How it all Began, a 35 Year Celebration of MSBL: Jim Durham, Columbus MSBL (Sixth in a Series)

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

MSBL National Hall of Fame member and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Jim Durham has been around the block…and then back again!  With some urging by close friend John Littlejohn, Jim began playing in the newly-formed 30-over Columbus MSBL back in 1989, though he was a youngster at only 28 and turned 29 in August just in time for Arizona.  He was fortunate not to be a pitcher or catcher so he was eligible to play with an exemption. 

League President Rod Davis welcomed Jim’s help with the new league and Jim became the treasurer of the league a few years later.  Unfortunately, Rod passed away and someone else stepped in as president with Jim still making sure the bills were paid and all was well in that most important department.  As Jim reminded me, ‘the treasurer is the unsung hero in any league.’

Then in 1995 fate stepped in, the other president stepped down, and Jim was the unanimous pick to take over.  Jim said he would be happy to do it and remained in that position for nearly 20 years before stepping aside in favor of current president Rick Fryman.  Rick took over the helm in 2013 from Jim, who stepped aside to give someone else an opportunity.

“Being president of the league is challenging,” said Fryman. “I am just so fortunate to have had a great teacher in Jim Durham, who was president for close to 20 years.”

Added Durham, “My knees were killing me and I knew the tasks involved in being a successful league president, as well as playing, would be tough on me.  I had to quit playing full-time and step down as president so that the players could benefit from a fully-active president. 

Rick has done a terrific job.  I remain a consultant for Rick if he needs any advice.  My Dodgers league team, however, knows that they can call me only if they are facing a certain forfeit!  However, I did sub a few years back and ended up with 8 stitches in my shin from a slide into me at second base. (He was out by the way)”

Jim’s MSBL World Series participation, though maybe not his success rate, is extensive.  Their 20 years as the Columbus Dodgers have netted them a handful of playoff appearances but only one 2012 victory in the playoffs.  That year was also scripted to be Jim’s final appearance at the MSBL World Series, as the knees just couldn’t withstand the rigors of a week of non-stop baseball.

“We called ourselves the Lumbering Herd and had some t-shirts made for all of us to wear.  We took everyone’s favorite sayings and put them on the back.  It may only make sense to us but we had a lot of fun with it.  We may not have won a lot but that week in Arizona was easily the highlight of our baseball year.

Our first year at the World Series was in 1989 and we learned the hard way what sort of stamina is needed to compete.  Our season in Ohio ended in the middle of August and we didn’t have any indoor facilities back then to keep working out during the chilly Ohio fall. 

We practiced a total of one time before getting to Arizona that first year and we were all so pumped to be there that everyone got worn out and sore during the full-tilt, two-hour practice session the day before the World Series began. We couldn’t even bend over or throw the next day.  Playing six games in four days, including two double-headers, was agony.  We learned our lesson that first year!”

Was there a special World Series moment that sticks out during those 20 years in Arizona?

“One of the craziest things I remember is while playing a double-header, we won our first game on a bases-loaded, walk-off walk.  We thought that was pretty rare but in game two, we lost under the exact same circumstances.  Twice in two games, back-to-back.  I am sure I’ll never witness that again.”

As president of the Columbus MSBL for nearly 20 years, what achievements stick out to you?

One of my proudest achievements as president was putting in a father/son rule in the league way back in the middle-90s.  It stated that you could have your son play on your team as long as he was 18+, he had to hit back-to-back with his father, and if dad was on the field, the son had to be on the field, too.  

The sons originally couldn’t pitch but I think they have modified that somewhat now.  I am happy that they still have the father/son provision in place.”

Jim also explained that he is very proud of establishing the relationship they have with Huntington Park, the AAA stadium for the Guardians.  Jim set up the facility to host their annual Columbus MSBL All-Star games and eventually expanded it to play a series against the Central Ohio MABL, headed up by 2008 MSBL National Hall of Fame member and 2020 Honor Roll inductee Charles McCroskey.

Rick Fryman has elevated the relationship with the stadium officials so that we now play some regular-season games there as well.  It has been a wonderful relationship and a tremendous benefit for the players.”

Are there any special people to thank for helping him along the way in this most-successful baseball journey?

“Of course, this all begins with Steve Sigler for starting everything and giving us a platform to continue playing a kid’s game,” began Jim.  “Rick Fryman has done a great job and has taken the Columbus MSBL to another level.  Jim Gooding was my legion coach and I’ll never forget that he just let us play and wasn’t just a tyrant.  We won a lot and I credit it all to his leadership.  A great deal of my league philosophy is credited to Jim.

I must especially thank my wife for letting me do this all these years.  She always understood the time it took to run the league and she loved going to Arizona.  It was perfect and not possible without her being there every step of the way.”

Final thoughts?

Thinking back on what got me to this point makes me break up a little.  Baseball was my life as a kid and through college, including my coaching legion.  I was depressed because baseball had left my life but MSBL threw me the lifeline so that I could continue my baseball dream.  If I didn’t have two knee replacements, I’d still be playing but you can’t take away any of the memories.  Thank you MSBL!

Editor’s note: Below is a copy of Jim’s letter to his Dodger teammates upon his retirement from his duties and his playing days with the Dodgers ten years ago: