The White Sox? Well, the Durham dumping began what is now a 22-year second base odyssey that began a month later with D'Angelo Jimenez and continues to this day with an American Idol-like list of tryout wannabes that no Sox fan would ever confuse with Nellie Fox, Eddie Collins, Jorge Orta, Julio Cruz and certainly, Ray Durham.

You can also call it Ray Ray's Revenge.

Oh, to be sure, some members of the Sox second base parade the last two decades haven't been half bad. One of them, Tadahito Iguchi, became a White Sox hero as a member of the 2005 World Series champs.

Yes, he became famous for standing at home plate and watching Scott Podsednik steal second base and, of course, one unforgettable swing against the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.

But Iguchi for two seasons (2005 and 2006) was one of the more productive second basemen in the American League hitting 33 homers, driving in 138 runs, stealing 26 bases, and hitting .280 in the two years combined.

But then The Curse of Ray Durham took hold again and Iguchi was gone by July 2007, having played less than three full seasons with the Sox.

The Sox traded a 32-year-old Iguchi to the Philadelphia Phillies for Michael Dubee, a pitcher the Sox originally drafted in 2004 and didn't sign, even though the price was certainly less than that of a starting second basemen who just helped you win a World Series.

Iguchi would leave the big leagues after 2008 and went on to play quite productively until the age of 42 in Japan.

Before Iguchi and after Durham, second base was filled with backups Tony Graffanino and Willie Harris and one-foot-in-Cooperstown Roberto Alomar. Alomar played just 85 games for the Sox over 2004 and 2005, hitting .239 with four homers and stealing six bases.

But, hey, the White Sox are mentioned on his Hall of Fame plaque. The Sox, by the way, had to actually trade for Alomar twice in those two seasons, which is two more trades for an established second baseman than they have made this current off-season.

The White Sox simply haven't had a plan for second base since Durham was traded. The philosophy for second base has been stop gap at best and, in its darkest moments, something to completely ignore (like this off-season).

If you don't acknowledge there is a problem, is it really a problem? But second base is the annoying hole in the blanket that keeps popping up no matter how many patches are sewn on.

The Sox even keep throwing that aggravating blanket in the trash and a new one with even more holes shows up on the couch like magic. See Cesar Hernandez and Josh Harrison for the last two years.

Danny Richar, Chris Getz, Brett Lillibridge, Jayson Nix, Jeff Keppinger, Micah Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino, Yolmer Sanchez, and, yes, Tyler Greene. Remember Alen Hanson, Ryan Goins, and Jose Rondon?

Of course, you do. They all had a chance at second base for the last 15 years or so. There was also the washed-up Omar Vizquel and Orlando Hudson. The only time the Sox seemed to have a real plan and stick to it at second was the Gordon Beckham experiment and the Nick Madrigal mirage.

Beckham, the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft, played 100 or more games at second from 2010-2014, and somehow got worse every season.

He ended up hitting .242 with 67 homers in parts of seven Sox seasons and is now more entertaining as Steve Stone's replacement in the Sox TV booth than he ever was as a player.

The highly-touted Madrigal, the fourth overall pick in 2018, was supposed to be part of the current rebuild. Sox fans seemed to love him, TV play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti deemed him "Nicky Two Strikes" and Madrigal hit .317 over 83 games combined in 2020 and 2021.

He was everything he was supposed to be (.358 on-base percentage). But then he got hurt and the Sox traded him for a reliever (Craig Kimbrel) they didn't even need or know how to use. Very little the Sox have done with second base in the last two decades has made much sense. But the Madrigal mistake might top the list.

The Sox think so little of second base that they don't even realize when they have something promising at the position. Juan Uribe, Alexei Ramirez, and Yoan Moncada were only allowed to play there for one year (Uribe in 2004, Ramirez in 2008, Moncada in 2018) before moving to shortstop (Uribe, Ramirez) or third (Moncada).

The Sox also had quality infield prospects like Marcus Semien, Eduardo Escobar, and Fernando Tatis Jr. in the organization but traded them all. Escobar went to the Minnesota Twins in July 2012 for a spent Francisco Liriano.

Semien, Chris Bassitt, and Josh Phegley went to Oakland in December 2014 for a disappointing Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. Tatis was traded for James Shields in June 2016. So maybe it's a good thing the Sox haven't made any important trades this winter.

If the Sox traded for either Semien, Escobar, or Tatis (and maybe even Nicky Two Strike) this off-season some fans and media would have hailed the move as the final piece to a World Series puzzle.

But all we have left is a puzzling second base menu heading into the 2023 season with no main course.

Romy Gonzalez wasn't even a force in college for the Miami Hurricanes, hitting just .254 in three seasons with 16 homers. He's hit .241 in 137 big-league at-bats with 50 strikeouts and three walks and .258 in 1,048 minor-league at-bats.

But he just might be the favorite to win the starting second base job this spring among a group that includes White Sox lifer Leury Garcia (since 2013) and rookie Lenyn Sosa, who went 4-for-35 in a brief Sox look last year.

The Sox, for some reason, let Danny Mendick walk to the New York Mets this winter. He might have been the best second baseman on the roster, But, hey, the Sox have added veteran backups Hanser Alberto and Erik Gonzalez this off-season. And Jake Burger and Andrew Vaughn have played second before.

The possibilities are endless. Frightening, yes. But also endless.

Sound familiar? Somewhere Yolmer Sanchez, D'Angelo Jimenez, Tyler Saladino, Jeff Keppinger, Bret Lillibridge and Jayson Nix are smiling.

Brett Lawrie, Pablo Ozuna, Alex Cintron, and Danny Richar are shaking their heads. None of them, after all, would have been afraid of a competition that included Romy Gonzalez, Leury Garcia, and Lenyn Sosa.

It is perfectly understandable for Sox fans to be disappointed right now with the Lake Michigan-sized hole at second base. Be angry, confused, and annoyed. You certainly have a right. But don't be surprised.

Next. The White Sox should consider a trade for Max Fried. dark