Julio Lugo

This article was written by Justin Krueger

Julio LugoAt 6-feet-1 and weighing 165 pounds, Julio Lugo was built for the infield. He was tall, slender, and fast. He played for seven major-league teams: the Houston Astros, Tampa Devil Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, and Atlanta Braves. 

Julio Cesar Lugo was born on November 16, 1975, in Barahona, Dominican Republic, an eco-tourism destination, fishing center, and port city located in the southwest of the country. It sits approximately 100 miles west of the capital city of Santo Domingo. The town lies off the beaten track from more tourist-popular destinations, and is considered one of the poorest communities in the country.1 Lugo recalled playing ball when “there were rocks and sticks [for balls and bats] and cartons of milk [for gloves]. … It was rough.”2 When he was 13 years old his family moved to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, New York. It was here that he became a New York Mets fan. His favorite player was Howard Johnson. After the move to New York, Lugo’s mother often worked multiple jobs, usually in a factory or an office building. Sixteen-hour workdays were not uncommon for her in order for the family to be able to make ends meet.

A graduate of Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn, Lugo received a scholarship to play college baseball 1,400 miles away in small-town Oklahoma. Beginning in August 1993, he attended Connors State College, a public junior college of about 2,000 students in Warner, Oklahoma, a town of 1,500 in the eastern part of the state. He played for the Cowboys of Connors State for two seasons, and earned a first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American selection. In the 1994 amateur draft, Lugo was picked in the 43rd round by the Houston Astros, and signed with the Astros after his graduation in 1995. When he made his major-league debut in 2000, he was the lowest drafted Astros player to make it to the majors with the team.

After four years in the minor leagues, Lugo had worked his way up to become a top-quality infield prospect in the Astros farm system. Baseball America considered him the team’s seventh-best prospect in 1999 and the sixth in 2000.

Lugo began his professional career in 1995 as a 19-year-old member of the Low-A Auburn Astros in the New York-Penn League. He spent time at second base, shortstop, and the outfield. In 59 games he batted .291, had 16 RBIs, stole 17 bases, and made 12 errors.

With the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwest League) in 1996, Lugo batted .295 and made 29 errors in 122 games. He spent 1997 and 1998 with the High-A Kissimmee Cobras (Florida State League). In 1997 he batted .267 and made 41 errors in 124 games; and in 1998 he batted .303 and made 42 errors.

Despite his difficulty fielding, Lugo advanced out of Class A and spent the 1999 season with the Double-A Jackson Generals (Texas League). He made 29 errors in 115 games, but hit .319 with 10 home runs and made the Texas League All-Star team. He started the 2000 season with Triple-A New Orleans but was called up to the Astros in mid-April. During his time in the minor leagues Lugo mostly played shortstop, but also had spent time at second base, third base, and the outfield. Over his 5½ years in the minors, Lugo was adept on the basepaths: He stole 164 bases and was caught stealing 62 times; he swiped a career-high 51 bases in 1998 with Kissimmee. Showcasing his speed, Lugo hit 14 triples during both his seasons with Kissimmee.

Lugo made his major-league debut, as a pinch-runner for Tony Eusebio in the eighth inning, on April 15, 2000, and played in his last major-league game on August 23, 2011, with the Atlanta Braves. His first hit came in his third game, on April 19 in Los Angeles, and his first run batted in followed a week later on April 26, in Houston against the Chicago Cubs. For the season (116 games) he batted .283 (and had an on-base percentage of .346) with 40 RBIs and 78 runs scored. In 60 games at shortstop, he made 12 errors, a .951 fielding percentage.

In 2001 Lugo settled in as the Astros regular shortstop, batting .263 in 140 games. In August 2002 his season was cut short at 88 games when a pitch from Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood broke his left forearm. Before the 2003 season Lugo won his arbitration case with the Astros for $1.575 million. He had earned $325,000 in 2002.

