This article was written by Bill Nowlin
“Versatility will keep me in the game a long time,” said Eddie Jurak in 1983.1 Indeed, Jurak was a true utility player. Primarily a shortstop, he appeared at every position as a professional save pitcher and catcher. Spring training 1984 summed up his job approach. He carried four different gloves with him, one suited for each infield position, and he typically took at least 25 grounders at each position during pregame infield practice.2
Jurak was right about having a long pro career — it spanned 19 seasons. Originally signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1975, he had a long slog but persevered, with seven minor-league seasons under his belt before making the big leagues. He appeared in 193 games at the top level (1982-85; 1988-89), then continued in the minors and Mexico through 1992, coming back for one last game in indie ball in 1994.
Edward James Jurak was born on October 24, 1957, in Hollywood, California. Two years earlier, his parents — Maria and Davorin Jurak — had emigrated to the United States from Split and Zagreb in Yugoslavia (now the Republic of Croatia), at the time a Communist country under Josip Broz Tito. In America, the family name was pronounced the same way as in Croatian: YOU-rack.
Jurak’s father, wrote Peter Gammons, had been “a well-known Yugoslavian rower who toured Europe in the late 30s until the war curtailed such activities. The Juraks sneaked out of Yugoslavia seeking political asylum in the early ’50s and ended up near Los Angeles, where Eddie’s older brother became a championship swimmer.” Gammons noted, “The background is not exactly typical California baseball: Eddie didn’t start playing until he was 12 because his father had directed him toward swimming and skiing.”3
“My dad was a used car salesman and in insurance,” Jurak noted in a June 2020 interview. “My mom worked for TRW. They did aerospace projects. She worked in the office for years.”4
Eddie’s older brother Hervey was born in Croatia. His sisters Renata and Helen were both born in the United States. Renata married Ivica Surjak, a soccer star from Croatia, and moved there. “They have a home there — a couple of homes there — and a little business. He’s retired now. They had a couple of girls.”
Asked if there had been any one person who really got him going with baseball, one name immediately came to Jurak’s mind: “Joe Thomas. He was my Little League baseball coach. He owned a BSA motorcycle shop in San Pedro back in the day and when I was 13 years old, I went to my friend’s baseball practice. He didn’t have enough players so he said, ‘Hey, can you help me out? One of my players didn’t show up?’ So I did. He said, ‘Hey, you’re a good player. What team are you on?’ I said, ‘I’m not on a team.’ He goes, ‘Why is that?’ I go, ‘I don’t think my father would let me.”
“My parents taught me to snow ski and water ski — sports that he knew. I played sports but never on a team.
“He said, ‘Well, we’ll see about that. What’s your number?’ So he called my dad on the phone and my dad said no: ‘I don’t want my son to play a sport I know nothing about. He [Joe Thomas] didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He came and knocked on the door. . .and said, ‘Hey, I really like your son. I’d like him on the team.’ My dad said, ‘Eddie, you want to play?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I want to play.’ He goes, ‘Okay.’”
Even after Eddie became a professional, his father still didn’t become a convert to the game. “He never really got into it. . .He came out to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a couple of times.”
Boston selected Jurak in the third round of the June 1975 amateur draft out of San Pedro High School. His coach there, Jerry Lovarov, said the 6-foot-2, 170-pound shortstop had hit for a .405 batting average that year but had only five RBIs “because teams would not pitch to him.”5 Coach Lovarov added that Jurak had been walked 17 times but noted, “His real strength is his arm, one of the strongest I have seen. He can make the deep throw exceptionally well…At this stage of his career, he is ahead of Alan Ashby and Garry Maddox, two former players here now in the major leagues.”6
Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson is credited with signing Jurak. He reports that he got a $15,000 bonus, but there could have been more. Eddie’s brother Hervey tried to help get a bit more for him, but was unable to. “I got screwed,” Eddie said. “Joe Stephenson came over to the house and put a big old act on. My brother said something about him coming here and my parents not speaking good English, because they had accents. He said, ‘You’re trying to sign my brother for cheap.’ Joe Stephenson gets up and says, ‘I’ve been a scout for 27 years and I never had money like that. Where’s the contract? I’m out of here.’ Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I wanted to play baseball. In the meantime, I didn’t sign a separate piece of paper for incentive bonuses. I thought that was in the contract when I signed. I didn’t know there was a separate contract that you had to sign. He never gave it to me. When I got to Double A and had my time in, I thought I was going to get my incentive bonus. But ‘No, Eddie, apparently you didn’t sign for one.’”
