JUNE 11, 1984
Long before Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon made the name famous, Leon Durham was the original Bull Durham. He earned the moniker from teammates as a St. Louis Cardinals farmhand with Class A Gastonia in 1977 after a blast over the BULL DURHAM SMOKING TOBACCO sign in the ballpark in Charlotte. The Bull would go on to hit 147 homers in a 10-year career in the National League.
Durham's been back in the minors for eight years now, serving as a coach in the Anaheim Angels' organization for five and in the Detroit Tigers' system for the past three, as hitting coach for the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens.
After his rookie season with St. Louis in 1980, Durham was traded with two other players to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Bruce Sutter. In seven-plus seasons with the Cubs, Durham experienced his best and worst moments as a major leaguer. He hit 20 or more homers five times, drove in 90 or more runs twice, went to two All-Star Games and had his only .300 season (.312 in 1982) in a Chicago uniform.
The Cubs went to the playoffs once in that time, and neither Durham nor the team's long-suffering fans will ever forget the 1984 National League Championship Series. With the best-of-five series tied at two games and Chicago leading 3-2 in the seventh inning of Game 5, the San Diego Padres' Tim Flannery hit a one-out ground ball to first that went through Durham's legs for a two-base error. The Padres scored four runs in the inning, three unearned, and the Cubs haven't sniffed the World Series since.
After Durham spent three more solid seasons in Chicago, his career went into a tail-spin in 1988 because of substance abuse. He was traded to the Cincinnati in May 1988 but missed most of that season while undergoing alcohol and drug rehab. He returned to the Cardinals the following year, played in only 29 games and was suspended for the final two weeks of the season—his last in the majors—for failing a drug test.
Rather than focus on his past substance abuse, Durham prefers to talk with pride about how his life has turned out. He and his wife, Angela, recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. The couple has three children, Lauren Ashley, 18; Ian, 16; and Lance, 14. His dream is to coach in the majors.
"I'm working on close to 12 years of sobriety," Durham says. "There comes a point where you become sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was tough to have that happen to me as an athlete, but at the same time I beat it."