Early into his fourth season with the Astros, in May 2003, Lugo was abruptly designated for assignment by the Astros. Many believed this was in direct response to his arrest on a charge of misdemeanor assault for allegedly hitting his wife in the face and smashing her head on the car. On the next day he was designated for assignment by the Astros. GM Gerry Hunsicker said:

“The fact of the matter is that a lot of things went into this decision. For a number of days now, all of us in the baseball side have been discussing ways that we can help this club get out of its slump. … Certainly, Julio shouldn’t be singled out as the reason this ballclub is where it is. But anybody that’s been involved in our club know that the shortstop position has been under some scrutiny. Many of us felt like a change there, if we had an option, could possibly be one of the ways we could improve our club.”3

At the time of his designation, the Astros had scuttled to an 11-15 record in the first month of the season. Hunsicker added:

“We felt it was in Julio’s best interest and in the best interest of the organization to put this situation behind us as quickly as possible and let Julio get on with his career elsewhere.”4

With the decision made, Adam Everett regained his spot as the Astros’ starting shortstop. Lugo, however, was not out of work long. He was picked up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays a week later. Lou Piniella, manager of the Devil Rays, commented, “Everybody makes mistakes. … You learn from mistakes and you go forward. At the same time, we’re looking to improve our baseball team.”5 It was believed that Lugo would add a stabilizing force at the top of the lineup and in the middle infield.

In July of 2003, Lugo was acquitted of assault by a Houston jury. During the trial, his wife, Mabely, changed her initial statements and testified that Lugo had not intentionally hurt her and that it was she who had provoked the argument between them. After barely 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a not-guilty verdict, providing vindication for Lugo, who said that the whole ordeal had been little more than a misunderstanding of events. Trial prosecutor Catherine Evans said afterward, “How sad it is to hear a woman say over and over, ‘I hit myself against the truck. … I provoked him. … It was my fault.”6 Some of the jurors asked Lugo for his autograph after the trial ended.

After Lugo’s first season on the Devil Rays, their general manager, Chuck LaMar, commented, “Julio did a fine job for us in 2003. He provided us with more run production than we’ve had from that position in the past and his defense improved as the season wore on.”7 Lugo had driven in 53 runs and scored 58. Of his 17 errors in 117 games for the Devil Rays, only one came in the last 34 games of the season. It appeared that the change in scenery was a positive experience for Lugo. At the end of the season, the Devil Rays and Lugo went to salary arbitration, resulting in a $3.35 million salary for 2005.

Lugo ended up starring with the Devil Rays from May 2003 to July 2006, during which he had some of his best offensive statistics. He achieved career highs with 41 doubles and 75 RBIs in 2004, and 6 triples, 61 walks, and 182 hits in 2005. A good clubhouse presence, Lugo hoped his efforts would lead to a long-term contract. The Devil Rays were offering around $8 million a year for four years; however, Lugo was looking for upward of $10 million a year over the four years.

By the end of July, the 2006 season was turning out to be a career year offensively for Lugo. He was batting .308 and slugging .498, had swiped 18 stolen bases, and hit 12 home runs. The offensive statistics combined with his quality defensive range made Lugo a valuable trade piece for the small-market Devil Rays. At the trade deadline in 2006 he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for power-hitting prospect Joel Guzman and minor-league outfielder Sergio Pedroza. He was replaced on the Devil Rays by rookie Ben Zobrist.

On hearing the news of his trade, Lugo said, “I was very surprised. I didn’t think anything was going to get done. I thought it was going to come down to the last minute. I didn’t think certainly it would be the last, last minute. … I love it here [Tampa Bay]. I really want to say that. I tried to get something done but it’s a business. … I’m not disappointed because I know both sides tried.”8

Major offensive struggles were a cornerstone of Lugo’s time with the Dodgers: In 49 games he batted only .219, with no home runs and only 10 RBIs. Defensively, Lugo was used in a utility role; he spent time playing third base, second base, and the outfield.

