September 6, 1977: Mike Darr
A couple months after his 18th birthday, Mike Darr was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 1974 MLB Amateur Draft. It seemed like he had a good shot of reaching the major leagues, especially given his youth and high athletic ceiling. It took him three seasons of playing in cities like Bluefield, West Virginia, Lodi, California, and Jersey City to go along with Miami and Charlotte to prove he was worthy of a shot in the big leagues.
On November 5, 1976 he was selected by the Blue Jays with the 17th overall pick in the MLB Expansion Draft. Toronto was to begin play in the major leagues in the 1977 season and now, Darr was a member of the organization. Despite his 6.14 ERA and 114 walks compared to 110 strikeouts at Double-A Jersey City, the expansion Blue Jays made Darr a September call up.
Forty-two years ago today, Darr started for the 45-89 Blue Jays against the 80-56 Red Sox and had one of the most disastrous "cup of coffee" pitching performances ever. Nearly 18,000 fans were on hand at Exhibition Stadium, the Blue Jays' first home, to see the wheels fall off rather quickly.
After putting two runners on and getting just one out, Darr was faced with the tall task of setting down three future Hall of Famers in Carl Yastrezemski, Jim Rice, and Carlton Fisk. His mission started off well as he got Yaz to fly out to left field, forcing the runners on first and second to hold. Then, he plunked Jim Rice to load the bases for Carlton Fisk, one of the greatest catchers in the game's history. Two years after his famous 1975 World Series home run, Fisk clubbed a towering fly, one of 376 long balls he would hit in his career. One out away from escaping any damage, Darr had given up a grand slam, spotting Boston an early 4-0 lead.
He was able to get out of the inning, but was removed in the second inning after once again loading the bases with just one out. Reliever Tom Murphy did damage control, getting just a run-scoring sac fly and groundout to end the inning. That run was attributed to Darr, who had pitched just 1.1 innings and accumulated a stunning 33.75 ERA. His small sample size will forever haunt his gaudy numbers.
Darr played two more minor league seasons, but never again reached the majors. His 1978 season at Triple-A Syracuse was solid as he posted a 4.06 ERA, but in the days where win-loss records were focused on too heavily, he went 6-16. Then, he dropped down to Single-A Kinston and went 10-9 with a 3.21 ERA, but at just 23 years old, Darr decided he was done with professional baseball. His son by the same name would prove to have more major-league success than his old man.
Mike Darr Jr. was nearly 18 months old when his old man threw his only major league pitches and within 18 years, he was a second round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the 1994 MLB Amateur Draft. Being such a high pick, he was placed on a fast track to the majors and within five seasons, was patrolling the outfield for the San Diego Padres. Each of his first three seasons in the league were Padres legend Tony Gwynn's final three seasons, 1999-2001.
Darr Jr. emerged as a solid major-league piece in 2001, hitting .277 in 105 games. It appeared 2002 would provide the 25-year-old an opportunity to really break out. Tragically, at 2 a.m. on February 15, 2002 just hours before San Diego was set to open Spring Training, Darr was driving drunk with one friend and teammate. Neither Darr nor his friend, Duane Johnson, were wearing seatbelts. Darr rolled the vehicle across three lanes of freeway and crashed through a fence. Darr and Johnson were both ejected from the vehicle and were killed.
Ben Howard, was a teammate in the Padres organization and had his seatbelt on in the backseat. He was treated for some minor cuts and bruises and we released. Howard, a promising young pitcher, made his major-league debut with San Diego two months after the fatal crash. He pitched in the majors between 2002-04 with the Padres and Marlins and 2-5 with a 5.20 ERA in just 83 innings.
Howard got far more innings on a big-league mound than Darr ever did, but it's safe to say Darr would have given it all back to have prevented his son's deadly crash, giving his boy the opportunity to live out his own blossoming professional baseball career.