The San Diego Padres lost one of their own 19 years ago today. Mike Darr was killed in a car accident in Phoenix, and his legacy still runs strong through the organization.
The eldest Darr pitched in one game for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977. That was the extent of his playing career, but he helped cultivate his son into a second-round pick. Mike Darr was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1994 draft, after hitting .512 with 12 home runs his senior year in high school. He signed almost immediately, as he longed to be a major league player, just like his dad.
Darr immediately began to play well, as he hit .275 in 149 at-bats, at the age of 18, in the Detroit Tigers’ Rookie League. The next season, at low Single-A ball, he hit .289 and recorded an on-base percentage of .380 for the season. In 395 at-bats, he smacked five homers and drove in 66 runs. He seemed well on his way to the major leagues and was valued by the Tigers.
Turns out, the San Diego Padres coveted the young outfielder. On March 22, 1997, he was acquired alongside Matt Skrmetta, for journeyman second baseman Jody Reed. Darr immediately rewarded his new franchise by hitting .344 with 15 homers and 94 RBIs. He also stole 23 bases and had an on-base percentage of .409 that first season in the Padres’ minor league system. Not too bad for a 21-year-old in High Single-A ball. The Padres awarded Darr the Minor League Player of the Year award for 1997.
The next season in Double-A, Darr continued to impress with a .310 batting average, six homers, and 90 RBIs. A .385 on-base percentage and 28 stolen bases assured him of starting in Triple-A for the 1999 season. In Las Vegas, Mike Darr continued to shine. In 438 at-bats there, he hit .298 with ten homers and 62 RBIs.
At the age of 23, Mike Darr was promoted by the Padres for his first taste of major league pitching, making his major league debut on May 23, 1999. His first hit was off the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Andy Benes and he went 1-for-4 that day. Darr only managed 48 at-bats that season for the Padres but did hit .271 with two home runs. Another Minor League Player of the Year award was given to Darr for his time in Las Vegas, and he seemed ticketed for stardom.
Mike Darr spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons in the major leagues, for the most part. At his young age, he was mostly platooned initially in the outfield and used as a defensive replacement by manager Bruce Bochy. The outfielder showed his speed in stealing home on September 11, 2000, against the Colorado Rockies. He was the starting center fielder for the Padres when the 2001 season started. He played in 105 games that year, hitting .277 with two home runs and 34 RBIs.
The 2002 season was supposed to be the season Darr got the majority of at-bats in center field. At the age of 26, he would be given a long look as an everyday outfielder. He had earned that opportunity. His hard-nosed attitude and line-drive bat were precisely what the Padres needed at the time.
Nineteen years ago today (February 15th, 2002 ), Mike Darr lost his life in a single-car rollover accident on a highway outside Phoenix. Darr’s longtime friend, Duane Johnson, died in the accident as well. Both men were not wearing their seatbelts.
Also, in the brand new, white GMC Yukon was San Diego Padres minor league pitcher, Ben Howard, who was wearing his seat belt and walked away with only minor injuries. It was later determined that Mike Darr was over the legal limit of alcohol to properly operate a motor vehicle, a tragedy in every sense of the word.
Mike Darr’s career major league numbers: 542 at-bats, five home runs, 67 RBIs, a .273 batting average, and an impressive .353 on-base percentage. He was going to be a legit major league talent for years to come. The California native had the eye at the plate and the defense in the outfield to remain a consistent contributor at the professional level.
More than 1,500 people were present at Mike Darr’s funeral in Riverside, California. The entire Padres’ organization, including every player and coach, was on hand to pay their respects. The Padres wore a patch with his #26 on their sleeves for the entire 2002 season, the year that was supposed to be Mike Darr’s breakout campaign.
Mike Darr is survived by his wife Natalie and two sons, Mike Jr. and Matthew. His son, Mike Jr, played football and baseball at the same Corona Santiago High School. His son bats left and throws right, just like his dad. Mike Darr Jr. threw for over 6,000 yards and 51 touchdowns in his three varsity seasons. He also hit third for the baseball team and played center field. The apple doesn’t fall far from the proverbial tree.
Some will remember Mike Darr as that “Tattooed Guy” who used to play for the Padres. Others will remember the potential that was never able to be fulfilled. For one, I feel sad that such a young talent was taken away simply because he made a wrong choice. We remember Mike Darr, as he will always hold a place in San Diego Padres history.