After that rough finish to the 2006 season, Lugo went on the free-agent market. In December 2006 he signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. It was hoped that Lugo could slot into the leadoff position and provide improved offense at the shortstop position. Best laid plans and all: His tenure in Boston did not go accordingly. In contrast to slick-fielding Alex Gonzalez, the previous Red Sox shortstop, Lugo was prone to clumps of bad plays usually as a result of errant throws from not properly setting his feet before releasing the ball. Lugo himself noted, “I know I’m an aggressive shortstop. I’m going to take chances that other shortstops don’t take. That’s just the way I am. That’s my game.”9

Lugo’s aggressiveness on defense and his streaky fielding did not endear him to Red Sox Nation, and fans were prone to boo him.

In 2007 Lugo’s offensive struggles continued from the end of the previous year. From mid-June to early July, he went on a 0-for-31 streak that dropped his batting average to .189. After a 14-game hit streak in mid-July, Lugo got his batting average up to .226.

Despite the struggles of his first year in Boston a personal highlight of the season came in late September 2007. Lugo got to face off against his younger brother Ruddy, a relief pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. He drew a walk. Afterward, Lugo commented that while the experience was a dream come true, “It’s weird to face him. We never faced each other ever.”10

Overall, in his first season with the Red Sox, Lugo provided adequate offensive numbers even though his batting average of .237 was less than in previous years. He still had 36 doubles, 8 home runs, and 73 RBIs. And he stole 33 bases in 39 attempts.

During the 2007 postseason, Lugo batted .300 with one stolen base in the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels, .200 with two RBIs in the ALCS against Cleveland, and then hit .385 (walking three times to achieve a .500 on-base percentage) in his only World Series, as the Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies.

Lugo had seen postseason play twice before, going 0-for-8 in the 2001 NLDS for Houston, and 1-for-4 with a double in the 2006 NLDS for the Dodgers.

The 2008 season proved to be difficult. Lugo played in only 82 games, spending time on the disabled list for a strained left quad. He batted .268, over 30 points higher than the previous season, but had only one home run and drove in only 22 runs. In 2009 his offensive struggles continued. He began sharing playing time with infielder Nick Green. In 37 games, Lugo had only one home run, 8 RBIs, and three stolen bases. His batting average had once again climbed and it was sitting at .284 in July. However, in an attempt to dump the struggling Lugo’s salary, the Red Sox sent him and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Chris Duncan before the trade deadline. Arriving in Boston 2½ years earlier, Lugo was believed to be the long-term solution at shortstop. But his time in Boston did not meet expectations. In 51 games for the Cardinals, Lugo batted.277. The switch to a part-time utility role was an adjustment for Lugo as he was used to being an everyday player.

Just before the start of the 2010 season, the Cardinals traded Lugo to the Baltimore Orioles for cash or a player to be named later. The move was an insurance move for the Orioles in case their second baseman, Brian Roberts, who was recuperating from a herniated disc, was not ready to start the season. Lugo ended up playing 93 games. He had no home runs and 20 RBIs, and for the first time in his career he was thrown out stealing (7 times) more often than he was successful (5 SB’s).

Released by the Orioles after the season, Lugo signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in late May of 2011. Hoping that the signing would be a harbinger for continued success at the major-league level, Lugo commented, “I am very optimistic and happy, playing baseball is what I like to do best.”11 After starting the season with the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, Lugo was called up to the major leagues one last time and played the final 22 games of his major-league career before being released on September 2. He batted only .136 with 3 RBIs. A highlight of his time in Atlanta came when he scored the winning run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on a controversial call in the bottom of the 19th inning. The Braves won 4-3, but umpire Jerry Meals and MLB later admitted that the call was blown. Lugo finished his career with a .967 fielding percentage.

A minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians fell through in 2012. In 2013 Lugo played with the Peoria Explorers of the Freedom Pro Baseball League, an independent organization based in Arizona. In 27 games he batted .326. (The league folded before the 2014 season.) During the winter of 2013 Lugo played with Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Republic Winter League. In the 2013 Caribbean Series, Leones attained the best record of the tournament at 5-2, but lost the championship game to Mexico 4-3 in 18 innings.