“The bonus money helped Hervey start a painting business. He became a painting contractor. He did that for a while. He was successful at a couple of things. Now he’s a longshoreman like I am. We’re both longshoremen. He’s a boss on the docks.”
Still only 17 years old, Jurak was assigned to the Elmira Pioneers in the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League. He acquitted himself well enough at the plate, batting .252 in 68 games (with a .340 on-base percentage). He scored 41 runs and drove in 25. In the field, though, he was more challenged, committing 43 errors at shortstop in 339 chances for a fielding percentage of .873. He improved defensively in each of the next two seasons, at progressively higher levels of competition. In 1976, with the Single-A Winston-Salem Red Sox (Carolina League), he had a .903 fielding percentage. In 1977 with the Double-A Eastern League’s Bristol Red Sox, he halved his errors and had a .952 percentage. His batting average had slipped to .219 in 1976 but climbed to .263 (.345 OBP) in 1977.
In 1978, Jurak opened the season on the disabled list after fouling a ball off his foot. It cost him his ranking in the Red Sox shortstop pecking order. He had been the “heir apparent” to Rick Burleson but dropped to fourth in line, behind Glenn Hoffman and Julio Valdez. He’d gone from “major-league shortstop prospect to Triple-A suspect.”7
Jurak returned to action with Single-A Winter Haven on June 16, then was promoted to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox on July 14, where he finished the season. In the 23 games in which he appeared for the PawSox, he hit .261 with an on-base percentage of .382.
Returning to Bristol in 1979, Jurak worked in 135 games, batting .221. The following year, he opened the season on the DL again and made a couple of visits there before settling in on June 7 to finish out the season in Pawtucket.
Jurak had almost exclusively played shortstop, but in 1981 he appeared in 30 games at third base. He was 23 years old and “seemingly going nowhere except as a backup” — but he asked to be sent back to Bristol so that he could get more playing time.8 He was apparently ready. He said he’d “stopped trying to pull everything and began using the entire field.”9
In 87 games at Bristol, he hit .340, with a .459 OBP. Promoted to Pawtucket on August 11 after Julio Valdez was called up to Boston, he hit an even .300, with an OBP of .394. He didn’t show a lot of power, with one home run for each team — but his .340 mark for Bristol earned him the Eastern League batting championship. He was named the league’s All-Star third baseman..10
Glenn Hoffman had succeeded Burleson as Boston’s starting shortstop in 1981. Valdez was the main backup to Hoffman. Jurak was added to the 40-man roster that October. He played winter ball in Colombia and made the Red Sox as a utility infielder in 1982. There was some talk in the spring of him playing a little outfield, too, because Chico Walker had gotten hurt during camp. Jurak started the 1982 season in Pawtucket again, but was called up to Boston on June 26 after regular third baseman Carney Lansford hurt his ankle in a collision at home plate. He had been hitting .270, with eight homers and 34 RBIs.11 The burst in home runs was something new; he had hit only 10 over the previous seven seasons.
Jurak’s major league debut came on June 30 at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. After the Sox failed to score in the top of the fifth, they were down, 9-0, and Ralph Houk shuffled his infield a bit, bringing in Jurak to play third base. His first at bat closed out the sixth, a line drive to the shortstop.
His first base hit came the next day, in his first start; he had two hits, both singles off Detroit’s Milt Wilcox. On July 19, in his fifth game, he got his first run batted in, his single in the bottom of the eighth making it 5-5 against the Texas Rangers. Two batters later he came in on a Carl Yastrzemski home run; the Sox won, 9-5. That game also marked his first appearance as an outfielder in the pros; it was a four-inning stint in center. In later years, he played a few more outfield innings in three other big league games and had sporadic outings there in the minors.
Jurak was returned to Pawtucket on August 6, finishing with a .296 average for the PawSox, and was recalled on September 1. By season’s end, he had seven RBIs in 12 games and was 7-for-21 (.333).
Jurak spent the full 1983 and 1984 seasons in the majors (with another winter-ball stint in between, this one for Santurce in Puerto Rico). In 75 games in 1983 — his big league career high — he accumulated 183 plate appearances and hit a solid .277, with a .350 on-base percentage. He drove in 18 runs. He played across the whole infield: 38 games at shortstop, 19 at first base, 12 at third base, and one at second. He knew he offered value by being able to play several positions. “First is new to me,” he said that spring, “but I’m learning. The ball comes at you quick — like at third. There are just different spins.”12
His most memorable moment in 1984 involved one of his four gloves. It came on May 22 during a game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were playing the Indians and during the third inning a rat scurried out on the field. It moved from the Sox on-deck circle, crossed the first base line, and was headed toward Bruce Hurst on the pitcher’s mound before juking to the left and crossing over the third base line. The crowd was transfixed; the players stood around watching, but Jurak grabbed the rat in his first baseman’s mitt and took it off the field to great applause. It became a national sensation. Jurak himself said, “All I did was throw him in the trash can. I wasn’t worried about him biting me, although he did bite the glove. I was worrying about him jumping out of my glove.”13
He wasn’t used as much in 1984, collecting 79 plate appearances in 47 games. He hit .242 (.359 OBP) with seven RBIs, one of which was his eighth-inning single that beat the Twins on August 19. Once again, he played all four infield positions, most frequently at first base. The Sox had a new shortstop that year, flashy-fielding Colombian Jackie Gutierrez.
The 1985 season saw Jurak start back in Pawtucket and he wasn’t pleased about it. After being optioned out, he told the Boston Herald’s Mike Shalin that, while it felt good to be playing every day, “I’m kind of upset. For two years I did the job, exactly what they asked me to do. It doesn’t seem right. They tell me it was a numbers (bodies) game, but that’s bull….” His goal, he said, was “Come down here, do well and hopefully get traded. Going back to Boston wouldn’t be the same.”14
He put in a couple of stints there. Dave Stapleton’s sore left knee landed him on the 15-day DL and Jurak was brought up on May 17. He returned to the PawSox on June 7, then was recalled again on July 25 when Glenn Hoffman went on the DL. He appeared in just 26 games; 14 of those were as a pinch runner and three as a pinch hitter. He was 3-for-13 (.231), scoring four runs but driving in none.
In Pawtucket, one of his 38 RBIs won the June 21 game against Syracuse — in the 27th inning. Had the game gone on another six innings, it would have matched Pawtucket’s 33-inning “Longest Game” from 1981.
The Sox signed Jurak for 1986 but put him on waivers in mid-March for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release, after 10 years in the Red Sox organization. He was called off the bus during spring training and told of their decision.
Jurak played some baseball in 1986, but not much. For the most part, he was at home until deep into the season. “Somebody called me and said, ‘Hey, the San Jose shortstop got hurt. They’re looking for a shortstop. I went up there for the last month.” He played in 28 games for the Single-A San Jose Bees — a club that featured numerous substance-abuse reclamation projects such as Steve Howe, Mike Norris, and Ken Reitz — and hit .324 as one of the normal guys on what Sports Illustrated later called the “weirdest team ever.”15 “Yeah, the scouts were looking at me. That’s when Texas picked me up.”
As a free agent, Jurak signed for 1987 with the Texas Rangers organization. He played 98 games for the Tulsa Drillers in the Double-A Texas League, batting .346 with 10 homers. He also hit .309 in 31 games for the Triple-A Oklahoma City 89ers.
In 1988, Jurak went to spring training as a non-roster player for the Oakland Athletics. He played almost the full season for the Tacoma Tigers, the A’s affiliate in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, batting .295. In three games for Oakland in late May, he had only one plate appearance.
A couple of years away from Boston hadn’t mellowed him much regarding the Red Sox. In mid-July, while in Buffalo for the Triple-A All-Star Game, he said, “I miss Boston, it’s a great city, but I don’t know if I miss the organization. I still think I got a raw deal with them. All those years and they never gave me a chance to prove myself. They slowly pushed me out of the picture.”16 In the All-Star Game, Jurak tripled in the top of the ninth inning and scored the go-ahead run, leading the Triple-A American League team to a 2-1 win.