Noting that the end of his playing career was imminent, Lugo expressed his desire to spend more time with his kids [how many?] and to play a more involved role in his construction business down in the Dominican, “I played good and had a good career…and I just think it’s the right time now.”12

Lugo played in 1,352 major-league games over his 12-year career. He was a full-time starter for seven seasons. His career batting average of .269 included a high of .295 in 2005. Lugo had 198 stolen bases in 267 attempts, a stolen-base percentage of slightly above 74 percent.

Lugo made a triumphant return to Fenway Park in May 2018. He was playing in the first Red Sox alumni game held in 25 years. In the four-inning affair, Lugo plated the only runs of the game with a two-run home run off his friend, Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez. “It was awesome,” Lugo commented of the homer.13 At least for a moment, Lugo’s lackluster time in Boston was overshadowed. 

In August 2018 Lugo was inducted into the All American Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA) Hall of Fame in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He was the MVP of the tournament in 1994 (before the Astros drafted him) as his Brooklyn team won the championship against Altoona. In the tournament he batted .464 (13-for-28). Reflecting on the tournament after his induction, Lugo noted, “The AAABA opened the door for me” into professional baseball.14

A door that led to a career in the major leagues. 

Lugo died of an apparent heart attack on November 15, 2021 as he was leaving a Santo Domingo gym in his native Dominican Republic after a morning workout. His death came one day before his 46th birthday. 



In addition to the sources cited in Notes, the author used information from Lugo’s National Baseball Hall of Fame clippings file, as well as baseball-almanac.com, baseball-reference.com, and thebaseballcube.com.



1 Mark Kurlansky, The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 210.

2 Michael Morrissey, “Longshot Lugo Making Most of Chance,” New York Post, May 3, 2001. Retrieved from nypost.com/2001/05/03/longshot-lugo-making-most-of-chance/.

3 Jose de Jesus Ortiz, “Incident Disturbs Teammates,” Houston Chronicle, May 2, 2003.

4 Michael A. Lutz, “Houston Shortstop Julio Lugo Arrested,” Beaumont Enterprise, May 2, 2003. Retrieved from beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Houston-shortstop-Julio-Lugo-arrested-758340.php.

5 Martin Fennelly, “Black Eye Doesn’t Look Good on Rays,” Tampa Tribune, May 17, 2003.

6 Jeffrey Gilbert, “Jurors Acquit Ex-Astro Lugo in Assault Trial,” Houston Chronicle, July 17, 2003.

7 Marc Topkin, “Lugo Retained, Perhaps at 2B,” St. Petersburg Times, October 30, 2003.

8 Marc Topkin, “Lugo Trade Saga Ends Way Out West,” St. Petersburg Times, August 1, 2006.

9 Nick Cafardo, “Detractors Having a Field Day with Lugo,” Boston Globe, April 18, 2008. Retrieved from archive.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2008/04/18/detractors_having_a_field_day_with_lugo/.

10 Mike Petraglia, “Brothers Lugo Realize a Family Dream,” MLB.com, September 26, 2007.

11 Enrique Rojas, “Julio Lugo Agrees to Deal with Braves,” ESPN.com, May 23, 2011. Retrieved from espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=6580979

12 Alden Gonzalez, “Lugo Will Likely Retire Following Caribbean Series,” MLB.com, February 4, 2013. Retrieved from Julio Lugo’s Hall of Fame clippings file.

13 Ken Powtak, “Julio Lugo on His Homer off Pedro Martinez: “It Was Awesome,” Boston Globe, May 27, 2018. Retrieved from boston.com/sports/boston-red-sox/2018/05/27/red-sox-alumni-game-pedro-martinez-julio-lugo

14 Mike Mastovich, “AAABA ‘Opened the Door’ for Hall of Famer Julio Lugo,” Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pennsylvania), July 9, 2018. Retrieved from tribdem.com/sports/aaaba-opened-the-door-for-hall-of-famer-julio-lugo/article_f81f833a-8326-11e8-a5d8-9f13449373fb.html.

Full Name

Julio Cesar Lugo


November 16, 1975 at Barahona, Barahona (D.R.)


November 15, 2021 at Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional (D.R.)

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