After that season he signed as a free agent with the organization across the bay, the San Francisco Giants. He had a last hurrah in the big leagues in 1989, playing in 30 games for the Giants until the end of June. He hit .238 with one run batted in, bringing his average to .265 (.346 OBP) over the course of his six seasons and 193 games in the majors.
Jurak hit .295 in 52 games in 1989 for the Phoenix Firebirds, the Giants’ PCL affiliate, and appeared in one game for the Triple-A American Association’s Indianapolis Indians, a Montreal affiliate, where he had been sent in September on a conditional deal.
Near the end of October, Jurak became a free agent again. In 1990, he played for his third PCL team in three years — the Calgary Cannons, then affiliated with the Seattle Mariners.
There followed two seasons of Mexican League baseball. He had a fine 1991 season with Los Diablos Rojos de Mexico (in the country’s capital city), batting .356 with 12 homers and 88 RBIs in 115 games while playing first base. For 1992, he moved to Los Acereros de Monclova but appeared in just 27 games, hitting .252.
In 1993, Jurak was out of baseball. He simply stayed home and worked.
The next year—his last in baseball. he managed the Mobile Baysharks in the Texas-Louisiana League, an independent circuit, to a 35-53 record. He batted just once and finished with a 1.000 batting average , singling and driving in a run, then coming around to score. .
After baseball, Jurak said, “I did a little painting on my own. . . house painting. Word of mouth, and through friends. Then I got into longshoring. All my friends were longshoring in San Pedro. I work nights. I’ve got 18 years down there.” He works on the docks in Long Beach and San Pedro, on the ground level, helping to situate containers lifted off the ships by a crane operator. He has also begun to draw on his major league pension from baseball.
Jurak lives in Long Beach with his wife Josie (née Ruiz), whom he met at a restaurant in that city. “I got married 12 years ago. First time. Turning 50. No children. My wife’s 11 years younger and we tried to have children, but it didn’t happen. We just said it’s not in the cards.”
The Juraks enjoy leisure activities together. “If I go skiing, she skis with me.” Recently they embarked on another project, he explained at the time of the 2020 interview after he’d wrapped up painting for the day. “I bought a house in La Quinta, out in the desert. I’m out here now, fixing it up.”
Last revised: October 14, 2020
Special thanks to Ed Jurak for his input. Thanks also to the Boston Red Sox and to SABR’s Rod Nelson.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, and La Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano.
1 Tom Yantz, “Jurak Keeps Slumping Stapleton on the Bench,” Hartford Courant, June 22, 1983: C6.
2 Tom Yantz, “Jurak’s In A Good Position to Bolster Red Sox’ Infield,” Hartford Courant, March 20, 1984: D1.
3 Peter Gammons, “Jurak Headed Down to Get Back Up,” Boston Globe, March 6, 1982: 28
4 Author interview with Eddie Jurak on June 7, 2020. All direct quotations attributed to Jurak come from this interview, unless otherwise indicated. Hervey Jurak’s best event was the 50-yard freestyle butterfly; Eddie says he was the fastest swimmer in the region.
5 “Prep Catcher, Shortstop Drafted by Big Leagues,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1975: CS6.
6 The article misspelled Ashby’s first name as Allen and Maddox’s first name as Gary.
7 Peter Gammons, “Jurak Headed Down to Get Back Up.”
8 Peter Gammons, “Crawford’s Fate: It’s the Bullpen,” Boston Globe, June 8, 1981: 26.
9 Peter Gammons, “Jurak Headed Down to Get Back Up.”
11 Steve Harris, “Lansford Put on Disabled List,” Boston Herald, June 26, 1982: 37. Manager Ralph Houk was clear that it was his desire to get a right-handed batter that caused him to call for Jurak. See Larry Whiteside, “Jurak Surprise Pick,” Boston Globe, June 26, 1982: 31.
12 Yantz, “Jurak Keeps Slumping Stapleton on the Bench.”
13 “It’s Boston’s Rat Attack,” Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1984: C2.
14 Mike Shalin, “Disappointed Duo Seeks Escape,” Boston Herald, April 19, 1985: 70.
15 Tom Verducci, “Weirdest. Team. Ever: Drug users, has-beens and never-weres on 1986 San Jose Bees,” Sports Illustrated, September 16, 2016.